Tuesday, August 28, 2018

2018 Ellicott City MD, 680+ Sq Ft Bluestone Patio w/ 3 beautiful tiered steps - Backyard


5 Years ago I had the great opportunity to build a beautiful retaining wall in this same backyard for Gary and Michelle. Now it was time for part 2 - backyard usable flat space along with some new steps. A big upgrade from the temporary 2x4 steps Gary built. Michelle spent many hours looking and thinking just about what would fit her design style. The basic tread on tread was just to simple without making any statement. Now with the some limitations of dry laid we would have to come together with her findings on the internet. The parameters needed to allow me to work with large stones with weight to avoid movement, matching similar stone colors on the home and in the wall. The choice was to go with Bluestone treads along with Laurel Mountain stone for under the treads. More of the construction details further in the blog. 


680 Sq Ft Patio construction. Colonial Bluestone squares and rectangles, natural cleft - full color. We went with the full color to gain some of the copper and tans to blend with the copper colored stones in the retaining wall. Michelle also choose the Yellow cobbles to match the Laurel mountain stones on the steps. When building flatwork I choose to use a large cobble granite stone called "Jumbo". The Jumbo creates a good strong edging. Helping to hold in all the base, bedding stone and bluestone. As I like to say your building a sandbox. You need an edging to hold everything underneath inside. Pretty simple when it comes to dry laid more is always better. 

A great deal of time was spent with Michelle to help maximize but minimize the turf between the patio and retaining wall. Enough but not too much.  In addition have a smooth complementing mirrored curves to the retaining wall.



Some of the challenges with this build were two different grades. Everything starts off the house steps I built first. Then comes around the corner here and now has to meet the window wells. So this might be a little confusing. From the house steps I come out both ways 1/8th fall. Now as I come around to this side of house I just have to drop to the widows which came out to 1/4th fall at the same time still falling 1/8th away from the home. 1/8th is the bare min. Preferable with the natural cleft it is best to go with 1/4th. The client felt the angle under the steps with the patio would visually look to drastic. 


Now working level from window to window well all the way across to basement steps. Now I could have dropped again but the height worked out well with the jumbo cobbles. I was able to place half of the cobble below against the concrete steps.  Now with the newly added 6 inch cobble step from the patio to the basement steps. (Note: Jumbo cobbles standing vertical length 10"+) A simple and easy solution without changing the grade on the patio with one more drop down. The clients were extremely happy with this upgrade. Since in the past they have had extreme flooding in the backyard. One more security to avoid excess water being able flood out there basement. 


Cobbles were grinded on the sides to create a tight side by side fit. More below regarding the bonus flashing added. 



Amazing transformation from old to new. Check out Gary's 2x4 temporary steps under the sliding glass door. 


Full color bluestone has so many amazing shades of colors for blues, coppers, tans, greens and so on.


Just a little bit on the construction of the steps (7.25"+/- rise). First (bottom) steps 10' L x 13" tread, Second step 8' L x 13" tread, Top landing 6'L x 20" wide. Built with natural blue stone treads ranging from 3" - 4" thick. I built up under with the Laurel Mountain (tan) stone spending countless hours with a 7" Diamond Cup. Grinding and grinding to get each stone level for the bluestones to sit on. When it comes to steps I prefer to build 16" treads. You will also notice they bluestone overhang by 2"+ so you actually do get more like a 15" tread with the overhang. On these I had to work up a compromise with the client to minimize the loss of patio space. You will also notice great detail went into avoiding any running joints on the step construction. The bluestone stone to stone are flush both on the sides and on the tops. Not easy to do with natural stone set dry laid. Getting this even only comes with the countless ours of shaping. 

More pics below on this construction. NOTE: in right corner of lower step grey piping. These are 1/2" plastic electrical piping under patio. In the event of adding low voltage lighting the pipes only will need wiring. The transformer can plug right into the wall outlet above. Green flags note the exit. 


You can now see the stone retaining wall in the background I constructed 5 years earlier. This section of patio comes out from the door 18' L + then from the left to right 15' wide + (300 Sq Ft)



A great deal was spent to adjust and clean up unsightly lines in the pattern.  Along with steps taken to thermal out industry standard chisel marks on high spots from the quarry. These are natural stone cut by man so they are not always square. Nor does mother earth make each stone flat and uniformed. Each has a personality and character. 


Right side patio in this image cut with a gas cut off saw.  Where the left has the CPVC 1/2" pipe set waiting approval by client.


Bluestone patio pattern extended past suggested areas to be cut for curve. 


