Our DIY Slate Patio (and why we'd never do this again!)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Do you like back-breaking manual labor that makes you curse the day you started a project?

Then, BOY, do I have the renovation for you!

Enter, our back patio project.

We knew we would eventually need to do a complete removal and re-installation of our back patio and walk way when we moved here. The previous owners had taken a curious "artistic direction" that truly made no sense. They appeared to have DIY installed it using discarded interior bricks, random bits of poured cement, and what appears to be the "lost and found" of cement pavers. It wasn't graded, flooded every time it rained,  and to be totally frank, it looked like sh*t!

Earlier this spring some of our wonderful friends got engaged and we wanted to host their engagement party in July. Spenser said "that's plenty of time to finish this project and DIY!" We were so optimistic back then haha!

We got started demo'ing the existing patio Memorial Day Weekend. Conveniently, none of the bricks were even cemented together... they were just loosely placed in sand. Removing them wasn't much work, but there were a LOT of them, and it was heavy as hell wheelbarrowing 40-50 loads of bricks 10-15 times. God Bless Burn Bootcamp for keeping me strong!  We made a huge pile of them in our front yard (which I'm sure our neighbors loved) so that our junk hauling crew would be able to easily remove them.

The walkway demo'd pretty easily (aside from the wheelbarrowing) but the patio portion was, in fact, poured in concrete. We spent hours sledge hammering, digging, and hauling off bits of mortar, cement, and stone to our junk pile. Meanwhile, the temperatures were starting to rise. It was getting HOT.

By June, it was averaging 90 degrees during the day, so we had to wait until it was late evening to do any work. It was was sweaty, dirty, and exhausting. We'd manage 1-2 hours of work per night, and feel like we were getting nowhere. It definitely wasn't going as fast as we planned.

Once we finally got all the bricks up, we needed to dig down the pathway a few inches so we had room for gravel and sand for drainage. Spenser did this part by hand ((Bless him)) and gave us another few inches. In our crunch to finish this by the party in July, we had some friends come over and help us tamp everything down so it was nice and level. Thank you again, Sarah and Daniel! We appreciate you! We also decided to expand the foot print of the patio a bit, too, so we had more room for some chairs and a fire pit down the line.

While all this was going on, I was working on the design. Did we want to do cement pavers? Natural stone? I wanted to know what would be the most cost-effective while still giving us the aesthetics we wanted AND allow us to DIY (there was no turning back now).

A few looks we were inspired by:

Once again, Lowes was disappointing. When we added up the total for the cement pavers, gravel, and sand we would need to complete our patio, the total cost was over $3500. To get real slate stone, bulk sand and bulk gravel (WITH delivery!) from our local stone center, the total came out to just under $700. We were thrilled! We had really wanted slate stone, but had assumed that would be the most expensive route. I was so happy we were wrong!

We placed our order and about a week later,  2 pallets of slate, a dump truck of gravel, and a dump truck of sand showed up in our driveway. I'm sure our neighbors loved us.

Our old friend, the wheelbarrow, came back and we hauled load after load, after load, after load of stone, sand, and gravel back. Honestly this was the most exhausting part of the entire project. Shoveling things into the wheelbarrow, carrying each load back, unloading it, and starting over was so exhausting. We definitely had some choice words throughout this process for each other 🙊

For installing it, the process was fairly straight forward. We had tilled and tamped down the dirt, so then we laid the gravel (for drainage). We put a layer of gravel down over the whole area, and made sure we had even coverage.

Then, we installed sand, so our stones would be able to be level once they were installed. Spenser did a method called "Scree-ing" to level out all the sand and make sure we would have proper grading for drainage. This was also backbreaking (you're literally bent over for hours) and also, sand hurts knees, FYI. This was the part where we were busting our butts every day to get it done... the party was in less than a week and we hadn't installed stones yet!

Once the sand was level, we laid out all the stones. We carried each one by hand, placing them in a pattern to have even distribution, leveled them, and made sure they were where we wanted them.

The end was in sight! We were so close!

The next step was to install an edge so that the Polymeric Stone Dust we were going to put between the stones had a clean edge to bond to. We had debated using a natural border, but with weed maintenance, we decided the stone dust would be the easiest option. Installing the edge was fairly simple -- they bend easily, so we just created the lines we wanted and hammered them into the dirt.

Now, it was time to install the Polymeric Stone Dust! We used this product, which was recommended to bond to large stones with gaps of 4-6inches between. Polymeric Sand is what you would more commonly see at your home improvement store, but it wasn't recommended for projects like ours.

