Side yard slopes towards house

jack427May 28, 2013

My narrow side yard slopes towards the house. In fact, before I did some emergency excavation, the grade was above the foundation sill in the back corner. There is also a very gentle slope parallel to the house from back to front. The attached photo shows the view towards the back yard. The distance from the house to the fence is about 14.5 ft.

I know I need a retaining wall, but I'm not sure how far away from the house to put it. Options that I've considered are:

1. Build it close to (~4 ft from) the house and put a walking path along the higher ground to the left of it.

2. Build it close to (~4 ft from) the fence and put a path along the lower ground to the right of it. (The wall would curve towards the house at the foreground and background edges to minimize interference with the roots of the two large trees.)

3. Build it as in option 1 and install a deck between the wall and the house, even with the grade at the top of the wall. (This would also allow me to replace the middle window with a door.)

Please help!

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

There needs to be a difinitive decision between installing the deck vs. not because this will inform you of your finished floor elevation . Your paths, steps down and retaining wall will coorespond to that finished floor elevation.

If you decide not to install the deck then I would suggest that having at least a minimum of 4 foot wide path measured out from the AC unit .

Attached is a narrow front yard that was 14 feet wide and the path is 4 feet wide with a retaining wall . There is a 4 foot wide planting space between the path and the house , which adds some textural density.

Flatstone is called Three Rivers, the wall stone is local Napa Valley field stone. Planting is a mix of evergreens, ornamental grasses and some perennials.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2013 at 2:46PM
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Often, the best resolution in landscape design is achieving the optimum balance among all of the possible trade-offs. If you put the wall too far from the house, it will be larger and more expensive. If you put it too close, It may not allow fast enough transfer of storm water. If it is not critical to use the walk during a rainstorm, I think I'd consider a walk that was more or less centered in the space and design it to, also, be part of the drainage system, i.e, that is is swaled to carry water, while the grade running along the house is sloped downward toward the center of the dished out walk. The swaled walk would slope downward toward the path that water would take as it left your property. Most of the time, the average amount of water would stay within the confines of the walk edges. In a large storm, it may overflow, but would still move toward its exit path. I would create the walk like this because you have so little room. BTW, it does not look like you have 14.5' from house to fence. Measure the distance along a level line, not along the sloped ground. One drawback to using a walk as a drainage channel is that it will become stained over time. But I would consider this minor relative to all the other trade-offs. If the walk served as a main entry to some area, then I might consider an alteration to the above-described scheme. I think I would avoid a deck if your plan is to drain water below it. If the drainage channel needed attention, there would be no way to access it.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2013 at 4:05PM
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Thank you both for the picture and diagram; they're really helpful!

Regarding the deck, the other reason I was considering it is because I want to install one on the back of the house (see attached pic -- the deck would be at the same elevation as the door threshold) and I'm not sure of a good way to connect the side yard path to it other than extending it beyond the corner of the house and wrapping it around.

With regards to excavation, how concerned should I be about the roots of the two large pecan trees (both visible in the first picture I posted, one at foreground left and the other in the background)? The one closer to the front of the house already had a lot of its roots cut off about 8 years ago when my neighbor's house was built, and the one in the back may have had some of its roots cut off about 12 years ago when my house (the front half of which is much older) was added on to.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 9:24AM
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could you show a simple plan sketch that shows where optimum placement of deck would occur? (Try to be reasonably accurate in the proportions ... as much "to scale" as possible.) Ignore the grade concern for the purpose of the sketch. I'm trying to learn what you WANT the deck to be.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 11:38AM
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Here's a site plan of my entire yard. The side yard in question is on the west (left) side and the back yard is to the north (top). The rectangle in the back yard adjacent to the house would be a deck at indoor floor level, with a step (or two) down to a gravel patio. The two circles on the west side are the large pecan trees and the square is the air conditioner.

The back yard slopes from west to east (and somewhat from north to south), so the northwest corner of the deck would be pretty much at ground level.

Except for the deck, the drawing shows the yard "as is," not as I want it to be. For example, I'm planning to re-do the driveway and build a retaining wall on the east side as well.

By the way, I'm open to suggestions about the size and shape of the deck and/or patio.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:09PM
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Incidentally, I've been thinking about this issue (and others) for a while now; I've got Sketchup models of my house and yard -- drawn to scale, including elevation -- to try to plan what I want to do. Here's a render showing how the existing grade interacts with the proposed deck and patio. (This particular version also shows a deck on the side, as well as a bunch of renovations to the house itself -- such as a chimney, French doors, and extended roof eaves -- that don't exist yet.)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:19PM
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The plan and sketchup perspective are helpful. It was the deck along the side that I wanted to know about. If you limit the width of the swale to only about 4', you may not be able to achieve enough capacity to hold all the water during a torrential storm. I'd widen the swale to about half the distance between house and fence. Making it wider is fine, but the wider it is, the larger the retaining wall must be. Though I said I'd avoid creating the swale below the deck, I will now eat my words. Often, in a remodel situation--especially with limited space and where everything around is already built up--one cannot do everything in the perfectly ideal manner. But in creating it under the deck, I'd make sure it's wide enough to have sufficient capacity. In the sketch, I'm showing the deck using the wall as a support, but whether you could do that, or not, depends on how things shake out in the relationship of finish floor elevation (ffe) to existing grade. You seem like the kind of guy who would have a nice laser level, or need an excuse to buy one. You might some evening use one to mark the ffe directly on the grade (with paint) so you can get a nice visual of what you're dealing with. Depending, you may be able to create a secondary swale at the top of the wall and disperse the water before it goes into the primary swale. But because of grade and roots, that might not work out. You also might build the wall higher than I show and connect the deck to its side. Or, the deck may be independent of the the wall. Hopefully, you can understand the sketch of the drainage scheme. The arrows indicate that you must drain water away from your house at ALL sides. Near the back, it collects in the swale and is moved around the house to lower elevations on its way toward the front.

