What’s that old saying? Right. When life gives you standing water
and a wet crawlspace, make a bluestone patio with a fire table.
Morning, folks. If you’ve been following along with my backyard updates, you know we’ve got a terraced backyard (intro post here | quick IG video here). With terracing and slopes in general comes everyone’s favorite yard planning component: proper drainage 😕🤓🤮🥳🥳🥳😒
So this one may be dry (I swear I didn’t plan that one), but drainage makes or breaks a foundation. I hope this is helpful to anyone that is looking to beautify a drain solution.
We have a series of French drains running throughout the property, which was terraced by the original homeowners. We’ve had some heavy rains the last couple of years, and this past spring’s showers brought along a muddy pool outside our sunroom and water seeping into our crawlspace.
Our inspector mentioned this was an area of concern on his report – any low points without a continuous downward slope or drain in place pool water. There’s no avoiding it. Over time, it becomes a problem.
And it was a problem we could no longer delay addressing.
We scrambled to hire new landscapers (we get the lawn mown weekly) last summer after the original family-owned business that terraced the yard years ago shuttered its doors suddenly. Everyone locally was understaffed and not wanting new weekly jobs – just landscaping and bigger jobs. This company was recommended by our old landscaper and took our street on as a favor, thankfully! It turns out they are experienced hardscapers as well. We were ecstatic to learn this considering how complicated our yard is – we know it will need maintenance over the years that is beyond our skillset.
The Mud Pit Location
Here is the offending mud pit location: right outside the French doors you see below. They lead from our sunroom out to the pool. There was at least an eight inch drop out the doors down to the old patio, and then a little grass slope up to the pool.
Here’s a view out from the door on the right of the storage container in the above image:
Outside the pool bathroom door is a little concrete stoop which met the little grass slope up to the pool that everyone hopped over on their way to the bathroom (can you say slipping hazard?), and the sunken down little bluestone patio to the right that we used solely for our pool robot and a pool supplies storage unit (which was left behind by the previous homeowners). You can partially see the patio in the background of this shot I took of a baby praying mantis on the door.
We never used those doors from the sunroom to get out to the pool. In fact, our furniture layout in the sunroom had several iterations blocking use of the doors entirely. I did not want to risk the kids somehow managing to open our very child-unfriendly Andersen locks and getting into the pool accidentally. We instead took a winding path through our primary suite and out the pool bathroom door to the pool. Which meant if we wanted water or a snack from the kitchen, we went…back through the bathroom door, through our primary suite, through the middle of the house back to the kitchen in a big S.
It was like the crazy unnavigable hallways I made for my poor, poor Sims growing up. Would Percival Mayfair make it to the kitchen in time for dinner, or die an untimely death in the (admittedly well-decorated) maze of corridors in the mansion he built with his ill-gotten gains from the rosebud cheat code???
We thought it might be nice to use our sunroom as an access point, if for no other reason than to avoid any further potentially life-threatening delays in our journeys for sustenance on pool days. We consulted with our landscape company for possible solutions.
The Drainage Patio Plan: Take 1
Our head landscaper’s (let’s call him Mr. Landscaper – the company owner who quotes and plans projects) initial plan was to 1) pull up the bluestone, 2) dig a new French drain around the house, out past the pool bathroom door, 3) add a slight grade down to a square plastic drain in the middle of the patio, and 4) re-lay the bluestone. It sounded like it would get the job done, but would not be aesthetically pleasing in the slightest. And it would make the patio even more useless than it already was with a drain we’d have to avoid placing anything on.
The proposed drain cover would look like this:
I hated it.
A Proposed Revision
We’ve been down the route of ugly and expensive improvements and lived with the regrets before.
Several communication mistakes and lapses in working with contractors have taught us that you need to speak up ASAP when you’re not happy. That it’s essential you feel comfortable speaking up, challenging their ideas if need be, and proposing your own solutions. And that they’re willing to listen.
Here was our first test for our new working relationship with Mr. Landscaper.
This being our first dialogue with this man about anything other than mowing our lawn, we were nervous.
After sleeping on it, I decided to see if we could maximize the drainage project’s potential as a patio. You know, rather than leave it as a bluestone-lined drainage pit we’d have to step a foot down into on our way out to the pool.
We didn’t have a seating area totally private from neighbors other than our neglected pool deck. A front porch, patio off the kitchen and by our driveway are all each visible from certain angles. This unexpected drainage project provided the perfect opportunity to create a private little patio.
So I asked Mr. Landscaper: is there any way we can maybe cover the drain? Set it down an inch or two, and cover it with some permeable filler under the bluestone so it’s concealed beneath the patio, maximizing usable space but still providing the drainage we need?
I held my breath as he looked over our bluestone-lined mud pit. He was actually considering – dare I say, planning, in the here and now! – a new solution here!
