How I Made Money While I Worked on My Front Yard




Introduction: How I Made Money While I Worked on My Front Yard

About: I work as software engineer in one of Bay Area (California) companies. Whenever I have a time I like to program micro controllers, build mechanical toys, and make some home improvement projects.

Before you scroll down please read this disclosure:

  • I did not get real cash yet: just firm promise.
  • While it worked for me here in California, it may not work in Oregon, Washington or some other places in the world.
  • It is not a steady income, just one time payment.
  • I cannot tell it is an easy money.

If after reading this you are still interesting, let us move further.

Step 1: Application

There is the program in California to replace grass lawn with a garden. Getting rid of the lawn was in our family to do list for years, and eventually we decided to proceed. California may pay you $2 per sq. feet of lawn. Usually part of this payment supplied by local water provider. In my case it is Contra Costa Water District (CCWD). It is important to know these fact before starting:

  • To be qualified your application has to be approved before beginning of the project.
  • Converted lawn should not be less than 300 sq. feet, only first 1000 feet will be counted.
  • Grass may be in a bad shape (brown or dried out) but yard must have sprinkler system in working order.

I filed the application online to CCWD and submitted several required by application photos which proves facts mentioned above. Online confirmation came fast, in couple days two ladies visited our yard with inspection and measurement.

In a week we got the approval letter and promise to pay $1 per sq. feet of converted lawn. Letter mentioned that we can double the rebate by filing the similar application to the state. I did so and got California approval as well. We had four month to finish the project.

Step 2: Preparation

I cut the grass with mower one last time. Sprinkler I protected with wooden stakes: existing irrigation should be safe during process of conversion.

Step 3: Breaking the Turf

Now the hardest part: removing the grass. Tilling is the fastest method. I bought electrical tiller/cultivator TJ604e, but alas it is definitely more cultivator than tiller. In our grass it did not leave small dent. So I decided to make the job in two stage:

  • First break the turf with the digging shovel.
  • After that use this device as cultivator.

To save my back I made the digging not over single weekend but spread the job for couple weeks working 1-2 hour early morning before my main work starts.

Step 4: Cultivation

As soon as turf is broken it is time for cultivation. I had to go through the yard several times in different directions. Very often I have to stop the process and clean up device blades from sticky clay soil. Again did not make it in a single day. Eventually the surface looked satisfying. The last couple passes I did with hand rakes. Then I left the yard to rest for a week to see if any green grass survived the torture. Whatever I found I after that I took out mercilessly with shovel.

Step 5: Replacing Sprinklers With Driper Manifolds

To replace sprinklers I have chosen Rain Bird Conversion Kit. It contains everything needed:

  • Raisers with pressure reducer.
  • Six port dripping manifold.
  • Fifty feet of dripping tube.
  • Six drip emitters.
  • Six stakes to hold emitters in place next to plant root.

I dig out hole around sprinklers, unscrew each sprinkler and screw instead raiser with installed on top manifold.

Then I put soil back into holes.

Step 6: Planting

Rebate program requires that plants to be water efficient and be from the special list . The list is quite big. I simplified the task of selection by choosing mostly Home Depot plants with water drop sign on the pot ( means water efficient). The process of planting usually described on the tag supplied with plant. The general steps I followed are:

  • Dig hole as deep as pot height and twice as wide as pot is.
  • Put some water into the hole and wait till it mostly absorbed by soil.
  • Take out plant from the pot and put it into hole.
  • Fill the rest of hole with mix of garden soil and specially bought fertilized soil.
  • Add some more water.

Step 7: Mulch Installation

Rebate Program requires to cover the soil with mulch two inches deep. One cubic feet of mulch needed to cover six sq. feet of surface. That gives you evaluation how much mulch you need to prepare. Before mulching I made with step stones the path for mail-man/mail-woman alone the yard diagonal. Mulch I spread out first with thin layer to be sure everything covered, then added the rest more or less evenly.

Step 8: Tube and Drip Emitter Installation

Now its time to install tubes and drip emitters.

Step 9: Finished Project Submittal

The project is finished. The resulting photos I submitted to both: CCWD and state. Confirmations about submitting came at once. Soon I got the e-mail from the state that rebate is approved and will be delivered in six weeks. There is no final answer from Contra Costa Water District yet. So how much money I may eventually make:

My yard is 893 sq. feet. If both rebates arrive that should be $1786.

How much money we spent:

  • $535 I paid to local landscape company for delivery of mulch, bender boards, bender board stakes and step stones.
  • Probably the same amount we spent on plants.
  • $150 was for seven conversion kits.

Taken into consideration that together with rebates there will came tax forms, pure profit will be not that big. Anyway my family and I are glad we got rid of the lawn.

Updated (06/08/17). I have added edging to this front yard. The description you can find here .

Updated (06/10/17). Some our friends who looked into the project, told that they liked the previous green lawn better. We believe that's only because plants in our converted yard are too young. To glance a little into the future I have added photo of the smaller part of the yard which we converted last year. There is the hope that in a year our whole yard will look the same.

Updated (06/12/17). First check from local water agency arrived.

Updated (06/25/2017). Second check form California State Water Saving Program arrived.

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    5 years ago

    Congratulations! You are doing something wonderful, and no just because you live in California. A lawn wastes a tremendous amount of water, and even though it looks nice, your garden looks better. do you get credit for a vegetable garden? In Mass. we have few real water problems, but I think that dumping drinking water in the dirt is borderline obscene. I'd love to see our water utility offer something like this, or at least fine those fools who run their sprinklers in the rain. Thank you for sharing.


    Reply 5 years ago

    No we do not have any special rebate for vegetable garden (at least I do not aware about that). Condition of rebate is to remove sprinklers but keep yard more or less green. We did put two tart cherry trees and pomegranate shrub: hope to get some harvest from it sometime.

    With California water crisis y'all are having due to the droughts program you found is still caring for the land and they even giving you the heads up about checking with California about seeing if they would join in was awesome. We need more programs for other parts of the US as well. As a landscaper and growing my own nursery I truly understand all the work you did ( I hope your family helped you out ) and tillers are not easy to use specially if there is alot of roots or our famous Georgia Red Clay. Well, I would like to say that you did a wonderful job and if you would take and cover you hoses and tubing so it not exposed to the sun it will help them last longer. Your yard is beautiful and I would hire you. Good luck and I hope you win.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Sure, my son did 40% of digging and wife selected plants. I'll think about covering tubes with mulch later (we are still adding plants here and there). Thanks.


    5 years ago

    Very interesting. At the very least you break even and never have to mow the lawn again. Maybe you can sell the lawn mower!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks. Indeed I hated mowing and I will sell (or even donate) lawn mower with pleasure. But, seriously speaking, main point is water economy. Here in Bay Area usually we do not have single raindrop for 5-6 months from the middle of April till the end of September. Water bills could be enormous and keeping all grass green is a challenge. Drip irrigation looks like the only reasonable choice. (The other possibility is to cover front yard with bricks and concrete but that we did not like to do).