Sunday, June 22, 2014

It is Finished!

Are you all ready for some dramatic finished product shots? Well, too bad, because you're not getting any. The project is, indeed, finished, but it still has quite a bit of growing to do.

We planted our ten little Irish moss plants down the center gap. They should each grow to be about 12" across so we will definitely need to purchase more plants to fill everything in, but our plan is to let these little guys get established first. This will not only serve as a test run to make sure the moss will thrive in the light and soil conditions present here, but also let us get an idea of how many more plants we will need.

We mulched along the sides to help cut down on mud until we have moss there, as well. We also spread grass seed at the end of the paver rows so we will eventually have a nice lush lawn to meet up with the moss.

Chico heartily approves!

So this project was definitely a lot of work, but the end result is so worth it. Especially once everything fills in! And we managed to do everything for under $150. You can't beat that. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pouring Concrete Pavers

When I last left off, we were just getting started planning out the spacing for our pavers so we could make our form.

We had purchased some 12' long 2x4s since the space we are working with is 13' long. Then we laid them out and played around with the spacing between them until we found something that looked balanced. We settled on 24"x24" blocks with a 6"  gap down the center and in between rows. This left about 12" on either side.

Once we had settled on that set up, it was time to make our form. We cut several 24" long pieces as well as several 3" pieces to act as spacers. We cut them to 3" because each board is 1 1/2" wide. Always make sure to take your board width into account when doing stuff like this. That's a rookie mistake.

So we laid our 12' board down and used the nail gun to attach the 24" boards in between. The boards in the photo above that are parallel with the driveway are spacers. We used the same spacers the whole time to ensure uniformity.

Here's one side completed. We made another one just like it, and then used our 3" spacers to attach them.

Once that was complete, it was time for more digging. We wanted to spacers to be recessed into the ground and we were working with a natural slope. I won't go into too much detail because it's very specific to our space we are working with, but basically we needed to bury one side of the form.

Thar she is in place. And thar she stayed for a week because work gets in the way of everything. It ended up being for the best, however, because it gave the dirt a chance to settle.

And our dumpster came during that week! It felt so very wonderful to be able to purge all the junk that had been sitting around outside and in.

Fast forward to the next weekend, and it was concrete pouring time! We picked up a few bags of gravel and poured about 1" of it into the bottom of each square.

Then we mixed up the concrete in our wheelbarrow according to the directions on the bag.

We shovelled it into the square, filling it so it was just a little higher than the level of the form. We used a trowel to smooth into all the corners.

Then we used a piece of scrap wood across both sides of the form and used a sawing motion back and forth all the way down to get everything level.

Then we went over it with a rubber float to smooth things out. Finally, we used an edger to make clean edges on each square.

Things weren't looking at all like I thought they should, so about mid-way through David decided to take a stab at it, and discovered the error of our ways.

Can you guess which one he did? Apparently I was not working the concrete enough to make the larger chunks of gravel sink to the bottom. I finally got the hang of using a wiggly "icing the cake" type motion with the trowel and it was smooth sailing after that.

We covered everything with a sheet of plastic and left it for the night.

The next day was form removal. We started by cutting the wood in between each square with the reciprocating saw so that we could remove the form square by square. We may have waited a bit too long for this step (the directions on the bag were unclear on this point). They were difficult to remove and we ended up using a pry bar to lift the form while I jumped up and down on the concrete.

Looking pretty good, but we still had to deal with the rough, ugly pavers we had made before we got the hang of things. After some googling, we decided to pick up a bag of portland cement and apply a thin layer. This stuff is different from concrete mix in that it doens't have any sand or gravel mixed into it.

We used the trowel and rubber float to smooth things out as much as possible.

It was quite an improvement! We only applied the portland cement to the five that were very rough and left them to dry to see how differently they would look. It ended up being a pretty noticeable difference so we will be applying the cement to the rest of the blocks so they all look uniform.

But first I was eager to go ahead and fill in with dirt.

Cait at My Old KY House has a sizeable dirt pile in her backyard from her exploits at removing approximately 5,000 raised beds in her yard, so I took advantage of her bounty and filled up the back of my truck with soil.

We are very nearly done! The last time I was at Lowe's I found that they had Irish moss again and for less than at the garden centers I had visited before, so I picked up several plants.

They have adorable tiny flowers on them.

Hopefully in the next few days I will have a celebratory "I'm finished!" post along with some beautiful after pictures.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Moving the Fence Gate

It's part two of phase one of Project We Want a Deck! That's right, it's gate moving time.

Here's what we were originally dealing with. There are basically four sections. A small piece to the left of the gate, the gate itself, a small piece to the right of the gate, and then a section of fence that runs parallel with the garage. We wanted to re-use as much of the same materials as we possibly could to keep down costs and to make fitting it all together again that much simpler.

