Category: Le Patio

Building The Patio, Part 2: Treasure Hunt!

The Patio Building Series:

Part 1: Garage Demolition
Part 2: Treasure Hunt!
Part 3: Laying The Concrete
Part 4: Fences and Retaining Walls
Part 5: Cobblestones, Belgian Blocks and Granite Setts
Part 6: Cobblestone Windfall!
Part 7: Making a Stone Patio
Part 8: Shed Building

 In part 1 of this series about our big backyard project, I wrote about how refreshing it was to demolish the two-car garage taking up our entire backyard. It opened things up incredibly, but left us with a huge area to use as we please.

Garage Demo (26)

Just a big pile of dirt where a garage used to be

We were left with a big square of dirt going all the way up to the house. It’s a pretty basic shape. We decided to put concrete back in where it had been before, between the house and the garage, and fill the footprint of the garage with our patio. We had dreams of doing the entire space in brick pavers or stone, but it would’ve cost an even huger amount of money than we were already about to spend.

Plus I was a bit worried about drainage. Since the lot slopes towards the house, we have to make sure all of the water goes into a drain and into the sewer. We are lucky enough to have a completely dry basement, and I thought a concrete patio, at least around the foundation, would be the best way to keep it that way.

Laying this much concrete would’ve been too big a job for us to handle, and since I’ve never worked with concrete before, this was not the time to start, so we subbed it out. This was the second and last job that we’ve contracted out.

Garage Demo (29)

Soon to be filled with freshly poured concrete

It took a while to get concrete guys to show up (I hate dealing with contractors) and when they did, they made us level the lot partially. Apparently there was an uneven rise near the back deck (see left) so we had to move dirt around to even it all out.

At first I was annoyed that we had to do this ourselves, but boy am I glad we did.


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Building The Patio, Part 1: Garage Demolition

Well hellooooo! Welcome to the first of many posts about our DIY patio construction. This is a multi-faceted project and I will be going deep on all of our outdoor work. Fencing, retaining walls, concrete, pavers, sheds… We’re going to cover it all! But first, let’s go back to the very un-DIY beginning…

Garage Before (1)

It’s 2009 and we’ve decided to buy a house: A 150 year-old brownstone in little Cohoes, New York. The inspection goes relatively well, but there is a hulking concrete two-car garage out back. We’ve already been told by the realtor that this garage would not pass inspection. It’s 100 years old and has not been kept up well. We have vague ideas about knocking it down one day and creating a real backyard space.

The garage takes up over 400 square feet of our lot, giving us just a small, cozy outdoor space between it and the house. Really, I do mean “cozy” in the nice sense. It’s private with vines growing all over the walls and a few potted plants we managed to keep alive. It’s nice back there, but doesn’t allow for much more than a table, chairs and a barbeque.

And the garage is serving little to no practical purpose for us. Only one garage door works. Marge parks her car there for a while, until one winter when, after the city again neglected to plow the alley to our garage, I convinced her to join me in parking on the street instead.

The garage continues to deteriorate. The concrete crumbles off if you touch it. Squirrels are living in the concrete blocks. I get a quote of $2,500 to patch it all up, but we decide not to go through with it because it would just be delaying the inevitable. I let the garage fall into what New York State Parks & Historic Preservation would euphemistically call “Naturalization.” That is, to allow nature to slowly take its toll and destroy the thing.

Garage Before (2)

Then in 2014, blocks start falling off the thing. Well, that’s the last straw for me. The last thing we need is for a concrete block to pop out of the wall and break something or hurt someone. The garage abuts the neighbor’s yard and I can just imagine something bad happening.

For a fleeting moment, I toy with the idea of throwing a “demolition party.” Throw a drunken howdy-do, give everyone a sledgehammer and let them have at it! But no, that’s just way too dangerous. We decide to go the traditional route and hire a professional to demolish the beast.

It takes some work to get a demolition crew to respond. Being just a two car garage, it’s not a big job, and most demolition companies are looking to fry bigger fish like foreclosed homes and old restaurants. We finally got a very good quote from a guy named Dave.

Garage Demo (3)


Demo Dave was a one-man wrecking crew. It’s true. I mean he was literally a one man wrecking crew. He demolished the whole thing by himself! On the day last fall when it took place, and it did basically take him one day, we are lucky enough to have photos since Marge could walk back from her office to watch the demolition.

