Notwithstanding the quiet on the blog, we're still here and oh-so-slowly working away on the house. Needless to say, starting a major construction project during a pandemic is not exactly a great idea and, had we known what was coming, we would have just hunkered down for awhile. But once we broke ground and things looked like this, there was no going back (though we did pause and then slowed things down considerably to follow guidelines):
|Here we go!|
|This is now a basement|
|Inspector Bella (in her safety harness) checked the work. Approved.|
|Give me the keys, I'm ready to drive this thing.|
Skipping waaaay forward, the addition is on. The inside is still just a shell and we've had more problems with our (now fired) contractor than I care to relive so let's just go to an exterior picture. This is only phase I - we'll also put a big shed dormer on the back, which will ultimately lead to a roof deck on the new addition but it's starting to come together.
|Oh hello, new space!|
|Easy to tell what is old and what is new here|
Your eyes are not deceiving you in that last picture - we also bought another bobcat. That's right, this is the third bobcat we've now owned. If you had asked me in 2010 if I thought we would own three different bobcats - each one bigger and fancier than the last - by 2020, I would have said no. And also would have said some other words. But...here we are! This one is a S650 and it has a fully enclosed cab, heat/ac, and a radio. Brian has easily spent more time in it this summer than he has in his truck. I would say that's a result of the pandemic but...it might have happened anyway.
We usually focus on the interior first but given that our yard was all torn up from the addition, we moved onto the outside late this summer. Right in time for record-setting amounts of rain through August. Which was not helpful. At all.
But, we've finally had a few good weekends and have made some progress. We tore out all the old shrubbery that was taking up a lot of space and the uneven patio and started fresh. The old yard had two tiers with a steep grass slope between them, an uneven stone staircase, and a lot of shrubs and bushes encroaching on the grass. Although it made a nice obstacle course for Bella, it wasn't very usable for us.
We decided to put in two tiers of retaining walls to square the space up and have room for a big patio. We've done paver retaining walls in the past but decided to try something different this time. In our heads, trying something new was a fun and exciting idea. In reality, it was still exciting but not in a good way and definitely not in a fun way. Alas.
We went with gabion walls and, in our original vision, planned to put in 56 feet of wall for both tiers, with a staircase in the middle. Once the gabion cages arrived and we started tearing everything up, we at least had the (minimal) good sense to pause and re-evaluate the plan. We realized that putting the stairs in the middle would be both technically more difficult and would break up the patio space in a way that we didn't like. So, we moved the stairs to the far side. Then we changed the staircase plan from bluestone pavers to natural steppers. Then we decided we needed some bigger retaining walls to flank the gabions and ordered 15 tons on boulders. Which...is a lot of boulders. And it's even more boulders when the rock company delivers nearly 20 tons instead of 15. That was quite a day. Turns out that 20 tons of boulders consumes most of the space on a two car driveway and all of my sanity.
After I stopped panicking about the mass of boulders, Brian got into the bobcat and started moving material around. Step one was to install the staircase. Each step weighs over 500 pounds so the bobcat had to do the heavy lifting here. We were generally able to get the stairs in from the side and then used a breaker bar, a burke bar, leverage, and a lot of shoving to get them settled into place. By ourselves. Quite a few Advil were sacrificed for the cause.
|You can sort of see in this picture how the old grass slope just came down a steep hill and fell into the lower level. It was not very usable.|
Once the stairs were in place, it was time to start grading and get the boulders in. Building the rock walls to frame the stairs
Skipping forward a bit, we started setting the gabion cages into place for the first tier. We ended up using six 7' cages for a total of 42 feet.
At this point, we called in some helpers because there was a lot of stone to move, plus we needed to get the waterproofing in behind the wall and get the drainage dug and installed. We had hoped to be able to drop the rocks into the cages with the bobcat bucket but they really needed to be handplaced to keep everything straight and stable.
Now this is a lot of rock in place! Plus landscape fabric and dimple board behind the wall and an unseen drainage pipe at the bottom. Really hoping this wall lasts a long time! And starting on the second tier, which is seven 7' cages, so a bit longer than the lower tier.
And with two tiers of wall in place, plus drainage. I marvel at how easy it all looks as the pictures scroll forward. It was not easy. But they're nice and straight and seem very solid!
Once the walls were in, it was back to installing boulders so we could close off the ends and start grading the slope properly. Plus installing more drains. We've had more than a few moments recalling how, before we started any of this, we waved our hands at the slope and said "oh, we'll install some walls over here and some over there and it'll all be so easy and great!" Hah. Hahahaha.
Between the constant rain and the sheer amount of work and material involved in this project, it seemed like it would never get done but here we are, definitely not done-done but making some very clear progress. One last weekend of drain installation, grading, sod installation and plantings on one side. We put phlox, stonecrop, sedum angelina, and blue rug juniper on/between the boulders and we'll see how they grow. The big (sort of finished) reveal:
|Now that's a side yard!|
|Oh right, we had some steppers left so added another little staircase here because why not move some more rock around?|
|Hoping these little plants grow well and expand over the rocks|
|All planted now, hopefully happy in their new home|
|Not bad for a(nother) weekend of work|
We still have a lot to do, including installing a paver patio and fire pit on the main level, a garden bed between the retaining wall tiers, finishing the other side of the retaining walls, and grading and installing sod on the other side. Plus we'll keep working on cutting back the foliage around the edge of the yard to expand the space. But the entire side yard pictured above used to be a tangle of ivy and overgrown bushes so we've already reclaimed a lot of space and, we think, it all looks intentional and usable now. This was a much, much bigger project than we thought it would be (a repeat theme around here - wonder if we'll ever learn?) but it's coming along and we can finally see an end in sight...for the yard at least. Once the backyard is done, we'll have to turn back to the addition and see if we can move things along there. But for now, we're going to call this a partial success! And the end of a long overdue post.