Before we started removing anything, the first thing that needed to be done was digging new holes for the posts. I measured the distance from the wall to the center of the first post in its current location and came up with 15". I measured that distance over from the wall in the new location and started digging with my handy post hole digger that I borrowed from my mom about a year ago (sorry Mom, you can have it back after this project, I promise).

I dug my hole 24" deep because that seemed like a reasonable thing to do and I had that number in my head as being "correct" for some reason.

After digging the first hole, I measured again from the wall to the second post on the other side of the gate and came up with 76". That's where I ran into a slight issue.

76" was right on top of the foundation for the garage. Sad trombone noise. I put on my problem solving hat and decided the easiest thing to do would be to shift everything over 6". I fortunately had enough wiggle room to make it work, but that UNfortunately meant that I had dug my first hole in the wrong place. It didn't take long to widen it, however, and then dig the second hole at 70" from the wall.

After that, it was time to start dismantling the fence. David dug out around the first post, and, as expected, it was held in place by some concrete.

After a few minutes of wiggling the post, hitting the concrete with the spud bar, digging some more, wiggling some more, etc, David was able to lift the whole shebang right out of the ground.

Look at those muscles.

Then we were left with this bad boy. We plopped in right in the new hole and made sure the depth was good, which it was. Way to go, me.

Because we were shifting everything over by 6", we measured, marked and cut that amount off of each board, as well as trimming back the wire fencing with tin snips.

We got everything nice and level and straight, then filled the hole in about half way with packed dirt to hold it in place. We then repeated the same process with the other side of the gate (after detaching the gate from the hinges).

Once we got to this stage, we roughly rehung the gate to make sure everything fit properly before we set the posts in concrete, which it did not. After a few sessions of measuring, and trimming, and digging, and remeasuring, we finally got everything to fit together properly.

We removed the gate again and gave everything one last measure and then followed the instructions on the concrete bag for setting posts. It basically involved dumping the mix down in the hole and then wetting it. Pretty simple stuff.

While that was curing, David removed the last section of fence that ran parallel with the garage.

It's amazing how much more open the backyard feels.

After the allotted curing time, we re-hung the gate.

I am already in love with this change and wish we had done it a long time ago. The best part is that so far on this project, we have spent exactly $2.50, which was for the bag of concrete.

In part three of phase one of Project We Want a Deck, we will be pouring our concrete paver walkway.

We have already started planning out the spacing and will optimistically be pouring the concrete tomorrow. Wish us luck because we have no idea what we are doing and something tells me this is one of those projects that just might go horribly awry!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beth Smash!

Our backyard is really lacking in any sort of outdoor entertaining space. No deck, no patio, no nothing. We have wanted to add a ground level wooden deck for quite a long time, but there was one big thing that got in our way. The backyard gate. The gate is at the end of a small paved breezeway between the house and detached garage. The gate swings in towards the yard and so even though the deck would be ground level, it would still come off the ground about 8", and thus, interrupt the swing of the gate. Even if we turned it so it swung out, we still feared the step up would be a tripping hazard. 

David came up with the idea of tearing out the concrete in the breezeway, which was cracked and in poor condition anyway, and then moving the gate so that it was flush with the edge of the house. Here's a picture to hopefully make more sense of that.

We prodded at the section of the concrete closest to the gate and it seemed like removing it would be a breeze and so we decided to get to work. We can call this Phase 1 of Operation We Want A Deck. I'm not sure if actual deck building will take place this year or not since I am filled with guilt over once again putting off work on the basement. We will see how we feel after Phase 1 is complete.

The first section of concrete was indeed super easy to remove. It took about 30 minutes to break it up and move it out of the way since the concrete was thin and not well attached to anything. We were lulled into a false sense of confidence about the project very quickly. The second section was a bit thicker and had poorly installed wire mesh in it. By the time we got to the third (and largest) section, the concrete was about 6" thick and very much correctly installed.

It took us all afternoon working together with a sledgehammer and spud bar (which is like a very heavy, long steel pole with one pointed end and one crow bar end) to get up the rest of the concrete.

And then the rest of that evening to haul it out of the way. We are renting a dumpster from the city to throw all this stuff into, along with some other junk that's been sitting around outside the house for forever. I'm really super pumped about it.

So this morning, we got started digging. There was a piece of conduit through which all the electrical wires run from the house to the garage. David wanted to replace it and the wires inside of it, but ended up not being able to since the garage foundation was actually poured over it. We also dug a trench to bury that obnoxious downspout drain pipe which is very efficient at collecting leaves.

So this is where we are now. I'll be talking about how we are going to move the gate in the next post, but first: what are we planning to do right here? Here's a very VERY poorly photoshopped rendering.

And here's my inspiration picture:

I plan to use Irish moss in between my pavers. I picked up some 16" square pavers from Lowe's which is the largest they had.

As you can see, they are looking really puny. I'd like to find some that are at least 24" square. I have looked around a few garden centers in town without any luck. There's one more place I'm going to try and if that is a bust as well, we have plans to pour our own. But that will have to wait until after gate move-age!