Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Terrific Broth

Tag: patio (Page 1 of 2)

Building a Dream Patio – The Reveal

Hello friends! Welcome to our new back patio!


34′ x 10′ patio provides lots of space for outdoor dining and seating


Patio seating from Habitat for Humanity


Back door area (and look! Our new electrical panel! Look at it!)

Our meter is still not installed, which means that we are still enjoy free electricity! “Shocking!” flower lady says.


And here is the window well embedded:


Last time I showed you the back of our house, the concrete patio was just poured and it looked like this:


According to our concrete guy’s instruction, the patio needed to for 2~4 days before we could walk on it with soft bottom shoes. I think the wait easily ranks the hardest part of the renovation to date. It looked so tempting!

We closed off the doggy door and borrowed a neighbor’s snow fence to keep the dogs off the patio. On the third day though, I found Charlie taking a sweet nap on the uncured concrete… Oh Charlie. He is so beautifully dim. I think black Labradors are either very smart or very … slow. And Charlie is undoubtedly the latter. It took him a good few days to learn how to use the doggy door, and suddenly, he was not allowed to use it anymore… It was just too much to learn for Charlie in a week.

And now look at him, drinking from his outdoor water bowl on the new patio:


And chilling on it… Charlie seems to like the concrete surface – maybe it reminds him our last home (our NC apartment has concrete floor)? He flaps around on the concrete like a fish out of water, which is so funny to watch. There is never a dull moment living with dogs!


Please allow me to remind you where we started:

The Before –



This picture was taken on the inspection day. You can see kid toy next to the sinking back patio, on a piece of dirt along the house. We actually found some broken glasses and old light bulbs there – I guess Jesus took the wheel from there and kept these kids safe…(they have crosses on every wall but left broken glass in kids play area?!)

The second photo was taken on the day we moved in.

There were so many things staying in between this patio and our dream backyard experience – the broken backdoor, the rusted window well, leaky facets, the sinking patio, the ugly awning, the broken grill, the dirty floor mat, the wooden pole (for tie their dog onto), the plastic furniture, and that satellite dish on the roof whose cable went into every room in the house…

We rolled up our sleeves … (it was over 90 degrees and we wear T-shirts to work – there was no sleeve to roll up)… and jumped in with both feet … (cannot do that either. The patio was uneven and we would have broken our ankles). Slav removed the weird dog pole, removed the metal awning, replaced the back storm door, and took down the satellite dish. We also replaced the old electrical panel and added a new outdoor outlet. The electrical work raised the incoming electrical wires higher, which was a nice bonus.

The Progress

Fast forward to the morning of patio demo day, the back of the house looked like this:


Much. Cleaner.

Then the demo happened, and things looked a little worse for a while.


We took the opportunity to replaced the old window well which would be enclosed into the new patio:


Soon enough, the concrete was poured. And the waiting game began. We had to water the concrete twice a day for four days and wait for it to cure. But after what seemed to be forever, our back patio is open for business!


And I meant business:



Isn’t it neat? With a 34′ x 10′ footprint, we are hoping to set up an outdoor grilling/dining area, an seating/fire pit area, and lots and lots of planters. Oh the planters – I cannot wait to build them!

The Seating Options

I started thinking about patio seating as soon as we settled on the patio design. Down the road, we would like to have an outdoor sectional with a fire pit in the middle, a dining table/bench combination, and a couple lounge chairs. But right now for two people, all we need is a couple chairs that are not camping chairs. For a while, I was considering IKEA KUNGSHOLMEN:

Pair with the HALLO cushions and pillows:


They look lovely, but the price tag is a bit higher than we would like to spend at this stage. We still have soooo much to do to other parts of the house, $90 a chair feels like a lot right now. Nevertheless, we checked them out on our recent trip to IKEA, just to see how comfortable they would be. When we were in line for check-out, I wandered off to the AS-IS section. Guess what I found in the fabric bin?


Discounted HALLO cushions and pillows! There was nothing wrong with them – they were 60% off just for being floor display pieces! I could not grab them fast enough.

So the first day after our concrete was ready, out outdoor seating area looked like this:


Good enough. We actually laid on them one night watching the night sky. These cushions provided a lot of support, very comfortable to touch, and kept us cool.

I was thinking then we could build some patio furniture according to the size of these cushions, a project down the line. The next day, we stopped by the Habitat for Humanity store in Littleton, something we do periodically. This store is not the closest H for H to our home, but it has the best collections of furniture. And we saw these:


A pair of wooded chairs in awesome condition. They gave out just the right amount of the cabin vibe, and they were $15 each. The cushions on them were gross, but they were the exactly same size as the HALLO cushions and pillows we already had! It felt so meant-to-be.

We still need an outdoor table. The small drum we had there is too precious to stay outdoor. But it felt sooo good already sitting here and watch Slav grill. He made one of the best burgers I’ve ever had today! After non-stop demoing and dust for a months and a half, we are so happy to have a finished and clean space to relax in the evening. It feels so rejuvenating.


And it just felt so good to go from this…


to this!


