My mother texted me recently to tell me that she was nervous about the back of my house. As far as she or the Internet knows, I still have a sort-of-deck (which was really just the now-defunct mudroom without walls or a roof) with some sort-of steps down to the yard. She was concerned that it would snow and Mekko or Linus would have trouble seeing the boundaries of the “deck” and go walking right off it into a couple feet of snow, like the drunk little toddlers that they are.
“Have no fear!” I told her. “The deck is gone.”
Demolishing the “deck” itself was actually the super easy part. Demolishing all the concrete around it? WAY HARDER. It was something I had on the agenda when I originally embarked on these shenanigans of removing that big addition on the back of my house, but not really the part of the project that I ever considered a big deal. Whoopsie!
Just for reference, this is the back of the house on move-in day about 2.5 years ago. The stairs were removed about 2 years ago, the asphalt driveway was removed about one year ago, and the mudroom disappeared this summer, so all that was left was some funny concrete work back here. It doesn’t look like that much, right? It’s just the steps to the mudroom, the part in front of those steps, the slab area under the fire escape, and the border of that little theoretical herb garden thing. I figured I’d go it alone and have it done in a difficult but satisfying weekend with a rented jackhammer and my manly brute strength.
PSA: When renting tools, I always try to get the biggest bang for my buck—usually tool rental places are closed at least on Sunday, so if you pick up on Saturday and return Monday morning, you usually only have to pay for one day instead of two. The place here (Blue Line Rentals) is closed Saturday and Sunday so I picked up on Friday and figured I’d be fine by Monday morning and only have to pay for a day’s rental which was about $85. This was a good plan, sort of.
The system was this:
Step 1: Jackhammer up concrete in sections small enough to throw into the back of John’s pick-up truck.
Step 2: Fill up John’s pick-up truck probably more than I should, weight-wise. John doesn’t read my blog so nobody tell him, ok?
Step 3: Go dump concrete.
Step 4: Repeat.
I thought I’d maybe go through this process a total of 2 or 3 times to get it all out. Try like 7 or 8—I lost track. That yard spit up way more concrete than I realized was even possible. It was also really hot that weekend. The jackhammer itself is like 70 or 80 pounds, so maneuvering this heavy machine around and picking it up and putting it back down again to give myself a few minutes to lift really heavy rubble into a truck got way exhausting, way fast.
Almost immediately, the sound of the jackhammer attracted a couple of friendly neighborhood youths (who are actually like 20-25) who wondered if perhaps I needed some assistance that I wanted to pay them to provide. This happens with some frequency around here and I’ve gotten pretty good at politely declining, but this time? YES. HELP ME. COOL HAT, BRO.
So me and the youths jackhammered. And jackhammered. And jackhammered. We had a pretty good system going where one person manned the jackhammer while the other two of us moved rubble into the bed of the pick-up. Even with three people working it was REALLY slow and REALLY exhausting and started to get surprisingly expensive as the hours ticked on and the concrete just kept coming and coming. Those dudes probably bought, like, the best weed after that weekend and they totally earned it.
Concrete is VERY heavy and I had a LOT of it. There is the truckload above and about 7 more exactly like it. Bringing it to the dump, where it would then be transported to a landfill and I would be charged by the pound for its disposal, seemed like a very expensive way to get rid of it. So I checked Craigslist.
Great thing about upstate NY? Somebody somewhere always has some kind of hole or something to fill, and they don’t want to pay to fill it. Instead, they wait for people in situations such as mine to offer it up for free, which is how I found Bill.
Bill had posted an ad for free fill material—asphalt, concrete, bricks, pavers, stones, dirt—basically anything like that—because he is building a ROAD. AN ENTIRE ROAD. Not a driveway…like, a ROAD. Bill described his project, I explained what I had, he confirmed like 30 times over that I wasn’t trying to dump drywall or insulation or anything like that on his land, and he gave me the address.
One of the neighborhood not-really-youths and I hopped into the pick-up and headed where Bill said to go. The truck struggled its way up mild inclines and through winding roads, barely accelerating as I floored the gas and struggling to stop as I slammed the brakes. After all the many times during this renovation that I’ve wondered if something I was doing would result in my swift and immediate death, the likelihood here felt more real, somehow. I didn’t want to die moving concrete from my backyard to someone else’s yard. I didn’t want the youth to die. I didn’t want John’s long-suffering borrowed Ford F-150 to be totaled. I wondered who would pick up the couple tons of concrete if it did all come to pass, and whether Bill would ever be able to build his road.
What Bill neglected to mention was that his road was at the bottom of an extremely steep incline. I’m upset that this picture is so super lousy because it doesn’t look that steep, but it was VERY steep. Bill met us there, and he instructed me to back in from a starting point across the street and reverse as far back as I could go so it would be easier to throw the concrete to area at the bottom of the hill where the road had yet to be formed. As it was, it ended in a kind of miniature cliff, at the bottom of which was a marshy layer of vegetation. Bill and the youth would follow behind on foot, letting me know if I got too close to an edge.