The stone dust needed to be evenly placed between the stones (we used a broom), and then dusted off the surface of each stone. Once it's in place, you wet it and it turns (essentially) into cement. We had to make sure it wasn't on top of our pretty stones or it would ruin them! It needs to stay dry for 2 days, and we had just enough time before our party to get it done.

But then, the weather changed. We had rain for a week straight. We missed our window. Thankfully, the party went off without a hitch and we had a great time anyway, but both of us were hot-pissed that we missed our deadline because of weather. Especially after hustling as hard as we did in the July heat!

So then.... we sulked. We decided to take a week break. And then it was August. And it was so hot. And then it kept raining. And then, it was September and we had no motivation, and then, and then... we were just making excuses. Before we knew it it was the end of September and we still hadn't touched it since laying the stones in sand.

In early October, we had a break in the heat, and we bit the bullet and decided to just get it done. I think we both just wanted to stop thinking about it and move on to something else!

We got several bags of the Polymeric Stone Dust from our local stone center ($20/bag vs. $80/bag at Lowes!) and swept them in between each stone and the edge, making sure the surfaces of our stones were clear. Then, we hosed it down! The light parts are where we hadn't yet watered the stone dust down.

When it comes in contact with water, it turns to concrete! Now, our stones are solidly installed, they're well graded, it looks SO MUCH BETTER than it did before, and we have a beautiful, back patio that we plan to landscape over the next year to really make it a space we'll use.

As a reminder, this is what it looked like when we bought it:

And what it looks like now: 

And one throwback before we painted the house: 

As for our parting thoughts? I don't think either of us would recommend trying to DIY this project if you have any issues with patience, back pain, or time management. This truly was an exhausting project that neither of us enjoyed. We're so, so happy it's done but if we had to do it again we 100% would hire it out. And you know, that's the honest truth sometimes about renovating! Sometimes you get into a project that's more than you can chew, but I'm so proud that we stuck with it, figured it out, took our time, and finally got it done in time to enjoy a nice fire pit night outside now that the weather is cool!

And, I would be remiss without giving my strong and diligent hubby a huge thank you! This was a project he started and managed on his own. It was a lot harder than we anticipated, but he poured all his energy (and so much sweat) into getting it done, and it looks amazing. Thank you for all you do, Spenser! I love you!

One Year In Our Fixer Upper

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This year has truly flown by. Sometimes it feels like we've only been in this home for a couple months, and sometimes it feels like we've been here 10 years already (mostly when I'm annoyed a renovation is taking too long). We have officially hit one year in our wonderful fixer upper, which has truly become home for us.

We were blessed to have been able to accomplish so much in our first year -- way more than we expected to. I think we surprised ourselves with how much appetite we actually have for home renovation and DIY. We *hoped* this would be the case, but we truly love it. Our home has become our shared hobby; a shared canvas that we get the work on together to make our own. It's been something that's brought us closer together, and makes us so proud. Sometimes we stand in the driveway and look at it, all shiny and blue, and say "Can you believe we did this? Look how good it looks now!"

We have really enjoyed focusing on one project at a time, giving it all our energy and focus, and then moving on to the next. We are so excited for the things we have planned in Year 2, and are so grateful you're coming along for the ride!

I thought it would be fun to see before and afters of every single project we've undertaken in this home over the last 365 days of owning it, so here's our Year 1 Review of what we've accomplished!

Year One Project Roundup 

1. Installed hardwood floors

3. Painted our staircase 

4. Added entry storage

5. Made-over the dining room 

6. Made-over the fireplace with sticker tiles. Next year, we hope to re-do the fireplace and add built-in shelving on each side. 

7. Patched a wall to fill in the "baby jail." It really brought our house out of the 80s!

8. Painted the exterior & installed new gutters

9. Removed shrubs and re-landscaped

11. Installed new carpet, fans, and made over the guest room

13. Painted tile floor. It's holding up SO well! I am planning to repeat this upstairs because it looks so great in this room. 

14. Removed and re-installed a slate patio DIY (Never. Again.) Post coming soon! 

This year has truly been a labor of love for us in so many ways. We've poured all of our extra time, money, and energy into making this house *our* home, and bringing it up to it's full potential. We absolutely love this neighborhood, love our neighbors, love the location, and love this home. We see ourselves here for a good long while, and are loving making this home "ours" early on, so that we can enjoy it for many years to come. We've had more time than we had hoped to give this home our undivided attention before have kiddos, so we are taking advantage of that and just plowing through our to do list one thing at a time!

At the end of the day we are so thankful to have been able to do as much to this home as we were, and are excited for the projects we have remaining. I'll be sharing our Year 2 "hope to" list as soon as we are able to get our priorities in line, and of course keep you posted along the way. As always, thank you for reading! 

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