I am going to try and keep the text to this post short, since I think the photos in this post speak volumes about how labor intensive this project was for us (and Sam’s dad, Fred). While I am making a mental note to share more about our 113-year-old farmhouse with the world (and all the renovations it’s undergone since we purchased it back in May of this year), there’s a LOT to cover in terms of the improvements we’ve done to the house we purchased.
Still, upgrading the front walkway was something we knew we wanted to do from the beginning. The old walkway was a flagstone path with some hob-knobby stairs, and the entire thing wasn’t placed on a solid foundation so that it buckled and slanted in all sorts of places. In short, it was a disaster. We actually pulled all the flagstone out of the path and had a dirt walkway for a while just because we couldn’t stand to look at the stone anymore. I don’t have a very good picture of what the house looked like when we bought it, but I will try and track it down.
We enlisted the help of Sam’s dad, who owns his own landscaping company and has laid many a brick path in his day. Thank goodness one of us knew what to do! He helped us scout out the brick choices (we went with a variety to keep things interesting) and he advised us to use prefabricated cement steps so that they would hold their shape more in the long run. The steps were mega-heavy, but definitely the way to go.
First, we had to dig out the entire shape of the path. We dug down about 6 inches along the entire path, then filled in the entire pathway with 2-3 inches of gravel. This allows the bricks to settle slightly, but mostly it keeps them firmly in place (or at least more firmly than dirt would, since dirt moves a LOT). We also left the dirt untouched where the steps would be, because the steps would be best supported on undisturbed soil.
After we filled, leveled, and tamped down the gravel, we did filled, leveled, and tamped the gravel at least twice more. We wanted to have a really solid foundation, and I think we accomplished that!
Next was the fun part…laying the brick! We didn’t establish a pattern, but our goal was to not have any of the same color bricks touching each other on any side. It was challenging at times, but with the four differently colored bricks, we managed pretty well and only goofed in a few spots (don’t point them out if you come to visit).
In addition to the pathway, we also had to build a retaining wall on the northeast side of the path. The slope presented a lot of problems, and we didn’t want water to come in and wash out our beautifully-laid path after a few rain storms. So, we also had to dig out the entire bank of the slope (up to the point where it was level with the stairs) and put in a retaining wall. We did this alongside the construction of the path, as shown below. Fred’s backhoe played a large role in helping to dig out the side of that slope (thank goodness).
Aside from that part, which was obviously awesome, laying the steps was a meticulous process…and rightfully so. Those steps weighed almost 400 lbs each, so once they were in place they weren’t going anywhere. We had to make sure it was done correctly so that we didn’t have to try and move them around too much once they were off the forklift and on the ground. In the end, I am so happy we went with these prefab steps: they add a natural-looking element to our otherwise traditional brick pathway, and I like the combination.
You’ll also see that we added those black supports to the path’s edge, which we ended up burying as the final step. They will help ensure that the path keeps each shape over the years, but you’ll never know they’re there. How spiffy is that?!
We finished laying the rest of the brick–admittedly, it was mostly Sam and Fred who finished the pathway, since I was working on some other projects inside the house–and then cleaned everything off before sealing in between the cracks of the bricks. We used a type of polymer that will hold the bricks in place, and as an added bonus it prevents weed growth between the cracks. I dig it!
The retaining wall turned out nicely, too. For now, we laid down some black tarp underneath larger-than-pebbles stone, but in the spring we’ll look at cutting some holes in that space and planting something. Anyone have any ideas? We are hoping to do a medium-height plant so we don’t completely hide the wall, but we do want to cover most of it.
Sam and Fred filled in the gap between the path and the driveway with a piece of wood and some tar caulk, and also filled in the gaps between the garage foundation and the retaining wall. The last step was to add chunks of sod along the pathway to cover the black supports and also provide better stabilization for the path overall. Viola! New walkway complete!
Despite how dead and dreary our yard looks right now, I think the new path does wonders for the overall presentation of our home. Every time I leave or enter our house, I am grateful that we put the work into it before the winter sets in. It’s so nice to have something under our feet instead of dirt!
I should also mention that, while it looks like this project was fairly simple, we worked on it over the course of five weeks (yes, five). We needed Fred’s help for every step, so between the three of us it took around 60-70 hours of labor to make this bad boy happen. Plus we had my parents’ dog, Lance, help out for a few hours. He helped clear the sticks around the area.
I’m still a bit stunned that it took that long, but if there’s anything that owning a house has taught me in the last six months, it’s that every project takes longer than expected. We are learning to enjoy the process and not feel as anxious about the outcome, and that mindset has made all the difference. I hope to fill you in on some of the other major improvements we’ve made to our home, but I hope to not bore you with too many details. You should probably just come over and check it out for yourself.