Sunday, May 15, 2011

The patio saga, explained

Do you ever have one of those projects that never ends?  Sometimes it’s your own fault.  Sometimes it’s due to circumstances beyond your control.  And sometimes it’s both. 

I’m pretty sure that Aaron will never listen to any of my, “Honey, we can totally do this!” ideas ever again.  Never.  This patio has consumed every weekend for the past two months, it seems, and there’s so very little to show for it.  We’ve had the beginnings of a hole (well, just sprinklers moved and a bit of sod pulled up, but still…) since the beginning of November.  NOVEMBER.  That’s how long we’ve been working—or thinking about working—on this project.

There are a few things to understand. 

First, the area to cover is huge.  It’s nearly 400 square feet.  It runs the entire length of our house and partway down one side.  That’s a lot of everything: digging, crusher fine, flagstone, and back-breaking labor.

Second, we (I?  I’m no longer sure at this point) chose to lay flagstone.  And not just the imitation, interlocking, factory cut flagstone.  It’s the real stuff.  You know, the real stuff with irregular shapes and varying thicknesses. 

Third, we don’t own a truck.  This was perhaps the single biggest factor in 80% of the delays we’ve experienced.  When you don’t have a truck, you’re at the mercy of someone else: friends who have a truck you can borrow or the delivery guys and their schedules.  And you’re really out of luck if they can’t deliver your base in time for the available two-day weekend coming up because their schedule is booked.  Or if their forklift is broken so you have to wait an extra week to have your stone delivered so the forklift can be repaired. 

Fourth, we don’t don’t know what we’re doing.  That means we’re relying on the experts.  So when you tell the so-called experts your square footage, the depth you want your base to be, and the type of base you’ll be using and they tell you to order 2.5 tons of crusher fine and THEIR GUY spreads it out for you and everyone realizes that this is only a third of what you need, then it kind of stinks.  Now you have to wait (see point #3) for them to deliver more base, pay for delivery AGAIN (of course at the highest rate since you’re on the edge of town), and spread it yourself, because you only paid to have the guy spread the 2.5 tons, not the additional 5 tons you had to order.

So there it is.  I’m kind of kicking myself for not having just poured cement and called it good.  Of course it’s not going to be as beautiful.  But it would be done, and we wouldn’t have had to do it.

Aaron told me that if I wanted this done, then I needed to be the master planner.  So I watched a million YouTube videos on laying a patio and read thousands (I’m sure it was thousands) of tutorials on the best way to do every aspect of the project.  And let me tell you: the bozos who say that this is a weekend project have no idea what on earth they’re talking about.  That point was knocked home when I watch a professional lay a flagstone walkway.  It took him about 5 minutes of an edited video to get a single stone level and perfect.  Remember: this is the perfectly imperfect flagstone we’re talking about here.  And that’s when I realized that even when we got all the other steps finished, laying the stone was going to take forever.

So now you have the background.  Here are some photos of the progress we’re making:


Our backyard a year after we moved in (2007).  This was progress, actually.  At least we had a picnic table, a hose (for all the vegetation, as you can tell), and we were getting ready to have the curbing put down.


That same year after curbing, sod, and a circular patio were installed (not in the picture).  Our grass sure was lush that year; not quite sure what happened.  Of course they get tons of chemicals at the sod farms, so that probably had something to do with it.


First forays into gardening in 2008.  Oh how very sad that little bed looks. 


Construction begins on the pergola in fall of 2008.  Major milestone!!


In 2009 kids’ play equipment comes to the backyard, and they love it! 

Structurally everything in the backyard remains mostly unchanged until I have a bright idea in October of 2010.  Then, lightbulb!  Why should grilling be confined to that tiny builder’s slab?  Why should I have to sit on a picnic bench to be outside?  We have that whole empty flower bed by the house!  I didn’t know enough about gardening when we first did our design to realize that that area is almost completely shaded.  Why waste it on a few flowers that probably won’t do well?  What we need is a patio!  And so it began.


First we had to move the sprinklers.  And the dog.  Farewell Lando and yellow pee spots in the grass!  So long, poop pickup!  You will not be missed.


Then we needed to order fill dirt to even out our very uneven east side.  Next came the demolition of the slab and the south concrete border.  The demolition was accounted for in our plans; the removal of the debris was not.  Did you know that the city of Albuquerque does not accept concrete, rock or gravel at their landfills?  No wonder people just dump it in the fields.  Fortunately we found a materials company that took it for free to make recycled aggregate.  Unfortunately, their hours of operation did not coincide well with Aaron’s work schedule.  Getting rid of all the concrete took quite some time.


Since the slab was no longer there, the grill and grill cart needed a new temporary home. 


Then we marked out the shape of our patio with hose, staked it with lovely pink flags, and removed excess sod.  Then the dirt needed to come out.  My poor husband.  Then seven and a half tons of crusher fine had to be wheeled from the driveway to the back, poured, spread, and leveled.


Then it was time for the plate compactor.  We weren’t sure that this thing was even working after the first few passes, but then we figured out that we needed to wet it down quite a bit, and then it worked great.  The crusher fine compacted very nicely, which made us very glad we decided to stick it out.


Then FINALLY the laying!!  I cannot tell you how time consuming it is to level each one of these stones.  You constantly are having to remove dirt, spread dirt, add a little more, and then just a little more, and then remove some, and then add just a teeny bit in and then….all the while checking how level the individual stone is and how it compares with the rest so that your slope is right.  I can definitely see why the labor for a project like this is four times the cost of the materials.  And the materials aren’t cheap.  You’d better believe that my 26-week-pregnant self was down there laying flagstone as well.  We Barnes girls are hardy stock.  We’ve still got a TON of laying to do.  We’ve got a deadline coming up, and we’re going to work really hard to be done by then.  We’ll see!  It’s going to be a long week…



Tim said...

i feel nauseous just thinking about it... you guys are inspiring.

Gayle said...

Amazing! I've been struggling (unsuccessfully to date) to remove a small stump and believe I've reached my limit. I can't even imagine taking on a project like yours. Well done kids!