Introduction: Backyard Makeover

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.

Step 1: Make a Plan

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.

  • Get Some Measurements
    • Measure all of the attributes of your yard (buildings, walls, trees, moats, etc).
    • Using graph paper, draw your measurements to scale. Try to be as precise as possible. This will eventually help determine the quantities of materials you'll need to purchase. I used a 1:1 ratio on my plans - 1 box : 1sqft.
      • If you want to go a slight step further you can do what I did and recreate the drawing on the computer to give you a little more flexibility and clarity.

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.

  • Sprinkler Design - shown in blue
    • Using photoshop, I created a semi-circle spray pattern that was 10' to scale to account for the half-spray pattern sprinklers I'd be using. I cut the pattern in half to account for the quarter spray pattern's I needed.
      • If you are hand drawing your design, it's simple enough to use some string and a pencil or go all out and use a compass.
    • Using the half-spray and quarter-spray patterns, I mapped out the sprinkler head locations for the two zones of the yard. Again, be sure to account for spray overlap.
    • Once you've established where all of the sprinkler heads will be placed, you'll need to draw out the water lines heading to each sprinkler. Your application might vary, but to ensure adequate water pressure throughout my system, I ran 1" diameter main lines with 3/4" diameter branches.

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.

  • Electrical - shown in red

With the yard layout designed, I finished up by creating diagrams for the deck and pergola.

Step 2: Break Some Stuff ...and Make a Mess

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.

  • Cut The 'Crete
    • Using a chalk line, we marked the lines in the concrete that needed to be cut. Since our concrete saw would be running water over it to keep the blade cool, I then traced over the chalk line with a sharpie.
    • We originally attempted to use a borrowed walk behind concrete saw, but it proved to be too cumbersome for our needs. So I bought a few diamond tipped blades for my circular saw that made our lives much easier.
      • Note: You can spend a lot of money on these blades, well over $100 per if you'd like. Using a $15 blade (similar to the link above), I only had to buy 3 total to cut 50'ish feet of concrete (varying in thickness).
    • After installing the diamond blade on my circular saw, I had my wife run a very small trickle of water on top of the line being cut. - I know you're like, "WHOA. Electricity and water don't mix". And you'd be right. So long as you keep the cord and and motor away from the water, the blade can run through it just fine. - The water keeps the blade cool enough to power through long stretches of concrete. That said, be sure to give it a rest and some time to cool off as you go.
      • Note: You don't have to cut all the way through the concrete to achieve a clean break. If you can cut halfway through the thickness of the concrete, you'll be fine. My concrete would only go to a maximum depth of 4" and my circular saw could make a 2.5" cut. Anything thicker and you'll need to rent a real concrete saw.
    • After cutting the concrete, make sure you do your due diligence and clean your circular saw. You'll need to unplug it, dismantle it, and clean it deeply. The cut cement mixes with the water and makes a gummy paste that gets in everything. Honestly, if I had to do it again, I'd probably buy a cheap saw that I wouldn't worry about later if it broke. In this case, I liked my saw and had A LOT of cleaning to do.
  • Break It Up
    • We started in the back of our yard and worked our way forward using a 10lb sledge hammer and a solid iron pry bar for leverage. This worked on the thinner concrete, up to about 3 inches thick. Eventually it became so much work to break such small sections that I broke down and rented a jack hammer.
      • Note: When you have an option to rent a jack hammer, ALWAYS RENT THE JACK HAMMER. Jack hammers come in many varieties these days, but for your average DIYer, you cannot beat the all-electric Hilti TE 3000 AVR Breaker. It's made to handle really tough jobs, but it doesn't beat you up (too much) thanks to its vibration reduction. We rented ours for a half day from The Home Depot.
    • Once you have the jack hammer, jack away. We had some friends come over to help break up the big stuff. Seriously, make it a party and invite your friends. I've never met a guy who didn't want to run a jack hammer at least once...
      • Note: Be careful around any lines that you cut with your saw to ensure you get clean break. It may be necessary to come back by with a cold chisel and do the final hits by hand if you're worried about a stray crack. Always err on the side of caution.
      • Note: I found it easiest to focus on small sections with the jack hammer. the closer you are to the edge of the concrete, the easier it will be to break it into chunks.
  • Toss It
    • Now that you've made a gigantic mess, it's time to clean up. Our city government allowed only one company to provide dumpsters for residents. After gathering the appropriate permits from the city for leaving the dumpster on the street, I set up a dumpster rental for a 10yd dumpster.
    • Our house was built in 1934, so it has a very long skinny driveway which meant that we had to haul all of our concrete to the dumpster at the street using nothing but wheel barrows. So again, we invited some friends over, and got to work.
      • Note: We purposefully broke the concrete into larger chunks so it would be easier to move - just heavier to lift. Also, if you do get your friends to help you be sure to buy them some beer or lunch...or both.
    • Load the dumpster from front to back and be careful when getting inside of it. The slabs of concrete have tendency to shift.

