Tuesday, April 8, 2014

French That Drain!

Back at our old house, we completely redid our backyard from practically a concrete slab into a really nice, green area split between a mix of plants and pavers-- hardscape and softscape, if you will.  Back then, Abby did all the planning, and the two of us did it ourselves, with the help of my cousin Andy.  (His wife, Maggie, also helped, by keeping our at-the-time two kids combined outta the way.)  In the six years since, Abby's French drain has done just fine, so we're looking to emulate it six miles north.  
Andy and Abby working in our old backyard in 2008.
The incomplete French drain is under the black fabric at left.
We attempted to have one put in during construction-- and the contractors volunteered to do so-- and we thought they had done so.  But water kept pooling at the northeast corner of our house, and we had to dig to find out that it was because the original perforated pipe they had laid was surrounded by nothing but clay.  So a perforated pipe, meant to drain water from the soil, was surrounded by clay, nature's best impermeable surface.  Argh.  So last weekend, I took it upon myself to pull the old "French drain" out and put a new French drain in.

(As an aside, did you know the French drain is not French?  It's actually named for Henry French, as in "French's drain."  Not only that, but Mr. French, of French drain fame, is actually the father of Daniel French, of Lincoln Memorial fame.  Hmm... Son gets the back of the penny and the fiver, but dad does all the work unmucking everyone's yards; doesn't seem fair, does it?  But I digress...) (What did we ever do without Wikipedia?)

So rather than explaining what I did, since it all worked out pretty well, I've attached a pictorial to show you that, yes, I actually did this myself.  (With oversight help at times from Abby, and with some big muscle-work by Lola, who insisted on pouring about 75% of the dirt and rocks.)  Enjoy!

First off, digging up the old pipe and removing it.
See how there's nothing but clay all around it?  Yeah, not good.

The full 30-foot length of the original pipe had to be excavated.
Isaac gave me moral support.

After removing the original pipe, I laid about 450 pounds of marble chips on the bottom.

I'm not being vain or wasteful by putting the white marble chips in.
They have to be three-quarters of an inch around for it to work,
and these ones were the cheapest Home Depot had, at three bucks a bag.
This is the NE corner of the house, where the pipe feeds through the wall to the backyard.

All spread out.
The rocks serve as a reservoir for built up water.
When the water gets more than a couple inches high,
it permeates through the holes in the bottom of the pipe.

And here's the new pipe!
Once the water's in it, the slight incline towards the wall propels the water
out of the front yard and into the back yard.
(We'll do that one another time.)

Next comes fabric, which we use to cover the pipe and stones
so any roots from plants on the surface don't muck up the system underneath.
The fabric is water-permeable, of course.

And then comes about 750 pounds of gravel.
The gravel, being smaller, allows water through while sifting out everything else.
The water can then go through the fabric, down to the stones, then into the pipe.
Oh, and the gravel also holds the fabric down on extremely windy days...

Might I add that Lola helped with the process starting at the gravel?
Here, she helped put large rocks on top of the blowing fabric
so we could head to the next step: soil.

Lola insisted not only on cutting all the soil bags open,
but also on pouring almost all the bags in.
12 bags, each with one cubit foot of soil.
Again, I didn't need to get Miracle Gro,
it's just that there was a crazy sale at Home Depot,
and at two bucks a bag, it was cheaper than plain ol' dirt.

First we put some of the old dirt into the hole to cover up the fabric.
We took the big place-holder rocks out each time,
since the weight of the dirt was now enough.

Then we filled the rest of the hole in with new dirt, and that was it!
Not a bad project if I may say so myself.  And it rained for pretty much 48 straight hours after we did it, with only minimal puddling, so all is well.  Next step in the front yard is putting a lot more dirt in, so that we can grade the water to run away from the house and get rid of the step you have to take onto the front porch.  I'm going to attempt to remove some of the clay as well, replacing it with regular dirt, after our horrible experience with our front yard at the old house, where tree after tree died at about two years of age, once its roots hit the solid clay beneath the topsoil.  Hopefully, by the end of the summer (or earlier!!) this will be a happy green spot for us (and all of our neighbors) to enjoy-- and will help them all forget about the crazy construction that's been going on here nonstop since 2011!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Awakening

It's been awhile since I last posted, but in the meantime, we've been settling into the place pretty well. We're actually coming up on a year in the house, which is ridiculous when I think about it. More ridiculous, of course, is the fact that we have weathered our first winter in Forest Glen with a rather deficient heating situation. I've posted about this before, and since then, there has been very little movement on the issue. We went through the coldest winter in Metro DC in several years, and definitely felt it... downstairs.

