Driveway and Porch Work
This is my biggest and expensive project so far, and it's directly tied into my hobby of working on cars. The problem I needed to solve was simple enough - you can't jack up cars on a gravel driveway. I could have just poured a few yards of concrete and called it good, but that would have had serious problems with drainage and appearance. And that would have bugged me - so I'm taking the time do do it right.
Basically, the driveway not only slopes towards the house, but much of it sloped towards the front porch and pond area - meaning as soon as the driveway was done in concrete, the pond would fill up with all sorts of nasty oil run-off and no fish would ever survive that. So I needed to solve that problem, but by running the level lines out and about, I realized the porch would have to be raised by nearly a foot in some areas. Ugh. Well, I wanted a bigger porch anyway, so I'm going all out on this. Fun stuff in this project includes:
I'm doing all the work myself - I gotta get exercise somehow, right? The topper is that I'm doing this on as tight a budget as possible - I'm figuring I'll come in under $9000 for the entire project, and that includes the concrete, bricks, pond gear, rocks, and other materials. See the pictures below for the details to date - I'll add more as the project moves ahead.
The project expanded (again) to include the removal of the last stump out front in the planter bed so that the pond could be even bigger and I'd have less planter area to worry about weeding. Three of my neighbors also needed to remove stumps, so we split the cost of the stump grinder - my part was pretty fast; but one of the neighbors had a huge stump to get rid of - I'm afraid it could take all day on it's own. The second time around with the stump grinder (the first was on two stumps in my back yard), I remembered to get some pictures of the stump grinder and what it does to the stump - it's a pretty impressive amount of destructive force.
We did get a lot done with the stump grinder - in spite of the fact that it was down for about 6 hours during the day! (First one of the grinding "teeth" came loose, and then the belt that powers the hydraulic pump broke. Both required a service call to the rental place to get them fixed. Blech.) We didn't quite get done with the big stump at my neighbor's house, but we got most of it done. I also hammered on the rental place for a reasonable deal on the rental for that day and to rent the grinder again later to finish the job. Only the first picture of the grinder is at my place, the rest are the work on the massive stump we worked on all afternoon. I neglected to get a simple "before and after" set of pictures, but you can see from the first few shots how big of a stump it was. The last few shots (the dark ones) will show you what we reduced it to. There is still some grinding left to do (and a lot of mulch to clear away!), but we got about 95% of the work done.
With the stump at my house gone, I was able to clean up the wood chips, start excavating the final outline of the pond, move ahead on the retaining walls, move ahead on laying in the water and electrical lines on the lawn side of the pond, and begin the first section of the walkway along the front of the house. I'm pretty much out of brick pavers again, so with the exception of a few pieces I have set aside to cut and lay in on the porch, I'm done with laying pavers for a while. I will be picking up a few more pieces of the retaining wall blocks to continue that work, and I will be doing lots of digging and (as my wife calls it) "playing in the dirt". I also finally got my roto-tiller back (I had loaned it out to a friend) and was able to till up the sod and dirt pile to level it out and get a plausible sub-base set up for the gravel path and re-grading of the front lawn. I managed to get the front corner done with gravel laid up there, and then I joined the railroad ties to the gray retaining wall stone along the gravel path. I also (finally) got rid of some of the old bark chips that had been used as ground cover and moved the pile back far enough to excavate for some more of the gravel path along the front edge. After all that I was able to put some new gravel in along the path and up along the street to finish things off.
Along the way, I bought and installed the first set of low-voltage lighting - if you look closely in some of the shots you can see the lights and wires. It looks pretty impressive at night with the spot-lights shining up into the tree and into the rose bush, but I can't get a good picture of it. :-( I had to wire in a new GFCI protected circuit to run all of the outside stuff - pong pumps, low voltage lighting, sprinkler/drip irrigation systems, and the new outside outlet. All of the timers, switches, and outlets for everything are in one spot in the garage so it's easy to get to. I also took the opportunity to fix some wiring problems in the breaker box (the GFCI for the bathroom outlets was wired backwards at the breaker,some stuff was doubled up at the breaker, and one circuit that should have been on a 20A breaker was on a 30A breaker - oops!) and label all of the circuits with a nice colorful printout. My wife wasn't happy that I kept flipping circuits off and on to find out what breaker handled what in the house, but I managed to not get her too mad. I also dug in and set the post that holds the new outside outlet and the junction box for the pond pumps. After the low-voltage lighting was up and running for a few weeks, I found out that a few of the connections were a bit flaky and I needed to do a proper job of splicing, soldering, and taping them before I put the rocks down in that area. It's the little stuff that will drive you nuts...
