The patio floor was a job beyond me. A lot of soil to remove and cart away, a lot of base and sand to bring in, renting & transporting a plate vibrator, etc., more than I am tooled up to do. Laying the pavers themselves is not rocket science.
I collected direct mail ads, combed the Yellow Pages, and checked the Concrete Paving Institute website for interlocking paver contractors. Then checked them out on the BBB web site and the California State Contractors License web site. In my area (Ventura County) two major players emerged, Systems Paving and Pacific Pavingstone. I added a third, smaller, local contractor to the mix and called all three for appointments for estimates. The third didn’t return my call for 7 days, so was eliminated. I promptly got appointments with the first two and in both cases was told when making the appointment on the phone that they don’t do anything for under $6000. This was in July 2006.
The Systems Paving sales guy was really quite good. Gave me a detailed estimate with a sketch. They were a BBB member and had a AAA rating. They had two Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute certified installers. Their claim to fame was “everyone learned from them.” I got the drift when I visited the paver manufacturer, Angelus, that they had a preference for Systems Paving.
The two salesmen Pacific Pavingstone sent out were not as skilled at sales and did not leave me with as detailed of a quote. It was extremely difficult to track down info on their company as they didn’t put their license number in their ads and they weren’t in the local phone book. They did have a AAA rating from the Los Angeles BBB, but no records with the local (Santa Barbara CA) BBB. They had five Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute certified installers and were the only Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute member company that I found. Their phone person was borderline snotty. Their claim to fame was they say they have their own crews and don’t use subcontractors. The Angeles Block salesman I talked to said “they all use subcontractors.”
I got the best vibes from System Paving and went with them. My mistake.
Great salesman aside, it turned out that Systems Paving just subcontracted the entire job out to another outfit which went by the names C&R Pave Stone and CR Paving and Demo. There is nothing necessarily wrong with using subcontractors, but it depends on the quality of the subcontractors. It might have worked if Systems Paving provided supervision, but they didn’t.
Day one two laborers arrive from CR Paving & Demo and proceed to excavate the soil. I notice they are not digging deep enough for the 6-inches of base that I contracted for. (4-inches is the ‘standard’ for residential patios, 6-inches is better and costs very little more - highly recommended.) I tell the laborers that this job gets 6-inches of base and they seem surprised. It takes two frantic calls to get a Systems Paving supervisor out. He verifies that they are not digging deep enough and the problem is corrected.
Day two a half dozen guys from CR Paving & Demo arrive and finish the job. No supervisor. Takes several phone calls to get a supervisor on site. The workers are all quite fast. Too fast as I will later discover. Installing new sprinkler lines required digging right next to the patio edge. This is when I discovered that there was very little concrete under the patio border pavers, as little as one inch in places, and also no base at all under this concrete. Also, a lot of the paver joints have no joint sand in them.
While the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute Tech Spec No. 3, “Edge Restraints for Interlocking Pavements” shows a number of approaches to edge restraints, all are at least placed on compacted aggregate base. There should have been 4 inches of compacted aggregate base under the concrete, or the concrete should have been at least twice the thickness as it was – and as such under the entire edge paver, not just part of it. This is shoddy work. The edge restraint is what holds the entire pavement system together! This is where the patio would fail. The Systems Paving salesman had quoted 3” to 4” concrete under the edge pavers. If I did the job myself I would have also put rebar in this bond beam, and four parallel runs of half-inch at that. I have done several long concrete footings of very small cross-section areas in less than favorable locations using this method resulting no cracking at all. When I mentioned using rebar to the Systems Paving and Pacific Pavingstone salesmen during the quote process they all flinched. They seem to have a weird fear of it. I guess they must make good money on repair jobs down the road.
If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.
Use a company with their own crew. I’d try Pacific Paving Stone if you’re in their area. They claim to have their own crews.
Checking an outfit out with the BBB, the state licensing board, and the Interlocking Paving Institute is recommended, but no guarantee of a good job.
Get the salesman to write down on the contract how much soil will be removed (what depth) and how deep the concrete will be under the edge pavers.
What should Systems Paving done once this mess was discovered? Any large company should have a Quality Control or Quality Assurance department. As part of their quality plan they should have issued what's called a Corrective Action Report explaining what went wrong, why it went wrong, what they were going to do to fix it, and what they were going to do to keep it from happening again. And, they should have sent me a copy.
Update... January 2010
Came time to replace my father's driveway. 2500 square feet and severely cracked and heaved. Some idiot saved a few hundred bucks by not installing any rebar. Several estimates were received in December 2009 for concrete replacements ranged as high as $33,000, and that was for a simple broom-finished surface. I wished we could get interlocking pavers instead, but expected that to cost even more. Nevertheless, we requested an estimate from Pacific Paving Stone, A.K.A.: Pacific Outdoor Living, Systems Paving's main competitor.
Their salesman came out and thoroughly described the installation process and brought us paver samples to see. He answered all of our questions and spent considerable time with us - into the evening, and this was the day before Thanksgiving when he had a long drive back to LA. The price was $25K, lower than some of the concrete bids. We signed the contract that evening.
Demolition began December 18. We had expected the driveway to be torn up over Christmas but the job was completed ahead of schedule on the 23rd! The entire operation was performed by their own crew, not a sub. They were polite, professional and efficient. They installed conduits under the driveway connecting several planter areas. This was totally unexpected. We have since used those for running landscape lighting wiring through. What a nice touch to include those conduits!
One thing I noticed was that after the Pacific Outdoor Living crew set the border pavers in concrete they waited 24 hours before using the plate vibrator to set the field of pavers into the sand base. The Systems Paving crew leveled the base, set the field of pavers, cut the border units, set the border units in concrete, vibrated the field of pavers into the sand, and vibrated in the interlocking paver sand all in one day. No significant amount of time passed between mixing the border concrete (what little there was) and applying the vibrator. It doesn't seem that the border would be locked into place by the concrete before the adjoining vibrating pavers began applying pressure.
Another thing I noticed was that when the Systems Paving plate vibrator operator was vibrating in the interlocking paver sand he was so immersed in such a huge cloud of sand dust that he was barely visible, yet he was not wearing any breathing protection at all, not even a $1 disposable paper mask. This is not a good thing, not just for the operator, but also the sub, Systems Paving, and the homeowner, all who might be liable in a lawsuit. The Pacific Outdoor Living vibrator operator wore a facemask.
The only negative thing I have to say about Pacific Outdoor Living is that in their bid they included a concrete ''apron'' where the driveway met the street saying this was required by Public Works. Not so in this area. Public Works here repairs sidewalk cracks, removes graffiti, maintains streets, etc., they don't deal with such things at all. Building & Safety issues construction permits and unless you're cutting a curb nothing is required for a driveway (and Building & Safety told me that twice.) In addition, Pacific Outdoor Living had installed a driveway a few hundred feet down the same street from this job last year and didn't include an ''apron'' in it. The salesman needs to be more aware of the local building codes, as does the customer, as this piece of concrete would have added $1950 to the cost of the job. Every city, county and state has different codes - check them out _yourself_, don't rely on the salesman. Half of the concrete driveway replacement bids we received included a "permit." This city doesn't issue permits for driveways. Consider it a red flag of warning if you get a bid that includes a permit for anything that doesn't require one - either the contractor doesn't know what he's doing or he's trying to soak you for a few hundred more dollars.