You already know we love DIY. Getting in the trenches…hands muddy, clothes dusty, hair streaked in paint, a few bloody battle scars thrown in. When you create something special with your own hands, it just feels different. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t had our challenges. Some projects are weekenders, some are months long that should have been weekenders, and some are years long that should have taken a few months. We’re not always fast, but we always get there.
As springtime weather is starting to arrive here in Central California, I looked out at our pretty little backyard and smiled…realizing it will soon be time for cookouts and cool evenings out in the hammock. But it wasn’t always that way. Oh, no.
If you’ve read my post from last month, Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Big Change, you know that we downsized to the smaller house we’re in now. And went from this backyard…
to something that looked like this:
Fast forward to the summer of 2012. A year and a half had passed since we downsized. My husband and I were standing outside, looking out at the barren wasteland that we called our backyard. At one time it had an actual lawn-like green-ness going on, but our renter wasn’t always good about yard care, so by the time we had moved in, it was pretty much a blank, weedy, slate.
So the planning began. We knew we wanted something simple…some sort of area for entertaining, and I wanted at least a small lawn with some plants and trees. I described what I was envisioning to my husband…a small platform deck, maybe 15 feet by 15 feet. Enough to fit a large table and chairs, plus some. This is the sketch my husband quickly scribbled out onto a piece of paper.
With at least an ‘idea’ of what we wanted, we started prepping the dirt. We rented a rototiller and a trencher, and he went to town. Turned all the soil over, and started making all of the trenches for the sprinkler system that would eventually be going in. Here he is, trenching away…
We laid the sprinkler pipes, filled in the trenches, and threw out some grass seed. While sun and water did their thing to get the grass going, we started on the biggest piece. The deck. At the time, we’d never built a deck or any other major carpentry project, in fact. But armed with motivation and a dash of excitement, we jumped in with both feet. My husband starting reading ‘how-to-build-a-deck’ books, took some measurements, and for the most part, I just stood back. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do at the time. Then we started digging what looked like large post holes, and they were REALLY far apart. I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the heck we’re doing, but alrighty…”
Next he was pouring concrete piers. What is he doing now??? Are we building a skyscraper or a backyard deck? Ok, ok…I’ll just roll with it.
The next afternoon, he sent me a text that read, “Go check out the backyard.” Um, okay. I went outside, looked around for a bit, and then I saw it. He had carved our initials into the surface of one of the concrete piers the evening before. I got a big ‘ol goofy smile on my face. We’re cheesy and lovey-dovey like that, okay? So shoot us. Plus, I like the idea of someone years from now uncovering it. Like a secret message buried in the bowels of our deck.
Pretty soon the grass was growing, but to help it along we found some dying-but-seriously-discounted sod from a local retailer, and laid it down. It was originally $4 a roll, and we offered a buck. They accepted, and we carted 30 rolls home. Worked like a charm, and came back to life without a hitch. But the deck was waiting for us…it was time to install the post supports and the main girders. You can see four un-cut posts in the background; those would eventually be the supports for our pergola. Our dog Piggy was lead supervisor on the project. But she proved unhelpful; all she did was pant a lot and poop in our construction zone. We’ll be renegotiating her contract.
Things were moving fast now. After the girders were installed, it was time for the joists, the boards that support the deck surface. I know it appears that I’m not doing any work, since Mr. Nickels is in all the pictures, but I swear I was out there with him the entire time; helping to trim boards, setting joist hangers and holding/retrieving various tools like a well-trained dental assistant. It became a highly-synchronized process, with only a few curse words thrown in, usually when a hammer would miss its intended target.
Now you can see the deck starting to take shape. And this was about the time I realized that my husband had taken things up a notch. The deck was far more ENORMOUS than I ever pictured in my head, and he had created a second level (upper right corner). When this man does something, he is ALL IN. And I find it pretty hot when he’s got a power tool in his hand.
Here it is at that same stage, from the other direction. Boy, the lawn was going crazy by then. We did mow it. Eventually.
With all the joists hung, it was time to lay the surface boards. This is when it started getting exciting. The evening before this was taken, we had ended our workday with only 10 or so surface boards on. But I took a deck chair, set it up there, and marveled at how far it had come. Mr. Nickels joined me and we talked and talked into the night until we could no longer see our hands in front of our face.
What a difference a day makes. We finished all of the surface boards, got up the next day, and started securing the beams for the pergola. I pranced around the deck many times that day. I couldn’t believe how it was coming together.
Next we built a railing around the upper level, and capped the posts off with copper tops. I’m an impatient person by nature, so I had the patio furniture and umbrella up there before we were even done.
We built some steps leading up to the deck, and I set a couple of potted plants on each side to make it pretty until we could get the skirting around the sides of the deck completed (to cover up the underlying posts/concrete piers).
We finished building out the pergola, hung bright red curtains, and set up our hammock. It’s still a work in progress, as we get another set of steps on this side built, and planter boxes around the perimeter. But we’re already enjoying it. Many nights we’ve spent out here with family and friends. Eventually the plants and trees will grow and fill in, and the backyard will evolve into a green, leafy paradise.
I can’t imagine what it would have cost to have a contractor come and build this for us. Our best guess? Maybe about $8,000 or so? But of course we didn’t pay that ridiculous amount. We paid: a little sweat + a little blood + $1,600 in materials. We gained: a sweet deck, a ton of carpentry experience and quality time.
I think back to that little pencil sketch my husband made, and I laugh. I should have known that if I ask for a basic patio, we’d end up with a multi-level 600 square foot party deck. And I’m not complaining one bit.
Now for one last thing, just so I can sleep a little better tonight…
Disclaimer / Legal Mumbo-Jumbo:
DIY projects, such as those mentioned above, are performed at your own risk.
As with any do-it-yourself/DIY project, unfamiliarity with the tools and process can be dangerous. All DIY-related posts should be construed as theoretical advice and aesthetic inspiration. Improper use of tools could result in damage to your property or serious bodily injuries. MYSHINYNICKELS.com is not liable for any damage or injury resulting from the DIY projects listed or referenced.