Level With Us

Over the last year (ack, has it really been a year since we started our patio?), we have been digging digging digging in anticipation of building our Someday Patio.  Now that most of the digging is done, we’re looking forward to how to actually construct this thing.

In an oversimplified world, our next steps are:

  1. Build retaining wall
  2. Lay patio

But what is actually involved in that?  Good question and frankly, we don’t know.  We’re figuring it out as we go along (a.k.a. winging it).  For now, we’re just going to talk about the retaining wall, which we’ll need to assemble before we can lay the patio.

Our first step was a tutorial on “how to” build a retaining wall.  We foudn a great tutorial (and generally have found a number of good tutorials) on FamilyHandyman.com (retaining wall tutorial here).  They use awesome pictures too, which make their tutorials extra-interesting:

By the way, does anyone know where we can hire a chicken contractor?

The first step in building the retaining wall is digging a trench to build it in.  We had to figure out the layout of the patio in order to determine the depth that the wall would go.  Don’t want to build the wall only to find that a properly leveled patio would be farther underground than the wall!.  We used a Lowe’s How-To video (which we found here) on laying a patio foundation.  The video explains that a patio should decline as it gets farther away from the house at a rate of about an inch for every 4 feet.  That keeps the water from pooling next to the house and messing with the foundation.

The quick and easy way to do this is to measure the distance between the house and the part of the retaining wall that is farthest away from the house.  Here’s a barebones schematic of our patio showing the measurement (minus the chicken contractor):

The distance from A (the house) to B (the part of the patio farthest from the house) is about 16 feet.  At a rate of 1 inch of decline for every 4 feet from the house, we should set the bottom of retaining wall 4 inches lower than the height of the ground at the house (plus a few more inches for things like drainage sand, etc.). You have to measure from the farthest point from the house, or else your measurement will come out too shallow.  For example, if you measured on the far right side of our patio, you would only get about 2 feet, which means that the wall would only be set about 1/2 inch into the ground.  Then, when you build a level wall that is 1/2 inch into the ground across the whole patio, it would be too shallow around “B” where the patio would have declined more extensively.

Of course, we haven’t exactly leveled the ground… so we had to stake out the patio area and figure out where that 4 inches takes us.  Before we could stake out the patio, we needed to move the stones and debris that was piling up next to the house and  pull out the ivy:

(Don’t worry, we didn’t just pull up the plants and throw them away.  We are trying to transplant some of the ivy on the dirt pile.)

Here’s how clean it looked when we were done:

 Once we had the space cleared, we drove some homemade stakes into the ground right next to the house.   We used homemade stakes because we had extra wood that we found when we cleaned out the garage and we might as well use it.  We measured two inches up from the ground (high enough that it would clear any rocks, but not so high that it wouldn’t reach a short stake) and tied masonry string to it:

We tied the masonry string all around (and across) the patio.  Then we hung line levels on the string.  The line levels help us level the string (duh) so we have a guide so we dig out the patio level.  Some of the line levels that we got included a built-in measurement to tell us the rate of decline:

You can’t really see it, but on the top there are different numbers, like 1/4 which means that the rate of decline on the string is 1 inch per 4 feet.  We set the strings to decline at that rate.

To recap, we:

  • Removed the plants
  • Dug out the hill (this is the step that took 8 months)
  • Calculated the depth of the retaining wall, looking at the point of the wall that is farthest from the house and using an expected rate of decline of 1 inch for every 4 feet
  • Cleared out debris and ivy from next to the house
  • Hammered stakes into the ground along the edges of the patio
  • Tied masonry string along the outer edges of the patio and straight across the patio
  • Added line levels to the masonry string and adjust the string to reflect a 1 inch/4 feet decline away from the house
  • Oh!  We almost forgot to mention that we dug out some trenches to run electrical and cable wires under the patio.  This will let us install lighting or speakers to the patio without having to look at the wires:

(By the way, can you believe that we discovered that the pachysandra we buried in the dirt pile is still green?  You really can’t kill that stuff.)

Which brings us to our next steps!

  • Dig the trench for the wall
  • Decide on materials we want to use for the retaining wall
  • Order materials for the retaining wall
  • Build the retaining wall (that will obviously have more details as we get into it)
  • Level out the patio area
  • Decide on materials we want to use for the patio
  • Order the materials for the patio
  • Lay the patio!!!
  • Identify and start on the “lesser” projects like walling in the air conditioner and refurbishing the greenhouse

We confess that we got really excited about picking materials and ran out to a stoneyard over the weekend too.  Details to come…..

One thought on “Level With Us

  1. Pingback: The Right Stuff « Kristin & Krister's Blog

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