For several years, we were happy enough on our little patio. It wasn’t particularly pretty but not particularly ugly. You know how people say, it’ll do? Well, ours did. For several years. A 10 by 12 foot rectangle with giant concrete tiles and a long, narrow deck. Steps, lots of steps. We spent many warm evenings on the patio, eating and laughing and barbecuing. But we also spent a lot of time dealing with its drawbacks.
And it had several. The deck, attached to two house walls, was too narrow to sit on but wide enough to take up considerable space. The area beneath it was adjacent to the crawl space where the dryer wrongly vented. This made the steps rot every other year, which demanded replacement, until we discovered the ventilation problem and fixed it. Also, though metal netting had been installed in all openings, rats burrowed under to get into the crawl space. And that was just the beginning.
The patio floor was made of concrete tiles that were probably poured onsite in a mold made of a brick border and wooden two-by-fours. These two-by-four beams had sunk into the earth as the years passed so that anyone sitting at the table often got stuck in the groove between the concrete. It made for lots of scooting and awkwardness, especially when grandmas were visiting. In addition the beams were sinking and rotting so much that I had to rip them out and fill in the crevices with dirt and lava rock. That gave moles the opportunity to tunnel through the patio and leave their signature dirt hills all over the seating area. Ugh.
The bigger problem was since the deck faced north and east with no western wind, the area was always soaked in winter. It never dried out. Air got trapped under all of the decking, along with leaves and dirt. Moss grew everywhere. I pressure washed every summer but by January that white deck was black with dirt and green with moss again.
Meanwhile, we had lived with a leaky shower for at least a year. We thought we’d need to devote our budget to that. But we couldn’t deny how much we used the patio. Financial expert Suzie Orman recommends spending money on the things you use the most, even if they’re not glamorous. The shower was not glamorous to us. At first, we thought “maybe we can do both!” This was very wrong. Only so much money in the bank account. So we made the hard decision of telling our shower we loved eating outside more than washing and work began.
To save money, we did the demo ourselves. And like many household projects, problems arose and multiplied. When my husband and I ripped off the deck, we discovered just how rotted all of the boards were. We also uncovered cement steps by the dining room door. We learned the cement tiles we thought were two inches thick were four to five inches thick. They weighed at least two hundred pounds each.
One sledgehammer, a handtruck, a rented jackhammer, and a handful of weekends later, the whole mess was out. We, or really my husband, jackhammered the cement steps and with the kids, we busted up the concrete and hauled it to our holding area in the driveway. But what we found behind the cement steps made the project really fun. An utterly rotted wall beneath the dining room doors. Thankfully our mason knew a good contractor who could help soon. After doing a close inspection, the contractor guessed that one two-by-four was holding up the entire wall.
Every project has its gifts. I told myself this as we estimated how much more money and time it would take to rebuild the wall. But we had no choice there, so rebuild we did. It hurt financially, but I’m glad we did it. We took advantage of the contractor’s presence and removed the extra set of doors, eliminating the need for a second set of steps and giving us more room. Our contractor not only rebuilt the wall but installed special sheeting and flashing and all kinds of contractor magic to button up the dining room wall as well as the area by the crawl space. No more rats. No more openings. The rain gracefully washed down and away from the house.
Later, when the mason came, I emphasized the tight seam I wanted around the bluestone tiles we were installing. I wanted no space for moles to burrow. It seems they love the smell of barbecued meat! And since we were reusing brick from an old pathway, we decided to splurge a bit and increase the patio size. We’d have room to put in what the kids had always wanted: a fire pit.
Now, I thank goodness we started this mountain of a project. If we hadn’t, we would have never known the wall was rotting. The higher house walls could have bowed to the point of a more involved, expensive repair. Instead, I have sturdy, sealed walls and a new eating area. What was a headache is now happiness. Transforming an outdoor space is one of those sweet indulgences we often can’t treat ourselves to because we can’t spend the money. And we didn’t, for years. But if you have the money, I encourage you to think seriously about getting the patio or deck you want. There are few more glorious places than Seattle in summer and you will want to enjoy every dry moment outside. Plus, showering with a bulky, temporary valve that stops leaking isn’t so bad…