Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding Place for Extra Dirt

Humphrey-house has been a bit of a mud pit for the last... oh five weeks or so, as we tore out the old concrete in the backyard and are putting in reclaimed bluestone pavers. It seems like years already. There has been a lot of digging, excavating, pain killers - and then - more digging. It's all a necessary evil as we prepare for a 4-inch base of gravel and 1-2 inch of sand under the pavers.

Given the small urban lot, we quickly ran into a problem though. What do we we do with all of that dirt? We had to creative. Fortunately, some landscape design wishes and our favorite holiday came in to save the day.

Ideas for Extra Dirt:

1) Create a landscape planter!
We always thought a nice raised planter bed with wide rails in front of our rear porch would be a great landscape feature. It would make gardening a bit easier, and also provide extra sitting room outside. If only we had enough dirt to fill it though... a-ha! Problem solved! Sadly, while this turned out great (and I will post about the construction later), this ended up taking only a few loads of dirt in the wheelbarrow, so other dirt solutions were needed.

2) Raise those flower beds!
We have a "peripheral" planting area that surrounds the yard. In the past, it's been unofficially defined as the line where we can't get the few blades of grass in the yard to grow further. Now, with several wheelbarrows (20+) of roto-tilled soil, we have sleek looking berms surronding the yard. The berms give a lot of depth and texture to the small space! Bonus: concrete chunks can be reused as a nice little "rock garden".

3) Make graves!
This was honestly the most fun way to place the extra dirt. We normally have a cemetery in the front yard at Halloween. but this year it got more interesting and authentic as we created fresh graves for the tombstones. Mwah -ha -ha!

Even after these efforts, we still have a fairly hefty mound we will need to deal with. Some will be used to back-fill in dirt around the edges of the patio, but we may have to craigslist it, or build a semi-raised planter for next year's veggie garden. In the meantime, we're ready to climb out of the mud and onto a patio!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Digging Trenches

This summer we had some drainage problems with the old concrete slab we had that was pitched towards the house. Large rainfall = water cascading down the basement walk-out stairs and seeping into the house.

We knew it had to be fixed, and preferably before winter. So after a bit of scouring, I came across a Craigslist posting for some large bluestone pavers. A great look at reasonable cost. Plus, we could finally put our patio furniture on an actual patio! A week later, I heard jackhammers across the alley and found a crew tearing up a concrete sidewalk. After short conversation and some cash, they came and removed our old sidewalk.

Now we had a nice big trench going through the yard. Could be a fun slip-n-slide if only we lived on a hill. And if it was summer. But instead, i will slowly continue to dig this out for the patio.

I'm finding its quite hard to do a siginficant landscape job like this on a small urban lot. There are piles of bluestone all over the rear, and patio furniture, grill, firepit, landscaping stuff, piles of dirt, rain barrels, potting materials and other errata that all needs to be shuffled from one area to another as work progresses. It's also really hard to dig out compacted dirt! My back is getting a good workout from this, and I can only take a little at a time.

But things will need to pick up. Chicago just got our first below freezing temps (although one year ago we set records in the 80's), so there is little time left before winter to wrap this project up. Otherwise we'll be stuck shoveling snow off the "temporary" stepping stones all winter long!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blending In the Trap Door

Last week, I posted about building a trap door. The construction part was fun, but the real magic took place after we prepped, primed, and painted the area.

The old siding we restored was a bit more damaged on the south side of the building as opposed to the north. Judging by our 100-year old siding, those UV rays are equally harmful to the "skin" of the house as they can be to people! The siding had actually weathered the most near the edges. In some places, the many layers of paint had worn away, and we discovered that the original siding of our home was not painted at all - but rather stained! And stained a nice dark shade of green. Very similar to the dark green we chose to put back on the front of the house. I wish i had a photo to post here, but they just didn't turn out very well.

Anyway, we had to prep these areas by filling the holes left behind by the 10-penny nails attaching the crappy vinyl siding to the house. There were a few other choice areas for wood filler as well, as you can see from the photos here.

After that, we used a nice primer from the Sherwin William store called Peel Bond, which is meant to help cover imperfections in exterior paint. it's actually meant to cover alligatoring paint, but I think you'd need several coats to get that done effectively. It does help encapsulate and smooth over rough patches though, giving the siding a somewhat glossy and resilient base for the final paint.

The final paint went on in a jiffy, and quickly blended in the newly exposed sides on the porch, with the rest of the front of the house (painted last year). And the trap door we installed just seemed to "melt away" into the wall.