Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our DIY Back Patio

In the summer we tend to spend a lot of time on our back patio.  The patio did not come with the house, it was a project that we undertook by ourselves a few summers ago.  While it was back-breaking work, it's a great amenity to our home & we love spending time there.  It's the perfect space to relax when it's hot outside, as half of it is in shade all day long.  It's also the perfect place to gather with friends around the fire pit in the cooler evenings, drinking beer and roasting marshmallows.

Here is how the project started.  We have a small deck outside of our back door.  Because the grade is three feet below first floor, they needed a transition, so they put up a very small deck.  Well this left a bit of a "corner" in the back yard that was perfect for a patio.  Because the yard is so small it didn't make sense to extend the deck, or the rest of the yard would seem very small.   So we settled on a stone paver patio.  I started doing research and decided to use concrete pavers on a porous bed so that it would drain.  I wanted something that felt very much like a private English Garden.  Something a bit rustic, and sheltered on most of the sides by plantings and lush greenery.

The patio is bound on three sides by things we couldn't or didn't want to move.  The house, the deck and two large honeysuckle bushes that are about 10 feet tall.  So, we measured the area that was available, and figured out the best sized patio for that area.  It worked out to be about 12'x14'.  We found a paver tile that we loved, that were about $5 a piece.  In total we spent about $550 on the pavers.  Now it was time for the hard, and I mean HARD work.

First we strung up cord exactly where we wanted to have the patio.  We put stakes in all 4 corners and used yellow cord to mark the boundaries of the hole.  Next we scored up the grass in that area, removing sod that was about 12"x24"x 4" deep.  We were able to give some of this sod to neighbors, some we used to fill in dead spots in our yard, and the rest went to the city as recycled yard waste.  Then we needed to dig out the rest of hole.  The hole was meant to be12'x14'x9", so we still had about 5" of dirt to remove... that's right, with shovels, we dug out about 126 cubic feet of dirt and grass.

This was what it looked like after removing the top layer of grass and dirt

Next we put in a base layer of recycled concrete.  It's eco-friendly, as it is recycled, it's a bit cheaper than gravel, but still gives the benefit of being a porous layer to drain the water.  It also has the added benefit of helping to prevent vegetation from growing up through the patio.  The 4 cubic yards of very heavy gravel was dumped onto the edge of our driveway.  We had to fill dozens and dozens of loads of concrete into a wheelbarrow and dump them into the hole.  After the hole was full of stone, we rented a tamper to tamp the concrete down, so that the layer became stable, and it made the surface almost walkable.  We were able to get the recycled concrete for free from a friend who works for a demolition company & we rented the tamper from home depot for about $45.

Pardon the shade line, but you can see how most of the area is in the shade!
Also, note the remainder of the gravel pile in the driveway.

The concrete layer was around 3-5" deep, depending on the area.  Our first goal was also to prevent ponding and leaking of water along the foundation & basement wall, so we wanted to slope the new patio away from the house.  So the recycled concrete tended to be thicker near the house and thinner as it moved away.  It turns out that we should have used a level.  While the water definitely stays away from the house now, we didn't slope enough at the end of the patio, and now the water tends to collect in the middle.  However, it drains rather quickly, so we don't mind.  It just leaves dirt deposits in the middle of the patio that need to be swept clean occasionally.

The next layer was about a 1-2 inch bed of paver sand.  We tried to tamp the sand, but quickly learned that the mission was impossible, so we raked the sand so that it was pretty much level the way we wanted it to be.  We bought a lot of paver sand.  The sand came in 30 pound bags and I would guess that we spent about $150 on the sand.

Next we started to lay the stones in rows.  The first row is the most difficult.  It establishes the angle of the patio in both directions.

So we started with the two sides that were most important, and worked our way out from there.  Laying these stones is NOT easy.  You put one down in the sand and make sure it's level.  When you put the next stone down, it needs to be level to the stone before it.  This is the most difficult part.  Most stones were not level when you put them down the first time, so you need to pick them back up, level out the sand, fill in if it's low, and replace the stone.  Each of these paver stones were set at least twice.  This was a very time consuming part of the process.  It is also hard to pick up a 20 pound paver with the tips of your fingers, but that's what you had to do, so that you wouldn't disturb the level sand.

By the time we got to the last two rows, we were spent.  The whole process had taken about 6 weeks at this point, and we were tired of setting stones... but we couldn't just leave it!  We had to get motivated and finish.  Of course we were doing this in June, to get ready for the 4th of July, so it was a bit warm.

We were almost there!  So we laid the last few stones and started to add paver sand in between the stones.  The stones that we purchased were stamped to look like 4 stones in each square, so we put paver sand into each crevice, including the stamped ones to give the appearance of multiple stones.  We would throw down the sand, and carefully push it into the cracks, then swept the surface with a broom at the end to fill in the gaps.

Now we had to deal with all of the rest of the dirt!  We had a lot of dirt that we had just piled up against the house while we were working.  We had dirt piled about 3 feet high along the house and cascading down toward the patio.  This dirt needed to be moved.  The photo below only shows about half of the dirt we were left with.

We were able to give some away, transfer some into planting beds and spread the rest out in another area of our yard, but it was finally gone.  We tilled up the surface dirt around the patio & added the furniture.  Hooray!  We were finally done.  Here is the final product.

The whole patio cost us about $750, way less than it would have cost someone to put it in.  I believe we had heard it would be about $3,000 to hire someone to put in this same patio.  Well worth the 6 weeks of work to do it ourselves!

Since this was several summers ago that we finished the patio, we have added larger beds around the patio and lots of new plants since then.  Moss has started to grow in the joints of the stones and around the back of the patio, which was exactly what I wanted to help it to feel more like an English garden.  Once summer comes around I'll be sure to update with a few current photos, but this is our project.  We are extra proud of it because we did it all by ourselves and it's perfect for us.

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