Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home Addition: Earth moving fun.

I just love digging in the dirt.  It keeps me grounded. Oh, bad pun, but really, no matter how crummy of a mood I am in, if I can go plant something, weed something, or especially move rocks around in the backyard, I feel better. Last weekend I installed the beginnings of a sprinkler system.  Yard work is the best therapy there is, and boy did I need therapy this week!

The painters have been painting inside for two weeks now.  To put it simply: I don't like them and I'm sick of them in my house.  Last week, the paint fumes were so bad and the house was so cold (we don't want to turn on the furnace until we can clean the toxic construction dust up) we had to get a hotel one night and I stayed with friends the next two nights.  As if couch surfing and cancer air are not bad enough, the painters made it impossible to get to any of our food or dishes in the kitchen for a week.  So that explains why I needed yard therapy.

Two weeks ago, I frantically called around to try to find a sprinkler guy that could help me extend the freeze proof hydrant line that we had the excavators start way back in June.  We have been extremely fortunate for fabulous, warm, dry fall weather, and we've used it to the fullest doing last minute exterior finishing tasks.  Unfortunately, Drew and I both had to spend way more time than planned over the past two weeks helping the painters prep inside the house (isn't that part of their JOB!). Anyway, the weather was going to turn, and I wanted to trench the water line before it did.  Well, it didn't happen. I found someone to help, but he was unavailable until last week. But Monday of last week there was snow, rain, and cold, so we had to wait until Friday to start the fun. 

I hired Aaron S., owner of Wasatch Sprinklers. He is awesome.  Knows his stuff, a nice guy, and a mountain biker to boot.  All contractors should be like Aaron.

He rented a mini excavator and began digging a trench 30 inches deep so that my water line would be below frost depth.  (My brother tells me frost depth is 8 feet in North Dakota. Whaaat? That is tooooo deep for this girl to dig.)

Back when we dug the basement, I had the excavators extend a water line from 5 feet below grade inside the basement out through the foundation and to the edge of the deck, where we put in a stop and waste valve for a future sprinkler system and a "farm hydrant" as they called it. Basically, the hydrant has the valve down below frost line and a drain on the down gradient side of the valve so the vertical part drains each time the hydrant is turned off. You can see it with the red handle in the this photo.

The goal of the day was to dig a trench from that hydrant all the way to the "Back 40" and install an identical hydrant back there.  Back 40 is what I call the area behind the garage, where the veggie garden will be.  To you city folk, Back 40 is a play off of North 40 or South 40, etc, which refers to the 40 acres of farm field on the north or south part of your section of land. It is a term dating back to the pioneer days on the prairie, I imagine.  My Back 40 refers to the 40 feet by 40 feet on our 0.12 acres of homestead in the middle of Salt Lake City.  I want a farm hydrant back there so we can have year-round water in that location so I can grow stuff in cold frames even while we have freezing temps at night. True homesteader spirit!

So we laid in the blue plastic pipe and the electrical wire for the timer. This step included plenty of hand digging by me, the unskilled laborer, to find and excavate under the power line from the house to the garage. The power line conduit is visible here in the foreground cutting diagonally across the trench above the blue pipe.

Here's a close up. It doesn't look it, but there is 10 inches of space between the two lines.
Then we started back filling.
While the base of the hydrant was dug up, we T-ed up after the the stop and waste valve and installed a valve box for the future sprinkler system. 
Aaron installed the timer in the garage while I back-filled both by hand, and, Joy o Joy, using the mini ex. I had been wanting to run one of these things forever!  It was so much fun, I think I might rent one just for the hell of it and go out to an empty field for a day.  $250 per day is cheap therapy if you ask me!  The machine was pretty easy to use, but I have a new appreciation for backhoe operators everywhere.

We worked until dusk but didn't get everything done.

By the next day we had the trench back filled to about 10 inches deep and had laid in the 1" PVC branch for the drip system in the garden.

As long as we had the trench there, I figured I'd throw down a drain pipe just under the surface from the downspout on the front of the garage back to the Back 40. This way, the drainage from half the garage roof won't run on top of our future patio. I reused some pipe we had and only had to shell out $20 in additional parts.

The addition of all that wonderful moisture earlier in the week certainly added an element of slippery to the job. I made a huge mess of the yard, but when Drew arrived home on pre-Halloween night, he found a happy, dirty wife!

The trench is almost back filled now, but I want to let the topsoil dry out a bit more before finishing the job.  The rental company neglected to pick up the mini excavator on Saturday, so, Lucky Me, I got to play with it some more.  On Monday morning, I decided to rearrange some of the rocks we had already rearranged back in June.  Here is a video of my slow and determined rock handling. 

Did I mention I am happiest when moving rocks around in the backyard?  That was happiness squared.


  1. Julie,

    We own a mini excavator as well as lots of other earth moving equipment. Our mini has a thumb on it that makes moving rocks a lot easier. You would have lots of fun here playing with all our toys.

  2. Jeanie, I will consider my next Portland trip to your place as a spa vacation.