Do you have a back patio/porch? What kind of patio furniture do you use? Any furniture recommendations? We are still looking for an outdoor sectional and a fire pit. If you have a favorite, do tell!

Building a Dream Patio – The Concrete is In!

Welcome back, friends! For those of you who are following along our back patio renovation, thank you so much for your support and encouragement! In the last a few posts, I’ve showed you how we removed the ugly metal awnings covering the patio, demo-ed of existing porches and the new patio plans, and replaced an old window well. All these effort led to today – when the concrete was poured and our patio appeared in front of our eyes!


In the afternoon of the day we replaced the window well, the concrete guys showed up around 5 PM to double check the level of the ground and remove large debris. They had scheduled the concrete trunk for 5:30 PM sharp, at which time our future patio was completely in shade and the outdoor temperature has cooled down a bit. This condition allows the concrete to dry fast enough to pull the frame off the same day, but slow enough for the crew to finish it before it was too hard to work on.

We removed a good portion of the chain link fence so the concrete trunk could drive right next to the work site.


It is interesting for us to learn how the business works – our contractor, who demos, frames and finishes concrete actually does not own the concrete truck nor mix the concrete themselves. They order just right amount of the concrete from another local business, whose worker drives in this truck with concrete mix and water tank equipped. The concrete business does not do any demo nor framing – all they privide is X amount of the concrete. As soon as the concrete was mixed in the truck and spilled down the slide into our contractor’s wheelbarrow, it became our contractor’s responsibility.


See the young guy in construction vest standing next to the concrete slide? He is the driver of the concrete trunk and all he is responsible for was to turn on the mixture, let out X amount of the concrete (one wheelbarrow at a time), and clean up his trunk afterwards. That is why it is so important to order just right amount of the concrete – any leftover concrete mix needs to be washed out of the trunk and disposes at the job site (on our lawn for example). So if our contractor had ordered too much concrete, they would have to haul the leftover away after it had dried on our lawn.

First wheelbarrow went into the future stair in front of the backdoor:


And as soon as it was full, one of our guys went in and compacted it with a small trowel:


Then barrows after barrows of concrete were poured carefully into the frame, starting on the far end of the patio. Two guys were transporting the wet concrete mix with two wheelbarrows non-stop while the third contractor of ours leveled it with a shovel.


After a couple minutes, one of the guys stopped transporting concrete mix and started packed down from the far end:


As this point, one of our contractors was pouring wet mix in to the frame, another leveled the wet mix with a shovel, and the third person packed every bits down. The whole action was well-coordinated.

It is amazing how fast the pouring process went. Before the whole thing started, our contractors, the father, son, and son-in-law trio all got ready as if they were in a race. And soon I realized why: it was indeed a race – a race to achieve a solid and leveled base before the concrete started to dry.


As soon as the whole frame was filled, while the other two of our guys were still busy packing down the last corner, one guys already started smoothing the surface:





See the small portion of wet concrete on a piece of plywood? That is how much leftover we had. It was THAT precise. And even this tiny bit of concrete did not go to waste – they were later used to fill the holes after the framing around the stairs were removed.

After the whole surface was packed down and smoothed out, one of our contractors started to further smooth it with a smaller trowel:


From end to end:


At this point, the surface was already pretty nice. It was still too soft for the broom finish, so our guys caught a moment to rinse off the wet mix on their tools and in the wheelbarrows, and paid for the concrete delivery truck.


As soon as the surface got a bit harder, the framing around the step were taken off and the holes from the vertical studs were filled with leftover concrete mix. The whole stair were then finished on all sides.


This was also the time to put in the expansion joints, which are these straight lines to allow the concrete to swell and shrink in different outdoor temperatures.

The final step was finishing the surface with a big broom. For a broom dedicated to concrete work, it was surprisingly clean and well maintained. Apparently these guys rinse it off carefully after each job. Watching them rinsing their tools reminds me the paint brushes we inherited from my late father-in-law, who was an experience contractor – his used paint brushes were all clean and soft, carefully wrapped in their original packaging to protect the bristles, and neatly organized in a soft-bottom brush bag. Good workmanship requires good care of your tools.


The broom finish step took a long time. It was done in multiple passes. It was just amazing to see how detailed this part was – all the edges and seams requires very precised movement of the corner of the broom, which means that the guy moving the broom sometimes needed to hold it up while rotating it gently. This part definitely needed muscle strength!


From the time concrete trunk arrived to a finished surface, it took about two hours. Most of the time was spent on finishing and detailing. While our contractor had some spare time, they also patched some gaps in the existing concrete walk way with leftover concrete. We appreciated it!


The new patio will continue to cure for a few days before we could walk on it. To prevent dogs from scratching the patio, we locked the backdoor and completely fenced off the patio. It was a paws-off zone here!


This is how the patio looked the next morning – it was so hard not to walk on it!


Building A Dream Patio – Replace An Old Window Well

Hey friends! How is your week going? It feels like a roller coaster ride here. I never knew that concrete demo could be this dusty – everything in our living room and kitchen was covered in a layer of concrete dust – even with all the windows and door closed! I caught Roxie drinking from her outdoor water bowl that was covered in concrete dust – and she was licking it because it was almost dry! I felt like such a bad mother and needless to say that she got some really good treats for being neglected.

