After completing several large backyard projects last summer (the garden and the shed), “J” and I knew there was only one thing missing from our backyard; a place to sit. When we bought the house two years ago, we were pleasantly surprised to see an already existing deck, however it quickly became obvious that if we wanted to have a big’ol natural gas BBQ, there would be little room left for group seating.
The solution was simple; extend the usable space beyond the existing deck by installing a patio. “J” and I hummed-and-hawed for months over our choices: extend the wood, lay patio stones, pour concrete… so many options! Of course “J” is a “do it right the first time” kind-of-guy, so we ended up deciding on pouring a stamped concrete pad.
In late winter we started to plan. There were lots of measurements, colours, and quotes thrown around. Big quotes. Like “how-can-this-tiny-pad-possibly-cost-this-much?” kind of quotes. Was the cost going to be prohibitive? Maybe.
A little discouraged, “J” began investigating the cost of pouring it ourselves. We could rent a mini excavator, buy all the tools, schedule the concrete… and you know what? It would all come at a fraction of the cost of those unbelievable quotes! Another decision made: we would prep and pour the patio ourselves.
With the “dig” and “pour” dates marked in our calendars we started to pull together all the resources needed to get the job done. “J” and I were pleasantly surprised to learn The Home Depot has small excavators for rent, which was a huge relief, because as we discovered last year, the “soil” in our area is actually clay, NOT an easy thing to dig out by hand.
Bright and early on May 17th we picked up the excavator, a ton of coffee, a few cases of beer, and invited all our family & friends over for a “dig” party. My brother-in-law is an excavator operator and he was kind enough to offer up his professional services for the day. Can I note: operating an excavator is not as easy as it looks.
“J” wanted a sturdy pad with a solid base so we opted to dig 18 inches down, and to fill with 16 inches of a-gravel. Yes, it seemed very redundant to dig a hole only to fill it up again, but a-gravel is an important step as it will ensure the pad will stand up to ground movements and harsh weather conditions. So, roughly 125+ wheelbarrow trips and 250 cubic feet of soil later we had the area ready for a-gravel.
Back in we went. As the a-gravel went in we began to build up the grade and fill in the area. I was put on plate tamper duty. It became my task to go over the newly delivered a-gravel several times in order to compact it. Can I note: using a plate tamper is not as easy as it looks. It sort of has a mind of it’s own, and it takes a lot of core strength to steer…. not to mention it’s loud and it makes your hands tingle for hours.
And just when you thought we couldn’t get any crazier for taking this massive project on ourselves… we decided to pour a matching pad in front of the shed as well… So we did everything again. Yes two holes to dig, fill, and compact. And let’s not mention the 30 foot trench we also dug alongside the house in order to run the PVC conduit for the shed’s electrical supply.
We worked hard all day Saturday until darkness fell upon the yard and we couldn’t possibly work any longer. So at 9:30pm “J” and I drank our last beer and went to bed*… we had another big day on Sunday.
Thank goodness for a day of decent weather; on Sunday we were able to get the concrete forms put together and the rebar cut and ready. Compared to all the hard labour the day before, this was a walk in the park!
It’s amazing to think of all the work we were able to accomplish in just one weekend. Sure, we weren’t able to get the concrete poured that weekend, but spreading the project over the course of two weekends allowed for our bodies to heal and our friends to forgive us for the torture we put them through!
Stay tuned for Part 2: Pouring a Concrete Pad
*Well, this is not entirely true… “J” worked so hard carting around those 250+ wheelbarrow loads that he soaked in the bath tub for half an hour. He will be totally mortified that I put that in here.