Renovation Diary

Erin & Ken’s Backyard Redesign: What We Learned

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Erin Francois)
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Name: Erin & Ken Francois

Type of P
roject: Backyard Redesign

Location: Upper Tangletown — Minneapolis, Minnesota
Type of building: 1930s Tudor-Style Duplex

Erin & Ken managed their backyard project with skill, getting it done in plenty of time to enjoy all summer long! Here’s what they learned in the past seven weeks…

Now that your backyard is complete, what are the most valuable lessons you learned from the project?

We’ve compiled our top 5 lessons learned from our backyard redesign:

  1. Plants are expensive! Take what you think you’ll spend on them, and add 25%!
  2. When laying a paver patio, it’s worth it to rent a powered tamper to pack down the rock and sand layers, as opposed to using a hand tamper which might just take you for-ev-er. Most big box stores will rent them by the hour.
  3. Buy dirt in bulk. It’s usually ½ the price as bags of dirt.
  4. If it’s your first time DIY-ing a certain project, it’s probably going to take you longer than you anticipate. Try not to focus on the time commitment, and remember it’s best to take your time, and do it right the first time.
  5. Consolidate trips to the hardware store. This might seem like a no-brainer, but make a thorough materials list of everything you need for the weekend’s projects and make the hardware store run on Friday night, so you have the entire weekend to create. Saturday & Sunday morning runs to the store can really take a chunk out of the day.

If you were to do it all again (let’s hope that’s never necessary!), what would you do differently?

I think if we were to do it all over again, we’d add a privacy fence wall at the South side of the patio, so we don’t need to rely solely on the prairie grasses to sprout up in order to have visual privacy from our neighbors. Or who knows, maybe we’ll end up replacing the entire fence sometime in the next few years. Either way, more visual privacy!

Did your schedule go as planned? What were the surprises, if any?

We finished on time, but our estimates for how long each project would take were skewed. Laying the patio ended up wrapping up faster than we expected (thanks to friends and family), and all the little projects (stoop surround + air conditioner enclosure + plantings) ended up taking longer, as we tackled those projects by ourselves.

What is your next project going to be?

It looks like our next summer projects will be replacing an old, toppling retaining wall on the North side of the house, and painting the burgundy trim on the front of the house. Remember the burgundy back door? Yep, same unsightly color.

Anything else you’d like to share with us or with the readers?

Thank you for taking this DIY journey with us! If you’re thinking about DIY-ing your backyard; go for it! The hardest part is just starting. You may get run down mid-way through the project (happens to us every time), but in the end, chances are you’ll be glad you did it. And your bank account will thank you for DIY-ing vs. hiring contractors.

Read Erin and Ken’s full diary series or, check out all of our renovation diaries.