My wife and I have lived in our home for just over a year and had not ever had a reason to use our "backyard" because it was 88% concrete. In the smack-dab-middle of the "yard" was a solid chunk of concrete that neared being a foot thick that we could only assume used to hold a small house that was used as a rent property (Google Maps can only tell you so much). We had finally reached a point where we knew we wanted to makeover our less-than-appealing backyard and had received a couple of bids to just remove the concrete. To be clear, we only wanted to remove the thinner grey concrete surrounding the thick solid slab because we figured it'd be more economical to add a wooden deck to the topside of the slab. The removal of this concrete alone was going to cost us more than $2,000 if we had a contractor do it for us. Knowing how much we wanted to do in the backyard and how little we wanted to spend, my wife and I quickly realized we were in for a lot of work.
I hope that by going through the entire process in this instructable, that I might help someone accomplish even a small part of their own backyard makeover. I tried to take detail in steps that I consider unusual or important, but I write this with the assumption that if you're reading and following along, that you aren't a complete novice and have some experience wielding power tools. Also, please check with your local governement and HOA to see if you need any permits for the work you're about to do.
My project was a long one and without some resemblance of a plan, I would have lost my mind. Graph paper is one of my favorite things and I suggest it become one of yours as well.
Now comes the fun part. Once you have the yard drawn, it's time to start designing! Do some research and figure out what you'd like to do and then draw it out. I knew that I'd need to run some electrical to my garage and eventually to my pergola, and I also wanted to add irrigation for the grass we'd be installing. I'll run through the specific's of the electrical and water in a later step, but for the design purposes, I just needed to know what type of sprinkler heads I'd be using. After some research I settled on these little guys from Orbit and love them. Each of the sprinklers would throw water in a 10'-15' diameter. Irrigation sprinklers are also designed to have spray overlap, meaning the spray from each sprinkler head should touch the next sprinkler head and each of the sprinkler's sprays would over lap. This ensures proper water coverage for your soon to be beautiful lawn. I also had to do a little math to ensure I'd have enough water pressure to cover the two sprinkler zone's I'd be installing. Rather than regurgitate that process, I'll let you read it from the manufacturer.
Lastly, plan out any electrical. I opted to use a direct burial option for the wiring I'd be running, so I could run the wire directly to where it needed to go. In my case, it would run from the house, to the garage, and finally terminate at the pergola.
With the yard layout designed, I finished up by creating diagrams for the deck and pergola.
Plans are done, so now it's time to start breaking some stuff. Our backyard was covered in over 800sqft of concrete varying from 1" to 4" thick. All of it had to go. Before breaking it all into itty bitty pieces, we had to cut the concrete to make sure we didn't ruin part of our driveway or mess up our neighbors adjoining slab. It should go without saying, wear the appropriate protective gear (glasses, ear plugs, gloves, pants, etc.) once you start.
Fun fact, it didn't take but 3 hours or so to move all of the concrete into the dumpster. Also, we received a bill a few weeks after the dumpster had been taken from the waste company letting us know that we had gone over the included 4 tons of refuse. We threw away 6.82 tons of concrete from our backyard!
Excuse the pun. You'll probably notice in this step that the rubble is still remaining from the prior step. Due to scheduling with our friends, we needed to wait to throw away all of the concrete into the dumpster, but my wife and I didn't want to have a wasted weekend. That's why we started building our fence before we had cleaned everything up.
We knew we wanted a fence and we knew we wanted it to be a little nicer than just a plain picket fence. With a little extra work, we got what I feel is a really nice result with only a little extra effort.
With the fence finished, we looked on to the yard itself. After removing some unwanted bushes, we needed to run electricity and install an irrigation system for the new lawn that was going to be put in.
That's all you get (sorry).
With the irrigation system in place, it's time to roll out the green carpet! I used a very convenient website, Soil Direct, to source my grass and have it delivered for a very decent price. We opted for Marathon II and have been really happy with it so far. Do your research and find a good grass that'll work in the climate that you live in. We installed ours right before Summer and suggest you do yours around the same time or earlier in the Spring. Try to avoid installing in the heat of the Summer or in the colder months of the year.
Alright, for me, this is where the fun part really began. I love anything to do with woodwork and this was my first time to build a pergola. If you're unfamiliar with a pergola, it's a (typically) wooden structure that's placed outside that will not protect you from the sun, wind, rain, snow, or really anything else. But it looks really cool and helps to define a space.
To keep things simple, I designed our pergola to be square and to use easy to find 2x6 redwood beams for most of the lumber. I wanted thicker posts to accentuate the 2x6s, but didn't want to pay a premium to purchase 6x6 posts. The solution was to use common 4x4 treated posts and sheathe them in 1x6 redwood lumber. Eventually we placed a wooden deck below the pergola, but since the pergola must attach to the concrete slab, it made more sense to start with the pergola. Look back at step 1 if you'd like to see my original plans. These did get slightly altered as the pergola build progressed.
For the pergola's 2x6 rafters, we also cut 3/4 inch notches into them using the dado blade, but to secure them to the perpendicular crossbeams we used four 6 inch headlok screws drilled through the entire width of the 2x6 into the crossbeam (one screw for each of the crossbeams). With the notch cut into the 2x6 rafter, this gave the headlok screws a little over an inch of bite.
Note: The screws say no pre-drilling is necessary, but I didn't want to
take the risk of splitting a board, so I used a long 1/8 inch drill bit to pre-drill every hole.
Again, I planned out the deck using graph paper to figure out exactly how much material I'd need to build it (step 1). That said, it never hurts to buy extra and return it later - which we also did (nobody wants to stop in the middle of a project to go buy more screws). Anyway, since we were building our deck on top of a sturdy concrete slab, we simply needed to add treated 2x4 runners on top of the concrete and the deck boards on top of that. We live in a relatively dry climate, so I placed the wood directly on the concrete. If I lived where it rained more, I would have added some sort of plastic spacer or some type of flashing between the wood and the concrete.
Note: For any stubborn areas of concrete that the ramset couldn't power a nail through, we did have a cordless hammer drill nearby and some concrete screws to secure the 2x4s.
Note: We only used a single screw because we knew the 2x6s would shrink as they dried and weathered. If we had added 2 or more screws to each runner location, we'd run the risk of the deck boards cracking as they dried out. The single screw will allow the boards to potentially wiggle a little, but that's ok - they're not going anywhere.
Once the deck and pergola has dried, add your personal finishing touches and enjoy!
We added some outdoor furniture, outdoor lighting, and a table that doubles as a fire pit. Yes, a fire pit on a wooden deck... So long as the pit is a few inches off the deck, you have relatively tame fires, and you use an ember screen, there's not much to worry about. For added insurance (and insulation), I filled the bottom of our fire pit with about 3 inches of sand. My wife is really proud of our fire pit's table top because we had it cut from a scrap piece of marble we found at a local countertop warehouse. In all, we paid less than $100 for the pit (which we found on clearance) and the marble top.
It took us about 5 months to complete this project, working mostly on weekends, but it was a blast. Knowing that we did it ourselves is incredibly fulfilling and made even better when we think about the amount of money we saved by not hiring a contractor!