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Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Posted by dc_pilgrim 6 (My Page) on
Fri, Aug 1, 08 at 11:59

Recently bought a place in PA. It is a walkout basement, so the property slopes. The left side of the house (when looking at it) has a very severe slope. I have figured out how to mow it, but it stinks. I am a leg amputee from a blade driven weedwacker, so I am pretty leery of unnecessary risks with gasoline driven whirling blades.

So we are trying to make a plan to deal with that. We have a second problem area, directly behind the house the ground doesn't really get dry. So its a bit muddy and difficult to mow. I think it is partially driven by less direct sunlight since the other areas dry up fine. My gut is to put in a big poured concrete patio and eliminate that mowing area.

In terms of needs, we have small children (almost 3, one on the way), so we want a play friendly yard, with some curb appeal. We plan to add a swingset, and possibly fence. We are also toying with whether the minor slope in the backyard could be leveled for a flatter play surface, although the yard ends at a feeder point to the retention pond for the 'hood. We don't want to do any harm to that.

Well, patio, fence, swingset, nasty slope is starting to look like a bit of money, so I want to work on a plan to minimize mistakes. So this brings me here.

Here are few pics from when we were buying. Dirt is now grass (w/weeds), with varying levels of patchiness.

The front of the house:
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Slope Pic 1
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Slope pic 2 - the slope kind of goes two ways, to the back of the house and towards the neighbors yard which makes mowing harder
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THe backyard (note the muddy problem area isn't the mud in the picture, but rather the part under the deck and adjacent).
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The beginings of a plan:
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We are tying to brainstorm ideas for the side yard. My wife throughout the idea of maybe a stairwell, with mulch on each side constrained by the house and fence respectively, and plantings. Maybe retaining walls. Its not the biggest side yard. We are a middle lot, I'd guess its about 15-20 feet. Our neighbor has grass now (weeds, actually a landscape company used some nearby soil that was full of weeds that messed up his grass - they are working on it). He is thinking of running a similar (shared?) fence as he has a dog & toddlers.

This is a next year project, but we are big planners. Any ideas? Sorry if the info is kind of a mess. The goals are pleasing to the eye, kid friendly, low to lower maintanence, and nothing know to trigger outdoor allergies.

I'll try to take more recent pictures with grass this weekend.

Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 1, 08 at 15:54

Hi, congratulations on the new house.

I am not a designer or landscaper, but as a practical matter, I would deal with the "problem" slope as follows: install a poured concrete walk alongthe side of the garage with steps or ramp(s) to backyard, wider than truly needed, maybe 4-5 ft. (Don't make it narrow or you'll hate it later.) Then plant a small ornamental tree -- where I live it might be a burgundy-leaved ornamental plum -- a bit further back from the side garage door, but not beyond the mid-point of the garage wall. Then totally cover the slope in a low-growing low-maintenance shrub, possibly evergreen, maybe semi-deciduous. Sorry, I have no plant names for your zone; here it might be Raphiolepis indica or similar, a shrub that kids and dogs are not likely to try to walk on. The main point is I would not mess with grass on the slope - period. Possibly locate the sandbox at the base of the hill where this planting will terminate. No point in putting the sandbox in the middle of the grassy area. When the kids are done with it, you can convert it to a raised vegetable garden. That's my 2 cents.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Hi Catkim -

Thanks for the helpful suggestions. I realize I kind of dumped a ton of info at once.

I hadn't fully thought through putting a tree on the slope, but that is a good suggestion. Also a good suggestion on the sandbox.

We'll put some thought into some planting choices, I imagine we should start going to nurseries and start figuring out what plants do well around here. Not our area of expertise.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Hi, dc

You're right to plan. *designers cheer* :) You'll definitely get better results with a good plan.

For starters, if you've got a wet area at the bottom of your slope, I wouldn't put a concrete slab there until or unless you deal with the drainage. You've either got soil that doesn't drain (clay or a subsoil that doesn't drain) or your grade is making a dish there and it's holding moisture that way. (It might not be readily apparent)

As for the slope -- I'm with you. Don't mow! People trying to mow steep slopes like that have terrible accidents.

Some solutions: Retaining walls -- most expensive, but probably best fix. Make sure you install stairs, too. And get a reputable landscaper to do it -- check out their previous work for retaining walls. This is something that you don't want to 'just get the cheapest' on.

Other options: a good planting -- like the shrubs previously suggested. Just make sure you get something that will hold the soil and yet not take over the neighbor's yard, too.

If you check on another forum -- and post your zone and needs for your plants, I'm sure you'll get some great suggestions.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I don't have any suggestions, but I had to chime in to say that your house is absolutely beautiful. I would die for a house like that. Best of luck with it!

Did you say that you lost a leg due to a weed whacker accident? Is that possible? If so, I hope your story here serves to make all of us hold more respect for power tools. I know I sure will.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Get_Creative -

Thanks for pointing out that the water issue might be more than just a lack of light. We will look into that further.

