panoramic after

Pavers for the Front Lawn

Since becoming a homeowner in March 2012, I’ve been slowly delving into the world of home improvement DIY projects. They make it look so easy on TV on all the HGTV and DIY shows. In reality, it’s a lot of trial and error, and tons of internet research. (I really don’t know how people did anything before the internet and social media.)

When we first moved in, we spent about a month and a half fixing things up (floors, carpet, paint, etc.) — unfortunately, I don’t have that many pictures from that time! So, when we decided to undertake this paver project, I made sure that I took more pictures (which is still not that many) to document the process.

This is what the front lawn first looked like when we first came to check out the house as a potential buyer in early November 2011.
the front of the house

Look at that lush green grass!

lush green grass

And yanno what? That takes a lot of work right there. Grass is not just green and weed-free like that naturally…as evidenced by the next picture — which is probably around half a year later — after we moved in and totally neglected it, beyond some sporadic mowing and watering. I know right?? WTF.

So I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find it interesting to spend my free time taking care of grass — the watering (wasting all that water!), the mowing (what? we need to buy a lawn mower?!), the weed killer, etc. All for what? Nothing. Grass is just grass. No vegetables that you can eat, or flowers you can admire. Doesn’t do nothing.



 April 2013: First step, removing sod

We rented a sod cutter from Home Depot Pro (totally reasonable prices and you can rent it for a 4-hour period or 24-hour period) and rolled up all the sod. There were soooo many creepy crawly earthworms in the dirt (I tried not to look too closely). After we were done, our lawn was like a buffet for the birds.

sod cutting

Now, I thought we could just call our garbage company and schedule a large pickup, but apparently they don’t take dirt. Like, eh?? What’s wrong with dirt? I thought it’d be part of their green bin plant stuff, and while the grass is, the dirt is not. They said they wouldn’t even take it as regular garbage.

The area of my front lawn is roughly 19’x38′, so this was literally more than a TON of sod. So to get rid of all that sod, we had to haul it down to the dump and pay for that. We hired some workers to help us for the day and got it done.

dirt dug down

Budget so far: $67 sod cutter rental, $100 workers, $167 dumping fees = $334. Our own labor is free of course. -_-


 April – June 2013: Next step, digging dirt

To get a good foundation for the pavers, internet research recommends having 6″ of base rock alone, followed by 1″ sand, and then your pavers (another 1-3″ depending on the type of paver), especially since we’re planning on parking cars on it. However, that just felt like too daunting of a task, so we settled for 5-6″ in total so we could get around 3.5″ of base rock, 0.5″ of sand and 2″ for the pavers.

After the sod dumping experience, I was determined not to blow my budget through dumping fees, so I resorted to posting on Craigslist and blowing my time schedule out instead (hence the 3 month timeframe for this step). Slowly but surely, people came by and took some dirt. We also managed to unload some to various neighbors. Woot! Take that, dump!

free dirt

Budget so far: $44 wheelbarrow, $100 workers to help move dirt, $20 tarps, $30 pickaxe = $194 + previous $334 = $528.


 June – July 2013: Ground prep & base rock

Even though the front yard was pretty hard and inhospitable from three months of baking out in the sun, we took the precautions and sprayed grass/weed/whatever poison to prevent vegetation from coming up in the future and then put down a layer of landscape fabric.

landscape fabric

You can see some base rock in the picture above — I’d been trolling Craigslist for free base rock and found someone giving it away. Borrowed a truck and loaded it up one morning and THAT in the picture was all a truckload of base rock covered. So, I gave up on that idea and ordered something like 14 tons of base rock and had it delivered to us instead.

base rock pile 1

That’s not all. Here’s the truck dumping a second pile of base rock on my lawn.

dump truck

I had taken the day off work, so I spread that base rock around all day and discovered that 14 tons was much too much. It doesn’t look like a lot extra in the picture below, but it took FOREVER for Craigslist to work its magic and make that excess disappear.

base rock spread

In the meantime, we rented a compactor machine and compacted down the base rock around the pile (we were hoping we might need more of the base rock after we compacted it down, but nope not really). Side note: Using the compactor machine was the LEAST favorite part of the process for me. It’s kind of like that Paintbrush game in Legend of the Mystical Ninja, but life-sized.

Luckily, one guy took the last bunch of the base rock for his home project and we were moving again by August, which was great because my pavers went on sale!

Budget so far: $25 plant poison + $78 landscape fabric and pins + $405 base rock + $140 compactor machine rental (twice) = $648 + previous $528 = $1,176.


August – September 2013: Pavers!

Finally, the fun part! So I had been trolling these pavers at Lowe’s for a while, normally $0.98 per paver (a little less than 1 sq.ft. in dimension), on sale for $0.84 each. (Side note: I just checked the Lowe’s website and they’re $0.78 each today. $!#$@!) Ever the optimist (or naive/unexperienced DIY-er), I chose to Pick Up In Store to save on delivery costs. I later took that back and switched to $89 delivery because come on, it was an order of 665 pavers and each paver is 18 lbs each (according to the specs on the website). That would’ve probably taken 10 trips or more with our Mazda5. So they delivered them in nifty pallets. Well worth the delivery cost.

pallets of pavers

Also ordered a delivery of 2.5 tons of granite sand — when it was delivered, the pile looked SO SMALL. I was afraid I under-ordered because I was totally scared of over-ordering like with the base rock. It ended up being just right!

Bought some wood planks to function as sand screeders and off we went!

first section screeded

We taped 3 paint stirrer sticks together to function as spacers and laid out our first pavers over the sand.

first pavers

Some shots of the progress (over the next couple weeks — stalled out for a while because I caught a cold):

paving progress

In between the pavers, we decided to use some of the granite sand and then top it off with polymeric sand to lock them all in place. I read a bunch of warnings about using polymeric sand discoloring red pavers if you don’t get all the sand off before watering, but it was like IMPOSSIBLE to get that sand off the pavers. We even tried vacuuming. So, we just forged ahead.

polymeric sand

The instructions say to “lightly mist” water over the sand, but Toro threw those instructions to the wind cuz we were trying to wash the polymeric sand off of the pavers at the same time.

not quite misting

There did end up being tan-colored “stains” on the pavers, so that didn’t quite work. BUT, overall I’m pretty happy with the result. Might try to grind down the surfaces one day to get rid of the polymeric stain, but that’s another project to add to the home improvement list.

after misting

Final budget: $631 pavers + $375 granite sand + $33 screed materials + $130 polymeric sand + $180 worker = $1,394 + previous $1,176 = $2,525. It’d normally cost at the cheapest $6k to have a guy come out and do this, so we were shooting for something under $3k with our own sweat and labor. So…yay!

Lastly, here’s the panoramic view (floor is still a little wet).

panoramic after

In the middle of this, someone told me that the city has some kind of ordinance (although I couldn’t find any reference online) that you need at least 100 sq.ft. of greenery / softscaping in front of the house. So, we’ll probably add some kind of plants to the dirt area in front of the house, which fortunately is still over 100 sq.ft. So there.

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