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!

Step 3: Fencing, Not Jousting

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.

  • Layout
    • A general rule of thumb is to keep your fence posts within 8 feet of each other, but there's no harm in being closer together if necessary.
      • Our yard measured out to be about 44 feet long, thus our fence would need at least 7 posts. We also had a small jut halfway in the fence that moved around the neighbor's property and one more post to connect the fence to the house.
    • Using wooden stakes and some string, layout your fence. Put a stake at your first fence post and another at the last fence post. After tying a taut string between the two stakes, place the remaining stakes where your fence posts will go. Remember to keep the posts no further apart than every 8 feet on center.
  • Dig Some Holes
    • Another rule of thumb is for however high your fence will be, a third of that height should be below ground. We opted to use 10ft redwood 4x4 posts. Our final fence height would be 7ft, so we'd need to bury 28" of post below ground. If you're good at math, you've realized that that doesn't equal 10 ft. The extra will be cut off from the top of the posts once the posts are set. The width of the hole should be between 9-12 inches.
      • Note: we chose redwood because it has a natural resistance to weathering.
    • You can rent augers of various sizes to dig your holes for you in a very short amount of time, but since my wife and I were attempting to keep costs down, we opted for using the tortuous post-hole diggers. It's brutal work, but eventually you'll get the job done.
    • Dig a hole for each of your posts that you've staked out.
  • Set Your Posts
    • Fill each of your post holes with gravel up to about 2 inches deep. This helps to promote drainage from the bottom of your wooden post, helping to prevent rot.
    • With your taut string still in place and using some 1x2s with nails, brace your posts so that they are upright and plumb. A 4 foot level comes in handy here. Be sure to keep them in line and touching the string so that your fence will be straight.
      • Note: It's best to move one post at a time. Brace the post, add concrete, check plumbness, and move on.
    • With your post braced, add concrete. We opted to use fast setting concrete to easily fill our holes. Simply pour the dry mix into the hole and add water. Convenient instructions are on the side of each 50lb bag. Depending on the size of your holes, you can expect to use a half to whole bag per hole.
    • Using a level, preferably a 3ft to 4ft level, check for plumbness and make sure your braces are set so that the post won't move. Move on to the next post and repeat until you're finished.
    • The posts should be nice and set within 4 hours.
  • Stringers
    • With your posts set, it's time to start working on the skeleton of your fence - the stringers. Each 8 foot section of fence will have three stringers, a top, middle, and bottom. Start by removing all of the bracing from your posts.
    • Since our posts are taller than our final fence height, we measured from the ground up to find the final height of our fence and marked it. We then pulled another string from the first post to last, using string levels, and made corresponding height marks with a pencil along each of our posts. We then measured 8 inches from the bottom of our posts and made marks there as well, checking for a level line from post to post. For the middle stringer, we divided the distance between our top and bottom marks in half and marked that measurement on all of the posts. Again, keeping the marks level.
    • Now that your posts are marked, it's time to add the wooden stringers. We chose 8ft treated 2x4s. Using a hammer and hot-dipped galvanized nails, mount the strings from post to post. You can make your life A LOT easier if you use a framing nailer and air compressor like we did. Since each 2x4 is roughly 1.5 inches thick, we used 2-3/8" nails for a solid bite.
      • Note: When measuring the 2x4s for each section of fence, make sure that each 2x4 ends in the middle of the post. This way 2 stringers can be attached to the same post. Also, if your sections are smaller than 8 ft on center, it will be necessary to cut your 2x4 stringers so that they meet in the middle of each post.
    • Work along each section of fence, adding all the top, middle, and bottom stringers. Be sure to keep them in a level line - especially the top - as you go along.
    • Once you've added all the stringers, go back and cut the tops of your posts off to the height you measured previously. This should be the same height as the top of the top stringer.
      • Note: To do this, I made to passes from front and back using a circular saw and finished cutting the middle of the 4x4 post with a reciprocating saw. I followed up by sanding down to a flush surface with a belt sander.
  • Picket Up
    • Using redwood fence pickets, start slapping them onto your stringers. Depending on the height of your fence, it will most likely be necessary that you cut some of the ends of your pickets to size.
    • Since we wanted a slightly fancier design, we needed to space the first layer of pickets roughly 2.5 inches apart. This was made easier by using a fairly straight 2x3 piece of lumber as a spacer and checking our plumbness with a 4ft level every few pickets.
      • Note: To avoid nails blasting through the back of the 2x4 stringers, we used 1.75in hot-dipped galvanized nails for these pickets.
    • After the first layer of pickets are placed along the fence, follow by covering the gaps with your remaining pickets. Space them as necessary, but they should automatically spread themselves evenly just by covering the gaps in the first layer of pickets. You may want to use 2in nails for the 2nd layer of pickets.
  • Make It "Fancy"
    • For a simple touch that does wonders for the fence, we added a "crown" (I'm sure it has a more appropriate name) to the top of the fence. We used 2x6 redwood. Since we and our neighbors can't really see the top of the fence, we attached the crown slightly off-center of our 4x4 posts. After adding a fascia board, this would leave us with a small 3/4" lip. Nail the crown at every fence post and every 12" along the top stringer.
    • After adding the crown, we ripped pieces of the redwood pickets to 3 inches wide using a table saw, and squared up the ends. These 3" pieces were attached directly under the crown as a fascia board. Attach using one nail every other top layer picket.
  • Stain
    • Stain your fence. It'll protect it from getting washed out by sprinklers, rotted from rain, and torched by the sun.
    • Simply take a sprayer and fill it with stain or water sealer. Spray a fine even mist over the fence and then brush it smooth. Do two coats allowing about an hour of dry time in between.
      • Note: We didn't stain ours until our grass was in place, but if I had to do it again, I'd do it beforehand.
  • For What It's Worth
    • Part of this fence had to be mounted to concrete we didn't remove next to our house. To accomplish this we drilled a hole and set a galvanized bolt into this concrete using concrete epoxy. On the bolt we mounted a bracket to keep the bottom of the post firmly attached to, but off of the concrete.

