Outdoor Space Renovation

You may recall that one of my core values is outdoor seating. This definitely came into play when we were house hunting back in 2012 and also when it came time to prioritize house projects.  Since closing on our dream home-to-be two years ago, we’ve dedicated a lot of time, elbow grease, sweat, and dirt (lots of dirt) to making over the backyard.  And now it’s finally at a point where we can just live and enjoy our outdoor space! No more rotting  wood, “Descend at Your Own Risk” signs, temporary fences, leaky ceilings, plywood safety barriers, or dimly lit pathways.

For the final part of our outdoor space renovation, we forwent the DIY route and hired a construction company to demolish and rebuild our mudroom. The company also put up safety rails for the back steps and around the basement stairwell.

The photo on the left was taken in January or February of 2013 around the time that we were moving in. On the right is our finished product!
The photo on the left was taken in January or February of 2013 around the time that we were moving in. On the right is our finished product!
In the spring of 2013, we got around to installing new locks. The photo on the left is the only proof I have of the interior of our former mudroom. On the right is our sparkling new mudroom! (I don't even want to get mud in it!)
The photo on the left, taken in the spring of 2013, is the only proof I have of the interior of our former mudroom. On the right is our sparkling new mudroom! (I don’t even want to get mud in it!)
The left photo is present day. The top right photo was taken on a Saturday morning in February 2014. The bottom right photo was taken the next day.
The left photo is from February 2015. The top right photo was taken on a Saturday morning in February 2014. The bottom right photo was taken the next day.
After we finished the patio in June 2014, I took the photo on the left. The one on the right is the finished product...missing some green, but that will come soon enough!
After we finished the patio in June 2014, I took the photo on the left. The one on the right is the finished product…missing some green, but that will come soon enough!
Another before and after between spring 2014 and winter 2015!
Another before and after between spring 2014 and winter 2015!
No more rigging up safety barriers for the entrance to the basement. Now toddlers, drunk people, the elderly, and perfectly healthy adults won't risk their lives while on our premises.
No more rigging up safety barriers for the entrance to the basement. Now toddlers, drunk people, the elderly, and perfectly healthy adults won’t risk their lives while on our premises.

The only thing we need now is consistent springlike weather!

Patio in a Day

A couple of months ago, I posted here about building our first patio. I said that I couldn’t wait to complete our second patio in the next couple of weeks. Ha.

Fast forward 3 months and here we are with a new patio! Not just a walkway like the last one, but a real 160 square foot patio that we can use to enjoy the beautiful North Carolina summers (and falls and winters and springs 🙂 )!

Before and After DIY Patio
Top photo: Before, Bottom photo: After!

I figured this patio would not be that difficult to complete. Our first one required digging (my least favorite thing to do, as you may recall) and cutting stones. This time around, since we were placing the material on top of the old driveway, there was no need for digging. Plus, the perfect rectangular shape made it seem easy to lay bricks evenly. Just dump some sand in place and lay the bricks on top, right?

My optimistic outlook quickly faded as we began the process of making calculations and planning out the bill of materials. Like any seasoned DIYer knows, the prep work is the most time consuming phase of most home improvement projects! This one proved to be no different and came with its own set of roadblocks.


  • Where will the patio begin? Where will it end? The driveway made an excellent barrier from side-to-side, but there are no end caps from front-to-back. Acquiring a 70-year-old house means acquiring backyard treasures. Over the past year, we had built up quite a collection of found bricks from the yard. Even though we had lamented the seemingly endless pile of red bricks, it actually turned out to come in handy for this project! Ben built a short brick retaining wall on each end of the area for our patio space. He acquired a skill for brick laying when beginning to build a wall on each side of our back porch stoop (a project that is still in progress).
DIY Brick Retaining Wall
Adding the finishing touches to the brick retaining wall
  • The depth of the area we were using is only about 5 inches. A stable patio requires at least 6 inches of clearance for paver base, sand, and paver stones. Instead of using paver base gravel, we came across Brock Paver Base Panels. We had considered using these panels for the first patio project, but the paver base gravel made more sense for use with natural dirt and the 6″ depth we had created. Plus, we would have needed to trim the panels significantly which would have caused a lot of waste. Because our baseline was concrete from the driveway and we had a small amount of depth to work with for this new patio, the half-inch panels were the perfect stabilizing solution. The panels are quite expensive – about $13 for one panel that is 2′ x 3′. The packaging says that each is equivalent to 5 bags of base gravel. We definitely overestimated and purchased 34 panels yet only needed 20. And we did have to cut a few in half, but all-in-all we are thinking it was a good investment!
DIY Paver Base Panels
Dad laying stones on top of paver base panels
  • The drain pipe off the side of our mud room empties right on top of the driveway where we wanted to build.  Mo’ water, mo’ problems. Y’all have read about our drainage problems before so it should not be a surprise that it came into consideration when planning for this patio. After spending 2 hours in Lowe’s to no avail and consulting with both dads, a solution finally came to fruition. By attaching a catch basin to the drain pipe with a metal screw and connecting it to line of PVC pipe that is buried underneath the patio, water will not drain onto the paver stones. There is already a nice slope to the patio, so rain water will hopefully flow nicely down the driveway, but we didn’t want extra drainage water to damage the patio. My dad also suggested a clever way to clean this 20′ PVC drain pipe: we ran a string through the pipe to catch the muck and grime that we can replace from time to time.
PVC pipe drainage
This photo shows an incomplete PVC pipe connected to the drain pipe. It has since been completely attached.
PVC pipe
PVC pipe will drain water from drain pipe.