On the retaining wall / solid pro point, I guess past work is our best guide. We were talking tonight how to separate the professionals from the hacks.

Rutgers -

Thanks. We were relo'd in, so we bought this place 80% done. Was more affordable since we aren't in a major metro area. Can't say we had much to do with the design though. We like it so far.

The leg. . . Yeah its true. Without going too far off tangent, the weedwacker had a circular saw blade that fractured and clipped me above the ankle. Not a good day. But I am fine. Was many years ago.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

For beginners who may be observing, this is a good example of a site analysis with bubble diagrams to identify problem areas and indicate areas for future projects/additions. Typically it would be done to scale, but this serves your purpose. Well done.

A series of smaller terraces to tame your slope, with steps for access, would look great and solve the mowing problem, but because of the degree of slope, possibility of creating drainage problems for yourself or your neighbor, and safety considerations, you need the help of a pro, at least for the plan. You don't say if you plan on doing any of the work yourself. While do-able, it's not a project for the faint-of-heart.

Groundcover plantings are definitely the way to go, whether you keep the slope, or terrace. Any plant that is used to cover the ground is a ground cover, so don't limit yourself to pachysandra and vinca. Shrubs, low-care perennials, and grasses, depending on the look you want, are all candidates.

While you are in the planning stages, take a look at any offsite views or you may want to block with a strategically placed tree or shrub planting. Ditto areas you may want to make more private. This is also a good time to plant a couple of shade trees. You may have space in the front, roughly SW or SSW of the front door, to shade the house in summer. Also, indicate on your plan where there are any underground utilities buried so you remember not to dig there without calling.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Glad the diagram helps. Its just excel. Very quick and easy. If/when we get past big picture, we will do one to scale.

Good thoughts on the shade tree. Left half said is the need to integrate an attractive and functional front yard. I guess I would want to think through if it will impact the gutters. I don't want water intrusion in the house.

So far there isn't anything off sight that is too unsightly. Its pretty suburban, and no one is really out of line (yet). One exception might be the back of the property line, where there is an easement and a weedy ditch that feeds the drainage. Might make sense to add some evergreen plants there. Either inside or outside the fence.

Great point on the utilities. I know the cable & electric come in from the SE. I think the Gas & Water come in from the SW. But we should run that down.

In terms of DIY - I want nothing to do with anything that may affect drainage. Also, fencing and stonework are probably past us, depending on material choice. The planting and digging are possible.

We are starting to watch landscaping tv shows, and looking more closely at neighbors yards to get ideas of what is possible.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 2, 08 at 20:53

Your siding is masking the foundation, so we can't see what the retaining wall possibilities are. Right now the siding is dictating that slope next to the house. I'm sure that the concrete steps up and would allow terracing to one extent or another, but we just can't see what those opportunities are.

Part of the problem that is causing the wet area is that whatever water lands on the steep slope mostly runs down the slope before it gets a chance to soak in because it is moving too fast. The water slows down and gets absorbed more into the soil as that slope eases.

It is not as bad behind the house because there is not as much water getting there (it does not have a long slope contributing to it).

The water from the area on the other side of the house may be moving slower and more is absorbed before it flattens out, but it also looks like it pitches away from the end of the house as well.

Aesthetically, I'd like to see that end wall terraced. It is a lot of siding and it is more appealing, in my opinion, to mitigate it with plants rising from more level ground planes and not have to fight that diagonal line made by the bottom edge of the siding. Honestly, I'd rather see more foundation stepping up with horizontal bottoms than that angled siding line.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Interesting point about the siding. I watched the house next to mine be built. It is the same floorplan, with a different facade. Based on what I saw, I believe that the foundation walls going all the way up to the garage floor plane. If I am following you correct, you are suggesting we remove siding as we add higher ground to be terraced, then add plants that will have a vertical presence? The issue you are getting at (I think) is dirt by concrete = ok. Dirt by wood is a problem. That would make sense.

In terms of the moisture issue, I think you misunderstood me. The area behind the garage, near the slope dries properly. The area behind the house stays muddy.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Finally met with a landscaper (we had a baby in late Sept - so other priorities dominated).

These were his comments:

1. My muddy area under the patio is probably my biggest issue. He comments that my soil has a lot of clay, so the run-off from the slope and my gutters are most likely driving it. His suggested cure is running my gutters under ground, and then making a drain to the back part of the yard where it ties into a neighborhood drainage thing. Where the mud is (and a future patio may be), he suggests digging down 8-12 inches, putting down some landscape fabric thing, and stone, and then watching to see if the water returns. After that, he says go for the patio - where he recommends pavers over stamped concrete due to frost heave and cracking issues.


2. For my severe slope, he suggests two tiers of terracing. We can consider stairs, but warns that stairs can really add to the cost. He suggests two tiers because of the gas lines/meter, which would need to be left alone/at the level they are at.

