Thinking of using porcelain pavers for your patio? Read this expert guide to get you started
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More and more of us are embracing the use of porcelain tiles on our patios and, with their durability, ease of maintenance and attractive finish, they’re certainly a material worth considering.
Here, garden landscaping experts share their knowledge on how to choose, install and care for your porcelain patio slabs.
Professional advice from: Anthony George at PC Landscapes; Matt Anderson-Ford at AndLand; Michael McGarr at Warnes-McGarr & Co
More in this series: A Beginner’s Guide to Brick Patios
Consider the advantages
If you’re looking for a hard-wearing patio surface in a finish to suit your garden, porcelain pavers are a great option.
As Michael McGarr explains, “Porcelain is a type of ceramic that’s fired to very high temperatures, resulting in a very hard and dense material.”
Anthony George adds, “Porcelain paving is very durable with very low porosity. This means less maintenance is needed to keep it clean. There’s no need to seal it, it’s less susceptible to scratching and it’s hard-wearing.”
Our experts also highlight porcelain’s good looks.
“The material is engineered, so can be made in a variety of colours and finishes,” Matt Anderson-Ford explains.
Anthony says, “The slab sizes are very even and consistent, which means they lend themselves to thin joints for a contemporary look.”
Matt points to the textured feel of exterior porcelain and says, “Most are made with a non-slip surface.” Here, the exterior tiles look the same as the interior ones, but have a little more texture to ensure they’re not slippery.
Weigh up the disadvantages
Price and difficulty of installation are two key things to consider.
“Porcelain is a more expensive paving than the riven and sawn Indian sandstones and Chinese limestones, but still less than Yorkstone,” Anthony says.
Michael adds, “Porcelain tiles are much more difficult to install than porous sandstones and concrete products, due to the material’s [lack of] porosity.
“As porcelain paving doesn’t absorb water, this has negative implications for installation, as it makes it more difficult to bond it to the sub-base for the purposes of paving.
“As porcelain paving has become more popular over the past few years,” he continues, “the market has become flooded and costs of the product have reduced.
“While this is good for the consumer, it’s only increased the poor installation phenomenon, as less-able DIYers have endeavoured to install the products. We would recommend you always go to a good supplier, look at the quality of their tiles and ask their advice,” he says.
While some may love the clean look porcelain gives, this might not work for everyone. “It doesn’t have the natural properties of real stone and can feel artificial,” Matt says.
Anthony agrees. “For those looking for a slab that will mellow and age, it may not be the best.”
To avoid a clinical look, Michael advises, “Aim to create one third porcelain paving to two thirds planting for a verdant outdoor living space.
“Try to find a matching polished gravel to use as mulching for your planted areas,” he adds. “This creates cohesion and texture, as well as keeping weeds to a minimum as your planting matures and fills out.”
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It’s important to be meticulous when measuring the surface you’re going to cover with porcelain tiles, say our experts, as the slabs are difficult to cut.
“As porcelain is a lot harder than other materials, special blades are needed to cut the slabs, which generally require professional equipment,” Anthony says.
Matt agrees, adding, “If possible, cutting should be kept to a minimum.”
So planning is key, as Anthony explains. “Planning where the falls run and working out the slab size to minimise cuts will make laying a lot easier.”
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Prepare the base
“Porcelain isn’t as straightforward to install as traditional natural stone,” Matt says, “especially when it comes to the sub-base preparation.”
Anthony explains, “As the slabs are usually laid with tight joins, attention to detail is essential to ensure everything remains even and there are no low spots. Good preparation and a good base are key requirements; a concrete screed will make laying easier.”
Michael adds, “The ideal solution is to install a concrete slab or surface first and use an external tile adhesive or slurry to bond the porcelain paving.”
However, this method can be costly, so rather than resorting to cheap installation or a DIY disaster, Michael advises, “The best way to install textured porcelain tiles, other than over a concrete slab, is to create a bond bridge of cement-based slurry adhesive on the base of each tile before bedding it into a full bed of grit sand, building sand and cement mortar.
“This technique enables the contractor to employ a similar method of installation to a traditional slab without the cost implications of a full concrete slab,” he says.
Think about stairs
If your garden is on different levels, you’ll need to consider how porcelain will work on steps.
“As porcelain is relatively new to the landscape environment, there’s less of a range of sizes – although manufacturers are catching up,” Anthony says.
“Slabs are generally made at 20mm thick for exterior use. This means copings and step treads have to be made specially to create a thicker-looking slab, which adds time and expense to a project.”
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Keep it clean
According to our experts, one of the key selling points of porcelain is how easy it is to clean.
“Just use a power washer to remove dirt build-up,” Matt advises.
Anthony agrees and says this should be done once or twice a year. He adds, “Both the slabs and grout can tolerate power-washing, unlike conventional sand or cement joints.
For stubborn marks, he adds, “A proprietary cleaner can be used to remove algae and organic stains.”
And the grout? “Perhaps allow new grout to be installed every few years if required,” Matt says.
Are you planning to use porcelain tiles on your patio? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section.