These past couple weeks have been especially hectic on the house—from long nights at the Bungalow trying to get three units rent ready, to hours of patio stenciling, to squeezing in DIY projects at the Heights house—you’ve seen a glimpse of the action if you’re following my Instagram stories.
Yesterday we paused for a moment to sit down and talk about what’s been going on since our last vlog (spoiler alert: the baby bump makes its first appearance!)
There’s too many updates to cover in this post so you’ll have to watch the vlog to catch up, because for this post I wanted to focus on one project in particular that we’ve been working on for two months. Remember how the backyard looked in January?
This concrete wall barricade is one of the many questionable choices that came with this house, and we couldn’t figure out what to do with it.
We really tried to come up with a solution that wouldn’t require tearing it all out and starting over. Cornhole? Shuffleboard? Mini bowling? Permanent Slip ‘N Slide? Nope, it was too small for all the games.
And definitely too small to accommodate seating around a fire pit (was that pile of rubble ever actually functional?) But the fire pit idea was pretty appealing, and would certainly be a great feature in a vacation rental geared towards groups and gatherings. (If you’re new here, we’re renovating this house to turn into a vacation rental on a very tight budget and timeline. That means lots of DIY, getting creative and embracing imperfections).
Even with a limited budget and timeline, we knew this was one big project we had to suck up and take care of, as it would make all the difference in this backyard. We weren’t exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into, so all we could do was take the first step—so long, mismatched striped giraffe tile!
We were relieved at how easily these tiles popped right off (improper installation + years of Florida humidity and weather will do that for you…)
In no time, the patio was completely rid of the ceramic offenders and ready for Step 2.
Lucas got a great arm workout with the sledgehammer that weekend.
A sledgehammer and brute force was enough to take down the wall, but the concrete pad was another story.
We quickly realized this was a job for power tools, and Lucas learned the art of jackhammering.
It took the poor guy 6-7 hours to complete over the course of two days, but we were dealing with some very stubborn concrete.
The main section in the back was about 4″ thick and reinforced with some sort of mesh/rebar, so it could only break apart into small sections. Fortunately, the front portion wasn’t nearly as much of a headache and only took about an hour to break up. See the difference?
There’s your concrete fun fact for the day!
Now that we were left with a pile of rubble, we had to figure out how to dispose of it. Lacking a truck, time and energy, I found someone on Craigslist who was willing to remove and haul it away (including the giraffe tile) in one day at a very reasonable cost. Win-win!
The smaller debris was left behind, as we figured it would make a good base for our pea gravel. Now things started to get a little more fun, as we mapped out the border for our fire pit zone.
After (lots of) back and forth adjustments to the shape, Lucas dug out a small trench and removed the grass around the perimeter so we had a clean slate to work with.
We ended up spending most of the weekend removing weeds/old roots and buried tree stumps, and leveling out the very uneven grade of the yard. Landscaping in the Florida heat (while pregnant) really takes it out of you!
Here’s how the rest of the yard is looking at this point… this is one of those projects where it gets worse before it gets better.
After our fire pit area was leveled and ready, we loaded up our car with pavers (well, technically they’re ‘retaining wall blocks’) but they fit our needs:
Before setting them in place, we wet down and compacted the dirt so the pavers would have a more solid ground to rest on.
We opted not to use landscaping cloth, mostly because of the aforementioned reasons (lack of time/energy/budget) but I also learned it’s not always necessary and can create its own set of problems (I found this article from Remodelista helpful).
The fact that we already had a concrete rock base and nothing had been growing underneath it made the decision easy for us, although we’d reconsider if we were building this from scratch and it was our own permanent home. We fully expect to have to deal with a few weeds popping up here and there, and will use a weed killer of some sort to keep those at bay.
Once the trench was prepared, we lined the perimeter with our pavers to make sure they fit…
Then spread a little of the concrete sand over the dirt (no idea if this actually does anything to be honest, but we figured it couldn’t hurt!)
Then one by one, the pavers were locked into place.
Then it was just a matter of filling in and leveling the dirt around the outside, and spreading out the concrete base on the inside.
That sounds easy, but it was actually the most time consuming part of this project. Lots of small adjustments, standing back and re-evaluating, and moving dirt back and forth.
The next step was building a fire pit. We decided to keep things simple and buy a kit that had everything we needed, and we found this one at Lowe’s for only $199:
Assembly was by far the easiest step of this whole project. There’s no guesswork—you just decide where you want the fire pit, make sure the dirt is level and compacted, and start lining up the stones.
You can use concrete adhesive or polymer sand to bond them together, but we improvised and used leftover concrete dust and water.
Again, not sure if that’s useful, but it’s better than nothing! These stones are so heavy they don’t need anything to stay in place. Especially after the metal ring is inserted, you’d have to use some force to try and knock it down.
Rinse and repeat for the second and third rings.
Less than an hour later, and we’re done! If only they could all go this smoothly.
The last and final step—pea gravel! I had my heart set on gray pea gravel, assuming it’d be readily available everywhere, but the big box stores only had rusty colored brown gravel (who knew that was a thing?) and they looked at me like I was crazy when I asked about gray gravel.
So I called around to every landscaping/gravel place within driving distance, and finally found ONE who offered white pea gravel (or 1/2″ river rock per their description). It was about the same cost as Lowe’s—$127 per cubic yard. We needed less than 1.5 cubic yards, and they had a minimum order of 2 cubic yards plus a delivery fee, but this was the only place that offered white gravel so I sucked it up and paid the $350.
You can imagine my dismay (devastation would be a more appropriate term, thank you hormones) when the delivery truck dumped this in my driveway and sped off.
It sat there in our driveway for days as we debated what to do with it and made several ignored attempts to contact the owner/manager of the company. In the end, we decided it wasn’t worth paying another several hundred dollars to track down an alternative, and clearly Florida has a ban on gray and white pea gravel for some reason, so I filed this incident under “learning to let go.”
We still have 0.5 cubic yard of leftover stupid brown gravel in our driveway, if anyone wants it.
The good(ish) news is that the gravel does get lighter when it dries. Certainly not “white”, but less of an obnoxious orange. And raking it was quite cathartic… like my own life size Japanese zen garden.
At this point, we’re just relieved that this 2 month saga is over. Well, the fire pit portion at least…
Just wait until you see what we’ve been through with the patio! I’m saving that for another post.
If you have any tips to make grass grow fast, I’m all ears! We’re picking up some seeds tonight in hopes of filling in all the dirt patches before the backyard reveal.
Pretty soon this fire pit will be transformed with landscaping, string lighting and adirondack chairs. Can you picture it?
We still have a LONG way to go back here, but I would call this much improved from a few months ago…
Pin this to save for later!
While this has been our longest and potentially most labor-intensive project, we know it’s one that will pay off for years to come, and it’s worth putting in the sweat equity now. I’m currently in the middle of a stenciling project with a similar effort/reward outcome (I’ve been saving the full play-by-play on my Backyard Instagram story highlights if you’ve missed anything!) and hope to have that finished by the end of the week (maybe?) I need two of me to get this all done! Are we getting close to cloning humans yet?
Stay tuned for lots and lots of stenciling…