I laid in the the box that will house the control valves for the sprinkler and drip irrigation system and laid the water lines to their final locations for the new outside faucet. I also laid in a feed hose for the sprinkler system and figured out how it will work - see the scanned hand-drawn diagrams below for reference. At that time I also finished the rough-out digging work for the remainder of the pond. With the exception of some final retaining wall stones that will need to be cut to fit, the retaining walls are done along with the railroad ties next to the gravel path. I also installed the mow-strip between the gravel path and the lawn, and laid in the the final load of gravel so the path is basically done. I also removed the old plants near the front of the house in preparation for the work that needs to be done there. My wife came up with a nice idea of planting the rose bushes in that area in a giant pot later on so it would be easy to apply weed killer to the rocks. As long as you keep it out of the pot, it won't leach in and hurt the roses. I may duplicate that idea elsewhere in the planters I'm doing.
I've gotten the bulk of the work done for extending the planter area near the house and putting in the pavers along the front edge of it. I've finished the railroad ties that bound this area - to do this I had to do a little re-working of how the gutter ties into the French drain at the corner of the house so the railroad ties could be flush with the outside edge of the house instead of sticking out a few inches like they did before, but that was pretty easy. I did find some odd stuff while digging up the existing French drain hookups to get started on this. Basically, the front planter has always had many small pieces of broken window pane glass in it, and I always figured somebody broke a front window and those were the leftovers from the cleanup process. When I started digging, however, I found tons of broken glass and some construction debris - I figure the other little bits I found were just what worked their way up to the surface during previous re-landscaping work. My best guess is that during construction of the house they broke one or more windows (vandalism, maybe?) and dumped the glass pieces in around the foundation as backfill along with lots of other fun bits - like the used plastic top/tip to a tube of caulk or construction adhesive I found... Anyway, the new gutter pieces are painted and installed, the modified drain hookups have been re-buried and are partially covered with river rock. I spread the existing river rock around, but I will need more to complete this area. The quality of the backfill under the river rock will be as good as it was when I started, messy, but not something that is a bit concern. After the railroad ties were in place, I was able to continue work on extending the paver pathway along the edge of the front planter - the last half or so needed all of the existing sod excavated to get the pavers to slope nicely away from the pond and be at the proper level. I still have to put in gavel, then sand, and then more pavers, but the basics are in place and awaiting more time to complete things.
At some point in here, I moved some of the existing river rock in the front planter around and made enough room to dig the hole for the control valve - I needed enough room to get down below the frost line and be able to drill a hole through the foundation into the crawlspace. I'm hoping I don't have to do too much digging inside the crawlspace, but I probably will have to do some. Once I drill that hole and run the line into the crawlspace, I can install the control valve and associated plumbing, fill in the hole, and cover it with river rock. I also have to install my newly painted "campground style" faucet in the front planter area. After all that I can do the plumbing hookup inside the crawlspace, move the front outside faucet to the side of the house, and see if all of my spiffy new plumbing works or not. I do plan on testing the outside portion of the system by rigging it to the garden hose before hooking everything up for good, though. I need to get a bit more done before I can do that, though. Mainly installing the new faucet by the driveway so the main feed line won't be open and spraying water all over the place. If that holds pressure, I can move on to testing the drip irrigation and sprinkler systems as I have time and get them installed and working.
I pulled all of the old bark out from the original large planter areas - I started with a huge pile off to the side and I put it out in yard waste a little at a time. As part of this work, I tried to keep the pile to the smallest possible area and to put it as out of the way as possible. Along the way, I was able to get it far enough away from the large grass looking bush to cut down the remaining pieces of the bush and dig up the roots. By doing that, I finally got room to stake and string line out the proposed new edge to the side driveway. I also staked out the two final corners for the smaller front planter area by the street to see how I like that. It's hard to see with the weeds growing in there right now and the bark pile still in the way, but it's enough for a rough idea. I also took the time to hit my overgrown weeds with a little weed killer to try and keep things manageable. In the process I wiped out the weaker of the two rose bushes we brought over from the previous house - not a huge deal since it was pretty sickly anyway. Just one more thing to replant when we're all done.
