Wednesday, July 17, 2013


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Once the irrigation line was in place and buried it was time to do the fun job of grading the yard for the lawn and patio. As it stood, our yard sloped pretty significantly away from the house and toward the back fence. It's hard to tell in pictures just how much slope there was, but this before shot sort of gives you an idea of the kind of slope we were dealing with. (Look how much higher the planter bed on the left is than the brick on the right side.)

We wanted the lawn to be a good play area for McKinney and any future kiddos, which is hard to do when it's site is basically a hill. And we knew that flattening the slope out meant bringing in tons of dirt (literally) to raise the back side of the yard to be more even with the top of the yard, which is no small task. So we decided it would be worth spending a little money to have a pro take care of this for us and got an estimate from a contractor off Craigslist. When he came back with a quote of around $12,000, we decided that shoveling dirt and running wheel barrows is great exercise that we would hate to deprive ourselves of and got to work.

The first thing we did was buy the right tool to tackle the job. Ryan found a used vibrating plate compactor off Craigslist for $900, which seems like a lot of money, but we figured we could use it for this project then sell it afterwards for around what we paid for it.

Next, we ordered the dirt. I called my local landscape supply, American Soil and Stone, and they suggested the type of soil that is best for sod (called Turf Builder). The next day, we had a 5 foot tall pile of dirt in the driveway and decided there was no turning back!

The grading process was fairly easy, but it was definitely time consuming. It consisted of bringing wheel barrows full of dirt into the back yard, raking them smooth, then using the plate compactor to tamp them into place. Compacting the dirt every so often means that over time there will be less settling going on, keeping the lawn nice and flat.

And that's how the process went over the next few days: Shovel. Transport. Rake. Compact. Repeat.

And slowly but surely, we saw the level of our back yard rise. See how the brick disappears in the photo above?

The process took about 5 days, and we moved 20 yards of dirt (which is equivalent to about 180 wheel barrow loads). We are so glad to have saved a significant amount money by doing the work ourselves, and are happy with the way it turned out.

There were also two other notable outcomes from this overall process:

I felt totally buff.

And I got totally dirty.

The next step is grading for the patio, which is significantly more complicated because it requires actual leveling work to make sure the sloop is even and correct. Stay tuned.


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