Monday, August 12, 2019

The Base of the Front Yard Retaining Wall

We want to improve the soil in the front yard, to give it more depth and less rock.  But we cannot get too close to the roots of the big trees in the front.  So for the large Spanish Oak, we are going to put in a retaining wall allowing us to bring in more soil for it's roots.  The retaining wall basically replaces the existing wall between the yard and the front bed (which runs along the front of the house from the door to the corner of the house).

The idea is that this wall starts near the front door about 3 courses of stone high -- some 18 inches -- and then decreases as it runs across the yard until it meets the wall on the edge of the property (that we just put in) at just 4 inches above ground level.

But, of course, that means it runs right thru the trench near the corner of the house.  And all that has been dug out.  So we need to put back a new wall support underneath what will be the ground level.

We could do a solid wall, as we have elsewhere, but in this case, we do not want to impede the flow of water thru the ground to the French Drain, which is just on the other side of the new wall.  We begin with a lower level of large cinder blocks.  These are 16 inches tall by 8 inches deep and 8 inches wide. 5 of them at $1.68 each from Home Depot.

We space them out and put a layer of thinner concrete blocks (only 4 inches tall but 16 inches wide) on top, to form most of a surface that we can put a concrete base on, and then 6x6 limestone blocks.  It appears we can put two rows, or courses, of 6x6 limestone blocks to get even with the property line wall.  The bottom course will be underground, and probably a portion of the top one, when we eventually fill things back in with dirt.

Once we have these cinder blocks embedded in/on concrete and mortar, we can bury it all.

Excavating the middle of the trench

Having finished the trench all the way to the street, we now turn back and look at the next section -- the middle of the trench.

The middle section of the trench has two layers of rock.  Towards the top is a layer of white hard limestone, and under that is a layer of softer reddish marl limestone.

First we remove the lower level of reddish marl limestone.

And then we break up the upper level of hard white limestone.

and we clear it out.  This lets us fill the trench in even further.

We need to wait to fill it all in until after we rebuild the main irrigation water supply line.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Finishing the Wall to the Street

With the gas line moved and safely buried, I can now start filling in the trench over the new gas line.  The main source of that fill is the dirt being excavated to allow me to run the wall from where it currently ends to the street.

The "dirt" in the front of the yard, near the light pole, is mostly ground up limestone mixed with a lot of rock.  We pull the rock out, and mix in leaves and grass to try to improve the quality of the soil, but even then, it is going at the very bottom of the trench.  At least it should improve drainage.

A couple of days of digging, and we have it ready to pour the concrete base to put the stones on top of.

In this situation, we will not take the wall all the way down to bedrock.  It's not clear how far that is, since all of this soil was torn up for the street and utilities.  Plus we only need the wall as a base for the limestone blocks on the top.  And we need to keep the cement well away from the gas line for the neighbors that runs up close to where the first part of the wall stops.  We have some re-bar from the excavations back closer to the house, and will reuse it in this part of the wall to make it work a bit better.

Two days of framing it up and pouring concrete,

and we have the base ready for the limestone blocks.  The concrete calculator said we would need 18 bags of concrete mix for a wall 10 feet long, 30 inches high and 4 inches deep.  We ended up needing 20.5 bags.

The gas company people had said to be very careful not to get concrete on the gas line for the neighbors, so we framed out a hole for them, filling it with 60 pounds of sand.

Once the concrete wall is poured, and set, we can mortar the limestone blocks along the top of it, trying to match the height and straight-ness of the previous set.  This takes another day of work.

You can see the "hole" that we left in the concrete wall around the neighbor's gas line (which you can't see, since it is buried in sand.

Next, we dig out all the way to the curb, the full width of the trench, extract the rock, mix the dirt with leaves and use it to fill part of the trench.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

More dirt and sod for the back yard

We finished the back yard, but over time, the soil has subsided.  It is most noticeable along the sidewalk, going from the Iris bed all the way to the raised garden.  At places it is more than 3 to 4 inches down from the sidewalk.

