Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Patio Project, Phase One: Demolition

It has been more than three years now since we hauled home nearly a thousand concrete pavers that we found on Freecycle with the intention of building a patio. We stacked all the pavers in a corner of our yard by the shed, and there they've sat, untouched, ever since. Some of them literally have moss growing on them. So this year, I made up my mind that we were going to quit procrastinating, set aside a block of time, and actually get this thing done. P-Day—or to be more exact, P-Week—is scheduled for July 1 through July 5, and we are both taking the whole week off from work to make sure we have enough time to finish the job, whether the weather cooperates or not.

To prepare for this project, I did a little research and found this handy step-by-step guide to building a paver patio from Lowe's. According to this guide, the first step in the process, once you've bought all your materials and marked out the area, is to dig out the foundation. It recommends digging the entire area 7 inches deep to allow for 4 inches of gravel, 1 inch of sand, and the thickness of the pavers themselves. However, before we can start this process, we need to add one additional step: removing the concrete pad that's filling up one corner of our future patio site.

So, once again, I consulted the Great Oracle (otherwise known as the Internet) and dug up an article from the Family Handyman about how to demolish concrete. This article recommended taking a whack at it (or several whacks) with a sledgehammer before deciding whether or not to rent a jackhammer for the job. So we borrowed a sledgehammer from a friend, and last Sunday, Brian headed out there to pound on the concrete with it. And pound. And pound. And after several sessions of pounding (interspersed with long breaks for rest and hydration), succeed in chipping away only a small corner of the concrete pad.

Fortunately, this was the point at which our next-door neighbor, watching this process over the fence, took pity on him and asked, "Would you like to borrow a jackhammer?"

Yes. Yes he would.

Much as we both prefer to use our own muscle power when we can, there's no denying that sometimes there's nothing like a power tool to get the job done. While several hours of repeated attempts with the sledge had produced little more than a few cracks, just an hour or two with the jackhammer was enough to reduce the solid slab of concrete to a heap of rubble. Several large chunks still remained that needed to be worked loose with a pry bar, but it was actually possible to see dirt at the bottom of the hole. (And our awesome neighbor refused to accept any sort of payment for the loan of the jackhammer, even when we offered homemade pie.)

Unfortunately, we still haven't really worked out how to handle the second phase of the demolition, which is getting rid of the old concrete. The smaller chunks can be mixed in with the gravel base of the new patio, but the big ones will have to be either put to some sort of creative reuse or hauled off somehow. Apparently, you can't just throw this stuff in the trash (even if you could get it into a trash bucket without making it too heavy to lift); it has to be recycled, and unlike your newspapers and soda bottles, it doesn't just get picked up at the curb. You have to haul it yourself to the nearest reclamation center, which, as far as I can tell, is about eight miles away. And that's assuming that (a) the center still accepts concrete, which isn't mentioned on its website, and (b) an East Brunswick recycling center will take waste generated in Highland Park.

For now, all the concrete is just getting piled up in a far corner of our yard, where we'll eventually sort out the large chunks from the small and try to figure out what to do with them. Brian wants to hold on to them for a while in hopes that we'll come up with some way to reuse them. Personally, I cherish the hope that if I list the stuff on Freecycle, someone will come and haul it away for us. So far it's worked for almost everything else.

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