Step 4: Get Dirty

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.

  • Diggin' Trenches
    • Using the plans we designed, we needed to dig trenches for all of the various things that were going under the ground. Since this dirt has been under concrete for longer than my wife and I have been alive, it was extremely hard and compact. This meant that we couldn't dig everything by hand, so we rented a trencher. Trenchers come in a lot of sizes, but the one we used fit in the back of a SUV. It was still a scary machine - basically a chainsaw to cut earth.
    • We painted the path for our deep trenches using orange marking spray paint. This included the electrical trench and our main branches for our irrigation system.
    • The electrical that was to run from our house to garage and eventually pergola needed to be 18 inches deep, so I cut that line first. Then I followed by cutting the trenches for the main lines of our irrigation system to 12 inches deep. After the trenches were cut, we used shovels, trowels, and our hands to clean them out.
    • Once all of the deep trenches were cut, we use a mattock to carve out the branch lines for the irrigation system. The branch lines were about 6 inches deep.
  • Run Some Wire
    • I did a lot of homework on running the electrical to my garage and pergola, but I'm only going to hit the high points and instead tell you to hire a professional. This stuff's dangerous and I don't want to cause someone to accidentally hurt themselves...or worse.
    • High Points:
      • Direct burial underground feeder wire
      • Separate AFCI circuit breaker
      • Schedule 40 & 80 conduit
      • Weather resistant housing, switches, and outlets
      • Warning tape
    • Once the wire has been run and tested, fill in the 18" deep trench. Make sure to water and compact the freshly laid dirt to help it settle.
    • That's all you get (sorry).

