What I Learned from my First DIY Paver Project

It was March. My daughter had just been sent home from her senior year of college two months before graduation along with thousands of others in the U.S. to finish up from a distance.

In an odd way, it was good to have her home despite her misfortune. Before I knew it, she and my wife had crafted a significant addition to the “honey do.”

So one Sunday morning, I hear “Daaaad . . . “

I said, “Yeeeess . . .”

She said, “Mom and I want a patio in that spot where we took out the shrubs. This led to lengthy discussion of what I will call the “Vision”. It was going to be PAVERS between the existing walkway and the house to the left of the front entrance. It would be bordered by black rubber mulch and furnished with two black wooden rocking chairs that somehow my daughter had already picked out. Black. To match the shutters.

Without much thought, I said, “OK, we can do that.”
Immediately I hear back, “Cool, let’s go get the materials, I mean the rest of the materials!”
I thought, “The rest of the materials?!”

Turns out, two of my favorite family members had already shopped Big Box Home Improvement and brought home paver samples and a new kind of paver base that was supposed to “save time and make the job easy”.

I Rather Do it Myself

I’m a born in the wool, do-it-yourselfer through and through. I don’t like paying others to do my work, especially if I know I can learn it, figure it out, and get ‘er done myself something my wife and daughter know about me.

Here’s my DIY History!

  • Paint my house inside and out
  • Wash the cars (Really??? . . . well some won’t)
  • Wash windows
  • Replace bathroom tiles
  • Drywall
  • Install doors
  • Install toilets, vanity, sinks
  • Install garbage disposal
  • Design and build a shelving unit
  • Patch my roof
  • Replace cedar siding on my house
  • Install a garage door opener
  • Install a dishwasher
  • Stain the deck
  • Change car oil
  • Cut my own hair (How’d do this qualify? It’s harder than is seems!)

However, this project was different. I was nervous. I had never done pavers. It wasn’t on my list of DIY conquests. I’d never even seen it done or watched one of my bros from the unofficial neighborhood DIY club put them in.

Yet, two hours later I had made two trips to the store to bring home two loads of supplies.

When you Do it Yourself But Need Help

I already knew I wasn’t going to hire a contractor. I didn’t know any friends who had done them.

The guys at the store were just clueless college kids that barely knew the names of things like paver base and polymeric sand.

My dad, from whom I had inherited my do-it-yourself pride and preference was ill and kind of out of it.

So to whom could I turn?! Or what… YouTube anyone?!

I must have watched 50 five to fifteen-minute videos by “Bob Vila wanna be contractors”, vane homeowners with a holiday gift camera, and some dad who enlisted his three elementary age children and thought it would be fun to film their paver project.

I settled on two. The instructional video from the Company that made the “new tech” paver base I would use and an Aussie Contractor who specialized in hardscape (landscaping with rocks). He was my new best friend and he’ll never know it!

Here is how it went.
Watch the video. Pause. Take notes. Go out and measure.
Watch some more. Pause. Take notes. Go out and take a photo.
Watch again. Pause. Take notes. Go get more crap at the damn store.
Start the video again. Watch. Pause. Take notes. Go out and dig.

Dare I say. This went on for days . . . okay, weeks.

OK. This may be an new word for some of you. Let me spell it first, E-X-C-A-V-A-T-I-O-N. Excavation. It rhymes with vacation, and both are experiences and activities, but I can tell you they are at opposite ends of the fun spectrum for sure!

None of these videos gave me a clear indication of how I was to know when I had dug far enough down!

Stressed by Not Wanting to Get it Wrong

Here is what can happen if I got it wrong. Not level, poor sloping, other inconsistencies. Pavers on the outside border slipping away.One end of a paver raising up or sinking down. Twisting paver. Water puddles after a rain. Water draining toward the house foundation. Photos of bad paver jobs.

My head was awash in worry and questions. How can a first time DIY project be so stressful?

How do I know I removed enough dirt?
How do I know it’s level?
Should I scrape it little by little until I think I’ve removed enough?
What if the new pavers are not level with the existing walkway?
Should I just dig deep and add some dirt back in?
All the videos just glossed over this critical decision for me. They would time lapse film and then say, “see we’re done with the hard part, now let’s lay some pavers.”

One Saturday morning on the job, about three weeks in, I literally found myself standing in front of my project with my chin on the end of my shovel handle just staring down at this 10’ x 12’ hole . . . dumbfounded.

When a Do it Yourself Project Becomes a Nightmare

So, I continued on often feeling like a prisoner of my own project moving dirt from front yard to back yard. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow. Load after load. Not really knowing when it would end and how. Filling the long ditch in my back yard was the only benefit and it kept me going.

I had scraped and scraped with my flat blade shovel, thinking I was going to take just enough out and be level as I went along. BUT IT WAS NOT WORKING! AND IT WAS SLOW!

One day, I said to no one in particular as if I had an audience, “The heck with this slow scraping and constant measuring and leveling and dig the crap out! Get the spade! You can add back if you take too much!”

Well, guess what happened?!?

Yes, I took out too much!! My ditch outback was filled, a side benefit that made me feel only marginally better. However, now, I had to take dirt out of the ditch and wheel it back up front to dump into the too deep hole!

My wife and daughter didn’t notice, or at least they didn’t say anything. They just kept asking when they could go buy the chairs. They were used to me taking all summer to paint one side of the house. They have patience at least for this.

I finally got the depth and leveling figured out. Believe me, I’m no math whiz. I felt like I was trying to calculate some kind of reverse geometry. But it had to be right, and the experts on YouTube didn’t necessarily agree on the formula.

Feel free to message me for the secret to the madness and I’ll help you!

When Will This Be Done

Now that the excavation was done after about six weeks. Hey man, I have a full time day job and other stuff on my weekends . . . I can’t blame it on COVID . . . it was a home DIY project!

The weather now became a factor. I needed a weekend and two to three days of no rain preferably. COVID had its fingers into my project too as supplies were now scarce as I was well into Spring and other DIYers were out in force doing similar projects.

I had a tough (and rough) time getting the final supplies I needed, like the grey polymeric sand, and my patience was wearing thin. Then there was the paver edging.

What the heck is paver edging?

Paver edging was nowhere to be found. I needed this to guard against slippage and paver movement.

I went to three places to piece together enough paver edging. I had excellent customer service at one of the stores and almost offered the clerk a job at my company It’s incredible what an impact positive customer service can do!

Finishing my First Do it Yourself Paver Project

In the end, the project came out great. My wife and daughter were complimentary as were two of my neighbors who came to look.

What I Learned From my Do it Yourself Project

Here is what I learned about myself during this first time DIY project.
How to excavate, level, layer, and set the pavers.
I can be too concerned with details and this slows my progress.
I often worry instead of just have fun with it.
I sometimes let tension and anxiety build up overtime and needed to vent.

Sometimes we agree to do things because we love the people making the request. Or we take on something with confidence and fail to realize we lack competence. Figuring it out as we go along can be fun and educational, but also really difficult and stressful. I don’t mind being vulnerable on this.

I really could have used a Coach or someone with experience and a willingness to guide and inform and share and encourage. There was no one I knew that could help so I soldiered on with persistence. I really wanted this to turn out well for my family, and I didn’t want to have to do it over if I messed up.

Your Turn

What first times turned out ok for you, but only after a struggle? What have you learned about yourself because of projects you undertook?

Do you have a current project you’re working on or one you’re planning? Could you use some help, support, and encouragement to do it? Join us in the #365FirstsChallenge Facebook Group and let’s talk about it.

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