If you’re looking for a new patio, something modern and stylish then you may be considering 20mm porcelain tiles to obtain that specific look and feel for your garden patio area. Whilst this approach can leave a contemporary finish, it’s not always the most cost effective. So if, like me, you’re looking to achieve this on a budget you may be considering to attempt this by yourself, rather than hiring professionals.
I’ll start by saying this – a DIY porcelain patio can be achieved by yourself to a reasonably high standard, but you really need to do your research first. Be aware that this is no easy task for a beginner. It took me (with a little help from my wife) well over 6 days to lay a 6m x 5m area with a solid concrete bed. I saved a load of time by simply laying the new patio on top of the existing concrete one.
I’ll try and cover as much detail as possible here with an easy step by step guide, listing all the materials, tools required and the total cost of the job.
If you like the look of my decking area and veranda take a look at these posts:
Porcelain tile installation options
There are a few different ways to lay outdoor porcelain tiles so you’ll need to decide which is right for you. I went for a solid concrete bed as I was familiar with this process having laid a few smaller patios in the past. Take a look at my garden shed post to see how I achieved this.
Another option would be a system called PorcelQuick Adpeds which can save time money and materials. It uses a series of small pedestals created from sharp sand a quick setting cement. The tiles can then be installed using an adhesive and joints can be grouted.
The third option would be to go for a self-levelling pedestal system. Whilst these are more suited to balconies and roof terraces they could be used for a patio area. They aren’t normally sealed with grout which allows for drainage in between and the void underneath allows for cables to be installed.
Take some time looking into each system to find the best option for you. In most cases a solid bed like mine will be the best fit providing both a permanent and complete finish.
What are the pros and cons of a porcelain patio?
The main reasons we decided to go for a porcelain tile patio was because they are easy to clean, they look great and blend nicely with the indoors. We can now walk straight out our back door onto the decking and patio seamlessly. It feels like another room to the house.
Our old patio was deteriorating quickly with cracks appearing all over and it also required constant cleaning with the pressure washer. The dirt from rain was ageing the slabs quicker than we liked and it became a real chore to maintain. It was really unsightly and from the previous house owners, so not to our taste at all!
The porcelain tiles are so easy to clean with a simple mop and bucket and are designed to be long lasting. There’s also a massive range available including stone, cement or wood finishes so finding the right style to suit your decor requirements isn’t difficult. Some other pros include durability, frost proof, slip and fade resistant. 20mm porcelain tiles are extremely strong with a 1000kg breaking weight so can be used for a number of different applications, even driveways.
Whilst there aren’t many cons to porcelain tiles you will want to think about the following. Porcelain tiles are generally more expensive per square meter than stone and concrete tiles. If you’re hiring someone to install the tiles for you then expect to pay more as the process can take longer and requires a more specialised skill set.
Finally, you should be aware that porcelain tiles are difficult to cut, requiring specialist cutting disks and equipment. So plan carefully and avoid cutting if at all possible. We managed to lay our patio without requiring any cuts. We planned it this way.
Materials and cost of a porcelain patio
To complete this job we used:
- 80 x 600mm x 600mm, 20mm porcelain garden tiles. (£28 per square metre (£840)
- 3 x bulk bags sharp sand (£42 each (£126)
- 1 x bulk bag MOT type 1 (£39)
- 16 bags general purpose cement (£3.95 each (£63.20)
- 4mm tile spacers (£4.75)
- 2 x Porcelain tile primer – ProJoint PORCELAIN Primer 20kg (£70)
- Porcelain tile grout (black) – ProJoint PORCELAIN Grout 20kg (£45)
Total material cost – £1187.95
We ended up paying an extra delivery charge to have the materials delivered on a specific day costing us £144. This was a pain, so try using building merchants that offer free bulk delivery. Ours weren’t able to deliver for free unless they got more orders for the same from other customers. After waiting around six weeks, we decided to go ahead with the delivery fee so we could finally lay our patio.
Total including delivery – £1331.95
If you’re looking to save even more money why not try a cash back site like Topcashback for all your purchases. I’ve accumulated over £450 over the last couple of years on all my normal spending and my wife is nearly up to £1000 for all our household spending!
Tools required to lay your porcelain patio
Here is a list of tools that we used to lay our patio. You might get away with slightly different tools but if you want the job done to a high standard I would recommend investing here to get it right.
- Cement mixer – Consider buying a cement mixer for about £220. Yes this is quite expensive but you can always sell in afterwards and get most of your money back if you look after it and clean it after every use. The other option is to rent one for about £15 per day (£90 for 6 days).