After we dealt with these conundrums, the actual patio building part only took one day! Of course, the title of this post is still slightly misleading. What with one whole day spent demolishing the deck that had been in its place, another day (or two) clearing out all of the debris, and a day dedicated to Ben’s brick laying shenanigans. But overall, because we learned a lot from our first project and had a few extra hours of daylight, this patio was a cinch in one day. Extra thanks to my dad who spent the first day of his retirement doing manual labor!


  • Lowe’s delivery service saved us about 8-10 hours of time. We shelled out $59 for 3 pallets of material to be dropped off right in our driveway. Totally worth it!
Lowe's Delivery
Lowe’s Delivery
  • Unlike my initial anticipation, we did need to cut paver stones to fit the area properly. Instead of using the ol’ chisel and hammer, we invested in a circular saw and stone cutting blade. In about 2 hours, all of the missing puzzle pieces were perfectly trimmed and installed.
Circular stone cutting saw
The circular saw was an unexpected, yet time-saving cost!
Cut Paver stones
Perfectly cut paver stones!

Now that we have the perfect spot to enjoy our backyard, I think we’ll take this summer to sit back and relax!

DIY stone patio
Before and After!


Installing Our (First) Patio

Stone Patio Step 9

This past weekend we were so incredibly lucky to have two consecutive days of perfect patio-building weather. As you know, it has been hit or miss with NC weather this winter. Mainly misses. Today it is back to a winter advisory alert! Why does it always seem I preface home improvement blog posts with a weather report?

When the weather is just right, January, February, and March lend the perfect timing for outdoor improvements because I want to be able to enjoy the space come spring! This year, we are thrilled to move forward with improving the area between the parking pad and back door. We had seriously considered installing a deck, but ultimately (and happily) settled on building a patio instead.

Here’s a reminder of what the backyard looked like when we first purchased the house in January 2013:

Backyard in January 2013

Thankfully, last January and February were extremely rainy and icky. You may be thinking “thankfully?! I thought you loved gorgeous no-cloud-in-the-sky seasons all year round?”. I am thankful because were able to quickly determine that we had major drainage issues! Which I am even more relieved to have figured out a year ago because we immediately installed French drains directly underneath where we built our patio this weekend.

Drainage is key for any homeowner. I strongly advise anyone who wants to construct outdoor amenities to first ensure that storm water is being properly drained. </psa>

Drainage improvements

Ok, now to the fun part of actually putting in the patio.

The first step to installing a patio with pavers is to Google “how to build a paver patio”. 🙂

There are so many great resources out there between YouTube and DIYnetwork, but we went with the Lowes.com instructions. Ben and I took measurements and sketched out the schematic. Then we chose our patio paver style and went with allen + roth Allegheny Concrete Countryside Patio Stones. Since we wanted to mix things up, we bought both the 6×9 size and the 6×6 size. Picking out the stones really isn’t as difficult as it seems. There are so many options, but I would suggest to anyone to just go with your gut!

To determine how many stones needed, most normal people would continue to Google “patio paver calculator” or something of that nature. Ben used his freakish brain to calculate that we needed 166 bricks of each size to cover the approximate 100 square foot area of patio. After a quick fact-check, we were ready to go.