You know how sometimes in the middle night you come up with the best ideas!? Well this is one of them. The day before when I started this process of grinding and setting the cobbles. The client Michelle asked how the cobbles would keep all the bedding/ base stone in? While my original plan was ramp up the road base called crush and run CR8 in our area against the backside of the cobbles. In the middle of the night I was thinking about this and come up with very simple solution. To minimize stone or dust washing threw the small gaps between the cobble - Aluminium Flashing.  The magic answer. I cut 6" high and set this to the bottom of the cobbles which are standing vertical compared to the edging which are set long. This allows for the 2"+ bluestone at the top. The flashing is overlapped in middle and wrapped around the corners back to the cement. This will will also help to slow any extra water from getting back down the basement steps. 


Very clean and simple solution giving a nice 6" step up to patio. 


Typically the gutter and sump pump drain would be under the patio. The client choose to have these stay above. At any point with the dry laid stone patio it would be very easy to come back and set PVC piping for drains under patio. 


Marking and cutting the bluestones with a gas powered cut off saw and water system minimizing dust. 





Often many clients have no true understanding of the equipment which is required to produce something such as this. I listed out the main tools I used and calculated realistic days needed for each. This is what I used and how much would have been spent if rented from up the street. 

In my region flatwork such as this ranges from $27-$35. Not including the cobble edging. There is a great deal just in the Bluestone along with equipment. Then you have all the hauling of the base, bedding, dirt, and topsoil. When you price out today's composite decks there a close match. Pavers yes are a bit cheaper.  BUT they don't do so well with UV light and fade, not to mention don't always like salt if used during winter. Concrete can be super clean and simple.  Just lacks an real personality and ends up with cracks over time. 


Setting an all curver patio can be difficult to come up with a pattern. I ball parked pasted the intended cut area by a foot. In this photo keep in mind everything started in the at the steps in the very right corner. I set a 2'x2' stone first to start my pattern. Working against the house foundation was not perfectly flat did make the pattern a bit challenging.  (Always check your corners are square with a square or measure out one way 3ft make a mark then the other way 4ft then mark. Connect the two you should have 5ft. If not your not square.) Then as I went you can see I built out from the steps along the house keeping the 1/8th slope. Next I would start to build away from the house out 1/8th slope. Then the my pattern would the have to go to the left of the house in hopes that everything would still be square. I made cuts closest to the house and along the window wells. I also did my best to build with larger stones on the outsides for strength. Minimizing the chance of a little stone which often have a tendency to shift. 



The Electric Evolution 12" ($212.00) saw comes in handy for quick markings or precision cuts. This saw having an inline motor doesn't do nose dives when giving it throttle. Allowing for more control. I use a dust collector which catches cutting dust along with a large fan to safely remove other dust from the cutting area.


All areas of the future patio I removed all organic topsoil. This section closest to the home had the best sub base which the bedding stone sat directly on. Only to the outer edges did I have to build up with a road base and compact. The majority of the construction would be Sub base - compacted earth, Base CR8 compacted in little wetted 2 inch lifts.  A total of 4" inches as needed in most areas. Then bedding stone 3/8th wash aggregate #8 ranging from 1"-3". The Bluestone was on average 2". Short version - all areas cleared topsoil and organic material ie grass. Then built up since everything was lower. 


Steps - each and every one of these stones had to be hand shaped to achieve this high level of fit and finish for a dry laid stone construction. Each bluestone was saw cut then chisel faced then thermaled with a rose bud torch using propane and oxygen. 


Each course just like walling was built up and packed as needed. 


Just a few tools and equipment. The Dewalt dust collector in yellow to right dingo helping to bring in the larger sheets of bluestone treads. Tent to keep the heat down. Hi-Vis paint marking for the suggested patio layout by client.


The bluestone is one of my favorites to thermal. Mainly since you get the result you're hoping for after hitting the wet areas with the torch. This removes the clean smooth saw cut face giving a sand blasted look.  A more aesthetically pleasing look to the stone face. 


7" Grinder with the dust collector hooked up to it. Grinding and grinding with the dewalt diamond cup wheel.


Course by course, step by step. All dry laid stone foundation set on earth. 


Now family and friends are able to enjoy this living space all year round. Natural stone never goes out of style like man made "stones". A flexible and permeable system putting water back into the earth and not into stormwater systems. Less runoff as Ellicott City has seen time and time again in the last few years. Easily maintained with minimal adjustments that are typically needed in our region. Far more visual appeal than any other choice on the market today! 

Why spend money to have a backyard that looks like everyone else in the neighborhood. Let Rockin Walls create functional art that can be shared for generations. 

Quality not Quantity - One project at a time. Book now 443-291-9388 to transform your dreams into a functional living space. 

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