Outdoor Tour 2012

It’s yard tour time, baby! Every year we try to take a few video tours of the inside of our house, just to look back on how it has evolved (you can check those out here). And we even made a little outdoor tour post last year, complete with a full video of John bush-wacking his way around our yard. So we thought it would be fun to make that an annual tradition. Just so we can see how the exterior of our house is evolving as we tackle projects big (like the patio and the deck) and small (like all of the transplanting/seeding/weeding that we do – more on that here). The funny thing is that it’s actually a huge difference between this year’s yard tour and last year’s. Both thanks to work we’ve done on certain parts of the yard and the way that mother nature has completely crazy-fied our backyard (which we have yet to touch).

You think I’m kidding. Check out this photo of the backyard last year:

And a shot from the same spot now:

See how much bigger/denser the little planting bed between the two paths above got in the past 12 months? These photos don’t do it justice, but our video does. That butterfly bush is about 12 feet tall. Seriously. Somebody call the Guinness Book Of World Records.

Here’s another picture of the back yard from last year:

And the same POV from now. See how giant the butterfly bush got? Check out how you basically see the whole tree trunk behind it in the shot above and how it’s almost completely covered by bushery (that’s a word in my head) in the photo below.

Here’s how things looked staring back at our house from the back of our lot last year:

And here’s what that view looks like now. It’s really crazy how much those tiny purple bushes above filled in (they got at least three times bigger). The entire house’s foundation isn’t visible anymore from the same spot. Note: A few folks asked why the nook in the bedroom was there, and you can see from this shot of the back of the house, that it’s there so the back looks balanced like this. That large window in the bump-out is in the living room, so if we added a window to the nook in an effort to balance the other window on that wall in the bedroom it would be a big window right next to a small window on that bumped out section of the back of the house. Hope this photo makes more sense of that description!

This is a shot from a little over a year ago, so it’s even more dramatic. This is what things looked like last spring, before they got semi-big.

And here’s what they look like now, with everything in bloom. See how the knockout roses in the left side of the picture above are giant now? And once again that planting bed in the middle (with Sir Butterfly Bush, Sr.) got crazy big? This almost doesn’t even look like the same POV, but looking at the three big trees in the background can help you line things up between the before above and the after picture below.

And it’s also pretty crazy to see how much the side yard of ours has grown – which was actually the plan since we’d love to naturalize that area- so yay! We have enough to mow in the front and back, so we want the way back and the side to get all woodsy and charming like our first house’s back perimeter. Check out a few photos of the side yard from last year

And these pics of that area now. Definitely looks bushier, eh? And we’ve planted a few trees (river birches), so we’re just waiting for those to fill in for even more of a wooded look.

Oh and one spot we didn’t document last year, but have decided to start this year, is the side lot from the side. So here’s what it looks like now. The wild grasses are actually really pretty down there.

Here’s how the view has changed from the corner of the grass in the front yard. This is that area last year (see the little bush fence that surrounded the yard?):

And here’s that area now from the same POV:

And just to keep this post complete, we’ll also include the what the front yard looked like last year

… and what it looks like now:

That’s our favorite one so far. Well that and our big patio makeover, which went from this…

… to this.

Uh, yeah – lots has changed, huh? It’s a jungle back there! So we have yet to tackle things out back, but it’s really cool to see how the front has evolved since this old video tour from last year:

For example, in this year’s updated tour you can see how we landscaped the patio, tamed the front yard, got some upgraded patio furniture, seeded the lawn with some more grass, and removed lots and lots of bush fences that hid our house from the street (and how we hid a secret outdoor book project with bath towels). Warning: I should never ever be allowed to do these video tours again. You basically need anti-nausea medicine before viewing. Can someone just be born flail-y?

Video thrashiness aside, we’re so glad to have documented evidence of our yard for the summer of 2012. I wonder what next year’s footage will look like? Think we’ll tackle some of that jungle of ours in the back (we’d love to create a nice patch of grass for Burger and Clara to romp around in while naturalizing the area behind the grass into a nice privacy riddled woods of sorts). Think we’ll have a bit more patio furniture and a deck by then? Sure, hope so! Heck, maybe our carport will be converted into a garage by this time next year. It should be fun to – in the words of Andy Cohen – watch what happens.