So I brought in more dirt to raise it back up to even with the sidewalk -- 1.5 cubic yards from Whittlesey Landscape ($85.67).  I spread it all along the sidewalk, and also out in the yard around the sprinkler heads.  I've had to replace at least two sprinkler heads that stuck up too far from the soil, and then broke when run over by the lawn mower.  The lawn mower didn't hit them, but when the tires went directly over the head, apparently the pressure was too much on the region where it screws into the PVC feeder lines, about 8 inches underground.  Sometimes it is the base of the sprinkler that breaks; sometimes it is the riser that connects the two that breaks.

The new dirt extended out from the sidewalk to taper it into the yard.

Then I ordered more sod.  Specifically one pallet of Zoysia Palisades from the Grass Outlet ($211.09).  This had to be ordered, and was finally available for pick up on June 17, 2019.

Having a full pallet of sod was really more than I needed, but the grass between the back deck and the pecan tree (#2), and the seam between the first half of the back yard (irrigation zone 4) and the second half (irrigation zone 2) has not done well, so we got another 1.5 cubic yards of Professional Mix and spread it in these areas, and then put the extra sod down on top of that.

Now we just need to keep things watered and alive until it can take root.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Moving the Gas Line in the Front Yard

I think I pretty much finished the digging for the new gas line.  The wall is built, at least most of it, and the path cleared.  So time for the Gas Company (Texas Gas Service) to come actually move the line.

I had talked to an inspector back in September, before starting this, and he had said to call customer service.  From the phone tree, it seems I want a "yard line", although the phone tree only talks about a "new" yard line.  The first call, they said I couldn't do that, without inspections and permits, and they would have the permit department and inspection department call me.  After a couple of days, hearing nothing, I called again, and this time the guy said I need to fill out a "YARD LINE AGREEMENT", which he e-mailed to me, I filled out and e-mailed it back to him.  He said it would take 2 to 3 weeks for the crew to show up.

After 4 weeks, I called to check if there was a schedule.  I called repeatedly over the next weeks.  Each time, I was told that job had been let to a subcontractor, and they could not get ahold of them right then, but they would, and would call me back.  No one ever did.

Finally after about 6 weeks, we see a couple of pickups with a trailer and a back-hoe on it in the cove when we get up.  But by the time I can put on my shoes to go out, they are gone.  Follow-up calls seem to suggest that they came, they looked, and they left because they were expecting to did everything up themselves (hence the back-hoe), and were not prepared to see it already dug up.

Weeks more of calling, and I finally get told to talk to a specific inspector -- the same guy I talked to last Sept.  But it turns out his phone had died, but I got his supervisor's phone number and was able to get that they would be out on Friday.  When Friday came and went, another call gave that they would be out on Saturday.  Then Monday.  Finally, they came out today, Tuesday.

They got there around 8AM, and I went out to talk to them, explaining how I thought we could run the new line thru a 4 inch PVC conduit to make it safer (I would know when I got to the gas line in any further digging), and maybe easier for them to replace in the future.  They were okay with that -- they called the conduit a "sleeve" -- and started work.

I had pieced together most of the PVC, but not the three corners, where it changed direction, just in case there were issues with running the new gas line.

The crew disconnected the old gas line, and started removing it.  Then they started piecing together the PVC pipe and running the new gas line thru it.  The new gas line is a yellow plastic line.  They attached a metal fitting at the end near the house.

Down at the street end, they needed to dig out the area where the old line meet the main supply line.  They needed to put a new connection into it for the new line, and the new line had to be at least a foot from the old line.

Two more guys showed up who were the welders.  They got down in the newly enlarged hole and created a new connection in the main line.

They attached the newly run plastic line to the new welded connection.  The plastic lines at both ends were cut and welded to connectors by using a special tool to get the cuts just right and then a special heater that got them up to 450 degrees to melt the plastic ends and put them together.

During all this two inspectors showed up and kept an eye on everything.

While digging, I sometimes found a yellow plastic tape "Gas Line Below" as I dug.  Once the PVC was all in place, one guy took some of that tape and wrapped it around the PVC, barber-pole style.

They pressurized the line and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, spraying soapy water on all the joints, to see if anything leaked (it didn't).