I also need to to re-do some of the forms for the next section of driveway (near to the garage, closest to the property edge) since I mangled the edge closest to the street while pulling the Ranchero onto the first section of concrete. Once I got that done, and put down some weed killer, I found time to pour that section of concrete and am now waiting for it to cure. That will give me one more slot close to the garage to work on a car, one of the original goals for this project. :-) I think I'll leave the front-most two sections of concrete by the street undone for a while and focus on the front of the house and the front planter and pond area. I still need to get a water level and start setting up the final level for the edge of the pond where the rocks will sit. I also need to find a local source for the large edging rocks I'm going to use and I need to figure out how to build a waterfall that won't leak water over time.
After figuring out how the sprinkler system for the remaining front lawn will be set up, I was able to install the feeder pipe from the control valve and get it ready to be hooked up to the lines that run out to each of the sprinkler heads. The area will be rectangular, roughly 30' x 20', so it's an easy installation. I'll be using 4 "quarter circle" heads (one in each corner of the lawn) and two "half circle" heads half way down each side. The goal here is to be able to water the lawn without drenching the gravel walkway, brick walkway, or the side driveway - and this arrangement should work out nicely. I bought the six sprinkler heads I needed along with the odds and ends to hook them up to the PVC lines; although it did take a few trips to Home Depot to get all of the PVC pipes and fittings I ended up needing it really wasn't that expensive. Once all of the trenches were dug, the entire system went together in an afternoon and I buried the pipes as soon as I validated the pipe joints were tight and not leaking. So, that wrapped up the sprinkler system and got it working - even the controller/timer is hooked up and programmed. I've run a temporary hose from the front faucet to the line that will eventually get connected to the buried control valve by the house. So far so good. I finished the edge of the lawn closest to the side driveway, finished laying down the pavers for the walkway across the front of the house, laid in all of the new topsoil I needed (about 2 yards!) and leveled the front lawn area. I put down grass seed and fertilizer on it already and managed to grow a pretty darned lush lawn without much work - that sprinkler system was a great idea that's working very well.
I cleared out the rocks (the big ones from around the edge of the old pond) and got them out of the way, and then I pulled up the remaining 3' strip of sod in what will be the expanded side driveway. Now all I need to do is get another set of low voltage lights installed over there and then I can get more gravel and lay it in that area. I may raise the whole side driveway a few inches - if so, I'll get about 5 yards or gravel delivered and dropped on the middle of the side driveway, then spread and level it by hand.
I finally got all of the old pond rocks out of the way (the big one that formed the waterfall weights about 300 lbs!) and the old pond liner out, cleaned up a bit and folded away until I can figure out what to do with it. The fish was donated to a neighbor with a pond, so he'll be happy and safe over there. Once I got the liner out of the way, I was able to do the final bit of digging to join the new pond with the old pond and see what it will all look like what it's done.
The side driveway has been fully widened now. I pulled out the old planter bed (both in the front yard area and in the back yard area) and am ready for a large load of gravel to finish things up on that side. I also finally had a chance to move the massive rock up from a neighbors house that will be a nice centerpiece in the area near the pond. It took two people and a very big pry bar to move it - we're figuring it was 500 lbs or so. It was free and I was going to help my neighbor get rid of it anyway, so we just moved it into my front yard. Not much more work, and my landscaping will look a bit better in the end. I still need to do the final "setting" of the rock to get it in the exact right place and get it settled into the ground a bit, but that's pretty easy to do on my own later on.
I also finally ordered all of the pond gear so that will soon be in as well. That stuff is expensive (see the pictures below to see what $3800 worth of pond equipment looks like), but will be worth it in the end. The rock to be used in the pond is also expensive and heavy. I ended up using about 10 tons of various rocks and gravel to build the pond. I managed to get that for around $4000 total with some creative bartering, but I still had to move all of it on my own. By hand. My back took weeks to recover, but man, the results sure are awesome. I added some shelf areas to the final design to have someplace to put plants and I also had to do some final forming on the stream and waterfall areas, but that was pretty easy. As part of the pond work, I also completed the main planter area by adding new plants, hooking up all of the drip irrigation gear, laying down weed barrier around the pond, and laying down river rock to finish it off.