  • Lay Some Pipe
    • Since your irrigation system should have been planned out in step 1, you can simply start piecing things together. Again, if you need help on designing your system, check this out.
    • Start by getting water from your main line to your anti-siphon valves. You'll want to shut off the main before doing this...
    • I soldered a 3/4" copper fitting to a brass tee that lead to a water spigot and also connected to the PVC that leads to 2 anti-siphon valves.
    • With the anti-siphon valves connected to your main lines, start piecing together your system. Make sure to use PVC primer AND PVC cement.
      • Note: The primer helps the cement bond the two pipes together making for a better seal and a lesser chance of a leaking connection.
    • Once you've piece everything together up to the sprinkler head connection, STOP. Don't attach the sprinkler heads before flushing out your newly installed irrigation plumbing. Through all of your hard work, you probably knocked some dirt and dust into the pipe, and flushing the system for a minute or two will help you keep dirt from the inside of your sprinkler heads. To do this, manually turn on each anti-siphon valve separately and run for about 30 seconds.
      • Note: Wait until the PVC cement has had at least 30 minutes to dry on each connection before turning the water on.
      • Note: For any pieces of PVC that you cut, be sure to quickly run over the cut edge with sand paper to brush off any plastic burrs before you cement together.
    • Once the pipes are flushed, you'll need to thread the sprinkler heads onto PVC connections. Use plenty of teflon plumbers tape on the threads, following the direction of the threads, to help ensure a good seal.
      • Note: We opted for 4 inch pop up sprinklers so they'd be sure to clear the blades of grass. Also, the turf you'll eventually install will be 2-2.5 inches thick, so make sure your sprinkler heads are about 1.5 inches above your dirt line.
    • With everything pieced together, test your irrigation zones by manually turning on each anti-siphon valve separately. If all of your sprinkler heads pop up and you don't notice any leaks in the plumbing, congrats!
  • Automate It
    • Assuming everything works swimmingly, now you need to wire up your irrigation control panel. For the budget conscious I'd suggest this guy, it's sweet. We mounted ours in the garage and were able to run the low voltage irrigation wire along the two main irrigation lines. This let us go straight to the irrigation valves.
    • Mount your control panel and wire it up. Be sure to write down what color wires go to which zones. Once the wires are connected on the panel, connect the appropriate wires to their corresponding anti-siphon valves using water resistant wire nuts.
  • Wrap Up
    • Test your system and dance in the (man made) rain!
    • If everything works to your satisfaction, fill in your trenches with dirt. Again, make sure to add water and compact the dirt as you fill.
  • Go Take A Shower - You're Probably Filthy
    • My next instructable will be how to shower yourself. Until it's published, follow your heart.

Step 5: Time for Turf

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.

