In last month’s discussion, we talked about the “Cash for Grass” program in Roseville. Also, we shared a number of steps that we took to ensure that our project would go smoothly and without major difficulties during the early phases of construction. The process of finding a contractor and determining just how to proceed with the planning of the work was a major effort and without this planning phase, we would not have been able to accomplish the job. We shared a graphic of the plan for our project and from that, working with our contractor, we developed a progress schedule and formed a firm plan on how to proceed with the work.
This month, we’ll show several segments of excavation and rough grading that we accomplished and how that formed the basis for the balance of the project’s successes. Additionally, we’ll share some of the initial phases of the hardscape plan, and how we arrived at a final decision on the hardscape as a major element in the job.
The first photo shows our contractor starting excavation in the front yard in the turf area which slopes down toward the front of the home. The grade is roughly a 20 degree angle forming the start of where our major flooding occurred. Each year, during the rainy season, severe ponding occurred where you see the Crepe Myrtle tree near the right center of the photo. During a heavy rain, as much as 6” of water would rise up there and stand without soaking in for several days. When ultimately gone, bare clay would be left and grass would again start to grow in small spots but never fully recover.
Our plan was to eliminate the standing water which we had experienced each year for the previous 24 years. So in the process of shaving out the turf, we also excavated the soil in the front from the house to within roughly 11 feet of the sidewalk to the South, and running parallel with the front of the home where the mailbox appears near the left side of the picture. This area was excavated to a level even with the foundation of the home and formed an area of approximately 275 square feet. The Crepe Myrtle tree was retained, but all of the grass was removed in the excavation process. Due to the size of the area, all of the excavation was accomplished by hand labor. The standing water problem was to be resolved with the installation of a complete sub-surface drainage system during the excavation and rough grading process. A system of perforated 4” flexible drain pipe was placed in trenches adjacent to the retaining wall on the upper side and below the retaining wall on the lower side, and along the front of the house below a course of approximately 4ft wide containing 1” river rock as a collection point. Risers from this system were installed to be coincident with the planned installation of a new leaf-guard roof drain system. A rectangular section of longitudinal collection pipe was placed parallel and adjacent to the garage door approximately 12” displaced and on a 5 degree slope from the garage threshold to collect water that could enter the garage during heavy rainfall. This pipe was connected to the parallel drain system and to the new 4” drain pipe which was to be placed on the West side of the home and leading to the storm drain system easement on the North side of the property.
The crew began in the front yard with removal of turf using a flat blade digging tool known an “adze”. The removal of the turf was necessary since the first step here was to establish a roughly graded area which when finished, would be prepared for the installation of a stamped concrete patio area with surrounding river rock and a retaining wall. The second photo shows the result of that excavation effort with the start of the retaining wall visible when looking to the southeast from behind the Crepe Myrtle tree seen in the first photo.
Approximately 20 cubic yards of turf and hard clay was removed. When working in the excavated area, we determined that the driveway had been severely compromised over the years and was badly cracked. We decided to install a new driveway to compliment the patio area being constructed. In removal of the old driveway, we found that it had not been properly built, contained no reinforcement, and was not poured on the code-required base material. In the background to the left in the second photo, you can see a pile of new base rock sitting in the excavated driveway area. As well, the beginning of the forms appear, being installed in preparation for a new 5’ wide stairway from the home to the sidewalk along the near side of the driveway area. This design element is unique in that it is integrated into the driveway without a clearly defined demarcation between the stairway and the drive. You can see some of the perforated drain pipe that will be installed later lying to the left of the Crepe Myrtle tree.
Our planning also included the North side of the home which involved changing the grade of the back yard to eliminate excessive ponding which occurred each year during the rainy season. The original grade of the back yard was sloped downward from the North toward the home at a 1 to 2 degree slope. This caused excessive water buildup and ponding from the back patio door all along the East to West ends of the home. The deep clay ground prevented adequate percolation of water into the subsurface. A resultant muddy area existed over a distance of 4 to 6 feet North from the foundation for the full width of the property. With a very efficient crew, our contractor completely re-graded the back yard, roughly 1,975 square feet and prepared the area for a paved perimeter curb, and a new stamped concrete patio area with footings for a new 12ft x 16ft pergola. The third photo shows segments of that work with the crew in the background. This photo was taken looking North from the new patio area awaiting the pouring of new concrete.
Our contractor was available for consultation throughout the process and was very much involved in the design of the project. He did require that we make our agreed-upon progress payments in accordance with our contract. The progress payments were staggered in two cases which involved some adjustments in our agreement based on material furnished to the job. This can happen in any project and should be anticipated. It is important to note that no matter what your contractor tells you he has completed, it is critical that you take the following steps:
- Examine every invoice for the type and quantity of material that the contractor states he has received on the project. This is to ensure that the material he is paying for is installed in your job. If it is for another project, do not allow that material to be placed on your property or in your control. You may be required to pay for it yourself.
- Keep constantly aware of the number of people working on your project. If there are people on the job that are not working, make them leave! You will have to pay for the labor on the job, working or not.
- The contractor can demand a contract extra based on “His claimed unknown conditions.” Do not blindly accept these claims. Make him prove that he has actually done the work.
- Never make an advance payment over and above the agreed-upon progress payment by contract. If the work is not yet done, don’t pay for it.
- Do not allow any form of alcohol on the project, either during or after the normal work day and never make any gifts to any of the contractor’s crew or the contractor himself.
We have shown this month our successes in planning, progress in excavation, success in grading, and progress in planning of the hardscape installation. We included items involved in our drainage problems and touched on some items involving the progress and performance of the contractor, payments, and crew management.
- Critical items involved in the installation of hardscape and retaining walls.
- Details of drainage installation, installation of hardscape and planning of the planting and irrigation elements.
An interesting item to keep in mind: No amount of construction work will ever be lesser in value than the time you have spent in the planning and preparation for the project prior to the start of work. Paper is very inexpensive when compared to the costs of material and labor in a construction project of any size.