On the short side of the yard, I completed the final planter design with my neighbor - the final planter straddles the property line and encompasses plants from each property. The railroad ties on the front part are a near mirror image of the other side of the driveway and the planter itself has been extended around the ditch area that is now filled in. It has a short line of bushes in line with the driveway that will grow to be a natural screen that does not need trimming - I choose my plants with an eye towards their final plant height so I won't have to trim them much if at all. Again, the drip irrigation has been hooked up - I ran drippers to all the plants, even the ones I don't own, so that the planter will look nice all the time. I laid down more weed barrier and then more river rock to complete the planter. The only thing left is to add gravel in the "walkway" area near the street. I'll do that mostly with gravel excavated from the driveway when I do the concrete, so I'm holding off on that for now. I even got around to buying and assembling a bench for the porch.
At this point everything is basically completed except for 1) the final water line hookups through the foundation and into the crawlspace, 2) the side gravel driveway, 3) the front half of the driveway, 4) the gravel walkway on the short side of the yard, and 4) the asphalt work out front. It's all about hitting small milestones so you feel like you're making progress, and so you only have so much torn up at once.
Laying out the French drain system near the front of the garage, pouring the first pieces of the driveway, smashing up what's left of the existing front walkway to the porch, and laying out the new dimensions of the front porch plus the future bridge over the pond.
Pouring the footings for the future bridge across the pond, plus a strip drain along the edge of the future brick paver walkway near the driveway. That drain prevents any runoff from the driveway and walkway from getting into the pond. The walkway is also graded to drain water away from the pond and over to wards the driveway. Note the first 3' section of driveway in front of the garage and how it's graded to drain water to the far side of the garage, along with having three drain inlets to the French drain system. It also has a flush entrance to the garage to make it easy to roll engine stands and such in and out when they're loaded.
Initial brick work on the walkway near the driveway, plus temporary bridge across the new pond area and base sections for the future bridge across the pond.
Forming and pouring the base for the porch that will eventually be covered with pavers. Note the galvanized flashing against the house to let ay trapped water run down to the foundation and not rot the sill plate, and the fact the that old tiny porch is will under there. Why waste time smashing up stuff I don't have to?
The first section of concrete driveway.
Getting started on the bulk of the brick paver work, and the temporary bridge.
The last fish in the original (and quite disgusting) small pond.
Laying the brick walkway next to the driveway.
Proposed pond layout, plus starting on the brick walkway to the front porch, the low voltage, drip irrigation, and sprinkler feed lines that run under the brick walkway.
Cutting the brick to fit around the front walkway next to the driveway, plus a rare picture of me working courtesy of Deb. You can see the soon-to-be-gone stump in the first picture, along with some of the drip irrigation and low voltage wiring that I ran under the driveway before pouring any concrete. I was thinking ahead for a change...
Grinding out the stump in the way of the pond, plus the stump at a neighbor's house down the street. A stump grinder is a mean piece of equipment. This one ended up having a torn belt that shut us down for part of the day. Not cool. The cottonwood stump at my neighbor's house was enormous!
Some pictures of a proud me while my parents were in town. I think my Dad took these.
Front porch and brick walkway work, underground piping for the drip irrigation and sprinkler feeds, low voltage wiring, building the retaining wall around the pond, and some pond excavation work.
Temporary patch to deal with air infiltration around the cheap-o sidelight near the front door.
Work on the gravel path to the front porch and gravel path next to the front parking area along the road.
Electrical work for the low voltage lights, outlets by the driveway, and wiring to the (eventually unused) pond pump junction box on the back of the outlet post. Note the nicely labeled and color coded circuit diagram on the breaker panel. It's an idea that has come in very handy!
Various bits of work - gravel walkway excavations and railroad tie layout, mulch and bark removal from the old front planter, pond excavations, laying gravel into the walkway, and work on the brick walkway to the front porch.
Work on the brick walkway to the porch and the planter area near the front of the house.
Chosen location for the eventual feed to the sprinklers, pond fill valve, and driveway faucet.
Various bits of work - work on the brick walkway to the porch, final removal of the old bark and mulch from the original front planter, and work on laying out the side driveway.
Pouring the second section of the driveway.