3. Where the back of my property slopes some more, he suggests that we add a retaining wall, and bring it all up level or with a very slight slope. He says we'd need about a 3 foot stone retaining wall. There is a rumor that the builder will be adding some fill eventually (when the phase is 80% sold). I am skeptical of this being a cure all.

4. Fencing can be added as needed/desired.

5. We didn't really get into plantings, beyond that we can build those elements in as we go.

These projects can be done in phases, which will naturally let us budget accordingly. I am guessing 2-3 years.

The guy is coming out to take some measurements tomorrow and give us a few estimates a few days later. I am bracing myself for sticker shock.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

You are doing a good job of going through stages of planning and educating yourself on what can be done and how. Good luck with your upcoming first plans.

This is an example of what I noted on an earlier thread of how homes are not really "complete" at the time they are sold; that "landscaping" is not just a luxury, but has to be done in order to preserve the property (slopes, soil erosion, changing un-safe maintenance options to safe options) or use the property (steps, terracing, drainage). So we really have to educate ourselves about the total sticker price of various homes in which the sale price is not nearly the "complete" price of the home. At times it all seems very self-evident, but at other times it jumps up as seemingly a hidden cost.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I agree that the house is incomplete. Particulary the drainage and erosion issues. I could probably go back to the builder for a piece of that, but I'd rather pay to do it right than fight to get a half measure taken. The structural/interior work they did was really quite decent for tract housing.

Ultimately, I will be adding some "luxuries" in the process, and the sticker price should be interesting. Our last property was a detached condo so the land was not ours to develop. This house will be our first learning experience in the outdoor stuff. Won't be the last house we buy, so next time we should be in a better place to have open eyes about the hidden costs. There is a part of me that would just assume "get it done" - but in life, instant gratification usually comes with a monthly payment. So we'll pay as we go.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Keep in mind that a side yard project might block construction access to the back yard, making any hardscape or regrading back there more expensive. In doing phased work, there is often a sequence that results in more bang for the buck. It's one of the advantages to doing a complete plan before starting.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Lovely house and great on you for the plan! I agree with the terrace suggestion for the side yard or I would totally naturalize it with trees, rocks/river stones and grasses if that side doesn't have to be used.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

A couple of specific observations. First, it looks like the proposed play site is totally invisible from inside the house. So if the kids need supervision, somebody has to be outside watching them, instead of inside, possibly fixing dinner. Also, it looks like you are backing up on another house with a swingset. So there is the possibility that at some point in time you may want relatively easy passage through the wilderness.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Good point on the terracing limiting access. I definitely think we need to level the backyard before we add the terraces if they need to get any earth moving equipment in.

We are debating the stairs issue in terms of our own foot access from the front to back.

On the swing set placement - we may revisit that. We first thought of there since it is the most level patch in the rear. To be honest, the visibility in the house is pretty poor to that corner. If we level-out the backyard as a whole, we may move it to the other side of the back yard.

As for the neighbors to the rear - those kids are a good bit older than mine (guessing 7 & 10). The ones we need access to are the ones adjacent to the steep side slope. They have toddlers like my 3 year old daughter. They are in their back yard a good bit, so that argues for stairs, even if my wallet wishes otherwise.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

dc, what a beautiful house. I love the stone work. The yard is great. I am a big fan of slopes because they can be really interesting.
When we built our house, we had to deal with a couple of sloped areas. One we left as a slope with brick stairs going up, and the other we have a simple terrace with natural stone steps. Here are a couple pics in case they will help give you any ideas for design or planting. Good luck. It looks like you have your work cut out, but it will be worth it when it is complete.

Front slope

Stone Steps

Terrace planted with shrubs/perrennials

Another smaller slope area we had to deal with


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thyme -

Thanks for taking the time to post the pics. It looks like you have accomplished quite a lot there!

We haven't really begun to address the plantings, we are just trying to get the bones in order. My wife is very visual, and I sure she will really appreciate the pictures as I do.

I like the suggestion earlier in this thread to add vertical elements to the side slope with plantings. Beyond that I think I want to use the same stone colors as the front is clad with in patios, retaining walls, and stairs if we decide to do that.

Its going to be an adventure.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Got the quote today, or at least part of it.

Drainage work was right where I expected, $1,500.

The side yard work, a mix of some terracing and stairs, was in the range I expected 6-7K depending on particulars.

The patio, was the surprise, at just under $15K for about 800 SQFT. That is $18.125 per sq ft. I googled a bit and saw that I guess its not outside the range for pavers. Obviously 800 SQ is a big area, I am thinking we will consider a plan to shrink that down. I am sure there are some fixed costs that go into the price, but definitely a surprise. Might have to consider alternative materials. Might be more doable at 550 SQ. I was basically going to patio the entire length of my back house, and then come out past my deck. I'll see if I can scale that back. To be honest, in my mind I was thinking od

The part not quoted was a retaining wall and fill in the backyard. I am guessing that won't be cheap. My backyard property line is 100 feet, and he was suggesting a 3 foot retaining wall. So, I'll probably try to get a sense of the range for a retaining wall. There is a drainage easement in the back, which I am sure I won't want to build on top of. It is a 20 easement, but its not clear if all 20 feet are on my property or if its fractionally split with the adjacent neighbor. Eyeballing the swale and some stakes makes me think its mostly on mine 60/40, maybe 90/10.

