Monday, October 7, 2019

Filling the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The big pile of dirt in the front yard has been there for at least a year -- the results of digging out the trench for the gas line.  We used some of it to fill back in the trench, but there was a lot left.





The retaining wall allows us to move that dirt back into the front yard and create a raised depth of dirt around the big tree.  This took over a week of shoveling the dirt out of the pile, mixing it with leaves and grass, to increase its organic content, and distributing it inside the retaining wall.

The changes to the front yard were small, and almost not noticeable from day to day.


 The same was true for the pile.  To make it easier to see the changes in the pile, I cut thru the middle of the pile.




And then reduced first the front part to almost nothing.




And then the back pile




until there was nothing left.




This provided much of the dirt that was needed to fill behind the retaining wall (but not all that was needed).  We will need to bring in a final layer of really good dirt when we finish with the excavation.

Next phase is to excavate down the area where the dirt pile was, and remove any rock that we find there.



Sunday, September 29, 2019

Finishing the Front Yard Retaining Wall

Having established that we have enough stone for the Front Retaining wall, and gotten a reasonable image of what it will look like, we now have to take it all apart, and put it back together with mortar holding it in place.

I could do that myself, but I'm not certain that my skills extend this far.  We want it to be level, and straight.  The steps should slope slightly so that water will run down the steps, not sit on them or pool at the back of a step.  And we want each course of stone to be offset from the previous one, to form a "stair step" effect, so that it does not look as imposing.  I can understand how to do the offset, but after a course or two, it seems the center of gravity of the wall will not be over the stone.  I can shovel dirt behind it, as I go, to keep it from falling over, but I'm not sure if that is the best solution.  How are stair-step walls done?

So, given the amount of work necessary to get this far, and that this will be a major feature of the front yard, which every ones sees as they come in the house, I figured I should look at getting someone else, a professional, to do it.

Basilio Ramirez (512-293-0886) of Ramirez Concrete Work & More was recommended to me.  He came out on Wednesday to look at and discuss the project, had an estimate by Thursday, and could start by Saturday.  $1650.

On Saturday, Basilio showed up with Jorge, and a pickup truck of sand and masonry cement.  They mixed the sand and cement in a wheelbarrow to make mortar.  They were very comfortable with the mortar, and had lots of time to work with it.  They first took the walls apart, then put wet trails of mortar down the middle 1/3 of the cement support for the wall, placing the stones on top of that and positioning them.  Then the same for the next level, and the next. 

If there was a problem (at one point there was a vertical joint between two blocks that was over another vertical joint), the blocks could be removed, the old mortar scraped off (and by "old", I mean 5 minutes or so), put back in the wheelbarrow with the other mortar, mixed a little, and then more mortar was applied and the stones re-laid, in a different order to shift the vertical joint.


They kept at this, stone block after stone block, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar, until all the stones were set in place.  Then, effectively for cosmetic reasons, on the outside of the wall, they went back and put mortar in the vertical joints, and filled out the horizontal ones to match the front of the blocks.  After this "icing" was applied in all the joints, they used a wooden-handled wire brush to smooth the mortar off and clean up the joints.  Using the wooden handle to sort of shape and smooth things, and the the wire brush to clean off any extra.



 They didn't bother with the inside of the wall, since it was going to be filled and covered with dirt -- no one will see it.  Other than the top course of stone; they did do the top course on both sides.



That was it.  They got there around 7:00 AM, and were done by 2:00 PM.

I checked on Sunday, and the mortar seems very hard.  On Monday, I will start to move dirt from the mound that I have from the trench back to fill up the retaining wall.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Roughing in the Front Yard Retaining Wall

We completed pouring a cement base to put the retaining wall on.  That lets us stack the stones on the base to see how things will look.  Along the sidewalk, for example, we have:



This extends up along the sidewalk until it disappears into the ground.  All the while it is flat and level, while the ground raises up to the street.



At the same time, it extends from the sidewalk, in front of the house over to the partition wall.



This part of the wall starts 4 stones up on the left near the door (so about 24 inches tall), slowly sinking into the ground until it meets the partition wall at the same level, only 2 stones (12 inches) tall.



The main exception to this smooth flow is in the section next to the sidewalk.  Part way down, we want to build a stairway that goes from the sidewalk up to the level that the dirt will be behind the retaining wall.  We need a new base for that stairway.



This is a bit hard to visualize.  The stairs themselves will be the longest 6x6 blocks we have -- those from 26 inches and up.  These stairs will need support to hold them up.   We do that by providing two sets of blocks running perpendicular to the stairs.


The stairs then bridge from one set of blocks to the other.







 In addition, we need a "box" around the stairs to keep the dirt that will be brought in from falling onto the stairs from the sides. 



So this appears to be two separate structures -- a box to hold the dirt back, and in that the stairway.


 This completes the rough work for this retaining wall.  We have the concrete base.  We have the blocks, for both the two sections of the wall and the stairway.  This shows that we have enough stone.  Now we need to take it all apart, and put it back together, with mortar holding it in place.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Preparation for the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The Front Yard Retaining Wall is designed to start next to the sidewalk and then continue across the yard to the partition wall that separates our front yard from the neighbors.  It varies in height, being taller near the front door and then gradually lowering to meet the partition wall as it moves across the yard.  With the base prepared by the partition wall, we need to continue the base for it across the yard.

Starting near the trench, where the wall base has already been created, we need to move across the yard.  There is currently a low garden bed wall separating the yard from the bed in front of the house.


We will remove this short wall and dig down to prepare it for the new larger wall.  The new wall is constructed of 6x6 limestone blocks.

So first we remove the existing wall.



We remove it up to the sidewalk, and then turn and dig out a new section along the sidewalk, towards the street.



