Updated 5/11/21

Outdoor porcelain pavers are more popular than ever thanks to their durably rugged construction, weather-resistant properties, and ability to consistently deliver the exact color and texture that you want. But one of the best features is the 2 CM thickness, which is twice that of a typical porcelain tile. This thicker construction allows for you to install porcelain pavers in a multitude of ways including dry installation on grass, gravel, or sand, traditional thick-set mortar installation, and even a raised-pedestal installation. Each of these methods have their benefits, so let’s explore which one is right for your outdoor project. This quick guide will offer advice on installing porcelain pavers, how to lay porcelain pavers, and the best areas for placing outdoor pavers.

What Are Porcelain Pavers?

Meant for exterior spaces, outdoor porcelain pavers are extremely durable, easy to install and offer multiple looks. Thicker than a traditional porcelain tile, they can be used in backyards, driveways, balconies, decks, and in pool areas. Their rugged durability makes them perfect for both light traffic as well as high traffic areas. 

The Do’s And Don’ts For Porcelain Pavers Installation: 

  • Do cut porcelain pavers only using a wet saw with a blade made specifically for porcelain.
  • Do make sure to use spacers so that porcelain pavers always have at least 3/16” distance between one another. They need this for expansion (and yes, even porcelain tiles can expand slightly in the great outdoors) and to allow for proper drainage.
  • Do make sure that the area of your substrate, or area on which you are installing your paver, is always greater than the porcelain paver itself. Usually 8”-10” is ideal. This should help stop your paver from shifting thanks to any erosion of your substrate.
  • Do ensure that your paver is able to properly drain by placing on a slope. It’s advisable this floor slope is 2 degrees, but this can vary by your location and area of installation. It should also be said that you always want to slope away from areas where you do not want water to collect, or have a plan for drainage.
  • Do compact your substrate where you plan to install your pavers thoroughly so that you won’t experience gapping or movement because there is settling.
  • Do plan to use an edge restraint, especially in a dry installation. This will help reduce unwanted movement and gapping.
  • Don’t forget to level your substrate and compact it before proceeding with the placement of pavers.
  • Don’t use a plate compactor after laying the pavers as this could easily damage the tile. All compacting should be done before you lay down your pavers.
  • Don’t forget to read install-specific instructions thoroughly to avoid damages.
  • Don’t be afraid to call a professional if you aren’t sure how to install or get stuck at any part of the process.

Common Porcelain Pavers Installation Methods

Here are some of the most common installation methods for outdoor porcelain pavers. Please note that these are all rated for pedestrian foot traffic, so please review your paver installation instructions and consult a professional if you need an installation that can withstand heavier traffic like cars.

Dry Installation On Grass

Pavers shown on the grass with a inch or two separating them and grass in this space
  1. Cut grass in the desired area to be as short as possible and remove any other items or landscaping.
  2. Place your pavers in the desired locations with some space between the pavers to allow grass to grow, but also allow steps between pavers to be comfortable.
  3. Once placed, use a flat shovel, hoe, sod lifter, or another tool to dig around the perimeter of each paver.
  4. Remove the paver and then proceed to remove a 2” layer from the topsoil, making the soil bed as flat and smooth as possible.
  5. Fill in area with crushed stone paver base or small gravel and level.
  6. Place the paver on top of the crushed stone and tap with a rubber mallet to set the paver and ensure that is it level.
  7. Your paver is now ready to go!

Dry Installation On Gravel

Pavers being laid onto dry gravel the paver is bright grey and the dry gravel is a darker grey
  1. Remove grass, landscaping, and any other items from area and ensure that there will be at least 8” to 10” of gravel substrate beyond the perimeter of your paver locations.
  2. Create a raised perimeter or remove the top 3” of top soil and install an edge restraint, making this substrate base as smooth and level as possible.
  3. Fill this area with 2” of small aggregate gravel and then level out.
  4. Place your pavers in the desired locations, using guides to evenly space and ensuring that there is at least 3/16” space in between.
  5. Tap pavers with a rubber mallet to ensure placement and make sure it is level.
  6. Add decorative gravel between the joints and enjoy your pavers!