The answer to my proposition was no – the bluestone would be unstable as proposed. But he provided another idea that would be a better drain and give us the look we wanted.
The Drainage Patio Plan: Take 2
We could tell Mr. Landscaper was actually excited to be asked to come up with something beautiful and enjoying the challenge. After several quick in-person conversations with him as the plans changed, we had a new plan.
He said they could raise up the dirt to be level with the step out from the French doors (no more step down out of the sunroom!), and lay the bluestone as a patio which would then step down to the existing concrete stoop for the pool bath entry.
So the new plan was: 1) raise dirt bed 2) Dig a trench alongside the pool bath entry wall 3) Apply a waterproof sealant along the foundation 4) Place a channel drain alongside the house 5) Cover the drain with pea gravel in an assortment that coordinates with the existing bluestone and Belgian block.
Our pile of extra bluestone left behind by the previous owners of our home would help to fill in the new patio, as well as some excess Mr. Landscaper had in his current stash. The cost would be just slightly higher than the original quote, since the materials were already at hand and it was only slightly more work to get everything laying nicely along the curve of the pool deck. It wasn’t a guaranteed fix for the crawlspace moisture issue, but it would definitely be a major step in the right direction.
This new plan was not only a go, it was one we were excited about. Hallelujah! Work started the following week, pulling up the bluestone and getting the French drain in.
One Last Hurrah for the Mud Pit
Then, we got a lot of rain and they had to take a couple of days off of the actual work. So I can show you how it looked as the process started, and exactly why it needed to happen in one fell swoop. Zing!
Mr. Landscaper came over for a final review of the plan.
These are shots taken from the sunroom on the morning that final review. The bluestone had already been pulled up at this stage. He originally proposed leaving a Belgian block border around the concrete stoop, but I didn’t like the juxtaposition of the cool stone next to the concrete. He didn’t blink – just thought a minute and we had a finished plan.
We decided a clean single step down hiding a paver-edged frame around the stoop (necessary to hold in the new raised soil profile) would be the best transition – you can see a single piece of bluestone laid out on a fence post to help illustrate the final look, and the new paver edge in the last two images.
Here it is shortly after the rain started with the nixed Belgian block border around the concrete. The grass edge follows where the original bluestone lay before it was removed. Slight puddling. Not great, but nothing too alarming. You can see the water beginning to pool along the side of the house to the left.
Here it is an hour later! This is with the mocked up pavers around the stoop. With the bluestone gone, the ugly truth of the high groundwater levels lay bare before us, and we knew we were making the right call (always a question with expensive projects) – whether it completely solved the crawlspace moisture issue or not, this was a
bluestone step in the right direction.
It’s a bit hard to see with the reflection in the window, but can see the slim border left for the channel drain along the house was filled with water at this point.
The Border Edge Mistake & Resolution
The patio was all set to be finished that Friday. The crew started laying out the patio from the sunroom doors over toward the pool, and looked AMAZING. I could tell it would be a way bigger aesthetic improvement than expected as it came into being.
I mean, who knew a new patio would be nicer than an old sunken in mud pit?
The crew grew more energized as the afternoon passed – they knew they were doing great work, and the weekend was coming. Then, I did my standard peek out the window to check on progress as the end of the day approached as the neared the stoop, and felt a pit in my stomach.
They framed out the stoop with a reveal for the pavers so you could see them as a border around it. Something was lost in translation and they didn’t get the memo from Mr. Landscaper that the bluestone was supposed to go right up to the edge. I knew they’d have to re-do all their hard work.
We called Mr. Landscaper who then called the project lead, who happens to be his brother. And you could see from their body language they were just defeated.
They had to re-lay the whole patio. The perfect puzzle they had configured had to be redone. And the working day was about to end in an hour.
We felt terrible.
After they regained their composure, I went out to apologize for the mix up (as if it were my fault?) and thank them for all their work. They were really resigned, but appreciated the acknowledgement of their efforts. The project lead stayed a bit later than the rest of the crew to plan out the revision, and everyone returned the following Monday to finish up.
So we ended up with a new patio. But what to do with it? We considered whether it would be worth it to put a dining table on it, but it would be too crowded.
We have a set of four all-weather wicker lounge chairs we’ve been using both indoors and out since we bought them 3 years ago. This finally clicked as a good spot for them. They were a budget buy I scored for something like 40% off at Targé for about $54 each (yeah I remember a good deal). The wicker is coming loose on the edges of some of the back strands, but they are very comfortable an in otherwise great shape. So, I am hoping to repair the strands and add a pillow to the back for a more finished look rather than replace them.
I found a deal on chaises that same week and ordered them. After much hemming and hawing as to the best use of the new patio, I saw fire tables at Costco during an online patio furniture deep dive and a couple of months later we decided it was worth it and bought one.
C’est tout. Next up: the mood board!