It has been almost 60 days since our backyard remodel project concluded, back-to-back weekends of machinery and manual labor, that ultimately culminated in a backyard free of hazards with a brand new grassy play space for our kids.
If you missed the first half of this two-parter, where I explained what we did to destroy our backyard, give it a read here. In this post, it’s time to look at the steps we took to put it all back together and some of the advice we can offer if you’re taking on a project like this of your own.
Step 3 – Minimizing Our Material Costs
Three of the challenges we faced in re-shaping our backyard were:
- Filling in all the low areas of our yard that previously been part of the pool area,
- Re-grading the steepest area of our property, and
- Improving overall drainage so that we weren’t stuck with unwanted puddles after manipulating earth
For filling and drainage, we brought in 3/4″ crushed rock, and not just a little. A total of 38 cubic yards were delivered for our job, a large enough quantity to allow us to negotiate down the per-yard cost of the material. We also arranged to have all of it delivered at once, using a large dump truck and an additional 20-yard trailer. Scheduling it this way reduced our delivery charges compared to multiple partial loads. (It also provided excellent defense against armies attacking on horseback).
We had to follow up our drainage foundation with another 25 cubic yards of turf-blend topsoil, which we dumped using the bobcat into the high spots and spread by hand with rakes and shovels to bring us the extra 6-12″ up to finished grade. Given the enormous amount of material that we brought in for this project, our contractor (my cousin) did a fantastic job estimating our needs so we had little to no surplus and just enough to create the contours we desired.
To create our lawn, we had the option to roll out sod across the entire area. But given that we were completing the project in late-April and anticipated a few more weeks of Greater Vancouver spring rain before the warmth of summer arrived, we decided to bring in a hydroseeding firm to spray a combination of mulch, fertilizer, and three varieties of grass seed over the entire 3,500 square foot backyard and just patiently wait for it to grow.
We selected a company called Hydrolawn (local to us here in Pitt Meadows). At $0.15 per square foot, versus upwards of $0.75 for sod, it was an affordable way to cover the space. The process took this husband and wife team maybe 20 minutes to complete and we were given clear instructions on watering and fertilizing to help us nurture growth.
After four weeks of patience and regular watering, the grass was tall enough to cut.
Step 4 – Minimizing Our Rental Costs
For scheduling reasons, we planned our whole job to take place over a single weekend, which ended up getting pushed to two weekends due to weather. The benefit to the weekend job was that the bobcat rental company was closed Saturday and Sunday, so we were only charged a single-day rental fee between Friday morning and pickup on Monday. By shutting down the machine at every opportunity, we kept its usage within daily constraints and minimized our equipment rental charges. The second weekend was scheduled similarly, resulting in a two-day paid rental (plus delivery charges) for roughly six days of machine time.
Step 5 – Building Our Garden
In the steepest section of our yard, we decided that building one or more tiers would help us reduce the severity of the slope. Constructing retaining walls to achieve this would have been costly (depending on the type of material used) and/or required proper engineering (depending on the height). So we elected to bring in some medium sized boulders instead (30-40 of them, each about 1.5 x 1.5 feet), for a couple hundred dollars. The end result was three incremental tiers, each only a foot or so taller than the previous with natural materials to support them at a fraction of the cost of a structured set of walls.
We decided to leave the lowest tier as a gravel pad (15′ x 15′) for our kids play structure and a future shed, and chose to set aside the two upper tiers as garden space. Rather than cover the areas with garden soil, however, we built planter boxes with space between each to give us room to tend our plants and get to any unwanted weeds.
We fabricated a total of four boxes for our garden from 2.5″ x 10″ yellow cedar, with 4″ x 4″ red cedar posts in each corner for stability. Two were 3′ x 6′ and two were 3′ x 9′, giving us a full 90 square feet of garden space for vegetables and herbs. Because we used 12′ lengths of cedar, cut for us at the lumber yard to the lengths we needed, we were able to build all four boxes using seven length of cedar boards with no waste for a total cost (including posts) of around $200. We added a few ceramic pots that we already owned for tomatoes and strawberries.
Lastly, we had three cubic yards each of garden soil and 3/8″ pea gravel delivered to fill the planters and surround them. We used the excess pea gravel on the lower pad to offer a softer play surface for the kids beneath their play structure.
We’re really happy with the resulting transformation of the backyard. It’s so easy to be drawn to the house and home magazines and the Pinterest dream project imagery and feel like you need to compete with Versailles to achieve anything of value. But I think the important thing is to reflect on the reasons you took on a project in the first place and see if you managed to stay true to those objectives. When we started this project, we had three goals in mind:
- Safety – Removing all of the hazards, holes, and toxic materials that could cause bodily injury
- Useability – Recovering dead space for play, function, and relaxation
- Property value – Producing an end result that would better serve our family and the property as a whole
In the end, we achieved these goals and we kept to the budget we intended. There are certainly additional changes that could be made in terms of decking, patios and other living spaces. But in the mean time we’ve regained a 4,000 sqft space that’s now safe, fun, and functional for our family.