Garage Demo (7)

The demo ended up being more than Demo Dave bargained for. The garage was in worse shape than initially noticed when he gave us the estimate. The bottom bits of the concrete walls were so worn out, that the slightest pressure could cause them to bow and burst outward… Or I guess the lack of pressure could. I think he said the weight of the roof itself was compressing the walls enough to keep them in place, but once he removed the roof, all bets were off? Something like that. Whatever.

Garage Demo (1)Anyway, he braced the walls on all sides so nothing would come tumbling towards our house or our neighbor’s house.

Then he took his excavator thing and started chomping away! Marge describes watching from upstairs as the excavator “munched” away at the roof. CHOMP CHOMP!

Garage Demo (18)

Wait, did you say you wanted your garage to have three walls or four?

Garage Demo (8)

There you can get a good look at the annoying, thick concrete blocks we were dealing with. I am totally into historic preservation and everything, but the textured concrete blocks that this garage was made out of just piss me off. Long before people were wrapping their homes in fake wood or stone veneer, people were trying to trying to fool you into thinking these concrete buildings were actually made of stone.

Sidetrack: This faking of materials really annoys me. If it’s conrcete, let it look like concrete. If you want stone, get real stone. (This is a topic that will be revisited later, I’m sure) This type of textured concrete, called rock-face, has always looked particularly awful. Yet still, there’s a guy making more of these old-fashioned blocks in small batches. Can you guess the city where he lives? You get two guesses. (Hint: It’s not the east coast one)

Standing in my yard where they tore down the garage to make room for the torn down garage

A triumphant Kobelco stands over its vanquished garage. Aside from the garage, we paid Demo Dave to rip up the concrete floor, most of the concrete patio, and then grade the remaining dirt (and there was a lot) to bring it level to the rest of the lot.

Garage Demo (26)

After all was said and done, we had a completely dirt backyard area.

Garage Demo (29)

Total Cost: $5,425

That includes the cost of carting everything off to the dump, the associated dump fees, and recycling what could be recycled.

SPOILER ALERT: The cost of the demolition and hauling away is basically half of our entire backyard patio project cost now that we are almost finished. Demolition does not come cheap!

Next time, I’ll talk about the travails of installing a fence in a weird, old backyard, and about what we found when it came time to pour new concrete! You won’t want to miss it!

Craig, The Tool Librarian

So, we’re in the midst of a huge outdoor patio project I’ll probably be writing a lot about. Today I just wanted to go over tools.

There are lot of things involved with this patio project that require some specialized tools.  Post hole diggers, leaf blowers, tampers, etc.  And these are things that, after this project, I will probably never use again.  Our lot is only 25’x100’, and most of that is taken up by building. There’s simply no other space on our property where I could even use a tamper, or anywhere else to dig a hole.

So since I’d need a bunch of one-time use tools, I didn’t want to buy them new. (I don’t like buying many things new, but that’s another story). I decided to buy them on Craigslist and essentially use Craigslist like a tool library.  Apparently tool libraries used to be a thing. Like a regular library, they’d let you take out a tool, use it and return it for the next person.  It makes a whole lot of sense for these things to be community-owned instead of individually-owned, because the average person won’t need a power miter saw or hammer drill more than a few times ever. Yes, sure you could rent a thing, but that costs money, and waaah.

Our library lets you take out fishing rods. That’s pretty cool, but imagine the other possibilities! Imagine if you could walk into a library and take out a badminton set, snowshoes, a chainsaw, a barbeque. Like, all kinds of stuff. What a cool world.

So throughout the project, I’ll be buying a tool off Craigslist, using it, then hopefully re-selling it for the same price.  I think of it as borrowing it, but passing it on to whoever needs it next.   Post hole digger for the fence posts?  Tamper for gravel and sand stomping?  Landscape rake for pulling gravel?  Leaf blower for blowing polymeric sand off the stones? Buy it all used and re-sell it for the same price.

Post hole digger (bought for $15)
8 pound Sledgehammer (bought for $5, this might be a keeper)
Tamper (bought for $5)
Landscaping rake (bought for $15)

I’ll re-visit this when all the work is done, and the tools are sold, and we can see how we’ve done, yes?

Have you ever been the victim of a scam on Craigslist?  Have you ever scammed someone else on Craigslist? Call the Perp Patrol at 1-800-555-PERP and let us know.

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