- Large spirit level – The larger the better. I went for 1.8m
- Rubber mallet – To tap the tiles into place
- Trowel – To level the cement
- Tape measure – 8m is ideal for a patio my size
- Wheel barrow – Anything is suitable for moving materials
- Spade (or two)
- Grout float – For applying the grout
- Sponge and kitchen scourer – Cleaning tiles of grout
- Sticks and string – To mark out your patio
Safety and environment
To complete this job safely try sticking to these recommendations. Remember you can’t do anything if you’re badly injured.
- Wear steel toe cap boots to protect your feet. I always wear mine when carrying heavy materials. Each one of our tiles weighed 16kg and 32kg as a pack of two. Easily enough to break a toe if dropped.
- Wear a mask when working with cement. This is horrible stuff and shouldn’t be inhaled at all. Read here for more information on working safely with cement.
- Wear gloves when working with cement and heavy materials. Gloves might not protect you against heavy drops but will stop smaller scratches and protect against irritations of cement etc.
- Bend your legs and not your back when lifting heavy materials.
- Keep kids and pets away from work areas and cement. My kids always want to help out with my DIY projects which can be difficult at times. I carefully pick when and where they can help to avoid injury.
- You can’t lay patio or work with cement in the rain so save this for the good weather only.
- Keep a clean work area and tidy up after each day.
How to lay a porcelain patio – step by step guide
Step 1. The base
Before you start you’ll need to mark out and prepare the area. We had the option to go over the existing patio or remove all the old slabs and lay on top of the concrete underneath. We couldn’t see any benefit to removing the old slabs so decided to lay directly on top, saving us time and we didn’t need to dispose of the old slabs.
If however you are starting from scratch and laying onto dirt then you will need to complete a sturdy sub-base. The sub-base normally consists of 50mm – 100mm of MOT type 1 and in some cases a weed protective membrane. MOT type 1 is a consistency of limestone sized 40mm down to dust which allows for minimal voids and when compacted provides a strong load bearing layer with a suitable flat surface. You can use this sub-base calculator to work out how much type 1 MOT you will need. It is normally sold in large bulk bags weighing about 850kg each.
Measuring the area and levelling
You will need to ensure your patio has sufficient run off for water or you’ll end up with pools forming on top of the surface. This can make the porcelain tiles dirty, slippery and generally dangerous so this is very important to get right. In general it’s recommended that smooth porcelain tiled patios have a 1.2cm drop for every 1m. Some go with a little more at about 2cm per 1m. Ours drops 6cm over a 4.7m length away from the house and provides suitable drainage when raining. It also slopes slightly down to the far right corner.
I had a suitable surface to mark my drop line onto. The planter to the left allowed me to mark the straight level line and drop 6cm at one end. If however you don’t have this you can knock wooden pegs into the floor every 1m and mark a 1.2cm drop on every peg.
Once you have the drop calculated, use a piece of string to mark out the circumference. If you are working with a rectangular design like mine then make sure you have good square corners and straight, perpendicular lines on each side.
Step 2. Prepare the tiles
Porcelain tiles are not very absorbent and require a slurry primer to be added to the back to ensure good adhesion onto your cement base. We had a total of 80 slabs to lay and managed to lay about 20 a day. This included time to prime the tiles, mix the cement and lay the tiles.
The primer we used provided enough to apply to 30 tiles (600 x 600mm). This was plenty for each day. We unpacked 30 tiles and lay them out around the garden, then mixed the primer and painted it on using a wall paper paste brush. You’ll need to ensure you get at least 3mm on each tile. A good even cover. The primer took about 15 – 20 minutes to dry on a hot day and was then ready to start laying.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The primer we used is not generally recommended by professionals in the landscaping business, which I found out after this job. Please consider a different primer. One recommendation I was given is SBR Primer.
Once I completed the job I noticed that there were a couple of rocky tiles, basically the primer and cement didn’t adhere properly. If you decide to use the ProJoint primer slurry then I’d recommend laying the tiles when the primer is still wet or at least wet the cement a little before laying.
Step 3. Mixing the concrete
This was the time consuming part. All the sand was in bulk bags at the front of the house so we had to fill a wheelbarrow and wheels it round to the mixer in the back garden.
The concrete mix consisted of 4 parts sharp sand to 1 part cement. You’ll need quite a dry mix to lay porcelain tiles as this will allow you to easily place and adjust each tile into place and allows for good adhesion to the primer on the back of the tile. I used 14 large scoops of sand to half a bag of cement and about 2 litres of water mixed for about 4 minutes. You can test the mix is correct by squashing a lump of the mix in your hand. If it sticks together without any moisture visible then its about right.
