Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Big Reveal

Philip taking a turn at the wheel today. After about 5 weeks of work, we are finally ready to reveal the results from our extreme backyard makeover (Phase 1). These first two pictures are from our deck looking down. You really can't appreciate the slope of the yard from these but by the end of the post you'll be able to see it better. None of this would have been possible without John who runs "Edge of Paradise LawnCare". I was referred to him by one of the other docs I work with in July and he has been a huge help with turning the concept into reality. (Joia is actually the one who told Nip about our plans and set the whole chain of events in motion.) Anyway, here is how it started...



And here is what it looks like now...
The playset...

...and trampoline (above ground pool in the spring)

So now that you've seen the end (Joia said most of you would have just skipped to the end anyway) here are some more details of the progression. The first part of the project was actually replacing the overgrown 4 foot metal fence to give us some more privacy from the relatively busy street that runs down that side of the house. We don't have any great before pictures so here are some older ones that we dug out of the iPhoto archive.

Can you pick out the fence from the overgrowth?

Here is one of the Keenanator down by the tree line.
You can see the fence in the background (sort of)
and the super kid friendly ground cover that used to be present.

Old fence and a lot of foliage now gone

Take note of that bit of overgrowth in the foreground on the left. This was an old tree stump that previous owner had cut down which was subsequently taken over by blackberry plants and oak saplings. It had proven nearly impossible to eradicate until later in this project.)

New fence installed

And now it has been stained using "FiveMinute Fence"!

It actually took about two hours but that is a lot quicker than any other way that I looked into. This is the only part of the fence that I actually helped with as I was in St. Louis while it was being built. In the last picture you can see that the blackberry/oak tree patch has been destroyed. How did we do that you ask?

Oh yeah!

This is John getting started on the main project by removing a tree that we couldn't work around. After most of the digging and leveling work was taken care of, I got to use the backhoe to go to town ripping out the blackberry patch. Clearly this project was not just about making a safe and fun place for the kids. Daddy got to play too!

We don't have a picture of the lower wall before the back-fill process was well underway but you can see here that after the front end loader was done there was still quite a bit of leveling to do and a ton of roots to remove.

John and his son are hard at work here installing the lower course of the upper wall.

This is also the part of the process were the water level makes its cameo. If you're wondering, the water level is that clear plastic tube attached to the green handled shovel. This is what I used to determine how much slope there was in the yard and just how big we could make the flat area without exceeding the height limits of these retaining wall blocks. (This next part is for you Mark!)

These are the original plans I came up with (using Excel and PowerPoint).

The blue circles are different above ground pool diameters and the tan oval is the approximate safety area for a mid size play/swing-set. It was going to have one wall (the thick dashed line) that would be about five feet tall in the top left corner above and the are from the wall to the line connecting the ends of the wall would be the flat area. We wouldn't have needed to dig up the yard at all, but would have needed a ton of fill dirt. Actually, it would have taken a few tons. We had another contractor come in and give us an estimate on doing this with wood but it was way too expensive. Interestingly, he had a transit which he used to do his own surveying and it agreed with the water level to within 1/2 an inch.

Here is the change after we decided to go with retaining wall stones.

The size of stone available in our budget can't be built to 5 feet tall so we had to build up one side and cut into the hill on the other side. By doing it this way we ended up not needing to bring in any fill dirt.

Here are the final plans with pool and playset locations switched.

(After realizing that it was probably a bad idea to stress the tallest part of the retaining wall with 35,500+ lbs of water on freshly compacted dirt. And having the kids jump off the swings into a retaining wall was also not my finest planning moment.)

Okay, so enough of the detour through Geekville.
Here is the project at the end of the initial wall installation and ground leveling.

See that little pile of landscaping stones on top of the hill to the right of the wall?

Those babies were dug out of our front yard during the first project John tackled for us which involved removing massive amounts of overgrowth and a previously unknown massive collection of bricks, stones and blocks that the previous owners had relied on for landscaping.

They worked very nicely to form a border between the pool and playset areas and also to hold back the gravel out of the pool area. (We didn't want grass or mulch around the pool since it would have either been dragged into the pool or been killed by chlorinated splash out). This area had to be super level or the pool wouldn't set up correctly and it actually took a few hours to get the stone circle in place and level out the ground in the middle.

With the pool area done it was time to work on the play-set. In this picture I'm using some stakes and string to level out the ground around the base and decide where the anchor holes will go.

