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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Wait, did you say you wanted your garage to have three walls or four?
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)
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.
After all was said and done, we had a completely dirt backyard area.
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!