Once we were in the Lowe’s store, figuring out how much we needed of everything else was easy thanks to helpful packaging and Lowe’s employees! Here’s a breakdown of everything we purchased during our first trip to Lowe’s…

  • 200 6×6 paver stones @ $.79 each
  • 200 6×9 paver stones @ $.99 each
  • 400-sq-ft roll landscape fabric @ $40
  • 50 bags .5 cu ft paver base @ $3.80 each
  • 6 bags .5 cu ft paver sand @ $3.97 each
  • 2 40-lb buckets of polymeric sand @ $19.98 each
  • 10 6-ft paver edges @ $6.27 each
  • 5 8-packs of paver edge nails @ $4.28 each

After carting (and fork-lifting) everything up to the register, the tricky part was actually loading it into an accommodating vehicle to transport it all home! Luckily my father-in-law has a heavy-duty truck that was able to haul it away. But it was definitely put to the test what with 2,000 lbs of paver base in the bed! I think we’ll give his truck a rest next time and pay the $79 delivery fee.

If you are planning on building your own patio as well, consider the tools you will or may need, including:

  • Various shovels
  • Work gloves
  • Garden rake
  • 3 prong rake
  • Scissors
  • Garden clippers for unruly roots
  • Shop broom
  • Tamp
  • Rubber mallets
  • Level and Square
  • Hacksaw for trimming the edging
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Carpenter pencil
  • Wheel barrow
  • 2×4 for screeding and spacing
  • Spotlight for working after sundown
  • Willing and able family members
  • Elbow grease
  • Pizza
Told ya! It was a beautiful day for patio-building!
Told ya! It was a beautiful day for patio-building!

Once everything made it back to the house in one piece (including the truck), it was time to start digging out the patio area.

Digging is one of the most strenuous chores in my opinion. I have hauled more dirt in the last year than I care to disclose. Moving dirt (and clay!) is hard because there is no way of disposing of it and there are only so many bald spots in our yard to fill in! We did discover some buried treasures such as remnants of a fish tank (don’t worry, the fish found a safe new home last year). Since there had been a few paver stones lying around, there was also some leftover gravel we dug up that we were able to recycle when putting down the base. The section had to have enough room for about 4 inches of paver base + 1 inch sand + 2 inch thick brick. As I said before, drainage is very important, so we were mindful of our French drain while digging as well as the general grading of the area.

Patio Building Step 1: Dig out area

Laying down the Landscaping Fabric

Laying down the Landscaping Fabric
Evenly raking the Paver Base + Recycled Gravel
Evenly raking the Paver Base + Recycled Gravel
Tamping down the base
Tamping down the base
Checking the measurement and level of base
Checking the measurement and level of base

It was around this point when we had to call Ben’s parents and ask them to pick up more gravel on their way over. Better to over estimate in this type of situation.

Installing plastic edging
Installing plastic edging
Spreading sand over the base
Spreading sand over the base
Evening top layer of sand while laying bricks and setting them with a rubber mallet
Screeding top layer of sand while laying bricks and setting them with a rubber mallet

When it got down to the pattern of our patio, we kind of flew by the seat of our pants. The plan was to create a border around the patio and fill it in with a running bond. The 4-ft area outside of the fence was left up to chance.

Our patio design involved curved areas, so bricks had to be split. Sometimes they were split nicely...sometimes not so much!

Our patio design involved curved areas, so bricks had to be split. Sometimes they were split nicely…sometimes not so much! But we got creative with placement of the scraps. We learned to save the split bricks for last to see where the gaps occurred along the edge.

Yet again, another Lowe’s run had to be made. We actually ran out of bricks! Ben and his dad picked up 60 more bricks of each size. Once the bricks were all filled in, our parental workers clocked out for the day and the sun went down. Ben had anticipated working into the night and bought a spotlight. It only took about 20 minutes to figure out how to set it up, but without it, our work wouldn’t have been complete by day’s end.

Working into the night!

Meticulously spreading the polymeric sand into the crevices.
Meticulously spreading the polymeric sand into the crevices.

The polymeric sand stains the paver bricks, so we were very careful spreading the sand by hand into the nooks and crannies.

Giving it a final misting.
Giving it a final misting.

Patio 15And voila! The patio is all set in time for spring…err…more winter weather!

Top: January 2013, Bottom: March 2014
Top: January 2013, Bottom: March 2014

Patio 17

Patio 18Finally, we can get to our back door without worrying about icky mud, slippery bricks, and uneven ground. We’re very happy with how our DIY walkway worked out, and can’t wait to build our SECOND patio in the next couple weeks! In the meantime, I’ll also be busy sprucing up the landscaping surrounding this walkway.

Deck Days are Over

Happy Groundhog Day! Punxutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. However, living in North Carolina where it can be 65 degrees one day and a “polar vortex” the next, I’m confident that we will see a few springlike days before the Vernal Equinox. That’s why I’m so eager to continue our backyard makeover!