The stakes that come with the kit are just supposed to screw into the ground, but I didn't think that would be a good idea with such soft newly compacted ground. Thus we dug these holes and set the stakes in concrete.

I don't know how, but we don't have any pictures of the play-set in intermediate stages. This shows our basement filled with all of the wooden pieces.

It also came with over 1000 pieces of hardware (nuts, bolts, screws, etc). The wood comes stained but not sealed so each piece of wood had to be painted with Thompson's Waterseal and then brought back inside to dry for two days because it was getting too cold outside at the time. You can see Devin working on sealing some boards two pictures earlier. He also did most of the work digging the holes. Thanks for your help Devin! Joia's brother Rob also did a bunch of assembly while he was here over Thanksgiving which is why the vertical boards are actually straight up and down. Rob could have designed and built the set from scratch so I really appreciate him helping me with the tinker toy version with all of its predrilled holes.

So since we're short on the intermediate pictures, take the area above and add a play set plus a trampoline (last minute change in plans involved adding a trampoline for the winter months that will be swapped with a pool in the spring)...

Ta-na! (Keenan's version of "Ta-da")

The sod was the last thing we were waiting on and John got a great deal on Zosia because someone had ordered it and then canceled but it was still delivered to a local distributor that John works with and they gave us a great deal because it was Friday afternoon and would have just gone to waste. In general the mulch is about 4 inches deep but at the end of the slide, the rockwall and under the swings we dug out another 4-8 inches of dirt so that the mulch is actually 8-12 inches deep in those areas. Thanks again to Devin for help with that. Now we have a pile of dirt where the blackberries used to be. Hmm ... concrete paver patio with firepit? Maybe next fall.

I think this one gives a little more perspective on just how sloped,
and previously unusable, our yard used to be.

Once again, I didn't have much to do with the wall building due to my work schedule at the time but I did do a little extension on the top side near the swing set because when it rained it turns out we stopped about five feet short for optimal transition from the sloped to flat area. Joia and I put up the trampoline pretty much in the dark one night and the support arm of the swing also has two anchors we set in concrete. The kids love that double swing that they can ride on together. Woo-hoo!

Here's a little side project that also got knocked out in the last few days.

I'd noticed that the brick next to our driveway had gotten pretty gungy and got a power washer to clean it off. I had no idea how nasty the driveway also was until I started cleaning it off. Well it started out like the picture above and ended up like...

...this!

Wow, how did we let it get this bad?

Power-washing is very satisfying work as you watch the grime just peel away.

Thank you, yet again, to John who watched me making slow progress with the consumer model I bought at Sears and loaned my his contractor grade model which saved many hours. If you live in our local area and are looking for someone to do great work, let us know and we'll put you in touch with John or you can just send him an e-mail.

64 comments:

Brittny said...

It looks awesome!!!! And Phillip, I have to apologize that I didn't read the whole thing. The kids kept interrupting. But I give you two thumbs up for your post! And did you guys get the contractor to write on here too? If so, he is awesome!!! The yard looks amazing!

Mark said...

Philip,
I looks great. I really like the seasonal pool/trampoline idea. Thanks for the detour to "Geekville";) The driveway and brick wall look great too. I know you guys have done a lot of work in the front yard too so the house must be almost unrecognizable from when you first moved in! We can't wait to see it in person although who knows when that will be.

The Woodford's said...

Wow, you guys - it's looks amazing!! Lots of hours of work for lots of hours of fun to come! =)

Anonymous said...

I'm so impressed! I had no idea that it could change SO MUCH! I've got o admit, I kind of want to play in the playhouse part myself! So cool with all the levels!
Well done!
Love Rebekah

Jodi said...

Amazing! I know you all are going to enjoy it so much!

Jessica said...

beautiful! Reagan and Hudson can't wait to "come over" and play!!! :)

Mom W. said...

Wow, what a transformation!!! It looks wonderful!!!! I am sure the kids will love it and so nice that you got it done in time for Moriah's Birthday party!!!

Matt S. said...

looks really good. incredible job!

Mom said...

And last, but not least....mom finally checks in...I too, loved the tour thru geekville and found myself chuckling thru various parts of your 'tour' as your "Taylor Humor" shined through. Gr'pa T would've been SO proud of your project, especially your attention to detail, Philip. I can't wait to see it in person in 2011. Love, Mom

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