It's more than a house. It's an adventure.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Big project, very sore

For a while we've been wanting to replace the front sidewalk as it had been becoming increasingly dangerous. Just some stones embedded in the ground, very uneven, large gaps where weeds grew through. The stones were growing moss and algae, and some were working loose. And a major PITA to shovel in the winter.

The last few weeks we had been getting closer and closer to actually doing it, and about midweek my wife said "ok, let's do it this weekend." I'd been reading and researching the project for a while, so I knew it wasn't necessarily a quick job.

We took some measurements of the old sidewalk and decided to go with a new, straight walkway made of paver bricks, 16 feet long by 3 feet wide. I made up a quick spreadsheet to work out how much we'd need in materials to do it. After some research on patterns, we decided that a 36" wide layout wouldn't work well with the bricks we'd selected without a lot of cutting, so we reduced it to 32" to make for an easier fit.

Friday night we went down to Lowe's to make our purchase. 250 red/charcoal paver bricks. 42 bags of base stone. A dozen bags of sand. Various other supplies and tools. Total bill: just short of $500. I asked about reserving the "Load n' Go" truck but it's on a first-come, first-served basis.

I arrived about 8:15 AM on Saturday and the truck was available. Got the paperwork taken care of and brought it around to the garden center. They loaded the bricks on first, right up at the front of the bed. At first, they set them down on the driver's side. The whole truck squatted and I thought it was going to roll, it leaned so far. They pushed it to the centerline and it leveled side to side. Then the stone & sand was loaded. At the back of the flatbed. The truck squatted even more, to the point where it clearly looked overloaded. By my math, we had loaded 1000 pounds of brick and 2000 pounds of stone & sand onto the truck. A 3/4 ton truck. This was looking to be a fun ride home. And it was. Over 50 MPH, the truck got very squirrelly, as there was very little weight on the front wheels to maintain control.

When I got the truck home, I backed it into the driveway and we set about unloading. My wife and I unloaded the truck, one bag at a time, a half dozen bricks at a time, by hand, in an hour. Not too shabby.

When I returned from returning the truck to Lowe's, the work began in earnest. We put in stakes and ran some twine to mark off the area we'd be excavating. Excavation was not too difficult as the ground was soft, but by my figures we had to remove over 1 cubic yard of dirt. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're moving it all with shovels and a wheelbarrow, it definitely is. We managed to get the job about halfway done when the sky started threatening rain. Then we heard thunder. We covered the area with plastic and within minutes, the skies opened. Saturday was over for the sidewalk.

Sunday morning we got a good start and finished digging everything out. Along the way were several surprises. First, just below the surface was a layer of sand. The previous owner had installed her sidewalk somewhat properly, putting a good sand base below the stones. Below the sand (actually, intermingled with it), was black plastic. Maybe to block weeds from growing through? I'm not sure. The biggest surprise, however, was the 4 inch diameter hole I found under a hunk of cinder block. Apparently we were standing on top of a concrete slab which covered a larger cavity. A cistern, old drywell, or septic system? Don't know yet. I'll have to check village records to find out.

Once the excavation appeared complete, we tamped the soil down. Only to discover that we'd taken too much out. An hour or so of retrieving fill & fixing low spots later and we were ready for the base material, 30+ bags of stone. We spread out & tamped 8 bags at a time so as to not go too far too fast. The downside of that is that you have to do an extreme amount of tamping. It's an excellent triceps exercise but my wrists are complaining and I've got at least one blister, on my right thumb.

Once the base stone was complete (4 inches deep), the hard part was finished. We put down 8 bags of sand and screeded it to 1 inch thick in short order. Then laid down edging for one side of the walk, laid the first course of brick, then put down the second side's edging. From there, my wife took over putting the bricks down, while I delivered them to her. Everything came together very quickly. Once the bricks were done, we filled the areas on either side of the walk which had been dug out, but weren't to get brick, then started brushing sand into the crevices. We got as much in as we could, but as things settle we'll need to brush more in to fill the gaps. Not a big deal.

I figure it was about 20 man-hours of labor. Not too bad, considering it's our first attempt. We're very pleased with the results and we look forward to enjoying our safer sidewalk for as long as we're in the house. We're very sore and very tired after this effort, but it feels really good.

Pictures of the project

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