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March 23, 2018   
County Wide Landscaping Paves the Way  March 06, 2006

County Wide Landscaping, Inc., is located in Elburn, Ill., about 54 miles west of Chicago. As I write this, Jan. 30, the weather out in Elburn is 31 degrees and cloudy. Not to laud our fair weather over other regions, but here in Southern Calif., we sometimes have to remind ourselves that in other parts of the country folks are shoveling snow off driveways and dressed like Siberian natives.

We get snow in the local mountains here, of course, but it’s a recreational option. My wife, daughter and friend, at the moment, are in Palm Springs to “visit the snow.” Snow in Palm Springs? No, but just outside of the city limits you take a road that leads to the base of Mount San Jacinto and there take an aerial tram to the top of the mountain, some 8,500 feet above the desert floor. It’s quite a climb and sight. At the top, like magic, you find snow. My wife reports the friend, a senior in high school, built a snowman—she’d never seen snow!

Landscape contracting companies in the Midwest have to be more flexible and hardier. When the snows come you want to keep your people busy and gainfully employed, so you put the that driveway installation on hold and get out the snow clearing equipment.

County Wide Landscaping, Inc., owned by Brian Larsen, who provides the attractive brick paving designs you see in this feature, builds driveways, walkways, patios, fireplaces, ponds and waterfalls, installs landscape lighting and irrigation, does lawn maintenance—and snow removal. Larsen’s design work and the County Wide team installation has translated into the company being a multiple-time recipient of Unilock’s “Paver of the Year” award. The company’s pond work is rated by Aquascape in the top 50 for pond installation in the U.S.

Brick Doesn’t Have to be Pedestrian, and It Doesn’t Have to be Red
When we think of brick we tend to hearken to our past—staid, old buildings of red brick, perhaps ivy covered, in a world of more flamboyant and flexible building materials. But brick is versatile. While many Chicagoans have heating blankets on their berths to take the nip out of the winter chill, for centuries in northern China, a brick bed platform (a kang) has functioned as a warmer. It is heated from below by burning straw or coal. Traditional homes with kangs are being supplanted by radiators, but an estimated 80-90 percent of farm families in China’s northeast still use kangs, writes Wang Hongyang, a professor at the Resource and Environment Institute of the Northeastern Agricultural University.

The brick paving you see in this feature is at times dramatic, elegant and fanciful. That’s the design element, of course, but the foundation of it all is in base prep and installation know-how.
From mess to marvelous: Larsen residence, Batavia, Ill.

The area excavated for a walk should be made slightly wider to give you a little breathing room. Only the sod and loose topsoil should be removed and the packed topsoil not disturbed. In this case, six inches of topsoil was spread. The base material is graded as closely as possible to the final contour. Walkways, generally speaking, require 4-6 inches of granular base and a bedding course of 1-1.5 inches.

The Larsen back yard patio has a hand-cut sun design inlay of quarry stone integrated into the brick pavers.

Base Prep

Base prep begins by marking out the excavation area. What could be simpler. Well, before the skid steer loader begins excavation, make sure the area is clear of underground cables or pipes. County Wide Landscaping uses a Cat Multi-Terrain Loader to remove the loose top soil. The base material is graded as closely as possible to the final contour, sloping all installations at least a quarter inch per foot of slope for drainage purposes.

Different grades of granular screenings are used depending on the depth of material required. For patios, walkways and pool decks, generally speaking, 4-6 inches of granular base is required and a bedding course of 1-1.5 inches. For driveways, a deeper granular base is required (6-12 inches) and the 1-1.5 inch bedding course.

The fleet yard at County Wide Landscaping, Inc., in Elburn, Ill. These CAT Multi- Terrain Loaders are much like Cat Skid Steer Loaders with a similar upper chassis, operator station, loader arms, quick coupler and many work tools but with a suspended rubber track undercarriage for lower ground pressure. The sticker reading “Patten CAT” on the machine at lower left indicates this CAT has been rebuilt, certified and assigned a new serial number and provided a new six-month warranty. Patten rebuilds to CAT specifications, replacing necessary parts and incorporating any product updates.

Tools of the trade. County Wide uses the of the 13 hp Americutter-20 (20-in. diamond blade) to cut block, brick, refractory or stone, wet or dry. A guillotine cutter is the easiest method of cutting brick, but for exact cuts a masonry saw works best.

Cap Brick, a large brick distributors in southern Ontario, Canada and the Toronto to Niagara area, recommends High Performance Bedding™(HPB), which is angular, washed limestone that is free draining and deters soil migration. It is said to equal the benefits of 3/4” clear gravel but is easier to handle, “similar to screenings or granular but without the dirt or small fines that hold water.” HPB is said to achieve a self-compaction of 93 per cent standard Proctor density and greatly reduces the amount of settling associated with granular A/B and sand screeding. HPB “requires 30% less tonnage to fill a hole than granular A/B. This is a significant cost saving by buying less of a higher value material that requires much less compaction saving time and effort.”

