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How to Fix Sunken Pavers

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After 7 years of living with sunken and crooked bricks on our front walkway and a few quotes around $8000.00 to fix it, I decided it was time to try fixing it myself. This tutorial is for people who want to know how to fix sunken pavers. This is not starting from scratch installing pavers. For that, I imagine the process is similar but would probably require more planning and geometric bordering of the path.

How this happened: The previous owners probably spent a lot of money to have the walkway done, but they did it very sloppily. First, they placed the brick over the existing concrete in some places rather than removing the concrete first. This is a very hacky way of doing it. Then, they didn’t properly tamp the ground, meaning, it wasn’t well packed in, so it has shifted and sunk over the years.

What we did about it: I decided one day to test out fixing a small row of bricks over by the driveway and realized it’s not very hard to take the bricks out. It’s a little harder to level the dirt and replace them, but really more than anything it’s just a little tedious – but TOTALLY achievable. So next I started to do the patch by the front door that’s been ugly and sunk and causes people to trip on it. I also roped hubby into helping a little with this too (he’s guest starring in the video) since he’s the true master carpenter in the family. If this is something you’ve been hesitant to do yourself I say TRY IT! We’ve outlined the steps we took to do it and included a video as well.

Here is the video of the process (the end to end probably took a total of 3 weekend days):

How to Fix Sunken Pavers

Step 1: Plan Your Area & Start Small
Pick an area to work on but don’t bite off more than you can chew. I actually thought I could do the whole walkway in a few weekends (I’m unrealistically optimistic sometimes) but after taking out about a 4′ x 4′ area I realized my back was in BAD shape. This is pretty extreme manual labor – or maybe I’m just a bit of a pansy, but I could barely move for a few days after doing this square.

Step 2: Get the Right Tools
You probably have most of these in your house already. The only things you may not have on hand is a tamper, paver base, and paver sand, all of which you can buy from Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowe’s. If you want to get fancy with your filler you might consider using Polymeric sand which keeps ants from being able to make those sand piles between your bricks, and also helps prevent any weeds from getting through. If you do use the polymeric sand there is a specific way to put that down which we can do another tutorial for later. I included links below to some products just for reference but you can buy these from any source and choose the colors/brands you like.
tools for laying bricks | www.thehairypotato.com
These are the tools you need:

  • 1. screwdriver
  • 2. mallet
  • 3. block of wood (about a 2′ x 4″ or whatever you have)
  • 4. broom
  • 5. shovel or spade
  • 6. paver base
  • 7. tamper
  • (not pictured) sand or polymeric sand

 
Step 3: Remove the Existing Bricks
I chose to do this in the existing order as some of our bricks were custom cut to fit together, so to make it easy on myself I plucked them out in rows and put them back in the reverse order so the same bricks were going back into the same position. You may need to configure yours different or have bricks cut for you if you have specific spots. Pulling the bricks out is simple, wedge a screwdriver into the dirt/sand between the bricks and scrape it out. You might water the bricks down a little to soften them in their place a bit to make it easier to pop them out. Then just get underneath the brick with the screwdriver and pull up, it will come out with a little elbow grease. I take a trowel and scrape off the hardened sand/dirt so the bricks are clean of dirt when I put them back in.
bricks removed | www.thehairypotato.com

Step 4: Prime the Dirt
Before you replace the bricks you will want to do a quick analysis of the dirt/sand. In our case, the original bricklayers had put sand down and nothing else. This can create a couple of issues: sand sinks more than gravel and doesn’t give adequate drainage for the water. We had to put some paver base/gravel down and interspersed this with the existing sand. We took a spade to the dirt first and turned up some of the soil, removed any large rocks that were in that, and then poured in the paver base and turned it together with a rake. Then, put the sand down. Next, hubby took a board and lightly smoothed the whole area down so that it was somewhat even. Then, I tamped the ground with our tamper by smashing it down repeatedly to pack the dirt/sand/gravel down – this part is fun and let’s you say “HULK… SMASH” repeatedly. If your bricks are sinking you will probably need at least one bag of paver base and one bag of paver sand to bring it up to level, but buy more just in case. Dirt is, well, dirt cheap (wah wah wah). I think our gravel and sand was about $10.00 total, although the Polymeric sand we didn’t end up using was around $20.00.

Step 5: Replace the Bricks
This part is just like it sounds, start putting the bricks back in. You will want to leave a small gap around the edges for sand but I just followed the pattern of the other bricks that we didn’t remove to gauge it. If you don’t get it right you can just shift them around with a screwdriver at the end (prior to filling the cracks in with sand). The tricky part is making the bricks level. To do this, use the wood board on top (never hit the brick directly or it will shatter) and mallet to smack them down and then when you are done with the row do this on the top side as well to make sure they are all even in the row. I used a small wood piece to start and then hubby went over all of it with the larger piece of wood to make sure they were all positioned correctly. He also used the level, I can’t say I’m ever that precise though. The big thing is you want them to be level and not have any large edges or lips that people can trip over.

Step 6: Fill in the Sand
Once your bricks are exactly where you want them to be (make sure they are, it is much harder to reverse this step), pour your sand down in a big clump, then carefully sweep it into all of the cracks. Then, water the sand down – it will shrink and look like you never did it. Repeat this process maybe 4 times or so or until the sand stops sinking. The sand will really even out the bricks so if you were noticing them looking a little uneven you shouldn’t after this step.

Step 7: That’s it! Time to Celebrate
Kick back and bask in the beauty that is your new brickwork. We were really happy with how ours turned out. Don’t be afraid to try it yourself, the payoff is worth it. It made a huge difference in the way our front porch looks.

Are you ready to tackle a project like this? Did you try it? Let us know!

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