Some measuring to do this weekend.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Somehow I got the impression that you will never be happy without the walls, back and side. They will probably be the real sticker shock. The side terrace will work but you won't like it. And the wall construction and grading should come first in the schedule. Total cost may tempt you to go the DIY route. But on the patio pavers, don't; it takes much skill to do the job right. The walls could be handled as a DIY project depending on your resources.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Besides money, I live with a very good reason to reduce your patio size. The brick or pavers reflect a huge amount of heat. Ours is right outside a small room that also overlooks the garden. It is unbearably hot, hot hot in that room from 11 am until 6 pm a good part of the summer. The only way we can sit out there is with a big umbrella, which is not really a soloution.After I figure out the design, we're going to rip up part of the patio and plant it purposefully for shade and reducing radiation.

If you downsize the patio, it really is a manageable do it yourself project.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Something to keep in mind is that this hardscape is something you are doing for you. It isn't likely to add to the resale value of the house.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

We just finished our entry gate area. We are ready for landscaping. We are in So. Calif. wine country zone 8b. Temps between low 30's (not too often) to 100's in summer.
I am thinking of a nice hedge running down the perimeter from the gate walls to the driveway. We have Japanese boxwood in other areas but it is a lower growing and I would appreciate maybe a little more color or something that blooms. That is as far as I have gotten. Here are some pics! I would appreciate any advise. I will post some pics of our other landscaping also. Thanks! It is all on drip irrigation (including the entry gate area we are getting ready to plant. CLICK on PHOTO to VIEW
landscape pics for entry gate and finished pics of house and gardens Nov. 08


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I ginned up the numbers for what I thought the unbid projects remaining are. I used this website ( http://lieuallenindustries.com/default.aspx ), which had pricing for the typical projects they do. All said and done, its approaching $50K, for the three projects quoted, about 200 ft of wrought iron fence, playground stuff, plantings, and the retaining wall and fill. I assume that I'd get at most 25 cents on the dollar at resale, so I view it as personal consumption.

Interesting point about the heat. 150 SQFT of the patio would be under the deck, for some shading, but definitely something to consider.

My gut is that I want the back yard level. I am concerned about the drainage easement effecting the placement of the retaining wall. I am not sure what I'd do with as much as a 20' section of the rear of property that might sit beyond the wall.

Here is a plot plan that isn't that helpful to my eyes, but there it is:

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Ranking the wants of the projects:

1. fix the drainage problem
2. level the ground (if too much land isn't orphaned)
3. Eliminate the slope
4. Add the patio
5. fence the back yard.

Of course, #4 would be best done before #3, and not on the list are attractive plantings and the swingset.


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RE2: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

If money was no object, I'd want to do my fence like this, and tie the stone in with the patio, and add wrought iron to my front porch as well.

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Or this:

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Oh well. . .


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I have the quote in front of me, and there are some parts that I just don't understand.

For the patio it says "Transit will be used for all work with patios and walls (lazer)" - I googled and the closest I saw was something suggesting it was like a laser level for drainage. Is this right?


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Okay -

We went outside and did some quick measuring.

My wife feels that if we placed a retaining wall past the drainage easement (assume that all 20' are on my property, not the neighbor's) we'd still have a substantial yard for the kids to play in, and us to enjoy.

Under this plan, it creates a gap at the end of the property that we'd have to do "something" with. My thoughts are that it should be attractive, lower maintanence, without a root system that could harm the drainage pipe. Normally an edge of the property might be privacy driven. I am not sure if that is really applicable where both properties slope down to the property line. Privacy would require some serious loft in the plantings which would be more trouble than its worth. Given that it could all be dug up in the easement, I think we'd not want it to be particularly expensive.

What would you do with 1000 - 2000 SQ FT of excess space? I am thinking perhaps it should be colorful plantings? Really don't have a vision. Could just be grass, I guess.

Here is the revised layout. We trimmed the patio a bit - after looking at it there is no need to go past the stairs, but I think it needs to still go big. We are debating if we can substitute a cheaper material - e.g. concrete (stained?) lined by pavers or just suck it up. We are still playing with the future fence line and the playset location.

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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by rhodium New England Z6 (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 24, 08 at 11:29

Don't forget to leave a gate or stairs to access this 2000 sq foot area. You'll want to walk out there at least 2X a year to inspect the wall and the ditch for any maintenance issues.