  • Compost
    • Either use your own, or purchase some compost and till it into your topsoil. This will give your new grass some much needed nutrients to help it start growing.
  • Lay The Turf
    • It's best to have your sod delivered very early in the day, when it's cool. Once it's delivered, you'll want to immediately start laying it down so you can give it some water. Start in one corner of your yard, moving towards the opposite corner.
    • Work in small-ish sections, lightly watering the dirt on the ground before you lay the sod down.
    • You'll want to use a brick layer's pattern, staggering the seams of the individual rolls of sod so that they don't line up with one another.
    • To help promote growth and to keep the seams between rolls of sod from drying out, keep some potting soil close by and run the soil down each of the seams you create. You don't need much, just enough to cover and keep the seam moist.
      • Note: The potting soil will unfortunately leave some black lines that will be noticeable for the first week or two, but your grass will thank you in the long run.
    • Inevitably you'll need to trim sections of the sod to fit into particular areas and also to cut small holes for the sprinkler heads. Just use a utility knife with a good blade. Again, be sure to cover the seams and edges with potting soil.
    • Once all the turf is down, walk carefully on it while sprinkling some starter fertilizer for a new lawn.
      • Note: Be sure to follow the packaging directions. Too much fertilizer and you'll kill this beautiful green carpet you just created.
    • Water your new lawn for 15 - 20 minutes, then start your water cycle as normal.
  • Water, Water, Water
    • Your new lovely green carpet has been through a traumatic experience in the past few hours - being ripped from the home it grew up on, traveling many miles to a new place, being slammed on some hard dirt, and cut into new shapes and sizes. Understandably, it's stressed and could use some water.
      • Note: Hopefully I don't have to tell you this, but keep off the grass for as long as you can - at least a week. Try not to put it to "normal" use for 3-4 weeks.
    • Week 1: Water about 3 times a day - morning, noon, and evening - for about 15 minutes at time. Water in the early morning, about the time the sun is starting to rise (5:30am-ish). Water around lunch time, and then again towards the end of the afternoon (around 5pm). Don't water too late in the day. Watering at night can lead to disease in your grass since there's little chance for evaporation of any standing water.
    • Week 2: Water twice a day - morning and evening.
    • Week 3: Water once a day - morning.
    • Week 4 and beyond: Water every other day in the morning, eventually tapering to once every 3 days in the morning for about 15 minutes per zone.
      • Note: The first month of your new lawn will require a lot of water. After that month, a decent root system should start establishing itself and you'll be able to taper your irrigation back considerably. Watering longer with more days in between waterings will help your grass grow a deeper root system, which will also help it withstand short periods of drought better. you'll also need to adjust your watering to match the time of year. Obviously if it's scorching outside, you'll need to water more.
  • Get A Dog
    • This was on my wife's must have list and is clearly optional, but does provide you with a ton of fun. Say, "Hi" to Marley.
      • Note: Though Marley was a great addition to our family, she (and specifically her nitrogen-rich urine) is your lawn's worst enemy. We've recently been training her to use a specific area of our yard that's covered in mulch to keep her "pee spots" to a bare minimum.

Step 6: Pergola Rasing

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.

  • Post It Up
    • I used 4 heavy duty post bases to hold the pergola's posts. These were attached about a foot inside each edge of the concrete slab, but before they could be attached to the slab, we needed to drill 16 holes to hold them. This concrete was thick and hard, so I rented a rotary hammer drill. This thing bored all 16 holes in about 30-45min.
    • To mount the post bases to the slab, we used half inch wedge anchors - 4 for each base. It may take some extra effort on the hammering side of things to get the anchors in the holes, just beware.
    • At the bottom of each post base, we placed .25 inch thick square washers to help keep the bottom of the treated 4x4 posts off of any wet ground. We then cut the 4x4 posts to height and slipped them into their bases. The post bases are very tight, but the 10-lb sledge hammer help convince them to get where we wanted. We used 6 1/4" lag screws to secure the posts into the bases.
    • To make the posts look pretty, we sheathed them in 1x6 redwood lumber. The 1x6s needed to be ripped lengthwise on a table saw to fit snugly around the post and were cut so that the base of the 1x6 touched the top of the post bast bracket and the top was flush with the post. They were then attached using construction adhesive and a few galvanized finishing nails.
  • Crossbeams
    • With the posts up we then attached the lower crossbeams - two parallel 2x6s on opposite sides of the pergola. These were attached using four 3 inch deck screws on each side of each post.
      • Note: You'll notice the decorative ends on the pergola's 2x6s. These were cut by first making a pattern and then tracing that pattern on all 2x6 ends. Each of them was hand cut with a jig saw.
    • The top crossbeams that perpendicularly cross the lower crossbeams had 3/4" notches cut in them with a dado blade on the table saw. These notches held the crossbeams onto the pergola, very similar to lincoln logs. These crossbeams were then attached using the same 3 inch deck screws.
      • Note: Notching the beams with the dado blade isn't necessary, but it does give the pergola a slightly nicer appearance and makes it look a touch more professional.
    • With all 4 sides in place, we needed to brace each post with 45 degree 2x6s. We used two 2x6s per post, per side - so sixteen 45 degree boards in all. The bottom of each of these was attached to the post using a 6 inch headlok screw and the top was attached using three 2.5 inch deck screws in a triangular pattern.
  • Rafters
    • 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.

