Sunday, January 17, 2016

Recycled brick paths

Drew and I built a brick pathway around the back garden area using bricks from the back wall of our house, salvaged (Drew would say, scavenged) during the 2010 addition. It took us over 5 years but it's done now. Here's how.

As readers know, we tore out the back brick wall of our bungalow during the 2010 remodel/addition.  You can see the gory details here, but in case you don't want to relive the horror (and it was horror), here are a few pics from that spring.

The back wall of the house in June 2010 after the contractor lopped off the back shed area. The green bricks on the right were part of a double layer brick wall that would later become the pathways, although I didn't know that was the purpose at the time.

The bricks coming down.

 No wall remains.

The bricks were technically available for reuse in June of 2010, however, we were a little busy with that other project for about a year.  It continues still, but nevertheless, important yard projects need to be done.  Fast forward to June of 2014, after moving the piles of bricks from the pergola to the narrow breezeway between the vinyl fence and the garage back to the pergola again, I finally started to clean the bricks of mortar so they could be reused for the pathway around the vegetable garden.

This was my cleaning station.  I can't believe there isn't a beer bottle in this picture. I drank a lot of beer while sitting there, chiseling mortar off the bricks, listening to podcasts on my headphones.

Piles of clean bricks. I probably spent about 40 hours cleaning bricks. 

Once I had enough bricks to get me going, and I had the pathways all graded out the way I wanted them (no small feat!) I started laying bricks. August 14, 2014 was an exciting project day.

8/14/14 The first flight of bricks that I laid. I leveled the soil under the paths, then leveled and tamped 1-2 inches of sand, then pounded stakes in to anchor the plastic edging, before laying an alternating pattern of bricks. I used screws for spacers.

8/20/2014. Coming along.

11/30/2014. I laid about 20 to 25 feet of pathway before winter last year, making it almost to the compost bins so we would have a walkway to tread upon to take out the compost.

Things picked up again last spring. Drew got involved in the project once he found out power tools were involved.  We had a system where I would lay out the pattern and mark the bricks that needed to be cut, and he would do the dirty work cutting them with a masonry blade on the circular saw.  

Spring and summer 2015's work.  The corners were tricky, but Drew helped by doing most of the cutting and schlepping bricks.

By late summer, the easy straight run next to the vinyl fence was done and I came to another tricky part. I had to build a "retaining wall" under the ally fence to keep the bricks in the yard plus figure out how to leave open the escape route the cats like to use to get to the ally.

10/16/2015. Here come the bricks from the left. What a mess.

10/16/2015 Looking out from the yard.

10/17/2015. A good day's work.  The escape route for the cats is in the foreground and the gate to the alley is to the upper right.

Close up of the escape dugout for the cats.  They like to run wild back in the alley, and it would be difficult for them to get over the 6-foot vinyl fence, so I terraced the bricks just enough that they can squeeze through on their bellies.

Looking down from the top of the fence to the very large and extremely heavy rock Drew dug in to the alley as a "landing pad" for the cats to slither onto from the escape dugout.

11/17/2015. A few more days of bricklaying got me to this point.

But is was after this that I realized I didn't have enough bricks from the remodel to finish the project.  So, in true Lucy fashion, I ripped up the mini patio I had laid for the garbage cans back in Fall 2011, 

which had been my "permanent" solution to the temporary flagstone mini patio I created in 2008.

So now I had enough reused bricks to reuse again, but then another difficult area, which included 1) turning a corner and joining the path back to where I started, 2) widening to extend to the pergola exit, and 3) adding a rock under the downspout.

The final push.

I carried on, racing against shorter and shorter days while doing a lot of field work for work, until finally on Nov 22, with Drew's help, we finished.
11/22/2015: ALL DONE!  It was so cold our fingers were numb and mine were cracked and bleeding from a long weekend of brick work, but a big storm was in the near forecast so we hammered it out until 7 PM on a Sunday night.
What a feeling of accomplishment!  This project, which I started planning and pondering in 2010 to "save money" and use a recycled product instead of buying new, took me countless hours and put a serious tight spot in my hamstring that I still feel today.  But I really love the character the paths give to the garden, and they make it so easy to get my wheel barrel and garden implements around the main bed.  Here are a couple of "after" pictures.

And we finished none too soon, for the snow came with a vengeance in the next few weeks.

But what about the poor transient trash cans?  Well, I rounded up some rectangular concrete pavers we had in the yard from various other projects (in my pack rat midden), bought some new red ones, and voila! An even, level checkerboard mini patio for the trash cans.  I hope this is their last resting spot. 



  1. Wow Lucy, this looks so great! I love it :)

  2. Thanks, Ruth. It's nice to see our hard work paying off.

  3. Wow, congratulations on great job, I feel sorry for your poor fingers and hamstring. Good work on those tricky corners Drew!

    1. Thanks Ken. Fingers are all healed up. Working in the hamstring still.