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I'm gearing up for a bunch of landscaping at my new home. The backyard is kind of a mess: rotted-out deck, terrible lawn, low spots, high spots, etc. It's mostly all going to get redone.

This question pertains to the current deck area. The deck is getting ripped-out as it's not salvageable. The area is ~24' x ~25' so it's almost a square. It sits in between the house and a garage in the back, so there is the foundation of the garage and house on two ends of it. The ground level below the deck is about 1' below the grade of the house and garage. My plan is to build up the grade in this area so that the ground is more level with the house and garage doors. I then plan to build a roofed pergola to cover it and make this into a patio area with a wood-fired oven in the middle. The ground under the pergola will be a majority of gravel, with pavers placed in the most-used areas.

To build this plot up ~1 foot higher, I think I need around 21 cu. yds. of substrate but I'm not sure what the best type of substrate to use is. The current ground is relatively hard-packed soil. I haven't dug down too much but judging from my neighborhood, there should be a bit of clay and kind of gravelly, dark, rich soil. It's quite compacted so I'm not worried about it settling too much. What would be the most cost-effective way to fill in this area? I believe I'll have to build small retaining walls on the two ends of the square that are not backed by the house and garage. I will also be sure to make small "egress" areas so that my crawlspace vents do not get covered up.

facing house

House&Garage1

House&Grrage2

facing garage

facing house2

gap between deck & ground

crappy mockup of pergola and patio

  • Hi tbox! You've done a great job of explaining the situation but pictures would be extremely helpful! Would you mind posting a few of the area as it looks now? Thanks! – Sue Mar 8 '17 at 3:13
  • @Sue --just uploaded a bunch of pictures. I should have done that from the get-go. – tbox Mar 9 '17 at 18:49
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I think the most effective way would be to not fill it at all. How about a raised deck on concrete sono tubes if you are in a freeze are or deck feet in warmer climates?

If you change the grade you must ensure that any water runoff including downspout (gutter) water has someplace to go away from your house.

Raising the grade is a lot of work. To fill the area you could use stone dust compacted in layers. As a loose material you would have to have a retaining wall to prevent it shifting. This requires over 20 cubic yards ( 24' x 25' x 1' = 600 Cft or over 20 cubic yards). If you allowed for setting and compaction 25 cubic yards of material is not out of the question. At this amount you need a bobcat or front end loader and a compacter and a retaining wall that will need a base. It just starts to look like a lot of work.

  • Thank you for the info. I'm just really not into the aesthetic of a raised deck (which is what is already there) and the long term maintenance involved. I'd much rather it be solid ground. Cost-wise, building a new deck seems like it would be about the same as filling in the area. The area already has two sides with "retaining walls" (which are actually the foundation of the house and garage. Will waterproof these. I have a french drain on the side of the house where this ground will be raised. I'm in the PNW for the record so we don't get much freezing. I'm not worried about a lot of work. – tbox Mar 7 '17 at 0:23
  • So if I go the fill route, stone dust would be good for the majority or all of the back-fill? With a budget in mind, would that be most cost-effective? – tbox Mar 7 '17 at 0:28
  • @tbox Most cost effective is whatever is cheaper in your area (stone dust or gravel) and what you want to put on top. If you like Stormy's answer this is easily a $10,000 to $20,000 project that will look great when done by a professional contractor. Against your house you should consider EPDM membrane or any of the waterproofing solutions used by building contracters. Don't just put a compound or tar solution on the wall and figure that's good enough. – kevinsky Mar 9 '17 at 17:35
  • Thanks @kevinsky I will look at those membranes. That's kind of what I was planning. I will probably add more drainage under each retaining wall as well. I plan on doing all the work myself so will probably save quite a lot of money. I just uploaded a bunch of pics. – tbox Mar 9 '17 at 18:47
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I agree, a deck will not help the value of your home. A patio would. Even better is to make the patio the same level as the floor in your home. enter image description here

We used ground up concrete compacted, then 5/8 minus compacted 4" and then builder's sand 2" as the paver base. No concrete, no space between pavers. These are called CMU walls, planters (concrete modular units) with concrete caps. This increased the value of their home by...an awful lot! They wanted a deck at first and I talked them out of a deck, this is a little more expensive but not much. This did increase the value more than a second bathroom or a remodeled kitchen! That white fence in the background stopped the cat box feeling and pulled everything together. They walk right out of their door onto the patio... and all vents were sectioned off and covered with nice louvers.

When framing the patio we used 2X12 pt lumber and at the same time framed off the vents and utilities. Keep framing away from the siding (you should be able to see in the second picture to the left). The cmu walls are PISA II with an ashlar pattern. I would recommend LOUDLY to stay with dove gray mixed with a bit of darker gray. Lighter gray concrete caps. Goes with everything and is a natural color in any landscape. The colors actually look like the concrete is dirty, or moldy, seriously. This is not the time to play with color. Everyone who did were sorry later. Oh, the pavers are the classic roman cobble 7X9X2, no space left between cobbles. There are black plastic edgers to ensure no movement and are fairly invisible which is what you want. When choosing which direction the longer side should be laid, always look from the main view. In this case from inside the home and from the entrance to their path...the long side should be PERPENDICULAR to those views otherwise that long side becomes very visual and distracting. Your professional artistic friends and contractors will especially be bothered...grins! The wall height on the inside from patio to top of cap patio in process with firepitshould be between 15 and 18". These cmu are ONE SIDED which dictated the design and depth of wall. Thick walls are more 'stable' looking as well. But today there might be cmu that are two sided. This would help with fire pits...truly one of the best things you could add to your patio. ALL the neighbors had to have patios like this...good for our company.

  • Those are gorgeous pictures stormy! It's wonderful to see your answer so colorful!! – Sue Mar 8 '17 at 3:14
  • I had to get a new computer and was forced to get my pictures rounded up off old computers...it will be nice to explain things with pictures and show off some of my projects at the same time. Like showing baby pictures, grins!! – stormy Mar 8 '17 at 15:45
  • Thank you @stormy! You've gone beyond what I'm looking to accomplish but yours came out wonderful. I just uploaded pics of what it looks like in its current awful state. Fortunately my area is a simple square and I don't plan to have any graded heights so it should be much simpler. – tbox Mar 9 '17 at 18:47
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    Now that I think about it though, a raised back ledge along the property line (where that terrible white pvc fence is, which I plan to replace with cedar or redwood) would be kind of cool. A place to put plants/sit/provide more of a room feeling. – tbox Mar 9 '17 at 18:54
  • Whoa tbox...you will definitely need double patio glass doors! This application will be perfect for your situation. Get the whole shibang on paper; as it already is, minus the stuff you will be throwing away. Is this side of your home on the north? Do you have a basement? If you do what is the moisture level? Do you have foundation pipe drainage at the foot of your foundation? How long have you had this home? Make a simple scaled drawing of what you have and your ideas. I could give you some valuable feedback! This is the time to take care of any drainage for your home, too! – stormy Mar 9 '17 at 23:06

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