Whatever base material used, the appropriate thickness and compaction will ensure an installation to last a lifetime.

Appropriate base material, here a thick layer of grade 8 sand and a half-inch of coarse sand, will ensure the paver installation lasts a lifetime. A plate compactor (pictured) was used to firmly compact the sand, but only three inches at a time, as such compactors aren’t able to compact more than that. The heavier the plate, of course, the more compaction force. The vibrating frequency range is usually 2500-6000 vpm. Hand tampers are useful for tight areas or when building steps.

A plate compactor will firmly compact sand and gravel base material, but for best results no more than three inches of granular should be compacted at one time, as most compactors are not capable of compacting more than that. A hand tamper may be necessary in tight areas.

Raess Residence

For the Raess residence driveway in Batavia, Ill.—a paver design that makes the Yellow Brick Road look mundane, County Wide placed a base of 17.5 inches of grade 8 sand and a half-inch of coarse sand for the eight different Unilock pavers (all 7cm. thick). Compaction was done every three inches. Pave Edge Industrial was used as the paving restraint. The fanciful design, further detailed in the photo captions, required 7,000 man hours and took two weeks.

“When we finished we took a hard look and thanked God we were done,” exclaims Brian Larsen. “We feel the project is outstanding, like nothing seen or done before,” says Larsen. “Our attempt is to begin to show people that brick paving can be an art.”


We’ve gone over the base prep, but what next? Unilock ( has a great instruction pdf on its website for installing a walkway or driveway. Here’s a synopsis:

A screed guide of 1-1.5 inch dia. galvanized pipe is placed across the compacted granular base as a leveling guide for the course of sand or fine screenings. A straight board is pulled along the screed guides to check the final level for paver placement. A drainage slope of 1/4” per foot is maintained. When the level is correct, the pipe guides are removed and the grooves filled in. Image courtesy of Unilock


Pavers are generally laid on a bedding of coarse sand or fine screenings 1-1.5 inch thick, placed directly on the compacted granular base. A screed guide of 1-1.5 inch dia. galvanized pipe is placed across the granular base as a level guide for the bedding course.

Level and Slope

Pull a straight board along the screed guides and check the final level of the pavers by placing a paver on a guide. Remember to maintain drainage slope (1/4” per foot). Once you have completed an area remove the pipe guides, fill in the grooves, and continue screeding.

On driveways and walkways the soldier course or any edge work should be laid before installing the rest of the pattern. Image courtesy of Unilock

Laying the Pavers

As the pavers are place on the screeded bed, leave approximately 1/8” inch space between each paver. Start laying along the longest straight side of the area to keep lines straight.

Soldier Course

It is important that the lines of your pavers are square, 90 degrees to each other, to fit properly. If you are installing circles, fans or a soldier course (a border of pavers around the perimeter of the area) you will want to place these first before installing the rest of the pattern. Pattern designs are available for most paving brick.

It took 15,000 man hours to complete the Smith’s 10,500 sq. ft. circular driveway. It is patterned with ribbons and roses throughout using Brussels prairie, sandstone, limestone, Heritage brown Holland premier, Series 3000 platinum, chardonnay tan, onyx, quart stone basalt, Unigranite slate and rose, quarry stone prairie.

Cutting Pavers

A guillotine cutter or masonry saw will size those pavers that don’t fit along edges or around objects. A guillotine cutter is the easiest method but a masonry saw will give a more precise cut.

Edge Restraints

Edge restraints prevent the pavers from shifting over time, especially in the early spring when the ground is soggy.

At the Warda residence in Hampshire, Ill., the client’s favorite dragon image was copied and hand-carved onto the 575 sq. ft. brick patio. The hardscape includes Brussels and Sierra quarry stone; Unigranite slate; Series 3000 brick pavers in onyx, cabernet, white and chardonnay tan colors.

Compacting the Pavers

After the installation is complete, including edge restraints, the pavers must be swept clean and then compacted with a plate compactor. This helps settle the pavers into the bedding course and creates a smooth flat finish. The compactor will not harm the paving stone.

Jointing Sand

Sweeping specially graded jointing sand into the joints of the pavers further locks the pavers together. The use of a polymeric jointing sand can help prevent the sand from running out of the joints as well as reduce or eliminate any future weed growth. It is important to keep the joints filled to the top.

The Warda patio incorporates five waterfalls dropping in stages 15 feet to the lower patio. Flagstone steppers are the bridge connectors.

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