If you thought sitting on the back porch enjoying a cold one wasn’t an extreme sport, you haven’t been on our deck. You’ve got to have a real sense of adventure to want to even stand on it. However, many of our friends and family have been up to the challenge (whether they realized it or not!). We’ve sipped many glasses of vinho verde and even hosted dinners and cook-outs out there. Though you may have experienced a chair leg slipping through the planks, I am very glad all of our guests have survived our deck.

Our back deck
Our back deck

When we had our home inspection, we were told that the deck needed a lot of TLC or just needed to come down altogether. As homeowners, safety is our goal. But outdoor fun is also very important! So that is why it has taken us a year to finally bite the bullet and tear the deck down. We wanted to have a plan in place so that we would not have to go long without the backyard fun part. After we decided to build a new replacement deck ourselves, Ben planned it all out using Lowe’s Deck Designer. It’s such a cool program that generates a bill of materials based on your personal deck design! Then they deliver the materials so you can get to work. The next step in the process was taking the design to the City of Raleigh to get a permit.


After many visits and phone calls, it became evident that our dream deck would not become a reality. The City of Raleigh requires a five foot setback from the property line. To give you an idea as to why this setback is such a setback in our own plans, our current deck (though we knew it was not up to any kind of code to begin with), is only set back two feet from the property line! That is how narrow the lots are on our street. Anyway, Ben was determined to find another way to make our deck design work. He found an exception for our neighborhood that stated that our deck could be set back three feet! Not five! Yay!

Womp womp.

Unfortunately, there is discrepancy over the definition of an accessory and an attached structure and yada yada yada, enough back and forth went down for us to conclude that our perfect deck was just not going to happen.

Back to square one, and on to plan b! Ok, so we still do not have a plan b. But the show must go on!

Yesterday, within two hours time, our crappy old deck went from barely standing, to shoved into a dumpster*. Like many of our home projects, I have to give so many thanks to our families! I did not do anything except take pictures get lunch for the work crew, but Ben, his parents, and my dad got it done.

Deck Demo




Check out all of the once-hidden-by-heinous-deck potential!

Because our fence was built up to the deck, we will need to call Harrison Fence to have them add an extension on to this front corner of the yard. Since Quailford still needs a yard to run around in, the dads and Ben put up a temporary fence in the meantime.

Temporary Fence
All in a day’s work!

Now we will need to start planning our plan b, which will be some form of patio. There are so many ideas and so much we can possibly do to make our backyard truly magical! I am excited to share another update on that sooner rather than later.

*This was our second time renting a dumpster from NC Dumpster to get rid of construction materials and cleaning house. We rented a 15-foot 2-ton limit dumpster for 2 weeks for less than $300. Definitely worth it!

Backyard Progress

It’s been a while since I’ve recapped any progress on our home. The truth is, how am I supposed to have enough time to tend to my house when I’m busy bridesmaiding, FaceTiming my nephew, and going on historic church walks?! As summer waned its way into fall (and now today it is winter -.- seriously, sleet in the middle of November?!), we knew we had to focus on the backyard. Our goal is to grow grass, which has proven to be difficult seeing as how we are the perfect example of what it is like to live in the “City of Oaks” – what with all of the shade provided by such native trees. Yep – we’re as oaky as a California Chardonnay! Though a luscious green lawn might not come along for many years (if it comes at all), we did want to try and fix up the place a bit.

View of backyard from the deck when we closed on the house in January 2013
View of backyard from the deck when we closed on the house in January 2013
Backyard in April 2013
Backyard in April 2013

One of our priorities when we were looking to buy a home was to find one with a fenced-in yard, or to install a fence ASAP. It only took us 8 months to do the latter. I’d say that in the grand scheme of homeownership, that timing is indeed ASAP! Part of that time was spent debating on whether or not we wanted to install the fence ourselves by purchasing panels and renting tools from a hardware store. Considering the time needed for such a project, we decided to bite the financial bullet by hiring Harrison Fence to do the job (in only 8 hours!).

Before signing on the dotted line, we needed to get to work clearing the yard based on the contractor’s guidelines. There was still lots of English Ivy to pull up, leftover yard ornaments to discard, and a few volunteer trees to politely remove. Needless to say, I quickly became the mayor of the yard waste recycling center on Foursquare. In fact, we had SO MUCH to discard both from the yard and the basement, we rented a 15-foot dumpster from NC Dumpster. The dumpster parked in our driveway for a week until it was hauled away. Let me tell you – it was totally worth it! Good riddance indeed!

October 2013
Present day! October 2013


The fence was installed in August. Since then, we’ve spread grass seed and purchased our very first leaf blower. I suspect that spring 2014 will bring out my weekend warrior alter ego, but until then, Quailford’s happy face is accomplishment enough!