Our front yard overhaul has spiraled into a slew of other exterior projects that we didn’t intend on doing (as usual)… but ones that we’re really excited about and are totally improving our curb appeal even more than we expected. We’ve made lots of progress since we introduced the project and shared all of our before photos in our last post. Let’s get into it!
This post is sponsored by Columbia Gas.
calling 811 before digging to stay safe
We’re working with Columbia Gas on this project to spread awareness about the importance of calling 8-1-1 before ANY digging project, no matter how big or small. We learned that utility lines can be buried at any depth – even a few inches – and that calling 811 is important not only for the success of our project, but also for our safety.
We knew we’d be digging as a part of this project between planting new shrubs, adding our retaining wall, and potentially replacing all of our concrete walkway (click here to read about our plans!), so we submitted a ticket to have our utilities marked a few days before starting. It was super easy and took all of two minutes. The tech came out and told us that we had no lines going through our front yard (cue happy dance!), but did end up marking the line running through the backyard for maintenance we had to complete that week.
He marked it with bright yellow spray paint, which washes off with time. Here’s a snap at the mark he made in the very back of our yard, which goes toward our meter.
Once we got the green light, we started with our first project: installing the retaining wall.
the retaining wall progress
Adding a retaining wall was a top priority in our project for a few reasons. First, we have a lot of foot traffic on our block and adding one felt like an easy way to add a little separation between passersby and our home. Second, we knew it’d look really good and elevate our curb appeal. And last, most of the other homes on the block have one, so we felt like it would be an appropriate addition.
We started by digging a few inches down along the edge where our yard meets the sidewalk. Our soil was pretty soft, thankfully, so this wasn’t too hard. Once the initial dig was finished, we added a layer of paver gravel and stomped it down to create a hard, solid surface for the pavers to sit on.
Next, we added a layer of paver sand to smooth out the gravel surface, and laid one block at a time. We used super inexpensive solid concrete blocks from Lowe’s (they’re 4″ x 8″ x 16″ and cost about $1 each).
We checked to make sure the surface was level by leveling block to block. (sidenote: a longer level would work better than the one pictured here).
We also tried using a leveling string line, but it felt like more trouble than it was worth for our little wall.
After we got the first row down on both sides, we stacked the second, third and fourth rows on in a 50% offset pattern. We added construction adhesive between each layer to keep them together.
Our total wall height is about 15″ (the part of the first block sits a bit below the sidewalk), which leaves a little room to add a cap at the top. We leaned up against it after everything dried to make sure it wasn’t going anywhere, and it’s SOLID!
We discovered the underground gutter drainage pipe was cracked, so we fixed that and then left a hole in the concrete blocks for it to flow out onto the street.
After we finished, we backfilled the sloped area with a mixture of gravel, sand, and soil.
And then, planted our little boxwoods and added lots of top soil & mulch.
We haven’t decided on which cap to install yet, but placed a few square pavers there to get an idea of the look. You probably also notice that in this pic, the walkway looks a bit different… keep on reading.
our walkway progress
We initially planned on either skimming or jacking up the old concrete… but then discovered a paver sale (12″ x 12″ pavers for $1 each at Lowe’s!) – and started scheming. Could we just go right over the existing concrete instead of jacking it all up and pouring new concrete? The answer is YES, if done correctly.
Our walkway was overall pretty solid, just very ugly. There were just two cracked areas but the surface heights were only about 1/2″ different. Based on our research, it was a great candidate to add pavers over. If our walkway had lots of cracks and a really uneven surface, this wouldn’t work.
The steps were also an eyesore, and the first thing you notice when you pull up to the house (they’re right at eye height from the street).
We figured we’d give it a shot after laying a few out, and LOVED the way it looked.
So we kept going. We used paver sand as our base and placed one paver down at a time.
When we finished, we spread polymeric sand to fill the cracks.
We’ll share a separate post with a full tutorial once we finish the project, but guys, it worked, was relatively easy & inexpensive, and looks so. much. better!!