The wall has two sections -- along the sidewalk and from the sidewalk across the yard.

The section along the sidewalk is to be flat and level.  So as the ground rises towards the street, the wall continues straight ahead and "dives" into the rising ground, so that the top is always level.  That means that the corner near the door will be higher (more levels of stone) than the end nearer the street, where the wall becomes flush with the dirt and "disappears" into it.  The first course of stone work is mostly below ground level near the street, and continues flat for only 10 or 12 feet before it is so far below ground to be invisible.

So the height at the corner defines the height of the entire wall.  We start by pouring a concrete base at the corner itself.



and then extend that, level, down the sidewalk until it needs to be stepped up.  Once that dries, we can then stack 6x6 blocks on it, to see how the wall will look.



Notice, for example, that a couple yards from the beginning, we want to put a set of stone stairs that will lead up to the new yard level, the level of the dirt that will be behind the retaining wall.

For all of this, we need a bunch of 6x6 limestone blocks.  We buy 2 pallets of them from Whittlessey Landscape Supplies, and have it delivered.  This costs $664,31 for 7438 pounds of stone.


We first need to see what we have.  Unpacking the pallets, we have 43 blocks that are 24 inches long or more.



Four of these broke/fractured on the pallet.

Another 56 blocks are between 16 inches and 24 inches in length.



And then there were 13 short blocks, of less than 15 inches in length.

We also needed more concrete, for the base to put the stones on.  That will all be below ground and not visible.  We bought 10 60-pound bags the first trip and another 12 bags on another trip.

Plus we will need mortar to hold the blocks in place.  These blocks are actually big enough (6x6) and heavy enough (a 24 inch block weighs 72 pounds) that they can be used as "dry stack", where they are just piled on top of one another without mortar.  But we want to offset each course slightly to create a slight stair-step appearance, so we will mortar each course in place.  We want a white mortar, to match the white color of the limestone.  There is no white mortar in the cement/mortar aisle at Home Depot -- apparently "real" workers make it up from scratch from White Masonry Cement and white sand -- but there is white mortar -- made with white cement and white sand -- in another aisle, for glass blocks: Glass Block Mortar Mix (50 pounds).  We will use that.




Monday, August 26, 2019

Moving the Front Bed to Zone 9

We are re-defining almost everything in the front yard.  Originally the front yard had two irrigation zones:  Zone 10 to the West of the sidewalk and Zone 11 to the East of the sidewalk (between the sidewalk and the driveway).  While we are keeping this basic idea, we also wanted to consider the beds.  There is an existing bed in front of the house, between Zone 10 and the house, which now expands and runs into the area near the gas meter -- from the house to the West property line, and from the fence gate to the retaining wall.


While all the other zones are behind the fence, it seems to me to make sense to extend Zone 9, which is a set of beds from the backyard deck around to the West side of the house and up to the fence, to extend this Zone 9 to include the front yard beds by Zone 10.

There is already one head for Zone 9 in front of the fence, by the gas meter.


We can tap into that line to get Zone 9 water.

Currently the front bed gets it's water from Zone 10 via a pipe that runs under the stone wall defining the front bed.  We can cut that, and cap off the line going to the bed sprinkler heads.



Then one end of the front bed irrigation line, close to the downspout for the gutters that runs into the French drain, went to a head in the yard, which we have already removed.  If we run a line from the Zone 9 head by the gas meter to this end of the front bed lines, we will have moved them all to Zone 9.



So we dug out from the end of the front bed lines around the corner of the house and then down parallel to the side of the house -- 16 inches from the foundation -- to the Zone 9 head.


At the Zone 9 lines, we cut it and inserted a T-fitting.  Then a 10-foot section of 1/2 inch PVC.  At that point, we put in a sprinkler head, for the bed here by the side of the house,  and then continued to the corner.

At the corner, we turned around the corner and connected to the end of the front yard bed irrigation heads.



While we were doing this, we also ran a line diagonally to the other side of the bed, to the partition wall, to help get all of the new bed behind the retention wall.



This gives 3 heads to water the extension of the River of Rocks between the retention wall and the fence, and between the house and the neighbors yard.  This will include the first elm tree, the monkey grass between the rocks of the River of Rocks, and any other plantings in this area.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Front Yard Irrigation Water Line

While working in the front yard, I had originally destroyed the main water supply line which provides water for Zone 10 (the West side of the front yard) and Zone 11 (the East side of the front yard).  So I rebuilt it and ran it out into the trench parallel to the new gas line -- about 2 feet from the partition wall that separates our yard from the neighbors and down 2 to 3 feet.


But as we began to fill in the trench, it became obvious that I needed to finish out the base irrigation, lest it get buried and become difficult to find.

The original intent was to find the value for Zone 10 and move it, but continue to use it for Zone 10.  First I needed to find that value.  I could follow the old main water line.


So I dug along that pipe, but came upon the value a bit sooner than expected and effectively put a pick ax thru it. 



So I bought a new zone value -- an Orbit Jar Top Automatic In-line Valve.



And then ran new 1.5 inch PVC pipe up to where the valve is placed to connect it close to the partition wall.





I wired it in and tested it out.  After the main line leaves the zone controller valve for Zone 10, it turns and will cut across the yard to provide a 1 inch water supply (and wiring) for Zone 11 (eventually).




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 the cinder blocks cemented and mortared in place, we can form up both in front and behind them, and pour a pathway of concrete.



This creates the first part of the concrete base for the retaining wall.  We extend it across the yard by digging up the next section of the front yard near the corner of the house.



And then we can dig out all that dirt and rock.



And again cement and mortar in 8x16 inch cinder blocks with a 4-inch cinder block spanning them to create a solid bridge, which I can pour concrete on top of.


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.