Building or expanding your outdoor living environment into a gorgeous, functional space with a new paver patio can be immensely rewarding. The return on your investment can even be within the 90% – 110% range, so that makes a paver patio a cost worth making.

It can also feel utterly overwhelming when you first start. There are a lot of design aspects that need to be considered and choices to be made before you even start.

Here are the top 11 questions you need to think about:

1. How do you want to use the space?

What’s your vision for the future in this space? Do you picture intimate gatherings with just your family or a few friends? Do you want to host large parties and social events? Given the way (or ways) that you may use the area, should you go for a large, open space or should you carve off sections to accommodate smaller groups?

Don’t be afraid to pull out pictures from Instagram or snapshots of other patios you’ve seen that you find appealing. That will help inform your contractor of the aesthetic you gravitate toward the most and make your later choices easier.

2. How big does your paver patio need to be?

Once you’ve answered the first question, it’s time to think about the total size of your paver patio. You need to accommodate not just the number of bodies you picture in your gatherings, but things like room to walk, space for your grill, total seating and any other furniture or permanent fixtures you may want.

3. Which paver stones are right for your design?

You really shouldn’t wed yourself to a particular style of paver stone until you’ve done some deep thinking about those first two questions. Ultimately, the pavers you choose will affect both the overall price of your project and the atmosphere of the space.

Your contractor should be able to walk you through the available options and guide you to choices that will best accomplish your goals. You can often accomplish a lot (and limit your costs) by simply incorporating a few custom accent pieces into your basic design by adding an accent band in a wall, an inlay down the center of a patio or a contrasting trim with a different paver color or style around your base.

4. Are any changes in elevation needed for the space?

The easiest (and least-expensive) paver patio is the one that’s laid on a surface that’s already entirely flat. Your existing lawn, however, may need to be raised or lowered at points to achieve that level surface.

Sometimes retaining walls will be necessary, to either build up the patio or keep the surrounding ground from collapsing in on your space. Other times, it may be better to create unique areas through high and low sections.

5. What built-in elements are part of your dream?

Fire pits are probably the number one built-in feature people want in a paver patio. Because these come in numerous variations — round, square, semi-circular, flat, built into walls and free-standing — your choices here will influence the overall look and feel of your space.

You also need to consider whether you want to add things like a summer kitchen, a built-in grill, water features or other design elements. Placement, of course, is also an issue, as that will affect both the functionality and aesthetics of your patio.

6. Are there any restrictions on what you can build?

Your plot plan, HOA bylaws and any easements can limit some of your options. Generally speaking, you’ll need your plot plans ready at your first consultation so that you don’t inadvertently fall in love with a design that you cannot have.

Your HOA may be fairly accommodating as long as you keep your paver patio behind the build lines of your house and submit your plans for approval, but you may want to check with your local HOA representative prior to planning — just to be certain.

7. What kind of permits do you need?

If your paver patio is fairly simple and built per manufacturer recommendations on compacted gravel over screened sand, they are not considered permanent structures, so no permit may be required.

Once you start adding in other features, such as a deck, plumbing, a wood structure to cover a summer kitchen, electric and gas lines, your municipality may require permits, inspections or both. Generally speaking, your contractor will probably prefer to manage everything from the permits to the meetings with the inspectors on your behalf.

8. Do you want or need shade?

There’s nothing more disappointing than a paver patio that you can’t use all the time simply because it doesn’t have any shade. In the summer, the intense heat from the afternoon and late-day sun can make the space far too uncomfortable for your enjoyment — particularly if your patio is on the southern or western side of your home and there’s no existing shade.

A cedar pergola or arbor can be beautiful additions to your patio that will add necessary shade, but you can also look into roofed pavilions and sailcloth as alternatives. Again, your choices here can have a huge effect on the overall aesthetic quality of your space — and its value to you.

9. Should you add some wall seating?

Seat walls are actually a creative, multi-use addition to a paver patio that shouldn’t be under-valued. Properly placed, they can create a sense of flow between sections of your patio and lawn, serve as dimensional accent elements to your overall design and allow you to dramatically increase your seating capacity for large gatherings without messing around with extra chairs.

10. How much are you willing to spend?

This is, ultimately, a deeply personal decision. You may have a maximum budget in mind that cannot be passed. If so, it’s important to be clear about that figure before you start planning because it will help your contractor guide you to the design choices that will give you the maximum benefit for your dollars.

If you’re flexible about the amount you want to spend, and you’re more concerned about getting what you need than money, that’s fine, too. The important thing is that you and your contractor are both operating under the same basic understanding of your financial limitations. Otherwise, you can end up disappointed and frustrated as you’re forced to scale-back your dream design.

11. How do you intend to select your contractor?

There’s a lot of science, engineering and design elements in play during the construction of a paver patio — and the best adage to remember here may be, “You get what you pay for.” You don’t have to choose the most expensive contractor you consult with, but choosing someone who is just dipping their toes into the business or going with a cut-rate contractor is likely to give you subpar results.

Ultimately, you could spend more in the long run by choosing the cheapest contractor once you find that your paver patio either doesn’t meet your needs or quickly falls into disrepair. It can be far more costly to build a patio poorly, tear it down and rebuild than it would be to simply pay for a job done right the first time.

While we’d ideally prefer that you choose us as your contractor, you can reliably separate the good contractors from the bad by finding out if they abide by NCMA and ICPI specifications, have NCMA- and ICPI-certified installers and are Authorized Contractors by their preferred paver manufacturers. Also, check to make sure they carry the appropriate liability coverage and workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Also, you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least do a quick Google search for reviews to see what their past customers have said.

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak with several contractors before you make your decision about which to hire. You want to work with someone to whom you can easily relate. That’s the easiest way to find a contractor who will understand your vision and bring your dream paver patio to life.