Dry Installation on Sand

Image showing pavers laying on top of sand. There is a small gap between each paver
  1. Remove grass, landscaping, and any other items from the area and ensure that there will be at least 8” to 10” of gravel substrate beyond the perimeter of your paver locations.
  2. Create a raised perimeter or remove the top 3-5” of topsoil and install an edge restraint, making this substrate base as smooth and level as possible.
  3. Place a 2-4” layer of bedding sand, screeding to ensure your 2-degree slope, wetting, and compacting.
  4. Place your pavers in the desired locations, using guides to evenly space and ensuring that there is at least 3/16” space in between.
  5. Tap pavers with a rubber mallet to ensure placement and make sure it is level.
  6. Once complete, fill in the space between the pavers with polymeric sand (which is sometimes called paver, hardscape, or jointing sand), sweeping off the excess and wetting with water.
  7. Your pavers are good to go!

Typical Installation on a Compact Gravel and Sand Bed

pavers shown on the floor outside with no gaps. A bbq is on top of the pavers.
  1. Lay out your paver installation area with at least 8-10” beyond the perimeter of where you want to place your pavers.
  2. Excavate the area at least 4-6” deep, making any adjustments to accommodate your local geography and climate. Make sure to check your depth to ensure a proper elevation and slope.
  3. Compact your base soil using a plate compactor, checking to ensure proper elevation and slope. This slope should be at least 2 degrees to ensure proper water drainage.
  4. Install a geotextile over the compacted soil. This is a fabric specifically designed to be buried in the ground and helps with soil stability, erosion control, and drainage.
  5. Place a layer of crushed stone – typically 2” deep – evenly over the geotextile, wet it, and then compact it with a plate compactor.
  6. Place another layer of crushed stone evenly over the first later and then screed over with a level to ensure proper elevation and slope. Repeat the process of wetting and then compacting this layer.
  7. Place a 1” layer of bedding sand over the crushed stone, screeding to ensure your 2-degree slope, wetting, and compacting.
  8. It is now time to set your pavers. Set out guidelines to help ensure straight edges. Place your pavers, making sure to use spacers to have a minimum 3/16” gap. You can use a rubber mallet to gently tap the pavers to be level and maintain the proper slope.
  9. If you need to cut any pavers to fit into your design, make sure to use a wet saw with a blade made explicitly for porcelain.
  10. Once all of your pavers have been placed, clean up the perimeter and install an edge restraint to ensure minimum movement.
  11. Once complete, fill in the space between the pavers with polymeric sand (which is sometimes called paver, hardscape, or jointing sand), sweeping off the excess and wetting with water.
  12. Your paved area is ready to use!

Raised Pedestal Installation 

Please note that all raised pedestal paver installations should be on a solid substrate like concrete that is properly sloped away from buildings and others areas to ensure adequate drainage

raised pedestals are shown keeping pavers in place but raised off the ground.
  1. Ensure that your substrate is smooth and clean with a 2 degree slope for proper drainage.
  2. Layout your paver placement with chalk to locate the optimized location to place the pedestal supports, making sure to locate corner and border supports accordingly. Keep in mind that the supports will have a built-in spacer to ensure a 3/16” gap between pavers.
  3. Place pedestals along the perimeter and then at the intersections where the pavers will lay.
  4. Lay the pavers on top of the pedestals, making sure that the pavers are flush against porcelain pavers spacers.
  5. If there are any issues with alignment, the pedestal system will offer adjustable pedestals, shims, and slope correctors to allow for adjustment.

Traditional Mortar Installation on Concrete

Pavers are shown on a driveway with no gaps between them. A car wheel and wheel arch is seen in the corner of a photo indicating they are good to drive on.

This mortar bed installation is closely related to a typical tile installation. There are many options for this, so let’s just review some key factors when considering this installation type so you can know what to discuss with your contractor:

  1. Ensure that your concrete substrate is smooth and clean with a 2 degree slope for proper drainage.
  2. The concrete should be at least 4” thick and reinforced if you plan to have any light vehicular traffic.
  3. You can use a thinset mortar if is specifically suitable for paver installation and external use. Otherwise, a thickset mortar option is best.
  4. An uncoupling membrane is recommended to help minimize potential movement issues.

As you can see, there are myriad ways to include porcelain pavers into your design. All it takes is some prep work and you’re bound to have great results in no time!