What to do with this are? If you have a fence atop the wall, then this is the perfect place for a compost pile and storage of other things you don't want in the garage or cluttering up the yard.

This assortment of items can be disqused in your new private backyard wildlife habitat. The ditich may be an intermittant wetland type habitat, and this secluded and not used area would be perfect for going "native".


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 24, 08 at 17:34

I agree, let it go wild. Some of my fondest childhood memories were playing in the tall weeds in the empty lot next door. We made forts, played hide and seek, counted the spots on ladybugs, laid on our back seeing animal shapes in the clouds... We had a lawn area and a swing set, which we used a great deal also, but the empty lot was more of an adventure.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

There is another house directly behind me. You don't think that going wild might be taken as a nuisance by the neighbor? They are mostly waving neighbors, but seem nice enough. I think wild can be pretty, there are a lot of nice flowers and the like. But I don't want it to be messy chaos.

Good point on gate/stair access.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Rear property line area issues ...

It appears that water from uphill lots flows across your property as it travels to the retention pond. In most states, should you make changes that obstruct that flow and cause water to pool on an upland lot or cause some of the water to be diverted to flow across an adjoining lot, those owners will have a cause of action against you. You may be required to pay damages and remove the construction to return the land to the previous state.

Before construction, you should find whether a drainage easements exists and its location. All US states have adopted the Statute of Frauds, which requires all conveyances of interest in real property to evidenced by a writing. A dedication of an easement is such a conveyance. To be valid, a conveyance must furnish a means to identify the property as to size and location. The drawing you posted stating a "proposed" easement appears to fail in this regard and also lacks an actual intent to convey. With the exception of an easement derived by prescription, if there really is an easement, there should be a more definitive document. Find it.

If I understand, your rear property line is the low spot in the neighborhood terrain, subject to periodic water flows. If you develop the area with shrubs, wildflowers, or other dense vegetation, the result will likely be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Dense cover will hide small pockets of standing water caused by a bit of erosion, a plastic cup or bag washed in to the area, a stray coke can, or holes created by wildlife. Dense vegetation also provides the protection mosquitoes need from wind and predators.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

PLS8XX - Thank you for that post. Adds context to a lot of what I thought. I never considered the mosquito element though.

There are a lot of "Ifs" I need to run down. I think I have the potential to change the grade of my property without harming my neighbors. In general, the rear line of my property is the low point of this group of houses. If I can still dump water to that point at a consistent flow rate, it should still tie into the existing neighborhood drainage plan, and ultimately flow to the retaining pond (retention?) as designed. Under my current thinking, the retention wall would stop short of the lowest point by 5-20 feet. *IF* I can incorporate drainage from the new higher ground to the lower ground I shouldn't have runoff into my adjacent neighbors. My rear neighbor is starting to rise up again, so baring water flowing uphill, it should work out.

Here is my attempt at a quick neighborhood plan in excel. I'll check my other paperwork to see if I can get more clarity on the easement (than a "proposed" marker). (The grids are "property lines")

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Thanks again for the comment. I have time, and no contracts are signed. That said, my latest thinking is that a go or no go on the retaining wall is the first order of business. Doing this stuff the right way really requires planning.

Happy Thanksgiving folks.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

This post have been very informative I also have a very similar situation and we haven't done anything on it as we are afraid to mess with the drainage as we were specifically told not to change the grading.

Did you get anything done yet?


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Boppop - nothing done yet.

My mud bog along the rear of my house is back and I am letting the grass grow to seed since it is un-mowable.

I spoke to my builder, and another landscaper in the past week. Both are skeptical of the gutters being the culprit as the slope of the property doesn't seem to flow there.

The theory that clay soil + shade from the deck is somewhat mitigated by my next door neighbor facing an identical issue - but in his case it protrudes much deeper into his yard into areas just beyond his deck where the sun definitely hits. It has been a wetter spring.

My builder floated the thought that it could be an underground spring. He found that unusual since that type of issue tends to surface (pun) when the footers go down. I am a bit confounded by the spring concept since there are other, dry portions, that are lower lying. The builder was going to send some one to look at it (I get an Indiana Jones "Top men" feeling on this one).

The latest landscaper was thinking clay+ shade or possibly the spring concept. He didn't seem to have much of an answer when I asked how one works around the spring. Gives me some concern. The first landscaper has been MIA after a series of calls indicating he was going to start a small project since November, without any follow through. I have given up on him.

I still need to make a trip to city hall to pull more on my easement. I realized last night that the rumor of the developer adding fill (different than my builder) is attributed to one particular neighbor, which makes me wonder about its accuracy. Talking to other neighbors indicate that there is already a drainage pipe underground.

This points me back to my revised layout, and orphaning 2000 sq ft of my back yard.
Photobucket

Since that point is the lowest point in my yard and part of my neighborhood swale, the latest landscaper pretty much suggested filling it with rocks, maybe with a couple of trees that do well in wet conditions. He was ready to go white and ugly since I wouldn't see it. I wouldn't do that to my neighbors and would at least use colored stones that would match the retaining wall.

