Are you in search of a modern and stylish solution for your patio? If so, 20mm porcelain tiles can provide the specific look and feel you desire for your garden patio area. While this approach delivers a contemporary finish, it may not always be the most cost-effective option. If, like me, you’re looking to achieve this on a budget, you might consider taking on the task yourself instead of hiring professionals. By learning how to lay porcelain slabs and doing the job yourself, you can save over £1000. In this post, I will share my experience of completing my own project and achieving a professional finish for my amazing outdoor living space.
Let me begin by emphasising that laying porcelain tiles can indeed be accomplished by beginners, yielding satisfactory results, if not exceptional ones. However, it’s essential to conduct thorough research beforehand. It’s crucial to note that this task is not without its challenges for novices. It took me, with the assistance of my wife, more than six days to lay a 6m x 5m area with a solid concrete bed. In this guide on how to lay a patio for beginners, I will share my experiences and provide valuable insights to help you tackle this project successfully.
I saved a load of time by simply laying the new patio on top of the existing patio slabs. There is however some controversy to this method. Some may say that this isn’t recommended, whilst others say it’s fine. It depends on who you talk to. The building company I purchased the tiles from suggested this was fine so I decided to go ahead and lay the tiles on top of the old patio. This porcelain patio has been installed now for over 24 months with no issues at all.
If you do not have an existing patio then you will need to construct a suitable sub-base. See Step 1 below for more details.
Table of Contents
- How to lay porcelain slabs – A step-by-step guide
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 purchased our tiles from a local building supplier so you will need to look around to find your own. The name of the tile we used is Quartz Anthracite by Villa Porcelain – https://stonepavingsupplies.co.uk/product/villa-porcelain-quartz-anthracite/
These outdoor tiles were a perfect addition to our garden as they are slip-resistant, water resistant and extremely durable. They reminded us of a quarry tile and reflected nicely our veranda and decking colour.
You can also consider these outdoor porcelain tiles on eBay which are a close match:
- Black Anthracite Porcelain vitrified paving patio slabs tiles 600×900 40 Slabs
- Fortuna Vitrified Paving 600x600x20
- Marshalls Signum Porcelain Paving 1200x600x20mm Silver Grey
You may also consider a different style to my patio. There are plenty of different porcelain tile options on the market including natural stone, wood effect, polished porcelain or even a Moroccan-style pattern patio tile. There are also a number of different colours and sizes available in each style.
Total including delivery – £1331.95
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 it afterwards and get most of your money back if you look after it and clean it after every use. I sold mine for £180 after the project. The alternative 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
Now onto the project at hand.
How to lay porcelain slabs – A 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 https://www.pavingexpert.com/calcall to work out how much type 1 MOT you will need. It is normally sold in large bulk bags weighing about 850kg each.
Take a look at this video on YouTube which I found very useful for another project of mine.
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. Use your spirit level to achieve this.
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: 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. Also, please consider adding this adhesive to strengthen the bond. SBR Primer. This additive provides a stronger adhesion.
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 sloped away from the house.
As you add the concrete mix to the base, use just enough to do one tile, but overfill 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.
As you can see in the below picture I have about 65mm thickness on the mortar base. This is because I wanted it to line up nicely with my decking. You should try and stick to about 40-50mm thickness.
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.
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. (see above picture). 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. Not to worry though as we purchased some grout stain remover and cleaned the affected tiles.
We purchased this grout stain remover and it worked a treat. Then mixed 4 parts water to one part stain remover and scrubbed over the effected areas and the grout came out easily. Just be careful not to go over the actual joins.
Adding grout to the joints
Top tip – mix up enough grout to cover 20 or so tiles. The grout needs 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 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. Make sure you have the hose ready.
The messy bit
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 on this amazing exterior home transformation.
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. See below for more pictures.
Here’s my quick 5 minute YouTube video
Before and after pictures
If you like the look of my decking area and veranda take a look at these posts which provide easy step by step guides:
Porcelain tile installation options
There are a few different ways to lay an outdoor tile so you’ll need to decide which is right for you. I went for a solid mortar bed as it is considered the easiest and most cost-effective method. I’d also completed a similar job before with a garden patio so was familiar with the process. Take a look at my garden shed post to see how I achieved this.
Another option would be a system called PorcelQuick Adpeds. 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.
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.
- If you need to remove materials or structures before starting the work then ensure you have the right equipment and know-how at your disposal. As demolition experts iseekplant say “Demolition is a risky process which requires professional assessment”. Enlist the help of professionals if you are removing any large structures or outbuildings where your new porcelain patio will be placed.
Save money on tools and materials
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 £1000 over the last couple of years on all my normal spending and my wife is nearly up to £1200 for all our household spending!
We installed the Topcashback browser extension on our computers to ensure we never miss a cashback offer. Now we have enough money for a small holiday abroad.
Here’s a snapshot of my earnings
Read here how I made the raised planter with seating.
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 outdoor porcelain tiles (aka porcelain pavers) 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, frostproof, slip and fade resistance. 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.
If however you need to cut the tiles then look to buy or rent a decent cutter. This video should help.
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.
The finished project
Here’s the finished project with a sleeper border and decking walkway. Much better!
Some more of my projects
- How to build your own veranda for under £500
- How to build your own under stair drawers for under £100
Home and garden discount codes
Here are a few home and garden discount codes that might come in handy:
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- Hive active heating – £30 off – https://hive.mention-me.com/m/ol/sj8ol-ben-sully
- Virgin Media or Mobile – £50 off – http://aklam.io/wa4WZ2
- Don’t forget your TopCashback for great savings – https://www.topcashback.co.uk/ref/benjaminsully