Initial drawings for the pond and front lawn area. The sprinkler system changed a bit to six heads (two 180 degree side heads instead of one middle 360 degree head), and the pond pumps ended up plugging into an outlet on the side of the garage, but the basics are there.
Driveway faucet and power outlets near driveway.
Front lawn and front planter area work.
Sprinkler and drip irrigation control valves.
More front lawn and front planter area work.
Front walkway work.
Sprinkler system in the front yard, plus some work on the brick walkway, and my helpers - Trey and Renee.
Finishing the walkway to the front porch and cutting all the brick to fit.
Final removal of the original small pond and rough excavation of the area of the pond near the front porch.
Canopy in the side driveway to keep the Ranchero dry.
Slightly overgrown stream and pond area, already partially excavated.
The build-a-pond kit I ordered. Wow, that's a lot of stuff!
Final excavating for the pond and stream and the waterfall boxes.
Pump vault, lines to the waterfall boxes, and the fill valve.
Padding under the pond liner.
Rock delivery for the pond. That was a LOT of rock.
Getting the liner in place in the pond and getting the first rocks in place.
In-pond lighting at night. It looked cooler in person.
Getting the pond rocks in place as well as the landscaping around the pond, plus checking that the pond and stream work as intended.
Rocks salvaged from a neighbor's project, plus some work on the front edge of the planter next to the driveway and getting the drainage situation over there figured out.
Temporary bridge across the pond, also seen in previous pictures.
Landscaping around the pond and driveway.
Drainage hookup in the small planter area next to the driveway.
Initial pond filling and rinsing down of the rocks. This is a bit out of order from the previous pictures.
Building the bridge. Note the use of hidden fasteners and "Trex" style deck boards.
Completing the landscaping around the pond.
The side planter area next to the driveway, with a couple a shots of my pond lilies thrown in for good measure.
Some of the hired help - thanks Trey, John, and Dicey!
Widening the side driveway and filling in with new gravel. Some of these are out of order, but it's easy enough to figure out what happened when by looking at the state of the driveway. There are a few rare pics of me working, courtesy of Deb.
An unexpected windstorm destroyed the canopy I was using to keep one of the cars dry in the side driveway.
Future sprinkler, pond fill, and driveway faucet feed through the foundation.
Various shots of the front yard and pond.
The piece of slate I used to cover the lower waterfall box for the pond.
Digging out and laying the forms for the third section of concrete.
Some pictures of the pond, fish, plants, and one of the local frogs.
Pouring the third section of concrete. It was a warm day and I let it sit a bit too long before doing the final brush work, so it was a bit hard to get good brush marks in it. Lesson learned - keep an eye on the concrete as it dries...
Digging out and laying the forms for the final section of driveway concrete. I needed to wet things down a bit, and couldn't resist spraying my helper a bit. She was thoroughly un-amused. Deb even got some rare shots of me working.
Interesting things can get caught in the pond pump inlets. Apparently we have a thriving ecosystem in our pond, but not the brightest wildlife around. The pump was fine, but the extraction process was unpleasant for me, even more so for what was left of the frog.
More gravel to top off the side driveway. It's been a while since the previous photos, except for the frog incident.
I'm finally getting around to pouring my last section of driveway concrete after a few years of this project being on hiatus. I needed to pull out what was left of the old forms and re-do them with fresh wood - the old ones had been there long enough to start to rot and to have been damaged from moving cars into that section when I needed another parking spot. Realizing how much my daughter has grown since the last time I did any work on this page is somewhat sobering... I also had to buy new joint material - the old stuff had sat outside for so long it was trashed. The re-bar grid and plastic pieces to sit it on were just fine, though.
First round of gravel topping off the side driveway. It still needs more and lots of leveling, but this fixes the worst of it for an hours worth of work.
Pouting the final driveway section. Deb was running the camera, so we have pictures of us in action. And 7 different pictures of the concrete truck. :-)
The final section of driveway done and ready to be covered in plastic and left to cure. It came out pretty darned good.
The final section of driveway just after the forms have been removed, the excess concrete spillage cleaned up, and gravel filled in around the edges. It still has to be sealed, and there is some final drying left to be done. The diagonal line across it is due to one section drying faster than the other due to the wind lifting up the covering plastic during the week it was drying. It will disappear as the concrete dries further to a uniform color.