Around this time, another guy showed up to hook up the meter -- the first crew just laid the line, and connected everything up to the house.  Then another guy came and installed the meter.  They brought a new meter and hooked it up, pressure tested it, and then hooked it into the house.

At that point me and the meter guy walked around the house and checked on the stove top, and the two hot water heaters.  The stove worked right away -- apparently they didn't even get air in the line in all the work.  The two hot water heaters needed to have their pilot lights restarted, but then they worked too.

During all this, another guy showed up with a trailer load of sand.  After everything was finished -- the line in place, the old line removed, the new meter installed, and gas flowing -- they poured the sand over the street end of the new line.  They said to be sure to keep 6 inches from the line in all directions protected by the sand.

They even poured some sand into the PVC at the house end, to support the pipe line and keep it in the middle of the PVC.

They put some dirt (from the pile) around the PVC in the trench, to hold it in place, and at the right height.

And with that they were done.  New meter, new gas pipeline, new connection into the gas main, and everything working.  They were done by 11:30.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Back yard fence maintenance

The back yard fence needed to be maintained.  There is an "alley" behind our fence, between our fence and the neighbor's fence.  Everyone wants their own fence.  You want it running along the property line.  But since the property line might not be exactly where it is supposed to be, the custom is to put the fence 4 to 6 inches back from the property line.  Then if two neighbors both put up a fence, you end up with an alley of 8 to 12 inches of "dead" space.  It gets very little light, and neither side can really get to it, so it gets ignored.

In our case, there were several "trash" trees growing in the alley.  The trees get tall enough to be over the fence, and then their branches start pushing against the fence, and hanging down in the yard.

So first thing is, I took off two or three fence slats.  Look for ones that probably need to be replaced anyway.

That gives access to the alley.  With pruning shears, loopers, and a saw, I can then cut down all the growth in the alley.

But of course, it will just grow back.  Or something will grow back.  It seems that if I want to keep something undesirable from growing in the alley, I should plant something that I want, that will cut down on other stuff growing.  So what would grow in a 8 to 12 inch horizontal space?  Crepe myrtle trees seem to be slender and grow up tall enough to clear a fence.

Looking on the web, I find "Crepe Myrtle Guy".  He's in Waxahachie, and sells crepe myrtles.  Lots of different types of Crepe myrtle trees.  He has a special package of 6 or 9 Crepe myrtle trees, for $6 a piece, plus $20 shipping.  I order 9 trees; all different colors (but two white ones).  I'm looking for a tree that grows to 10 to 20 feet tall.

I order them on Friday, they get here on Monday.  On Tuesday, they are all in the ground.  I spend Monday evening clearing out all the volunteer growth, and then space the Crepe myrtles 8 feet apart -- in the center of an 8-foot wide fence panel.  Starting at one end (the South and West end), I put in

  • William Toovey (Dark Pink)
  • Twilight (Purple)
  • Natchez (White)
  • Sioux (Pink)
  • Muskogee (Lavender)
  • Dynamite (Deep Red)
  • Natchez (White)
  • Tuscarora (Pink)
  • Catawaba (Purple)
So this pretty well covers the length of the alley

all the way down

In some parts, the trees should get sun from the one side; in other places it only comes straight down from above.  And there is no irrigation.  Or oversight.  And there are other plants that want to grow there -- especially some bamboo from the South, West end.  But either they grow, or they don't.

We replace the fence slats with 6 new ones from Home Depot 6 foot tall, 5.5 inches wide, and 5/8 inch thick western red cedar dog-ear fence pickets.

including one that needed to be replaced.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

New Blinds for Back Bedroom

After the painting, Linda wanted new blinds for the back bedroom.  The previous set were mis-matched -- one with a pull cord and the other cordless.  Also they were two different colors, neither of which matched the current (new) color.

But they had functioned well, so we got the same (type of) thing:  dual honeycomb shades.  I think the honeycomb shape should help insulate the bedroom from the outside temperatures.  And now the common one seems to be cordless.

So first we measured the window openings.  We did this before for the last time we needed a blind.  We are mounting the shades inside the window area.  Each window is recessed by about 4 to 6 inches from the wall surfaces, and the shades fit in that recessed area.