Do you guys document outdoor upgrades as well? Does anyone else walk around the house with the video camera, just to capture how things were looking on a specific day? I hope this is something we keep up with because we wish we had thought to document all of the yearly outdoor changes from our first house on video. Oh, well – live and learn!



How To Build A Deck: Failing Inspection


Oh how I wish that hashtag was in reference to some cheeky Internet meme. Instead, it’s about the result of our deck’s footing inspection. Sigh. Picture us singing “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have, the facts of DIY life.”

So here’s the deal. We scheduled the inspector to come look at the six holes we had dug for our footings. By my understanding, he’d simply be looking at each one to make sure they were in the correct spots and dug to the right width & depth. Pretty straightforward by my assumption.

But if you recall, we chose to go above and beyond by having some of the ledger boards attached so that the inspector could check those for us too. I figured it was best for him to see that before I went through the trouble of finishing the whole darn thing (in our county, the second inspection happens after the entire deck is completed) – that way he could catch any errors sooner rather than later.

And boy did he catch errors.

As soon as he rounded the corner to our job site, he did three things that made my heart drop:

  1. He shook his head.
  2. He said “we’ve got some problems here.”
  3. And then he silent started writing in his notebook.

It was around this point that Sherry, whom I had tasked with taking some covert pictures of the inspection from within the house, snapped this picture out the guest room window. Don’t I look like a happy camper?

Despite being the bearer of bad news, the inspector was fairly helpful in explaining what the issues were (once he came out of the silence that had me sweating bullets). First, I had overlooked two tiny (yet apparently critical) letters on one of the diagrams in the county’s deck building guide. That “P.T.” highlighted below means that the house’s rim board where I attached my ledger board on the siding side of the alley needs to made from pressure treated wood. Ours was not.

So although we had added the required water-proof flashing behind our ledger board, the inspector said that if I wanted to put a ledger board on that side I’d need to also either replace the rim board with a piece of pressure treated wood (but messing with the structure of the house does not sound like my idea of a good time) or lower my deck by about two feet so that I was bolting into the masonry foundation instead.

But that ledger was only half of the reason for our failing grade. He told me on the other side of the house that I wasn’t permitted to screw into the brick side of our house because it wasn’t sound enough to bear the weight. I had read about this online before beginning, so I told him I thought I had solved that by purchasing screws long enough to go through the rim board of the house as well (for added stability). But apparently everything you read online isn’t true (go figure), so he explained that it still wasn’t acceptable in our county.

He even drew this little diagram on my ledger board to explain why it was wrong. Don’t you love having the error of your ways illustrated? The problem is that the air gap that is left between brick and the house (which I knew about, but didn’t realize was problematic) prevents the load from ever being fully transferred from the brick (which is just built to bear the vertical weight of itself). Again, my only solution here was to lower my ledger by about two feet so that I was going into the masonry foundation instead.

The other option he gave me was to forget the ledger boards and just built a free-standing deck – i.e. one that’s just supported by posts in the ground. Since Sherry and I didn’t want a deck that was two feet lower than our doorway (we wanted to just walk out there and eat, without having to carry things up or down stairs or worry about people tripping out of the house), it quickly became clear that free-standing was our best option. Translation: we had to revisit our plan, dig more holes, and attempt to pass our second inspection after our little course correction…

At that moment I was pretty close to devastated because it almost felt like starting back at square one. But I held it together long to get a few more questions answered by the inspector, thank him for his time, and wish him on his way. But I did take a second to pout at Sherry when I saw her snapping this picture through the window.

Of course, the inspector then handed me my official rejection receipt. He really knows how to twist the knife, doesn’t he?

