Six weeks! It took me six weeks to finish installing a walkway in our side yard. Geez! Normally I’d encourage people to DIY these things but not this time. Don’t do it! Save yourself! Here’s why:
1. Leveling is not as easy as the YouTubers make it seem.
Measure twice, cut once doesn’t work in 3D terrain with a grade. Add the complexity uneven terrain with rocks and clay like soil base and you’ll need lots of patience and a mighty rototiller to get the area and pavers level. You’d be surprises how many leveling tools we went through before we gave up and learned to live with the imperfections. To top it off the amount of dirt and gravel removed was enough to level another area of the yard. Never again!
2. Sand, sand and pea gravel everywhere.
The house. The cars. The dogs. Even on my shoes and clothes. It was everywhere thanks to the broken sand and gravel bags. Carrying the hefty 50 lb bags to avoid the $79 Home Depot delivery charge made us dread the walk to and from the trunk of the CX-9 to the materials pile or its final destination in the yard. Get or rent a wheelbarrow and a few assistants. Pay the delivery fee if you must because the muscle pain is not worth it. (Lift with your legs and only what you can handle to avoid risk of injury.) Cleaning up the rocks and sand tired me out more than the manual labor…
3. Never ending material runs.
The granite 12 x 24 inch tiles were not only heavy and expensive ($15 USD a pop) but they cracked when handled and loaded incorrectly. Because my SUV can only carry so much load, my husband and I had to make multiple runs to get the tiles, the sand and the gravel. If you can afford it, get everything at the same supplier and have it delivered. Or better yet, get a crew and a friend with a pick up to get it done in one fell swoop.
4. Time is money.
Unless you cannot afford it, and you have infinite patience, consider that your time is very valuable and better spent generating more cash to pay a professional than DIYing. I spent around 32-40 hours leveling, spacing, tamping, realigning and setting the walkway. At my salary rate, I lost more cost of opportunity than I saved in labor.
5. Pets are horrible helpers, tampers and inspectors.
Speaking of unrealized gains, having my dog Zach going around knocking tiles out of place while playing with the sand and gravel piles did not help our progress. Throwing the ball out of the work area to be able to level and measure is a BAD idea. Secure the area or the pet to avoid rework, especially if you have an 80 lb labrador retriever terrier mix.
6. Reusing left over materials from other jobs is cool until parts don’t align, or you run short on patience.
The wooden border used on our project were repurposed posts from the original fence we had to replace. They were a beaten up and discolored due to weather exposure and since there was no budget to replace them, we had to make due. The river rock was HAND PICKED from the backyard. By the end of the project I wanted to buy a bag of rocks instead of unearthing the mineral treasures from the top soil. Thankfully, enough rocks rose to the surface and I managed to finish the job with 15 bucket runs. Saved $100 USD!
7. Summer heat + activities = delays.
The weather was a cool 70 degrees Farenheit when I started this endeavor. It skyrocketed to the upper 80s, lower 90s fast, forcing me to stop the work and/or take breaks. Spring in the PNW is unpredictable and fall can be very wet so it was do or do not, there was no try. Use protective outdoor gear and sunscreen to avoid sunburns and bug bites. The heat brought out a lot of creepy crawlers and bloodsuckers. If your weather is nicer and cooler, with less bugs, you’ll be better set than me.
8. Unhappy spouses.
If you must DIY like poor unfortunate me, get the entire family and even a couple of friends to buy in and become engaged with the project. The more capable hands you have on deck, the faster the project will go. Encouragement goes a long way but actual assistance goes even farther. My husband got livid whenever I enlisted his help. I spent more time arguing and convincing him to help with the material runs than working on the darn walkway!
9. The satisfaction of a job somewhat well done.
I’m a closet perfectionist. Too lazy to align, set and prep the site perfectly but not lazy enough to avoid circling back to realign, reset and redo the work 100% of the time. Even with many kudos and reinforcement that the job looks well done, my recollection of the mistakes or cut corners dampens the accomplishment. While others ohh and ahhh, I keep trying to make it perfect. Time to embrace my inner Elsa and let it go.
10. Your friends will be impressed of your handiwork and will expect you to outdo yourself next time.
If they don’t raise their expectations of your creativity and skill, they’ll at least request your expertise to help them get something similar done at their home. After finishing the walkway I don’t even want to tall about the harrowing experience, much less quantify all my failures and successes. I should have paid a pro. Learning in this case was unnecessary and overrated.
Sarcasm aside, this project was a hardcore uphill battle for me. Lots of physical and strenuous labor that required laser sharp focus and precision. Three dimensional grading and leveling was a lot harder than the video and blog tutorials made it seem. I tried every trick in the book and it wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. However, as a decorative functional element it is 10x better than what we had before. It is worth the hassle if you plan ahead and get a crew of good hardworking people to assist. Misery loves company.
Much success DIYers!