Digging the New Patio

Backyard Before

It all started two weeks ago when we realized Eric’s parents were coming.  Usually we pick a project from our ever-growing list to work on since we’ll have an extra set of hands + a babysitter.  For reasons that often baffle me, we decided to install a back deck.  Simple weekend project with the in-laws, right?  You think we would have learned by now.  Above is the backyard before we got started.  Notice the giant holly bush is gone.  (A bittersweet moment, but I love being able to see the garden from the kitchen window!)

Patio Before

We have envied and pined for some back yard living space since we were living in apartments.  Actually, it was on our “MUST HAVE” list when looking for a house so we thought it would be one of the first projects we tackled (after the kitchen) and here we are 6 years later.  I’ve actually been avoiding it, truth be told, because I couldn’t figure out a good design.  It’s tricky back there with 3 cement pads for the septic system plus the a/c unit, not to mention the pile of rubble, electrical and gas line from the creepy shed we tore down.  Then there is that light pole that the tree has literally tried to swallow.  We talked about hiring a landscape designer as an anniversary present to ourselves, but I guess we just got impatient and decided to just go for it.

Patio Before

So Eric borrowed a bunch of books from the library on how to build decks and I dug through gobs of photos and deck designs.  I sketched out ideas and then we had the perfect back deck design.  We even dug out all the plants behind the house in preparation. Then someone at work says, “you know you have to get that permitted, right?”  Argh.  We did know this, we were just trying to pretend it didn’t apply to us.  So we checked with the permit office and of course, they rained on our parade.  So, we decided to go with a patio instead.

atio Lay it Out

Now that we’re knee-deep in dirt back there, I’m really glad we went with a patio instead.  Supposedly decks have a better return on the investment if we sell, it would have been less work and it would have been elevated which had some appeal.  But I think the patio will feel more authentic and like it fits the time period of the house.  We’ve also done a small patio so we have some experience with it.  Plus it isn’t elevated so I won’t have to worry about Harper as much.  And maybe the best part – we can put in a fire pit!  Above shows us laying out the design with a couple of hoses to make sure that we had enough room for furniture.  Basically a rectangular patio with an overlapping circle.  The rectangle will have a pergola over it and the circle will radiate out from the fire pit.

Eric on the Toro

Digging out a 13×26′ rectangle plus 14′ diameter circle, 7 inches down sounded pretty miserable.  Plus the boys were itching to play with some toys so we rented this cute little Toro.  It was properly named because riding it was like riding a bull.  It jumped and bucked and was surprisingly difficult to stay on the back of it, but it was a lot more fun than a shovel.


It took about 9 hours to dig up all the earth and get it leveled out even with that earth mover.  Now we have mounds of dirt all over the yard but that’s a project for another day.

Cutting the Well

The other issue back there is this well.  We originally wanted to use it, but its several hundred feet until the water and it would need a very expensive pump.  We debated it, but ended up deciding to cover it up, which meant cutting it down below ground level.  Easy right?  A new tool, lots of sparks and 10 minutes later, the boys finally cut through the 1/2 inch steel.

Patio Pile of Dirt

We also needed 2 loads of crush and run delivered for the first layer.  We called our Mulch Guy, who informed us we need to start calling him something else since he delivered gravel this time.

How to Find Water

Probably the highlight of the day was when he taught Eric how to find water under the ground using a cut up wire hanger.  It really works!  We thought it was just an old wives tale but it’s really real.  He just bent the two pieces of wire into L shapes.  Then held them loosely so the long ends were pointed straight out in front of him and started walking across the yard.  Where the septic line ran and over each of the leach fields the wire turned to touch.  It was magic.

Patio Day 1

So more than 11 hours of back-breaking labor and we here’s what we have to show for it.  It may look like pile of dirt, but its progress!  Now we have to decide on the bricks we want to use, rent a compactor and get a ton of sand delivered.


Here are the brick we’re considering.  The salvaged brick is my favorite plus its the cheapest but a lot of the bricks are damaged and crumbling so we’ll have to compensate for that by buying more and they’ll be a lot more work.  Lowes are by far the ugliest in person.  They’re a mottled brick/brown swirl that’s too uniform and don’t look like bricks really.  Home Depot’s aren’t bad, they’re a little more brick-like and the color is better but they’re pretty pricey.  Decisions, decisions.

Harper's 1st Wheel Barrow Ride

It wasn’t all work, though.  Harper got her first wheel barrow ride around the yard with Papa.

Jamie on the Toro

I spent most of my day jealously watching the boys work.  I really miss spending nights and weekends with my hands covered in paint and my back aching but I did get to try out the Toro!

Since the bricks don’t deliver on the weekends, it will probably be another week before we’re lounging on the patio sipping lemonade.  Now that it’s so close, I don’t know if I can wait that long!

Author: Jamie Forbes

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