When I walked into the house Sherry said she heard everything. I told her I need a few moments to be upset. If I were a drinker, I’m sure there would’ve been a beer or three involved. But instead, me and my sober self enjoyed a few moments of self loathing. I was mad at myself for wasting my dad’s time. For delaying our building progress. For ignoring my instincts to build a free-standing deck in the first place. For having to tell my dad we had more holes to dig. For (despite having done hours of research and planning) not having done it carefully enough.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty good at beating myself up. Though I was also a bit ticked off at the permit office that okayed my plans in the first place (I was right there if they had any questions for me to clarify before we spent days executing a plan they approved!). In their defense, they didn’t have the info about what type of housing I was attaching to, but I wish they had at least asked. As you may remember, I was all dressed up in my permit-getting outfit and ready to be grilled that day (more on that here)…

… but they didn’t ask me a single thing, and sent me on my way with a nice big “approved” permit to hang in the window.

Soon enough Sherry swept in with a positive spin on the situation. Number one: She wasn’t upset – she had actually expected that we’d fail at least one inspection (we’ve heard that more people fail then pass in our county, it’s apparently very strict and it’s sort of a miracle if you get through both inspections without having to redo something unless you’re a repeat pro builder who works with the county a lot). She pointed out we were much luckier to catch this early (if we hadn’t started on the ledger board until after our hole inspection, we would have built The. Entire. Deck only to find out that it wouldn’t pass at our last inspection and the whole thing had to come down). Point taken. This was starting to feel less like the end of the world. I might have even been writing punny titles for this post in my head to cheer myself up, like “The Petersiks: We Put The “F” In Footing Inspection.”

Sherry was also glad the inspector had been helpful with his suggestions so we knew what to do from here on out. And she was glad to have a learning experience that we could blog about. Seriously, she hugged me and said “this’ll be a funny story someday – and it’s just another example of how DIY isn’t always easy, but in the end it’s always worth it.” So before long I was out of my funk and was on the phone with the county’s building inspection making an appointment to get this:

That’s our new plan. The inspector suggested that I meet with the reviewer who okayed my first plan and just have him draw me a new one for a free-standing deck. Part of me wondered why this wasn’t offered in the first place (certainly would’ve saved everyone some time!), but mostly I was just glad to have the very people drawing my plans who would later approve them. He was also considerate enough to keep our new post holes to a minimum (7) and to try to work with as many of the existing materials that we had already purchased (we’ll still need to pick up some new stuff, but it could have been much worse). The best news is that he believes we can still use our ledger boards – but as rim boards instead (with flashing over them as well, which we’d planned to add from the get-go). Even though they’re not approved to bear the full weight of the deck – those seven new footing holes will do that – he’s confident they can still be used as the stabilizing rim boards that I’d be required to add around the perimeter of the deck anyways.

So the only real change from our original illustrated plan below is that there will be seven posts added to convert this to a freestanding deck with girders (which are boards that will run in the same direction as our ledger boards, but they’re attached to the posts, so no weight is put on the house).

Overall it was a good, quick meeting that – if nothing else – helped open a line of communication between me and the building department (I have since called this same guy with two follow up questions). Perhaps I won him over with my more casual-slash-approachable-revised-plan-getting outfit:

So that’s where we are folks. We’ve got some more holes to dig (btw, my dad took the news very well) and a few more materials to pick up – but we’re gonna wait on getting those until our footing inspection is successful. Fingers crossed! Hopefully by this time next week I’ll be running around singing “The hills are alive with the sound of an approved footing inspection!”

We’ll definitely keep you posted on this roller-coaster of real-life DIY tribulations. But now it’s time for your failed inspection stories. Or really any general life failures are fine by me. Let’s commiserate. Especially if your story has a happy ending to go along with it. I just keep reminding myself that Sherry’s right about DIY not always being easy, but it has definitely been worth it when we look back at all of the major things we’ve accomplished in the past five years (like a bathroom gut job, two kitchen overhauls, built-in laundry cubbies, a built-in double desk, a 12′ long console table, and our big patio project). So I’m keeping my eye on the prize: a new deck that we’ll spend lots of family time on someday. And even with all of these snafus, it’ll still be a lot cheaper than hiring someone else to build it. At least I hope so. Off to knock on some wood…