Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Patio Project, Stage 6: Pavers

As of Friday evening, the good news was that we had the gravel and the stone dust in place and we were finally ready to start putting down pavers. The bad news was that the forecast for the weekend called for temperatures in the 90s, high humidity, and "abundant sunshine". And the back of our house, where we'd be working, would be in full sun until around 2pm. So, rather than risk heatstroke, we decided to shift our work schedule. We spent the morning puttering around the house, taking care of various jobs we'd been too busy to deal with all week long. Only around 1:30, when the shadow of the house had crept out to a distance of about 3 feet from the wall, did we venture out and start actually handling the pavers.

When we first started out, I actually thought it was conceivable that we might be able to lay the entire patio in one day. After all, when we'd first acquired these pavers from Freecycle three years back, we'd actually moved every single paver in the pile three times in one day: once from the original owner's yard to the back of his pickup, which he kindly offered to use to help us with the hauling; once from the back of the pickup to our driveway; and once from the driveway down to the back yard, where they've been piled ever since. (We might have chosen let them sit in the driveway overnight and move them the next day, but a passing neighbor spotted the pile and said, "Hey, are you going to use those pavers?" and we figured we'd better relocate the pile quickly to save it from possible scavengers.)

However, as with every other stage of this project, there turned out to be complications. Moving the pavers was simple enough, but laying them down wasn't. Although the pattern we'd chosen was a simple basket weave, which required no cutting or complicated fitting, it turned out that our secondhand pavers weren't quite uniform in size and shape. So we couldn't just plunk down two vertical ones and then two horizontal ones; we had to carefully select and position pavers so they'd fit into a given space. We also ended up rejecting several of the pavers in our pile—perhaps as many as one in twenty—because they were too badly damaged. Fortunately, we'd chosen a patio size that we knew we'd have more than enough pavers to cover.

Since laying the pavers was such a fiddly job, Brian ended up devoting himself to that part of the work full-time. He sat on the slowly growing patio, testing different pavers for size, aligning them with another piece of two-by-four, and when necessary, pounding them into place with a mallet, while I went back and forth to the pile fetching more pavers for him to work with. Ironically, this meant that I was the one doing the heavy work—especially toward the beginning of the afternoon, when the patio area itself was in shade but the paver pile wasn't. But as the day wore on, the shade extended all the way across the yard, and by evening we were both working in relative comfort, aside from occasional mosquito attacks. So we took advantage of the cooler temperature by working right through our normal dinner hour, finally calling a halt to the work around 8pm.

Unlike Stages 4 and 5, which started on the far side of the patio and worked their way back, this part of the job began in the corner by the patio door. Back in Stage 3 (Excavation), Brian took the opportunity to pry out the cracked concrete that was supporting the threshold of the patio door, as you can see in this picture. So during Stages 4 and 5, the only support under the door was a thin, weathered strip of wood with a note on it saying "Watch the Step" to remind us not to put our weight on it. Thus, getting the pavers into place under that door was our first priority. Also, since the bricks used in this corner would have to slip under the wooden threshold, it made sense to place them first, while we still had room to maneuver, and then work our way forward.

Once we had a row of bricks in place under the threshold, Brian worked his way down the shorter edge of the patio that aligned with the edge of the door. We'd dug the pit a little bit on the big side to leave room for an edging if we chose to add one, so Brian stuck that perennially useful two-by-four along the edge of the newly forming patio to align the bricks. After that, he started worked his way along a diagonal path, extending gradually outward from the original rows.By the end of our first day on the job, we had more than half the pavers in place.

Unfortunately, any hopes that this would allow us to finish the job quickly on Sunday were quickly scotched. The task of fitting the pavers into place got more and more complicated as it went on, since the small dissimilarities in size between them magnified with each row, to the point where they required Brian to search for bricks of a specific size to fit into a given spot and make up the difference. Also, several of the bricks split when tested and had to be rejected. Moreover, Sunday was even hotter than Saturday, and although we once again waited to start work until the back of the patio itself was in shade, the paver pile was still in full, blazing sun. I had to stop for frequent breaks, and toward the end of the day I found myself constantly checking and re-checking the number of bricks I had left to haul. At last, around 6pm, the number ticked down to zero, and I was able to go inside, dump my clothes in the washer, and head upstairs for a shower, leaving Brian to finish laying the last few bricks.

So, we did manage—just—to get the bulk of this patio finished in the week that I allotted for the job. Of course, that doesn't mean that our work here is done; we still have to spread more sand to fill in the gaps between the bricks, and add more dirt to fill in the gaps around the edges and smooth out the surface of the hill that we created with our sod bricks. And since that won't come close to using up all the dirt that we excavated in Stage 3, we also have to figure out a way to dispose of the rest of our huge pile of dirt...

...and our big pile of concrete chunks...

...and the leftover bricks that didn't get used in the patio...

...and the leftover gravel and stone dust. 

But we do at least have, at this point, the basic outline of a patio. Brian actually went so far as to set up the grill Sunday night on the nearly-finished patio and haul a card table and two folding chairs out there so that we could dine on the terrace. The terrace in question may have been covered in stone dust (which he had attempted to sweep into the cracks before determining that a finer grade of sand would be needed) and swarming with mosquitoes, but we'd spent all week building that patio, and by gum, we were going to use it.

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