“We’ve hit a snag” seems to be the official slogan when talking about our front lawn. What seemed like a relatively simple project last Winter turned into an annoying, time consuming, drawn-out, and expensive headache. But, there is an end in sight.
Snag #1:  Our existing law was dying.  At first we weren’t really sure why it was dying. We tried extra water and fertilizer with no success. Bill aerated the lawn and added new grass seed only to have new grass only grow out of the aerated holes. (that was funny, I wish I would have taken a picture of that) So we made the decision to kill whatever lawn was still alive. After many bottles of RoundUp, it was finally dead.
Snag #2:  Trying to till the dead lawn. This is where we learned why our lawn died. When Bill tried to till the dead lawn, the tiller barely went anywhere. The layer of dead grass was three to four inches thick in most areas. So, the lawn died simply because water wasn’t penetrating any more. (That and a very poorly laid out sprinkler system.) So we had to go over the entire area with shovels to remove the layer of compacted dead grass. That was a whole weekend in itself.
Snag #3:  Tilling dirt that hasn’t seen water in over a year. Kind of self explanatory. It felt like trying to till through cement. We watered heavily to get the ground to soften up. Got funny looks from our neighbors when they saw us watering our dirt.
Snag #4:  Too much dirt. Because the previous owner would add a new thin layer of grass seed and dirt whenever a patch died, the lawn was a good three inches above the sidewalk. So we discussed hiring someone to haul away over five cubic yards of dirt. A few phone calls later and we decided paying someone $400 to $500 to do this simply wasn’t worth it. We learned that it was so expensive because our dirt wasn’t “clean dirt”, it still had dead leaves, rocks and roots in it. So, we spent one whole weekend building a raised vegetable bed in our backyard and moved close to 4 cubic yards of dirt from the front, to the back. We still had a large amount of dirt left, so we piled up our dirt and put ip a sign that said “Free Dirt.” We had a couple of takers over the course of a few weeks. After a while it didn’t look like anyone was interested anymore, so we bagged the dirt in over a dozen trash bags and piled it up on the curb. The garbage truck didn’t take any so we just left it. Slowly, people would come by and take a bag or two. Thankfully, there are only four bags left on the curb.
Snag #5:  Tree roots! Oi, this one sucked ass. Once we got the ground a bit softer, we started digging out the old sprinkler system. As Bill would till, we could see the tiller bucking and jumping as it would hit a large tree root from the giant tree on our front curb. The city-maintained tree provides great shade on our west-facing house in the summer. In the winter it drops copious amounts of leaves that we, as lucky homeowners, get to rake and bag for the garbage truck. Patrick came down to help out that weekend, and the three of us spent the weekend digging out and cutting tree roots that were four and five inches across. It was an annoying and exhausting weekend.
Snag#6:  Trying to find the old sprinkler system. I haven’t been able to figure out what on earth our previous homeowner was thinking when he installed the sprinkler system. This shows the location of the old sprinklers:

Yeah, not real efficient. The black dots represent where there was a sprinkler. And yes, that one in the lower left corner was actually installed in the concrete outside of the perimeter of the lawn. We still haven’t been able to find the pipe that leads to the sprinklers on the other side of the sidewalk. But we’re not concerned with it since we don’t plan to put any lawn there. The ground is impossible to till because of the tree roots. So our plan is to install pavers and a circular, slightly raised flower bed around the trunk of the tree. Perhaps home to some geraniums or French lavender? That’s a project for another weekend.
Snag #7:  Hopefully, the last snag. Saturday morning, Bill’s dad flew down to help us install the new sprinkler system. Louie was also helping out. Bill had turned off the water main while they were working because they planned to disconnect the sprinklers from the main water pipe that connects the house to the water main at the curb. As they were cutting the old sprinkler pipes they “ran into a snag.” Bill noticed that he could hear water running somewhere inside the house even though he’d turned it all off. When Bill suspected the leak was under the house, he lifted up the crawl space access and shined a flashlight down there… he was greeted with pools of standing water. Doh! I guess the main water pipe, was pretty rusty and the vibration from cutting the old sprinkler system jarred the rust enough to cause a serious leak. Bill crawled under the house to find the source of the leak.

Our crawl space access is in our hallway. Isn’t that convenient…?

Apparently the leak was somewhere inside where the pipe comes through the foundation under the front porch. So he can’t physically see the leak, but he sees the water leaking through the edges of the pipe. A lot of our plumbing system is as old as our house, 58 years old, and we’ve known that it would be in the best interest of the house to upgrade all of the old galvanized steel plumbing to copper. But, it’s one of those large, expensive projects that we’d hoped we could do once the market turned around and we, once again, had some equity. Well, it can’t wait anymore.


Louie trying to communicate with Bill. We eventually used the intercom system that’s on our house phone.

So, after we snuck in some very quick showers, Bill and his dad made some phone calls Saturday night. Sunday morning, the brother of one of Laikwan’s friends (who’s a general contractor) came over and he spent most of the afternoon under our house making lots of noise. When Bill was under the house, he noticed that a lot of our plumbing system had already been converted to copper. (big sigh of relief) There are just a few minor pipes that are still galvanized… and not too rusty. I just did my best to stay out of the way and be ready to hand over flashlights and bottled water to the guys under the house, and to go pick up lunch when they got hungry. All I can say is, thank God for family friends.

Bill and his dad continued to work on the sprinkler system as daylight trickled away Sunday afternoon… which needed to be completed asap since the new sod arrived this morning.

Patrick flew in last night after Bill pleaded with him for some help. He was finally persuaded with the promise of beer and sushi. We ate at a relatively new sushi restaurant nearby called I Luv Sushi. It’s actually owned and operated by the same people who run Sushi Studio; a restaurant that we’ve loved for over five years but don’t visit much anymore because it’s developed a rowdy college student following. One of the sushi chefs that knew Bill was working last night and it was fun to chat with him again. We learned that Sushi Studio is currently closed because they had a serious kitchen fire a few months ago. They are doing well with the new restaurant and aren’t in a hurry to reopen Sushi Studio. Apparently they’ve having some problems with the landlord and the crappy parking situation. But that’s another long story.  

Finishing touches on the sprinkler system.

By the time I get home today, assuming nothing goes wrong, we will finally have a front lawn…. at long last.


About wobetxela

Artist, mom, traveler, hiker, babywearer (for as long as they'll let me) and hobbyist photographer.
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4 Responses to

  1. christao408 says:

    Wow, what an adventure!  That’s the fun of home ownership, huh?  Tawn keeps saying he wants a house with a yard.  I’ll make sure he reads this first.

  2. alextebow says:

    @christao408 –  Heheh,funny enough. I would rather go through all of this than not have ayard at all. I can’t speak for Bill right now though, he’s really sorefrom all of the work. Just make sure you don’t buy a 50+ year old house or do a VERY meticulous inspection. We’ve found countless projects that weren’t done professionally that we have had to undo over the past couple of years. And there are plenty more to fix in the years to come.

  3. jandsschultz says:

    The joys of home ownership, especially mature houses.  The yard will be beautiful, however, when you have it done.  You will really appreciate it knowing all the hard work that went into it. 

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