I rode the brakes the entire way down the hill, but between the road-weary tires and the worn-down brakes and the few thousand pounds of concrete in the back, the truck picked up speed on the way down. It was a quick descent, but the road plateaued just long enough that the back tire had space to stop a few feet short of falling into the abyss. I wondered briefly if this was a disappointment to Bill. Maybe the whole thing was a trap? Maybe he wasn’t as interested in my concrete as he was in watching me volunteer to flip a truck full on concrete onto myself and die there at the bottom of his road?
While helping us throw the concrete out of the bed of the truck, Bill explained that he’d bought the land roughly two decades prior to insulate his property from a lousy neighbor he didn’t like, but the neighbor had since died and now he didn’t want the land anymore. Evidently, the road was already a couple of years into production, and so far it was made entirely of the same kind of stuff I was depositing with a layer of shale on top. His long-term plan was to keep building it entirely with locally-volunteered free material and then sell the land to a developer, who would see the road as a big asset and pay top dollar.
I realize that Bill sounds like a crazy person, but he actually struck me as very normal—mild-mannered, appropriately appreciative of my donation to his cause, even-keeled. He drove the nicer version of the truck I was driving, so we talked about that, and he seemed genuinely interested in my home renovation, and told me about an old house he had lived in with a creek literally running through the basement. He told me about the time he got in trouble because some asshole decided to dump construction debris instead of fill and he got a fine from the town and had to clean up the mess. “Can you imagine?” he asked, as if the idea of littering was so much crazier than trying to build a road from my broken bits of concrete.
Bill really seemed like a good guy. I liked Bill. He showed us how to “use the gate,” which was just hooking a length of chain onto a tree, so that we could repeat this process ourselves on subsequent loads without him having to meet us.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, jackhammering continued. I think this concrete was done in two distinct layers—one circa 1930 and one circa 1970. Both times, whoever did the work indiscriminately threw stuff into it—hardware, machine parts, a bizarre number of small castors, metal rods and wires, auger bits…that’s a different post. Some of it was exciting and some of it was not so exciting and none of it has any monetary value.
I was at this with the neighborhood youths for two entire days. On Monday morning I had to call the tool rental place and tell them that I needed to keep the jackhammer another day, and after working on it some more throughout the day, called in the big guns that evening because I had to get that jackhammer back and there was still a lot to do.
Edgar (the Edgar half of Edwin & Edgar, a.k.a. E-squared, a.k.a. my go-to-contractor-dudes, a.k.a. my neighbors and BFFs and loves of my life) is a demolition BOSS. He actually seems to be good at pretty much everything, but demo is where he seems to become superhuman. Sometimes I witness him do something like this and I feel like I don’t even know why I try to do anything. After spending days now paying for the jackhammer and a few hundred bucks for the help of the neighborhood youths, Edgar had that concrete busted up in like an hour and a half. My job just became dealing with the rubble, which was honestly really hard but I’m not going to complain about it because Edgar’s job was harder and he never complains and when he does it’s in Spanish so I only kind of understand it. He’s the best boyfriend I never had.
While I was off on one of my expeditions to Bill’s road, Edgar also destroyed the deck. Since he knows me, he was careful to pry off floorboards in full pieces with the tongues and grooves intact and set them aside in a pile, as well as stack up all the beautiful old framing lumber holding the thing up.
That’s the mess I was stashing under the mudroom, because I had this idea that maybe if I posted the vinyl siding on Craigslist, somebody would want it and I wouldn’t have to take it to the dump. That did not happen so to the dump it went.
And…this is how things ended up looking. Like the apocalypse. Groovy.
So, I aimed for a beautiful covered porch this summer and ended with a set of three “temporary” stairs which hopefully will only be here until next spring/summer when the porch plan becomes a reality. These things happen! Oh well. Sometimes you have to shoot for the stars and not reach the stars but that’s OK because even though things look worse, a lot of the hard work is getting DONE. It’s all progress, right?
Now, if you’re really using your noggin, you might think to yourself that this order of work seems stupid and wrong. If I was planning on re-siding the top of the house and replacing that door to nowhere and the window, why wouldn’t I leave the mudroom alone so I could stand on the roof of it to do that stuff? Why didn’t I at least leave the concrete and the mudroom floor to use as a stable platform? Shut up, smarty-pants.
Hindsight is 20/20 on this one. I didn’t plan on changing the window/door set-up on the back of the house or re-siding the top half of the wall because I was planning on a balcony up there, but by the time I officially nixed that then this work had already gone down. Oops! So I made my life a little harder. That happens sometimes.
Now that I know what I want to do with this back wall, I’m officially moving forward with Project: Poach Kitchen Window Sashes, Replace Kitchen Window, Remove Existing Window and Door Upstairs, Replace with Kitchen Window Sashes, Re-side Top of Wall, Strip Lower Half, Prime and Paint All Before it is So Cold. It’s already been intense but also sort of exciting and horrifying and I’m excited to show!