    • Once all of the rafters were in place, we ripped redwood 2x4's in half giving us long rectangular strips of wood that were 1.75" x 1.5". These strips we cut to size, adding a 2 inch overlap on both ends, and placed on top of the pergola's rafters, evenly spacing them. These were attached using the 2.5 inch deck screws.
  • Finishing Touches
    • We still need to cover the tops of the post bases and stain the pergola, but this must wait until after the deck is finished.
    • Additionally we ran our electrical to the top of the pergola, up the back post. I added an outdoor switch controlled outlet that will eventually let us hang some lights up between the rafters.

Step 7: Lay the Deck

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.

  • Attach The Runners
    • We used 12 foot treated 2x4s and attached them using a powdered actuated nailer, or ramset, for the most part. Our concrete is thick and hard, so we needed the highest powered load and that required a more professional version. We opted to rent instead of buy.
      • Note: You could drill holes with a hammer drill and secure the 2x4s using concrete screws, but our method was much faster and less labor intensive. Also, be careful to keep at least a 3-4 edge between your nail and edge of the concrete. Any closer and you may just blow the concrete away.
    • The runners were all spaced 18" apart on center, except for the outermost runners on each side. Those were spaced 24" apart on center. We added an anchor (nail or screw) about every 2 feet along each runner.
      • 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.

  • Top The Deck
    • With the runners in place we began adding 2x6 redwood boards along the top of the runners, working our way from the front of the deck to the back. We were using common redwood boards, so not all of them had great edges. We'd cut the ends down to where a good part of the board began and would attach it from there.
      • Note: Let the ends of the boards run wild. You'll see in the photos, the boards on the right side of the deck are uneven. This creates a pretty cool look, but a pretty terrible deck. We'll even them out in a later step.
    • Attach each board using a single 2.5" deck screw at each of the runners and in the middle of the 2x6. Since we had 9 runners, that'd be 9 screws per deck board.
      • 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.

    • You'll find it necessary to sometimes straighten the boards as you go. Simply attach a screw, have a friend who you'll handsomely pay in pizza and/or beer pull the opposite end of the board until it is parallel with the previous board. We used a 16 gauge penny nail to help space the boards. If your boards are fresh cut and not kiln dried or composite, you'll want to leave a slightly smaller gap since the boards will dry out and shrink some.
    • As you attach each board, try your best to keep your screws in line with one another, just so they look nice.
  • Trim The Edge
    • Once the deck has been laid, you'll want to trim the edge that is running wild. On both the front and back of your newly topped deck, measure the width of the deck and pop a chalk line.
    • With a good blade on your skill saw, simply run the saw along the popped line and let each of the boards fall to the ground.
    • Now with 4 clean edges, we took redwood 2x4s and mounted them using 2.5 deck screws to each face of the deck.
  • Cover The Pergola Bases
    • The tops of the pergola bases still remained to be covered. We chose to use 2x6's mitered to make a square box at the bottom of each post.
      • Note: If I were to do this again, I'd use 1x6's to create the boxes instead. The 2x6's now seem just a little too fat, but they don't bother me enough to change them at this point.
    • Attach each side of each post's box using 2 galvanized finishing nails and a little construction adhesive.
  • Stain
    • With the deck and pergola complete, give it about a month to weather. After that month has passed, hit it with some Thompson's water sealer. This will protect your beautiful project against mother nature and also helps its natural beauty come out.
    • We started with the pergola since it was the most time intensive due to its many corners and crevices. This took us awhile since we did it entirely by hand brushing and using a small 3 inch roller.
    • The deck was much easier because you can use a normal paint roller and a cheap sprayer. Simply spray a small section of the deck and roll the water sealer smooth. Then move to the next section until you're finished.
    • The deck and pergola will need to dry for a day or two, so do your best to stay off. I know - it's hard.
    • Then simply repeat this process every 3-5 years to keep the waterproofing membrane intact.

Step 8: Enjoy!

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!

  • Rough Time Spent (assuming mostly weekend work)
    • Concrete destruction and removal - 3 weeks
    • Fence - 2 weeks
    • Trenches, irrigation, and grass - 3 weeks. The actual laying of the sod took only a few hours. The prep work is what takes the longest.
    • Pergola - 1 week
    • Deck - 1 week

On a Budget Contest

Third Prize in the
On a Budget Contest