Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big Project

Last month (8 - 12 October) Mrs. Agricola and I built a patio in the back of the Quarter Acre. We purchased our materials, staked out and squared the site on 6 October, barely touched it the following day due to a social commitment and then began excavating in earnest on Monday the eighth. We moved much dirt that first day and sifted a large amount of it in order to have good loam to use for back filling and other, future projects. The second day, Tuesday, of the project saw us moving more dirt and feeling some doubt as to our sanity for undertaking this big project. Sand and gravel were delivered on this day as well.

The paving stones were delivered Wednesday, Day 3, and dropped at the edge of the work site. By the late morning we had finished our excavations and started the leveling and sloping process. This, by far was the most tedious part of the job. Once we had the sub surface smooth and sloped we began building up a 2 inch gravel base on which we continued to check the grade before we compacted it and applied a second 2 inch gravel layer that we also compacted.

Thursday morning, Day 4, we started laying sand and placing bricks following a pattern that Mrs. Agricola applied to a nicely done scale drawing of the site. Mrs. A actually did much of the stone-laying, and played a pivotal role in this project -- without her help I alone never would have been able to finish this project in one week. The stones were in place by Thursday afternoon, and only finishing touches remained.

Friday, we finished up by cutting some stones to fit in the layout and sliced up others to close a small gap around our steps. I may be proudest of this aspect of the job because the gap was small -- due to Mrs. A's precise design and excellent placement. The slices I made and placed in the gap make the patio look very finished.

Aside from the sheer physicality of the project (which I loved, seeing as how I'm an office worker who longs to work with my hands) some other challenges were the weather -- all week it rained, or threatened to rain and we had to battle the elements.

In-ground sprinkler pipes are also tricky when one does not mark them well. I gouged one pipe with a shovel, but had it patched up in about an hour -- including a run to the hardware store for parts. As I was securing the the edging brace that surrounds the entire structure and helps to hold it all together I spiked the same hose (see above for marking hoses well). That was a brutal thing to fix because I spiked it very close to the edge of the patio and had to dig up a chunk of lawn in order to reach it and have any room in which to work. . . I skinned my knuckles so badly working to cut the pipe that there was blood in the water at the bottom of the hole I'd excavated to do the work on the pipes. Another challenge was that while laying the stones it was raining. Our gloves were quickly soaked and useless for carrying the stones. Going glove-less exposed our fingers to sandy bricks. The grit really cut up fingertips and left behind some nice callouses -- after a painful week of healing.

That said, this was an awesome project. I used four vacation days to complete it. I got to be around my wife and kids nearly around the clock. Despite the messy weather my kids played outside nearly all day every day. We have a nice patio that will permit better use of the space behind our house and reduce the amount of muck dragged into the house from the yard -- which in this area was always damp because it's on the north side of the house and quite shady. I honestly think I missed my calling in life -- masonry seems very appealing to me right now -- and am glad that I did this project, it was an amazing experience. I got to use shovels, wheel barrows, a plate compactor, sledge hammers, stone cutters, grub hoes . . . fun!

We'd been talking about this project for a while and we finally did it. Both Mrs. A and I had a huge sense of accomplishment from conceiving, executing and completing this project and are a better team for having done it together. This type of thing is one of the reasons we moved to the 'burbs and we can't wait for the next big project.

Patio Specs
The patio is 22 feet long and ranges in depth from 4 feet at the narrowest part to 8.5 feet at the widest with a large section of it at one end being 7.5 feet wide. The depth of the bed at the edge closest to the house is 5 inches below grade. The depth of the bed on the edge furthest from the house is 7 inches below grade -- the slope is about 1/4 inch/foot. The patio conforms to the contour of the land and has a similar slope along its length. At the high edge of the patio the stones are about 1.5 inches above grade and at the low end of the grade they are flush with the lawn. We used concrete paver stones from Ideal -- a local manufacturer. We spread 2 yards of gravel into the hole and about 3/4 of a yard of sand as the stone bed. Material came from a locally based supplier of such stuff. The total cost of the project, including material, rental equipment and some new tools was about $1,600.00 -- I don't think a contractor would have done it for less than $3,000.00.

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