Measure across the window, from wall to wall at the top, middle and bottom of the window.  70 inches for all for one window.  The other window was 69 7/8, 69 7/8, and 70 inches.  We also measure the previous shades; they were both 69 5/8.  The shade needs to be a bit smaller (apparently 3/8 inch smaller), so that it does not bit the walls as it goes up and down.

The height is not as critical.  One window is 58 inches on both the left and right; the other is 57 15/16 on the left and 57 3/4 on the right.  Let's just call them both 58.  At worst one is a small amount too long, but that shouldn't matter.

Then it's off to Home Depot to order them.  Take along the little chip that has our paint color on it.  Find the person in the custom blinds area to pull out the book and look at the colors available.  We chose MyBlinds, which seems to be a Home Depot branded version of Hunter-Douglas blinds.  These are Light Filtering Honeycomb Cellular Shades. 1/2 inch Cottage Double Cell in Buttercup HC3 920.  Inside Mount.  With Cordless Lift (costs an extra $51.01 for each).  Total comes to $786.02 (for both of them).

They will ship to my home or deliver to the local store for free.  Given the size and shape of the package, I'm not convinced it would arrive at my house in good shape, so I ask them to ship it to the store and I'll pick it up.  The box should be over 70 inches long -- so about 6 feet long, but only 4 to 5 inches square in cross section.

We order them (and pay) on 25 March 2019; they call on 5 April 2019 (so two full weeks, plus the intervening weekend).  I put them up on 7 April.

Installation involves mounting 3 clips on the top underside of the window well.  Each clip is held in place with 2 screws.  Use a drill (1/8" bit) to drill a pilot hole for the screws.

Mount 3 clips, one on each end and one in the middle.

Then put the blind on the clips.  The front edge of the clip slides into a groove in the top of the blind and then the back part of the clip is a bit springy to allow the back on the blinds to pivot up and snap in place.

Then just pull them down and it's done.

Repeat for the other window.  Total time, about 2 hours.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Parinting the Back Bedroom (and Bathroom) (Again!)

After Lauren moved out of the back bedroom, I patched all the holes in the wall from thumb tacks and such.  Then I tried to repaint those areas.  But we did not have a record of the paint used, and trying to match a sample resulted in a touch-up paint that was too dark.  Not being able to convince Linda that it just looked like "camouflage" paint, we set out to repaint the room.

Linda decided to paint the ceiling "Heavy Cream", like all the other rooms in
the house.  For the walls, she tried a couple of colors, but settled on "Green Power".  We had about a half-gallon of Heavy Cream left from the last ceiling work we did; that did the bathroom and half the bedroom.  Then we had to get another gallon to finish the bedroom.
The whole job took 4 or 5 days.  Everything had to be taped off first, with lots of plastic sheeting.  Then the edges painted.  Finally the main painting was rolled on.  First the ceilings.  Then the walls.

First for the bathroom.

 Then for the bedroom. 

It took about 1.5 gallons of the Green Power paint.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Getting Deeper for the new Gas Line

It has been difficult to work in the cold and rain.  The rain sits in the ditch, and it has been months since the ditch was water free.

But the objective now is to put in the 4 inch PVC to act as a conduit for the new gas line.  In a day here, a day there, when it was warm enough and not raining, I have created a deeper trench to get the PVC in the right place.  It is now "level" enough that water runs the entire length of the ditch, not just at the end near the house.  This helps some, since the water seems to soak into the ground better near the street, where the utility work seems to have made the soil more porous.

In addition, we have been digging near the house, from the current gas meter, over to near the property line and then towards the street to the wall formed by the edge of the front bed.

We have been careful to avoid damaging the existing gas pipeline, and the French drain.  We have not been as successful with the main irrigation water supply line, having broken it in at least one place.  We will need to repair that eventually, but for now it is turned off at the meter; it makes no sense to repair it while we are still digging.

We are down far enough -- as far as the current gas line -- near the house, and probably need to go a bit further down on the piece closer to the property line, but it is all underwater at the moment.