But, fix drainage + Patio in 2009, fix backyard slope + side slope in 2010.



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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 12, 09 at 20:28

Have you thought about digging down to see what you can find. Any chance of there being perf pipe going all around your foundation footings and dead ending back there? If the pipe is pitched it would carry it back there until it could go no further and then the soil would suck it up through capillary movement.

I'd take a shovel and start digging down just off of the outside corner of the house between the deck and back of garage. You might find a drain pipe that is holding some water, or you might just get a nice workout.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Well, my builder doing warranty work has started to attempt to mitigate the wet spot. He believes it is a natural spring. Now my concern is are his efforts adequete and do we need a second opinion. If so, who? Here are the shots of the french drain he is digging - hugs the house to the cement step, then straight out into the yard:
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The portion IMMEDIATELY adjacent to the foundation has a lot of water, and you can see it pour (pics not the clearest):
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As the worm turns:
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The water draining so far:
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Another angle:
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The pipes the builder brought (about 3-4 inches):
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An shot from above:
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A shot of the muddy area that hasn't dug (yet?)
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Still digesting this. Our biggest concern is that this water will somehow weaken our foundation from below, if its below the house. I have watched this builder build other houses and talked to some folks and I know they use a footer that has an air gap that is supposed to help w/drainage (form a footer?), and gravel, but I do not believe they use perimeter drains.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I am thinking I want an engineer to take a look at it.

I have been reading this website - all of the articles in it are excellent reads if any one has drainage or foundation issues in a future search. The guy appears to be in CA not PA, but that would be too much to hope for.

[url]http://www.foundation-repair-guide.com/index.html[/url]


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 10, 09 at 13:40

An engineer and an attorney. I showed these photos to an architect who said, "He's on a spring, he needs to move the house, his basement is going to be full of water." Bear in mind he has not inspected your site, merely looked at your photos. Best of luck.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thanks for those cheery thoughts! Hopefully it won't come to legal matters.

Had two conversations yesterday -

First w/ a geotech engineer - he clearly doesn't do residential (he did a very large shopping center in the area) but he did kindly spend ten minutes on the phone. Based on my description he wasn't particularly exercised about the issue. He felt it was 50/50 that it was a spring, or that water from the ground was using my foundation or basement walls as a path of least resistance to seep around my house and was being deposited in the rear of my house. Whichever the source, he felt that the direction the builder was taking (perhaps not the limited extent) was correct, in that you want to further move the water from the foundation. He did not feel the foundation would be compromised, as the water would likely need some velocity to harm it. To my mind of thinking, if the source is water using my basement walls or the gravel beside it as a path of least resistance that seems like a bad scene.

I also spoke to the builder. He is doing the minimum. I guess its better than nothing, but we most likely rip it out when we put something more comprehensive in place. He terminated his dig, basically as the pictures above show, cut the pipe at a 45 degree angle. Hand perf'd the 3" pipe (they had pre-perf'd pipe in 4", but he didn't want to dig that much - telling, huh?) filled the hole w/gravel and put the grass and fill back.

At this point, I will watch and see how much of an impact the half solution has. But I will be getting more opinions and eventually replacing it. I'll take a few pics later and post them.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by mjsee Zone 7b, NC (My Page) on
    Sat, Jul 11, 09 at 18:10

Call. an. engineer. One who specializes in residences.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

dc pilgrim,
Protect your money and family by having an engineer who specializes in homes COME OUT to your house and take a look at that.
Then call the PA state bar association and get a name of a local REAL Estate attorney.
You are definately going to have to see an attorney also.
Lets just say the builder is correct.
The man who built your house is telling you your home is built on an underground spring.
Get an expert opinion as soon as you possibly can.
If the expert confirms what the builder has told you,
see a real estate attorney as soon as you possibly can.
If it is an underground spring, you will need to take legal action as soon as possible, speak with attorney.
Don't put it off. Denial doesn't pay.
Pa has very high water tables, I used to live in Bucks county, PA and they stoped building homes with basements in the 70s.
Why is the vinyl siding all the way to the ground level?
Your foundation isn't drying is it?
Check out your deck, the wood is starting to seperate, and it may not be safe much longer.
Check the picture you posted, it clearly shows this.
I hope you act on this as soon as you can.
Please post back to this forum with updates.
Goog Luck to ya!


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I agree with the others. Your best course is to consult with a local expert with knowledge and experience in dealing with this type problem. I would wait a bit on spending money on a lawyer. In my area it is difficult to recover damages against a contractor. You are burdened to prove more than his work is responsible for your problem; you must show that he deviated from the common and accepted standard of the industry, plus that it was this deviation that is the cause of your loss. You also have to prove an actual monetary loss.

