John Carroll

In the world of residential design, brick walkways don’t get much respect. Most people see them as a way to keep their feet clean when walking from the car to the house. But as one of the first things visitors see, a paved walkway can significantly enhance the visual impact of a home’s exterior. Recently, I was hired to build two brick walkways leading to the entrances to a 1928 house just a block away from Duke University.

There are two very different approaches to brick paving: flexible and rigid. With flexible paving, bricks are set dry in a layer of stone dust over a compacted aggregate base. The joints between the bricks are small and are filled with dry sand after the bricks are installed.

For this project, I opted for rigid paving, in which the bricks are set in a bed of mortar on top of a concrete slab with fully mortared joints. Rigid paving is more durable, but it can be unforgiving to movement, with any deformation in the slab showing up as a crack in the finished brick surface. Grouting the joints can also turn into an unholy mess if you’re not careful and patient.

Layout for the Walkway

The walkways started at brick gate posts that were 78 1/2 inches apart and ended at steps 98 1/2 inches wide. Because neither dimension worked with a 4-inch brick layout, I opted to make the walk 80 inches wide, notched around the brick posts and flared out the last couple of feet in front of the steps. The 80-inch width meant that I wouldn’t have to cut bricks for every course on the walk.

Where the walkway met the stairs, the finished surface measured one riser height (about 7 inches) down from the first tread. At the other end, the walk had to be flush with the city sidewalk. Working down from the walk surface, I allowed 4 inches for the concrete slab and

4 inches for a layer of washed gravel. We excavated to that level and mechanically compacted the soil base. After setting up forms, we compacted the layer of gravel and were ready to pour the slab.