We did manage to break thru under the bed wall, connecting the main trench with the section near the house.

However, the water flow when we did that suggests that we are deeper closer to the house than in the trench, so the trench may need to go deeper, at least close to the bed wall.  Plus, we will need to go low enough, on both sides of the French drain, to get the 4 inch PVC pipe under the French drain, and under the existing gas pipeline, which seems to go under the French drain, and then make a sharp right turn while it is there, coming out (on the house side) a couple of feet closer to the street.

So we need to tunnel under the French drain, and under the current gas pipeline, thru the rock that is under the French drain (and the gas pipeline).  So a tunnel, about 44 inches long, at least 6 inches under the French drain.  Since it is a horizontal tunnel, the jack hammer will be of little use.  But the rock is fairly soft, so we will attempt to do this by hand, with a rock chisel.

We addressed the water problem by buying a pump, and a length of discharge hose.  A 1/4 horse-power submersible utility pump and 24 feet of discharge hose ($66.37 from Home Depot), allows me to drain the water out and put it further into the back yard (and down hill).  That allowed me to jack hammer down in the area by the house to get as low as I can go.

The rock changes character significantly as we go down.  The top level of rock was crumbly and soft, very porous.  Then was a layer of clay or gypsum like "rock" which could almost be pulled off with a hoe or rake.  But then we hit real rock.  Limestone.  But very hard, and not brittle.  We had hit some of this before.  The jackhammer can be used to reduce it to dust or gravel, but only with lots of work.  It sometimes shatters into small pieces with very sharp edges.

But luckily we don't have a lot of area that needs to be dug out.   The main problem is the section under the French drain.

We want to tunnel under the French drain.  We are constrained by the actual PVC pipe in the French drain, which is wrapped in landscape cloth and surrounded by river rock.  Then there are a couple of inches of the soft crumbly rock.  Then we hit the hard rock.  We would like to get just 4 inches of clearance tunneled under the French drain, for our PVC pipe.  But the rock is very hard.  And the jack hammer cannot get to most of it.  The jack hammer really only works vertically, and is ineffective tunneling horizontally.

So we rented a Bosch Hammer Drill and a 16-inch long rock bit.  ($76.86 from Rent Equip).  That allowed us to drill a hole thru the rock and then use a breaker bar, a chisel, and the jack hammer to mostly break up the rock around the hole that was drilled to get thru under the French drain.  We were not able to get enough to get the 4 inch PVC thru, but we can get a 3 inch PVC thru.

Even at this point, there was a "hump" of rock left in the middle of the tunnel that made things difficult.  All of the chisels, bits, and such would slide up the smooth, sloped sides of the hump.  But I put a masonry cutting wheel on a right angle grinder that I have and was able to take the top off the hump, so that I can get the 3 inch PVC pipe thru.  With a couple of connectors, I can go from the 4 inch PVC of most of the conduit, down to 3 inches under the French drain, and then back to 4 inches for the final stretch to the house.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Topping the front yard wall, final work.

Some neighbors down the street had minor stone work done in their yards, and I thought it looked good, so I asked who did their work.  Geronimo Casabon.  So I called him, and he said he could do the stone work for the top of the wall.

The first problem was that the wall was not quite high enough.  So he added 3 to 4 inches of concrete to the top.  He drilled into the part that was already poured and then add a small amount of re-bar, to reinforce the concrete.

and then they added concrete on top of the existing wall.  It took 4 bags of concrete to go the entire way (and they may have extended it by adding in just mortar mix.)

The objective was to be 8.5 inches below the string.  The stones were 8x4, and they wanted to leave only 1/2 inch for the mortar.

This was allowed to dry for a couple of hours, until early afternoon.  Then they came back and proceeded to lay the stones in place.  A taut string gave height and horizontal position.  This took 4 bags of mortar mix.  They started at one end, and then at the other end, working towards the middle.  They ended up with one stone sliding into the middle, exactly using up all the stones I had.

Once everything was mortared in place, they went back over the stones and the mortar with a brush, to clean it all up.

Excellent work.  Well worth the $500 I paid for it.