For self help, a better understanding of the problem, or help from this forum, I suggest you follow the advice given in the link you provided, which read as follows:

The yard drainage layout begins with a survey of the property. I make up a field drawing of the site, usually on the scale of twenty feet to the inch. I will even go to a smaller scale on larger yard drainage jobs. This is so that I can keep my drawing to a clipboard size. I use a builder’s level or site level to establish elevations around the property. I use the elevation of the building floor as my baseline or zero elevation. It is important to look for and measure the elevations and all potential points of discharge so that you know where your pipes have to go.

(emphasis added)

The two principle things to be discovered are the source of the water and the subsurface route it travels to the back of your house.

Beyond the site map mentioned above, there are a number of items that can suggest answers to the questions; tests of the soil makeup and physical properties, review of the lot development and the cut and fill amounts and areas that can be determined from the site survey and test holes, common geology of the area from soil maps, and the general terrain and surface flows of water that can be determined from topo maps and aerial photos made before subdivision development.

Collecting and analyzing all that data can be time consuming. No wonder the experts don't come cheap.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I am hitting the phones tomorrow trying to find the right person to come out and perform an inspection/analysis. We found a shop on the web that appears to do what we need (they offer inspections, surveys, soil analysis, etc) so that will be my first call. Bringing up the survey is a good point. I like that approach.

While I appreciate the concern, having been involved with a few lawsuits I am not too quick to hire lawyers.

At this point, I am thinking we will focus our resources on the yard, and will likely do the whole shooting match at once. Depending on the analysis it may include adding perimeter drains to the house, trenching the gutter, a retention wall for my slope, patio, and if there is money left, the side steps and the fence. This will result in some interior projects going on hold.

Or, if the analysis is armageddon, we'll plot our next course then.

Sorry I couldn't get fresh pics up, I have been layed up all day on another matter and unable to get outside.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Well - not much progress getting an expert so far. Its frustrating not getting call backs. Still working the phones, and life is getting more cooperative. In the meantime, we have been thinking more about how to use our space.

A big problem with our earlier plan is it quickly scaled to $50K. Big patio + slope work + big retaining wall that needs fence + dead space on the other side of the retaining wall + side lot terracing. It was a lot, and not broken into parts very well. The new idea (I am guessing) should be a bit cheaper, although the drainage needs are a bit of a wild card.

So the new idea:

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1. Its been suggested elsewhere on the web we might need to dig down and set drainage pretty deep given our troubles. Not in the drawing is perimeter drains + separate drains to tie in the gutters pushing everything to the rear of the property where the existing easement and drainage swale are present.

2. Keep the patio, but resize and push into the yard a bit. Add a "deck gutter" above and put a ceiling fan under the deck, some outdoor speakers and some drop down shades (afternoon sun is an issue).

3. At the edge of the patio, excavate down a bit for a more level area to set up kids apparatus's. Swingset, playhouse, sand box. Post excavation set up a smaller retaining wall at the edge of the patio that may also be used as an impromptu bench. Fence if needed, add wide steps from patio. - - this is a change from the prior design in that the wall is closer to the house, and the idea is to only level out space for the "toys" and not try to level out running around space for the entire back yard. The front side lot is plenty level for that kind of thing. Down the line, if we are still here we can come up with ideas to repurpose the leveled space when the playsets aren't needed. Mulch the area or gravel. Don't like the recycled rubber mulch.

4. Do the planned side terracing with stairs to the rear. A couple levels of terracing and wide steps to get rid of the bad mow area.

4A pavers/flagstones from stairs to patio? Not pictured, but maybe.

Also not pictured is redo the front beds which are a little lame and will be ripped up by the perimeter drain install. Add another tree to the front, generally come up with a planting strategy.

What do you think? Most of our entertaining is centered on the kids, so we think this can be functional.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Are there any other visible seeps on the hillside and do your neighbors have the same issue?


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 8, 09 at 6:43

If the drainage problem is truly a spring (I'm skeptical) than it does not make sense to cut into the slope and build retaining walls to level out areas (think seepage).

You'd do better to fill areas you want leveled out in order to keep the water in the ground from becoming water seeping out onto your patio. It also avoids creating a new lower area for the surface water to drain onto or over.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Isabella - Our neighbors to one side have the same issue. Same house design w/cosmetic differences. Many folks have less severe issues, in part from the clay soil (I think).

LAAG - good points. Back to the drawing board.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

dc pilgrim,
Please read the article below about underground springs.
You will feel better after you read it.
You can not level out your yard, ever.
But your house should be fine.
Good Luck to you!

Here is a link that might be useful: Underground spring article


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Butterfly - thanks for the link (was away for a few days). I had read that one before. I believe we can fix it.

Meeting with another landscaper/excavator later today. We'll see what his impressions are.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

An update.

On Drainage - its pretty clear it was the gutters that were causing the problem. We trenched the gutters and moved the discharge point closer to the swale, and no more problems by my house. Bit of a problem at the discharge point but plantings, grading and the like are in the works to mitigate further.