The number of times we called, emailed, and texted our contractors is laughable.  Rory, the one who actually gets things done when you need, is now nowhere to be found. Instead, we are left with Mark, who always seems to have somewhere else to be, someone else who needs something, or an ailment of some sort. You know the guy in your office whose grandma died seven or eight times over the last year or two? That's him. Who knows? Maybe he just has a big (ill?) family. But I'm to the point with health issues that I just nod and zone out until they're done being discussed.

What does the Postal Service saw about
snow, sleet, dark of night?
Yeah, they all stop our contractors
from making their appointed rounds...
A few weeks back, we finally managed to set a time for Mark to come out, but there was a "snowstorm." Then, he had to cancel at the last minute for another appointment, which I actually was glad about, since it was pretty warm out that day, and I wanted him to experience the downstairs cold first-hand. Finally, our schedules meshed last week, and he came out. I was relieved that he seemed stumped by the issue of no wind at all coming out of our downstairs vents... But not really, since I'm pretty positive it's because he turned them off when he came back in February when I was out of town and Abby called him for help. He came by two days ago and fiddled with stuff again; presumably, he flipped the switch and redirected the heat downstairs again. Tonight, regardless of the temperature, I'm gonna force the heat to go on, and see if we can feel more than a trickle in the downstairs bathroom. You know, the one that was supposed to relieve my bathroom from the kids' mess, but instead sits pretty much unused because of its frigid temps.

Apart from the heat, Mark finally got Francisco to come over and install the hot-water tap they had to uninstall before our inspection last year. Since then, I've grown semi-fond of our disposal-- Abby still doesn't trust it-- so I wanted both installed. Plumbers off of ServiceMagic quoted us more than $600 (or was it $800?) to do the job, but Mark had said $250 way back when. It went in this week... But not without $150 being added to the bill. Oh, and it's plugged into the same outlet as the disposal, which means we have to unplug the disposal until we want to use it, then remember to unplug it and flip the switch back on afterwards. Ahh, the joys of getting "everything you want" in a house you renovate, amirite?

Speaking of getting everything you want, we got to check out the Swiss Chalet (not the restaurant, sadly) the other night when Lee invited us over. That's right: an honest-to-goodness cocktail party on a Friday night! (The kids were also invited, and played great with his.). Best of all, it was the first night of actual warmth, which meant we went without jackets, and the doors (and windows, I think) were left open. (This at the end of a week that started with a snow day, no less.)

The Chalet now
The Chalet is amazing. For those of you who don't know, it's the house that interested us in the neighborhood in the first place, back in February 2011. But the work was just too extensive (and expensive) for us to handle. Lee, however, has handled it *very* well, and has it on the market now, in case anyone's looking for a place with a genuine wine grotto, beautiful modern finishes, and a super-cool master bedroom suite with cathedral ceilings. My silly-favorite part of the place actually is the door: it's a substantial wood entry door split in half, so you can open just the top if you like, when the weather warrants. You know, maybe set a pie on it to cool or something. Mmm, pie. I showed my parents around in there today during the open house, and they loved it-- although it's got too many stairs for them, which is understandable.  But in my estimation, it's a masterpiece.

The next month has a bunch of stuff coming, not the least of which will be the expected arrival of our state historical tax credit, which will make us feel momentarily rich-- that is, until we remember we already spent that money, and we need to put it back in the mortgage... And of course, I will be able to start outdoor stuff in earnest.  Sure, the deer ate all of my vegetation that didn't die on its own before winter set in, but that was just a test.  In the meantime, I'm planning out the greenspace around my house, and hoping I'll be able to do so in a nice, warm family room, without the need for a heavy blanket, and with the kids' ratty toothbrushes and gunked-up toothpaste tube messing up their own, newly warmed bathroom, and not mine!  (Hope springs eternal, right?)