I would not be much concerned about the tree roots. The prior disturbances are long ago and trees have nothing better to do than grow replacement roots, so they've long ago been re-established. The rear-most tree will maintain more than 3/4 of it's roots in spite of your building a wall in its vicinity. Near the front-most tree, if you end the wall aiming directly at the trunk, as I've shown, you will have little need to remove many large roots. It can recover from other excavation you do in the vicinity. (See the part of the sketch, in red and black, floating above the deck.)

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 9:19AM
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The points showing the grade on that Sketchup perspective were surveyed with a laser level. : )

I'm blown away by how incredibly helpful you are, especially the part about aiming the end of the wall directly at the tree to minimize root damage -- I would never have thought of that! It's clear that you have much better ideas than I do about this sort of thing.

I'm still not sure about whether I actually want a deck on the side, as well as how it should connect to the deck in the back (in terms of looking nice). Ignoring the deck/patio shapes I've drawn so far, what would you put back there? And how would you choose to connect a ground-level side path to the back if there weren't a deck on the side? (Would you use square corners like we've done so far, or design some kind of angle or curve?)

(If it helps, my house is a post-war American Small House -- see -- and currently has no architectural style other than "builder cheap," but I plan to remodel it into a "modern craftsman" so I'd like to design the hardscape to fit with that.)

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 12:39PM
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Thanks for the kind words. Actually, I thought the deck and patio you show in the plan was pretty nice. I might eliminate the portion of the step that lands onto landscape space (keeping what lands onto patio) but other than that, I liked its straightforward simplicity and functionality. It would be easy to make that look good with the right details. I think to wrap the corner with the deck all on the same level, a simple square corner would be fine. But an octagonal corner would also work well. I think the octagonal theme could serve you well if you chose to explore a different deck design. It could work well with the way the yard lays. And it also adds charm and interest beyond what a square has. (I don't mean actual octagon, but the corners cut like that.) I see you're prone to putting a lot of thought into this project, so I know you'll balance all the details until you get things working and looking right. If you don't build a deck along the side of the house, I'd revert to ideas along the lines of the first sketch I submitted. You'd just need to work out the details of how it connects with deck.. The front walk could benefit from a larger receiving area at each end (at each set of steps.) If the steps are not built, consider enlarging/widening them some. If the walk is not built yet, you might consider grading so as to eliminate the bottom step at the house entrance steps. (With steps, less is more.) And a wider walk is better, too! The walk should be made so that when a person turns toward the house entrance steps, that turn can be gentle, rather than abrupt, as people don't really walk like that.

btw, the link you added, didn't work. If you include any future links, add them in the form boxes at the bottom of the post so that they are clickable.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 2:03AM
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I'm not sure what the purpose the side deck would serve. What would you use it for? If you don't have a use for it I wouldn't include it. It seems like it would be too narrow to be anything but a walkway and you have doors out to the large deck so why the need for a walkway there? Also not like it would be an outlook point based on what I see in the picture of the side yard.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 9:43AM
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The side deck is for IF a door is added along the side of house during a remodel.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 11:17AM
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Re: lyfia's comment about the purpose of the side deck:

I was thinking about adding a side door to my house, and thought it might be weird to have steps down heading straight towards a retaining wall.

I like the idea of adding the side door because it would give me better access from the kitchen to the herb garden and compost pile.

Re: Yardvaark's comment about my front walk:

The front walk shown on the site plan is what currently exists. However, it's certainly not what I want: it's made out of parged concrete block, cracked and partly broken, and in the wrong place anyway. It's actually pretty terrible.

I have plans to drastically change it, which I was going to talk about on a different thread, but I guess I might as well just do so here.

The plan for the front and right side of the house is to tear out the driveway, which currently dead-ends at the corner of the building, and re-build it with a 90-degree turn so that my walk-out basement can be converted into a two-car garage.

The protruding area on the left side of the front of the house is currently a porch, which -- weirdly -- has a full basement foundation below it. I plan to enclose that porch as part of the interior space of the house and build a larger porch across the rest of the front of the house, and move the front door so that it's centered on the building.

Here's a Sketchup render of the front of the house as it is now (not including the actual stairs and walkway, though -- you'll have to imagine them).

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:46PM
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And here's a Sketchup render of how I want the front of the house to be after renovation. (Note that I'm still working out the shape of the driveway, front walk, and associated retaining walls. I also have yet to check whether zoning would actually allow the proposed front porch to extend 2' closer to the street, as shown in this render.)

Edit: Oh yeah, I just remembered to fix that URL (to which GardenWeb apparently added a linebreak) -- see below.

Here is a link that might be useful: American Small House link

This post was edited by jack427 on Sat, Jun 1, 13 at 13:56

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:49PM
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It looks like you're onto something workable here. You might consider extending the drive turnaround slightly for extra room for easier turning and guest parking, etc. I look forward to seeing how you work out hardscape portion of the front yard. It might be better to put it on another thread, as if there is many things on one, it begins to become cumbersome.

Many of us know this American Small House firsthand.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 9:42PM
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Got it. where are the items you're wanting access to with that deck?

A couple of things I would consider as well.

- do you have any set back requirements on that side where you can't build a side deck?
- If doing the side deck I like yardvaarks rendering as If it were mine i would like to avoid having seating on the deck where the side yard is too visible.
- you could always put steps down on that side if you wanted easy access too.

I like the original deck shape you did.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 10:59AM
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