After a very long hiatus, I finally got around to drilling the full-size hole in the foundation for the sprinkler feed hose. I had previously drilled a smaller hole with my own hammer drill and the largest bit I could buy for it, but it just wasn't big enough. So, I rented a huge hammer drill and 1 3/8" (!) bit to do the drilling for this hole and for the same thing for the backyard work. It made short work of the drilling, but it was heavy, beastly, and so large I had to excavate a slightly larger hole to make room for the hammer drill and bit to sit level and drill into the foundation.
After drilling the hole, I put in a short piece of 1" Schedule 40 PVC as a surround/shield/rub protection for the eventual 3/4" poly tubing that will go through the foundation and hook up to the water lines in the crawlspace. Remember that it's 1" inside diameter, so the outside diameter of the hole needs to be larger. I used copious quantities of Liquid Nails as both to glue it into place to keep it from moving around relative to the foundation and as a sealer to keep small critters out of the crawlspace. Why Liquid Nails? I had a brand-new tube of it lying around, and it seemed like it would do the job nicely, so I used it. Before installing the PVC I even remembered to file down the inside edge of the PVC at both ends into a smooth radiused edge so the poly tubing wouldn't have any sharp spots to catch/rub/break on. Notice the copious quantities of pulverized concrete below the hole. All that material ground up while drilling the 1 3/8" hole had to go somewhere...
This is the new feed line coming out of the crawlspace, but before final hookups were done. For reasons that are now lost to the sands of time (and to my bad memory), when I installed all the cooper feed lines in the crawlspace, I left a 6" gap of unfinished work right where the cooper lines should have hooked up to the shut off valve for this particular feed. In the crawlspace, I installed a custom-made manifold with individual shut-off valves for each outside feed - front sprinklers and faucet by the driveway, side faucet, rear faucet, rear sprinklers, and a spare feed "just in case". Ahead of that manifold is a backflow prevention assembly. This ensures that nothing on the outside of the house can accidentally have contaminated water flow back into the house and contaminate the drinking water used in the house. The output of the shut off valve for this feed simply went to air, and then 6" later the copper lines started. So, I loosened all the hose clamps, and soldered in a 6" piece of copper line with couplers on each end. Since I was already in the crawlspace when I found that and I had a spare set of hands over helping me, I decided to complete the poly tubing hookups and get the outside valve in place and ready to go. The soldering was a one-man job in a much more accessible area of the crawlspace, so I did that later. I also ended up doing some soldering work on the rear sprinklers and side faucet feed while I was down there. In this picture, the temporary feed to the front sprinklers is still hooked up - you can see it curving away from the valve and running along the front of the house.
After getting the soldering done, I could hook up the front sprinkler feed to the new outside shut off valve. The lower hose looping around is the feed for the drip irrigation lines in the front planter bed. It will get moved around later.
This is the initial backfilling of the hole around the valve, with gravel under the valve itself. You can see the dirt line from the dirt being piled against the foundation for so long. I had to scrub this a good bit to clean it up so it didn't look too ugly...
This is what was left of the square piece of plywood I used to try and keep the dirt from simply falling into the rocks when I had excavated the hole originally. I was intending it to be there for a week or so until I got the final hookup done, but with the temporary hook-up in place and working, and other projects calling for my time, that "it will only be there for one week" turned into multiple years and over half of the plywood rotted away under the dirt. Scary! I didn't find any termites, so thankfully this was just simple wood rot. I should never have let it sit that long so close to the siding, though...
Finally, after years of time since I dug the hole for the sprinkler feed, it is now hooked up through the foundation, the access box for the shutoff valve is installed, and the rocks are spread back in place again. I still need to do some more final spreading of the rocks, but this is a darned good start, and looks much better than the hole that was here. I was so excited to get it done, it was nearly dark by the time I took this picture, hence the flash and the somewhat grainy appearance of the picture. But, it's done minus some cosmetic re-leveling of the rocks, and I have photographic proof. W00t!
I also finally got around to removing the last of the extra decorative rocks in the front planter and putting them out back, along with stashing the spare "Roman Stack Stone" retaining wall blocks behind the shed. After that and some final leveling of the remaining decorative rocks, I think the front planter looks pretty darned good.
Page last updated 04/17/2011 04:13:36 PM