With the framing in place and the concrete truck ordered, we did not just sit around and wait the magic to happen. There was yet something that needed our attnetion BEFORE the concrete could go in:

This window well.


I knew that I have shown you the dirty carpet, ugly metal awnings, and the half torn garage. But believe me, I still feel embarrassed to show you this window well. I guess it is because that all the other things either have been upgraded, or at least their days are numbered. But we still have a whole bunch of these laying around, and sadly, without any plan to be replaced. There is just no point to change basement window wells until we enlarge the windows. But honestly, these window wells started bothering us more and more. With major exterior demo happening one after another, these window wells started to stand out and are definitely rising to the top of our “eyesore” list.

They deserve it. They are old, rusty, non-functional, and practically outdoor trash bins when we moved in. I will not be showing you what we have pulled out of these wells. This is a family blog – let us keep it classy.

But we will be replacing THIS particular window well today, because it will be enclosed in our new patio. It was enclosed in our old back porch, so this will be our only opportunity to replace it without breaking concrete ourselves.

Due to the concrete work, there was only a 24-hour window for us to get it replaced. And of course we had to find out that our window was not in a standard size…The window is only 32-inch wide, and our old window well was 33-inch in width. All the in-stock window wells we could get on the same day were 37-inch wide. So I spent some time googling “is wider window well a problem” but only found mixed results…

So should we go forward with a much wider window well? When there is no clear answer out there, it is time for my scientific training kicking in. All I needed to do was think logically:

  1. Is it necessary to get a perfect fit window well? No. Many egress windows rock much wider window wells. As long as the well is covered, with the sides sealed, it should protect the window as well as a smaller window well does. The only difference is cosmetic – it may look funny, or unfit; but functionally, there is no reason that a wider window well wouldn’t work.
  2. Do we want to wait for a few day in order to get a custom-fit window well? No. The concrete trunk is ordered and our contractor has other jobs lined up. Besides, even we could postpone the concrete work for a few days, the backyard is a dust bowl and my kitchen is covered in muddy paw prints. I won’t delay the work myself.
  3. Is a generic window well sufficient for our needs? Yes. The material will be the same as a custom-fit one and the price tag is actually much lower. Majority of this window well will be under the patio anyway, so instead of the looks, being strong and new are the most important things for us to consider.

We have been making many decisions during our renovation. Most of the time, we could base our decisions on scientific facts and experts’ opinions. This window well decision is an exception. Just like the work I do in the laboratory, sometimes you just have to make an educated guess based on the circumstances, when there was little previous knowledge you could trust. So I made my peace, padded myself on the back, and sent Slav to the big orange store for the most generic window well ever. He brought back this beauty one:

And this cover:

Classy. They are nothing exciting, but I actually think that they could blend in the concrete patio quite well. And I appreciate the fact that they are plastic and should never rust.

New on the left, old on the right.


In the morning of the day of concrete work, we got up early and started digging.



The new well is 4 inches wider, so Slav made a much bigger hole around it to make our work easier.

Just like other metal component we found on the exterior of the house, both the old window well and the screws holding it in place were badly rusted. Slav had to grind some screws off to free the window well from the foundation.


Once the old well was off the house, we started to grading the soil at the bottom. Just like how we graded soil around the house foundation, the soil within the window needs to allow water to drain away as well.


We then laid down two layers of 6-mil Poly. Now any water getting into the well should drain away on top of the poly layer, instead of seeping down. Some gravel will hold the poly layer in place instead of soil to facilitate drainage.


Next, Slav drilled the new window well into the foundation.


Then caulked the heck out of it:



Do you see the red line on the foundation? It indicated where the top of the concrete patio would be. The rule of thumb is that the window well should be at least two inches above the finished surface (in this case, the top of the patio), and at least four inches below the bottom of the window sill. Our 24-inch well satisfied these requirements.

You may notice that there were some gravel at the bottom of the well too. We put down a thick layer on top of the entire poly layer until it reached the bottom of the well, So when we backfilled, dirt would not get into the well itself.

According to the instruction, someone need to “support the window well at all time during backfilling”. Guess who went inside…


It took Slav about 10 minutes to backfill. He shoveled some dirt around the well, one inch at a time, then compacted it really well by doing a little dance on top of it. I, on the other hand, was busy at this one-woman show, pretending to be buried alive. So Slav started pretending he was preforming a sacrifice. It was too much fun.


Isn’t it beautiful? I could not believe how intimated we were about installing it and how easy it actually was! We filled the well with the rest of the gravel and cleaned up a little:


Yes you are looking at the finished patio around it! We got the concrete poured and it is curing now. I cannot get over how beautiful the whole back patio is! Here is another sneak peek:


I will be back tomorrow to show you the process of pouring concrete and finishing the surface. The big reveal will be on Saturday (hopefully we can get our furniture here on time). Are you ready for some mimosas on our new patio? You bet I am!

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