Aug 25, 2015

Greening Up the Backyard


Did you laugh when I told you back in July that we were hoping to have our new grass installed a week after we finished the under-deck enclosure? It's a good thing I didn't put any money down on it happening because it took us a month.

This is what our backyard has looked like for the last couple of years. Anyone with dogs knows that it is really hard to keep your grass alive with those pee machines (poop factories?) around - especially when there isn't much room for them to spread out their, ahem, deposits. We patched some of it a couple of times, seeded it at least once, and then finally just ignored it for as long as we could.


Here is a beautiful shot from the day the under-deck enclosure was finished. Keep your shoes on at all times, right?


And here it is now -


Big difference. Big. Huge.

The first step to a new backyard was to get rid of all of the old grass. Some of the soil under the old grass wasn't very nice, so we scraped down several inches to get a nice level area to build on. Our backyard is only about 20 feet by 20 feet, yet we managed to fill the bed of the pickup truck twice - which meant two long trips to empty it before we could move on.


We ordered new soil from a local place, Zander Sod. When Tom saw the two giant bags sitting in the driveway he said we'd ordered way too much (I disagreed). We spent two evenings that week trucking it to the backyard a cartful at a time, and found out that even with two bags we still didn't have enough.(I told you so.) It took a few days to get more soil, but once we had a third bag spread out it was looking pretty good.

This is after 2 bags and unfortunately through a window, so I apologize for the picture quality.


We tamped it all down and had our neighbour come over to inspect. He's a greenskeeper and knows his stuff. His backyard is gorgeous and I'm sure sometimes he likes to pretend he doesn't know us. :-)

We put it in high-gear this past weekend and decided to repair and repaint the upper windows at the front of the house, all while laying the sod between coats. Ambitious, I know. We're in a semi-detached so we were going to paint the aforementioned neighbour's windows too. When discussing our plans, the neighbour said he would be happy to lay all the sod for us if we would do all the painting as he's afraid of heights. Sweet deal. Not only was our sod laid properly, he did the whole thing in about an hour. It took us the weekend to finish the painting, but I still think we came out the winners.


So here again is our new and improved backyard. I can't express how wonderful it is to walk across the yard not worrying about thistles or rocks (or poops, because we aren't letting the dogs out there until the grass has a chance to root.) This whole experience has been great for the dogs because without a backyard we've had no choice but to take them for walks at least twice a day.


We don't have any plants or trees back there yet, except for my beloved purple smoke bush. We had a huge one at our last house  - well over 15 feet high. It was so easy to care for, and so beautiful, even when it wasn't flowering, that we had to have another one. This one is already starting to poke up over the fence and it's only been two years.


But we don't know what else we want to add. This year a vine from the other side of the fence (it's all field back there) worked its way over the top of our fence in a couple of spots and hangs down with green leaves and red berries. It's taken absolutely no effort on our part (my favourite kind of plant) and has added some much needed colour and depth to the space.


We also changed up the sidewalk area by the gate. Before, it was about 10 feet long and we wondered, Why? It doesn't lead anywhere except to the grass. So we pulled out 6 or so feet of it - back to the edge of the house, removed the screenings, and put down grass.



In every area we're going for the appearance of a larger yard, and the unbroken expanse of grass really does make the yard look bigger. Or am I delusional from being out in the sun all weekend?


Jul 21, 2015

Under-deck Enclosure with Access Door

We got some work done on the backyard this weekend. If you recall on my last post, I mentioned that we wanted to enclose the bottom of the deck, re-sod the lawn, and re-stain the fence. Well, the deck is now enclosed!

under-deck enclosure with access door

How about a little before and after?
under-deck enclosure with access door

It ended up being a fairly simple job - about 6 hours to enclose the sides (including set up, clearing gravel, and measurements), and then another hour to build the access door.

We chose to have the enclosure inset from the edge of the deck so that we could attach it directly to the support posts and give it more stability. There was a layer of gravel under the deck the went right out to the edge. We want the grass to eventually run right up to the enclosed part, so that meant digging up and pushing back the gravel that was in front of the posts. I was voluntold for that job as I was the one who pressed for the extra grass.

under-deck enclosure with access door

What a miserable job. I had to switch to a gardening hand cultivator to dig up the gravel because just digging with my hands wasn't getting it done. There is still some gravel left behind, but we'll dig it out when we put in the new soil and sod.

We started the enclosure by building out the posts on the left hand side with some scrap 2x4s so that the vertical boards would cover the concrete at the bottom. We decided not to do the same at the front since the amount visible was pretty small (our ground is really uneven.) Once the new dirt and sod are in the concrete will probably be covered anyway.

under-deck enclosure with access door

We ran boards horizontally from the house to the corner post to give a support framework for the vertical boards. Tom attached a length of 2x4 to the house to give a starting point for the support boards.

under-deck enclosure with access door

The vertical boards were then attached to the framework beginning at the house and working to the corner. Each board had to be measured individually because of the slope of the yard. In some spots Tom had to notch out the tops of the boards to fit around the deck beams above.

under-deck enclosure with access door

Master saw operator and her trusty sidekick:

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

The front was done the same way except we only went to where the under-deck access door would be.

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

We then skipped over to the right side to fill in the area between the upper and lower decks and continue around to the front again. The front part of the upper deck sticks out to the right a couple of feet more than the back does (as that's where the stairs joining the two decks are), so the post at the front isn't exactly centered. That means that the fencing would have to extend past the post to line up with the lower deck otherwise there would be a gap between the enclosed area and the lower deck and I didn't want anything making a home in that narrow space.