On the overall - it has been slow going but we are approaching the finish line. Hopefully in the next few weeks or so we'll be done. Here are some pics from different points over the last six months (took a break when the ground got too hard).

The plans -
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Grading
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The wall -
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The wall getting a little higher to contain the swingset gravel

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The patio -

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The stairs -

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More to come in the coming weeks. Rain, rain go away.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I'm glad to see that you were able to lcoate the source of your drainage issue and resolve it. I absolutely love the dry stack retaining wall look and the big flagstone steps. Very nice!

I don't know if you're comfortable saying where you are in PA (even just a region). I'm in Eastern Pa about an hour north of Philly. Just curious.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thanks, its coming together.

We are near Harrisburg.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Few more from today:

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Gravel for the swingset
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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 15, 11 at 22:21

Making spaces! Nicely done. I really like the clean line of the cut bluestone slab steps between terraces.

PS. I envisioned you taller than that. That's a lot of shoveling.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thanks LAAG. I can say that hiring a pro has really paid off. While a lot of the ideas are the same as my early sketch I would not have been able to make the choices to combine materials as effectively. We haven't even gotten the plants in yet where we were even more clueless.

While my son has his toy shovel ready to go, I am imagining the bobcat will do a lot of the scooping. The swingset arrived in the fall, we've been waiting for the gravel for a long time (supplier issues), so we have been anxious for it to arrive.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

A few more pics.

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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

OK - we are basically done. There is still a drainage issue at the swale we are working through, but we can't fix it ourselves, so we are starting the process of working with the developer (wish us luck).

Anyways, here are the pics:

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Not sure if the sourwood is dead:
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Woof. That took a while.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

  • Posted by mjsee Zone 7b NC (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 22, 11 at 9:51

Thank you for coming back and showing us the finished product. So often we don't get to see the resolutions to these epic threads...

I lurked on this one because I had nothing substantive to add. But I was interested! Beautiful job!

melanie


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

You should be proud of a job well done. Stunning stone work!


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thanks Melanie & Adrienne - We are pretty pleased with the results. We have a lot to learn to maintain and tweak it.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I'll also add a thank you for coming back and posting. I remember reading this thread when in its first year, so seeing how things have turned out is really nice. I think the fact that you educated yourself and did planning first helped with the overall success of the project when you hired a pro.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

Thanks for the kind words. I re-read my earlier posts, and its interesting to see all we have learned in this process. I think we were asking the right questions as we went along, in many instances prompted by the kind folks here. At a minimum we thought through the use.

We are looking forward to curing the last of the drainage issues, and getting the grass and plants fully established. Its nice to be on the stretch run.

Advice for others starting a big project - make the last payment to the contractor a big one, at least 10% so you can get them to wrap up the work. That was such a thorn in our side. Your marriage will thank you.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

I know I am a little late but this looks amazing. Would you be able to post a couple of additional pictures of the playset area, to give a better idea of how this is integrated into the whole? I have a steep back yard and I am looking to do something similiar.


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RE: Steep Side yard slope + big picture planning

CCP - I am late to respond, but I am not sure what pictures to add. If you look at the ones I put up on 4/15/11 and imagine grass, you pretty much have the layout. The swings are steps from the patio, and running around space is more open behind the garage.

General Update - Another season in, we cured the drainage issue in the spring, mostly. The dry creek to nowhere, that my architect and landscaper thought would work, didn't. We were left with rocks on top of mud, instead of mud. We pulled it, and did a DIY (disaster filled install) french drain going across two and a half properties. We used "EZ-Flow" Pipes from NDS, which is basically an alternative to gravel. We are having some problems with the pipes bucking after a heavy rain and needing to be re-worked in my next,next door neighbor's yard, but we are planning to add more fill to weigh it down. Moving the water away to the community retention pond was the only cure though. Kind of wish we had written a check as opposed to DIY though.

In terms of the plantings, almost everything has thrived - except the dogwood and sourwood in the rear. We replaced the sourwood once and its replacement is hurting. There is a bit of grade there and we've read that sourwood's like water, so we think that its iffy that we have the right plant there given that the water drains. The dogwood, we may replace this weekend. That particular tree was always kind of weak even before the transplant from the front yard to the back, so we will give it one more shot before looking at another selection.

The patio (and deck above) gather mold rather easily. In a few years I'd like to rip the cheap composite deck out and replace it with something (tropical hardwood?, regular wood?), but we'll live with it for a while. The mold/moss (green stuff) on the bluestone is a bit more disconcerting, as we wonder if it is a sign that the area below the patio is on the wetter side. The ground is firm, and there is gravel below, and the gutters are buried/routed away, but we speculate that water may be a factor.

In terms of our enjoyment - we had a labor day party last weekend and could put a couple dozen people in the yard no problem. The kids like to hid in the tall grasses by the side stairs, and the curb appeal is nice. So far, so good.


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