Our weed situation around the porch hasn’t been too bad, but we wanted to add an extra layer of protection. Weed cover to the rescue.
We wanted to mix structure and romance, so we chose winter gem boxwoods ($6 each) to plant by the retaining wall, and white Incrediball hydrangeas to plant by the porch. We had no idea there were so many different kinds of hydrangeas out there beyond just the color until we started shopping. Tree/bush size, flower size, flower appearance, shape, blooming dates — so much to consider!
As we dove deeper into our search & browsed our local nursery, we narrowed down our selection to white hydrangeas, and then further narrowed it down to round shaped ones. We ultimately chose the Incrediball hydrangeas because the flowers form a rounded ball shape instead of a cone shape, and the stems are VERY sturdy and don’t flop. We ordered them online because all of our local nurseries were out of them, but grabbed lots of other goodies before we left.
Right now, they look just “eh”, but next year when they bloom they’ll be gorgeous.
On the left of our property, we trimmed the bottom of the Juniper tree because the bottom half was mostly dead. Here’s what it looked like before (along with all of the weeds at the base of the tree)…
and here’s what it looks like now.
Here’s what the other side looked like, before (the green in between our yard & our neighbors yard was ALL WEEDS):
Aaaand progress. This side is tricky, because we have a neighbor with a VERY overgrown yard who we have never met. It almost feels like we should have kept the weeds tall to give ourselves a little visual barrier. We did what we could to trim things down a bit, but unfortunately, all of the mess is on his property line.
THE SURPRISE PROJECT: PAINT!
Bryan’s dad is a painter, and came up one weekend to surprise us with some news: he had some time to tackle our exterior trim (!!!). We had been talking about it for years, but had received such high quotes that we weren’t expecting to be able to do it until next year at the earliest.
It took a few days to remove/scrape all of the old trim on the fascia & porch, but holy moly, it looked so much better even with the unfinished wood up there! We went back and forth between different color schemes by testing samples on the porch, but ultimately decided to keep it all the same. Partially because of timing, and partially because of aesthetic. The color we chose is Sherwin Williams Rock Bottom, and it’s a really pretty chalky gray with green/blue undertones.
The above photo also gives you a better idea of how dirty our brick is, especially around the turret. Tackling that will be a project for next time. We’re just happy we don’t have to look at rotting wood everyday, and we love the drama that the dark trim adds. It feels like a more modern, cleaned up version of how it was when we bought it.
Helping our neighborhood
While Bryan and I were outside working, so many neighbors and other people walking/driving stopped to tell us how great everything was looking. Other people thanked us for helping our block and our neighborhood, which was really awesome. Being in a transitional neighborhood like ours has its ups and downs, but the feeling of helping the neighborhood by showing other people we care about our home is so rewarding. We have lived in other neighborhoods where we felt like we were “expected” to keep our yard looking perfect (because everyone else’s is perfect). Here, it’s a totally different vibe. Most of the residents we’ve met have been here for 10+ years and have seen the neighborhood go through many ups and downs. This house was in such bad shape for years, and we could tell that everyone was excited to see it being fixed up. Their energy was contagious, and totally kept us motivated through the hot temps!
WHAT’S LEFT TO DO
Here’s where we’re at with our original to-do list:
Dig up all of the weeds and replace with new grass or pavers or ground cover Fix the cracked concrete walkway& stairs Install a retaining wall where the sidewalk meets our yard Plant hydrangeas, boxwoods, and other shrubs, flowers and ground cover — finish with dark mulch Install a sprinkler system (TBD)<– we’re deciding against this
Here’s our new to-do list:
- Grow new grass
- Finish our stair risers (new skim coat of concrete to smooth them out? install stone veneer over top to cover them completely?)
- Install new limestone stair treads and finish our paver walkway
- Finishing all paint touch ups
- CLEAN UP!
We’re in pretty good shape to finish this project this month, before the temperatures get cold. We’re so thankful to have this exterior looking GOOD as we head into fall & winter! We’ll be back soon with our final reveal, a full budget breakdown, and will answer your questions about the project. Follow our progress on IG in the meantime!