Step 4. Laying a tile
Laying the first tile is very important to start the patio. It needs to be perfectly lined up in one corner as it will set the angle for the rest of the patio. Ensure you follow the string line carefully and use a smaller spirit level to ensure the tile is slopped away from the house.
As you add the concrete mix to the base, use just enough to do one tile, but over fill it on the sides and about 5mm taller than required. The concrete base will need to be about 50mm deep on top of the base. Place the tile on top and tap it into place using the rubber mallet. Tap on each corner or side to line up the tile. If I went too far, I removed the tile, added some more mix and tried again. Don’t step on the tile until the cement has set, normally about 12 hours.
TOP TIP – It’s very important to take your time over this process. Be as accurate as possible or you will cause all kinds of trouble down the line. I’d say it’s also very important to ensure the tile sits evenly over the whole concrete mix. Any movement in the tile after the mix has set is very difficult to correct. Even the smallest of rocking in the tile will need to be resolved. Patience is key here!
I made this mistake on a couple of tiles and had to try and fill the gap afterwards which was a horribly tedious task. I couldn’t start the grouting until every slab was secure. If I didn’t do this, over time the grout would crack, allowing weeds to germinate and grow in the cracks. No, no, no. I wasn’t going to let this happen!
Step 5. Adding more tiles
Each tile was added carefully to the last using 4mm tile spacers ensuring I worked outwards from one corner like this.
I lined up each edge carefully and used the long spirit level to ensure the slope was followed.
Using the trowel, I pushed and smoothed over each edge as I worked through the tiles. This gives and nice wall of concrete for the tiles to rest on, strengthens the base and prevents the tile from wobbling once set.
IMPORTANT TIP – It’s very important to ensure each tile is added absolutely perfectly to the last with equal spacing. Even an extra 1mm gap on one tile will add 1mm to each tile as you work down the patio. By the time you get to the last tile it could be out by as much as 1cm. Which might not seem like much but it will look awful. Again, take your time and be precise. This can make or break the whole job.
To help levelling the concrete as you add it, use the large spirit level between the tiles like this. It will help you quickly get the best level. Remember to fill about 5mm above the line of the tile and tap it into place with the mallet.
Step 6. Repeat the process until complete
Working your way down the patio from one corner to the other you should now start seeing things coming into place. Keep checking each tile you lay to ensure the level and slope are correct. Avoid any slightly uneven tile and ensure they line up nicely next to each other. You don’t want tiles protruding in places creating trip hazards.
You can see here I needed to add some MOT type 1 to bring the level up a bit. Our old patio sloped much more than we wanted so there was a huge gap to fill just with mortar / cement.
The cement will take about 24 hours to fully dry before you can walk on it so avoid going near it until it’s ready. Keep kids and pets out of the way.
You should be left with something that looks a little like this now. Leave everything to dry overnight before starting the next task which is to apply grout to the gaps.
Step 7. The grout
This was by far the worst part of the job and very tricky to get right. I made the mistake of mixing up too much grout on a very warm day. The grout started drying before I got the chance to clean it off the tiles and has now stained them in places. I now need to clean the tiles with grout stain remover.
Top tip – mix up enough grout to cover 20 or so tiles. The grout need to be cleaned off the tiles within 30 minutes. Each batch you mix will last about 35 minutes before it hardens in the mixing pot.
Using a grout float, push as much grout as possible into the gaps and smooth it over the top. Be generous with the grout as this is the waterproof barrier and additional support for each tile. If you find areas drying too quickly try spraying a small mist of water over to moisten it up. This will buy you some time.
Once you’ve applied your first mix, go back to where you started and begin cleaning off the excess grout from the tile face. You will likely need a lot of water, scourer and sponge to get the best results. you can also now start smoothing over the joins with a wet sponge to leave a nice even finish.
It’s going to look a right mess but it does get better with a bit of elbow grease. Don’t panic if it looks like this.
It’s likely you will need to go back and fill in some gaps once you’re done. This is completely normal.
Step 8. Enjoy the fruits of your labour with a beverage of your choice
Most importantly of all, take a moment to relax and admire all your hard work
That brings us to the end of the project so far. We still have the border to finish which is likely going to be some oak sleepers and pebbles. I will post pictures when I have completed this part.
Here is the before and after pictures.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to get in touch with any questions. I can’t provide professional advice but I’m always happy to share my DIY experiences.
Here’s the finished project with a sleeper border and decking walkway. Much better!
Take a look at some more of my projects:
- How to build your own decking area
- How to build your own veranda for under £500
- £50 off your first bill (and 4 more reasons to choose renewable energy company Bulb)
- How to build your own under stair drawers for under £100