The upper deck overhangs the lower deck a little bit, so we screwed a 2x4 into the lower deck along the edge and Tom built a framework out from that 2x4 and also out from the post at the front, having it meet where we wanted the corner to be.

under-deck enclosure with access door

We could then attach the vertical boards along the side to the joists on the underside of the deck and to the 2x4. This one took a bit of work because we had to go down the steps as well as cutting out around the beams. Tom spent a fair amount of time lying under the deck, working in the near dark, with me trying to direct him from the outside. Finishing up the front right-hand side was a piece of cake after that.

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

The door was built nearly the same way as the sides. We attached top and bottom horizontal boards to the posts, as if we were going to enclose it all, except they were just attached with finishing nails so that they could easily be pulled out.

under-deck enclosure with access door

The vertical boards were then attached with screws to the support boards. Four barrel bolts were added - two top, two bottom - between the door and the sides. These bolts will keep the door in place when it's closed.

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

We then added two handles to make the door easier to lift in and out of place. Once the hardware was in, the bolts were unlocked Tom pulled the door outwards so that the nails holding it to the deck would let go. He then pulled/snipped off any nails or screw ends that were sticking out of the back. The door can then go back in place and the bolts hold it secure.

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

Tom was against this project initially, but even with just the first side done he admitted that the deck looked so much better. The wood we used was MicroPro Sienna, which is a new type of pressure-treated wood that is treated with a more environmentally friendly preservative than traditional green lumber.

MicroPro Sienna

I like the redwood stain colour that it comes in - I wish it had been available when we were re-building our deck a few years ago. We might have to stain the upper part now just to match!

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

We used 1x6x8' boards and calculated that we'd need 32, about $125 total plus $15 in hardware. We ended up taking 5 boards back, and had about 2 full boards worth of wastage - only 1 bad cut! - so all in all, not an expensive project.

under-deck enclosure with access door

The dogs are a little disappointed that they can't go under the deck, but there's still a slight overhang at the front that Sasha makes sure to use every day. And Chloe hung out under there as much as she could while we were working on it. She probably thought we were building her a doghouse.

under-deck enclosure with access door

The other one spent the day trying to figure out how to get out of the yard. Good thing she's cute 'cause those brains aren't going to take her far.

under-deck enclosure with access door

The new soil is being delivered this week and if we're lucky (ha, ha!) we might even get the sod in place by the end of the weekend.

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door

under-deck enclosure with access door



Jul 3, 2015

Patio Makeover 2015


Back in 2011 we bought wooden deck furniture for the backyard. And we loved that furniture very much. Even the dogs loved it. But over time, the factory finish wore off, the wood started to weather, and it needed to be refinished.

wooden patio chair before

So two years ago I took a week of vacation time and spruced it up. I sanded down each of the chairs, tables, and loveseat, restained them, and gave them a few coats of varathane.

wooden patio chair after

But even with storing and covering the furniture up each winter, it started peeling again this spring. Add to that the fact that it seems to rain at least twice a week here, and we never had dry cushions to sit on. It just didn't seem worth it anymore.

wooden patio furniture

So we started to look around for something new. What we really wanted were chairs that didn't need cushions, but we couldn't find anything that was both comfortable and nice to look at.

Enter the new kids...

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

We found a "conversation set" at Home Depot that we (I) really liked. Yes, I know, it has cushions. But they are made of a higher quality material than the old ones, so I was willing to give them a chance.

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

I specifically looked for a patio set with only chairs. That's not so easy to find - almost everything comes with a loveseat nowadays. That's fine when you have it all to yourself, but not always so fun when there's a group and you're sharing the space.

While we were trying them out in the store, Tom mentioned we could buy tarps and I could fashion covers for the chairs for when we weren't using them. That way we wouldn't have to find a place to store them. I felt like an idiot - why didn't we think of that for the old set?

One huge difference with these new chairs is that they're made of metal, so no worries of peeling varnish and weathered wood. And if the metal gets some scratches or dings we can just give it a quick coat of spray paint and it'll be as good as new.

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

Look how thick and cushy that seat is. This is a spot that is comfortable to hang out in.

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

And the round centre table is big enough to hold food and drinks for everyone. There's even a shelf underneath for magazines or whatever we need to tuck away while the top is being used.

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set glass table


We still have our outdoor fold-down bar as well, though I'll be completely honest and show you that the top has not held up to our punishing weather. (Go ahead, zoom in, I don't mind.)

fold down backyard patio bar

It has been through 3 full years of sun, rain, and snow though, so it's to be expected I guess. I'd advise anyone building their own to hang it in a protected area if you don't want to have to refinish it.

The inside is still as good as new though. We love having this space-saver.

fold down backyard patio bar


The rest of the backyard is our big project this summer. First we're going to enclose the bottom of the deck to keep the dogs out from under there, but we'll put in a door so that we can still use the space for storage. Then we're going to pull up all of the old grass, put in new dirt, level it up, and re-sod. We've had a terrible time keeping grass growing - having dogs doesn't help - so we thought it was time to get a good solid base in first and go from there. Then maybe we can tackle that terrible, peeling fence that's in the background of all of my photos.

We always have a dozen projects on the go - hopefully we'll get time (and enough good weather) to enjoy our new patio!

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set glass table

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set glass table

Hampton Bay Lynnfield patio set glass table



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