28 September 2010

Rain delay

Tamping the soil got delayed due to the rain we've had the past couple of days. This rain helped transition temperatures from blistering hot to unseasonably cool in a snap. I can't complain, though. I'd much rather do yard work when it's cool outside!

Anyhow, we got a break in the weather and I got out there and tamped the soil. Tamping reduces the amount of soil settlement once the wall is built, which could cause the whole thing to topple. Then I dumped gravel into the trench to about a 2" depth, staying roughly level, and tamped again.

Since I'm not digging beneath the frost line, having gravel under the wall helps drain water and prevents frost heave.

I should also say here that I prepared for fence posts in a somewhat unusual way. I laid concrete blocks at the corners on top of the gravel, leaving room for the brick in front. I put one half-block (free from Lowe's) on top of a full block, aligning the cores and bonding them together with construction adhesive.

Always helps to have a baby with you when asking for broken items for free.

The 4x4 treated post will be placed in the core and backfilled with gravel, tamping as I go. Believe it or not, you don't have to set your fence posts in concrete. Having the wood against gravel rather than concrete or soil also provides better drainage and will hopefully extend the life of the fence. (Green note: LEED for Homes awards 1/2 a point for eliminating wood-to-concrete connections as part of Nontoxic Pest Control, so maybe there's something to this method after all.)

I have to wait to place the second set of these concrete blocks on the far end because I wasn't sure exactly where the end of the wall would fall. We don't want to have a cut brick on the end of the run. We 'll lay the first course of brick and then place the block at that end. The intermediate posts will be done after this step to ensure even spacing.

After the block was set, I laid a 2" layer of sand on top of the gravel, leveling it carefully. This provides an even base for the brick, and it's easy to accommodate small variations in the brick size by adding or removing sand under each brick.

That's as far as I've gotten so far. I'm working during the day while Clara naps. With the exception of one or two hours of digging, I've done this all myself while Tom's at work, including buying the materials. If I get the first course laid this weekend, I should have the rest of it done by the end of the week. Presumably if I take the time to do a thorough job with leveling the first course, the rest should go up easily.

The wall in progress

Work has, as usual, been going slowly. The last time I checked in, the yard looked like this:

Not pretty.

Now it looks even worse:

Everything has to get worse before it gets better, right? Oh, I hope it gets better...

But fear not. The next steps should go a bit faster than the digging did. The soil that we were excavating was very compact and very rocky, which translates into very hard to dig. Besides naturally occurring rocks, there were also chunks of broken bricks (many of which match the house and have probably been buried there since it was built) and asphalt (probably from when the adjacent road was paved) and coal and bone (crossing our fingers that it's not human...though would the city help us dig if it could be a crime scene?). There was also another kind of brick that didn't match the house or the pavers in the yard. I came across a few broken ones, which I dug out and tossed aside. Then I dug out a whole one, then another. There seems to be a whole row of these earlier paving bricks lying about 8" below the line of the existing sidewalk:

Couldn't tell you when or why those were put there.

Rather than dig them all out, we'll leave them there and build on top of them. Now that the whole trench is roughly level (we had to dig much deeper on one side because of the slope to the yard), we can begin the next phase of this never-ending process. I hate to end this on a down note, so here's the only pretty thing currently in the yard:

13 September 2010

The State of the Yard

We spent a few hours this weekend taking up grass and weeds from the perimeter of the yard. It now looks like this:

You can see the small mock-up of the wall at the bottom of the picture. I haven't quite decided how high to build it. If we go five bricks high, it is a good height for sitting, but we're not sure if that should be encouraged, given this scene a few months ago:

Mmm, beer and cigarettes at 8 am.

What we're doing in the yard: The wide swath of dirt where we removed the grass will be enclosed by a low brick wall on all sides to form a raised planting bed. We plan to also build a picket fence along the outside perimeter just inside the brick wall. Hopefully I'll have the next step of the process done in the next few days with some more uninteresting supplementary photos.