Should You DIY Your Backyard Renovation?

Posted by on Sep 22, 2022

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Backyard renovations can be daunting. You can go to a big box store, buy a new set of plastic patio furniture and be done with it. Or you can dig up trees, demolish crumbling cement work, build a new deck, redesign the landscape and finish with a setting that’s magazine ready. Most people will opt for a makeover that’s somewhere between the afternoon shopping spree and a multi-week project. But how much can you tackle yourself, either by banking on experience or learning on the job? Take a look at some of the backyard renovations discussed below and you’ll get a good idea of the required effort.

If you’re planning to go all out on your backyard renovation, Andrew Thron’s above video demonstrates some of the talent and tools you’ll need. Breaking apart the cement patio with a sledgehammer will be kinda fun. Don’t forget, though, you’ll have to set up the frame, mix the concrete and pour a new one. And you don’t want the surface to be uneven when you’re done or every barbecue you host someone will undoubtedly ask “What happened here?” 

When time comes for building a new wood fence: Do you have all the power saws and drills required for cutting and attaching the pickets? Don’t forget the sawhorses, shovels and nail guns. Before laying down a fresh walkway or tiled deck, you’ll probably need to excavate the ground underneath it and cover it with a bed of gravel to ensure the ground is solid. Before seeding a new lawn, consider replacing the topsoil, which may require hiring a truck to haul in the new dirt. Some projects you can use simple hacks to do it yourself; others elements won't allow you to cut corners. Watch the video and you’ll see there’s a lot of the work that goes into giving a backyard a professional finish.

Fire Pit

Maybe you don’t want to do the entire backyard makeover at once. Smart thinking. Nibble off one project at a time and start with something doable, but also impactful. 

In the video above, Brad from "Fix This Build That" demonstrates a range of options you can consider when building a barbecue pit. Before you start digging, you want to know the local requirements for how far the pit needs lit to be from a built structure — that distance can range from 10 to 20 feet, but you want to know since you won’t want to build one twice. You’ll also want to know where the utility lines are, so call you local utility company who can help identify the lines in your yard (often as a free service). 

For the wall of the pit, there are a variety of bricks you can use such as wedged retaining wall bricks or cement pieces shaped specifically to build a fire pit. A metal fire ring insert is good to complete the design and protect the bricks, but isn’t necessary.

Wood Fence

While building a picket fence may seem like a task every American should know how to do, few of us actually make them. It probably won’t be the most complex part of your backyard makeover, yet the build will require some planning and careful measuring. The vertical posts will need to be mounted in about two feet of concrete. 

The wood, horizontal braces will be screwed into the posts and the pickets nailed to the braces. If you properly plan out the spacing of the posts to match up to the length of the braces, you won’t need to cut them again (except in corner spaces). 

You’ll definitely need a level to check the placement of the posts and braces along the way. To ensure the braces are all installed at the same level, you may want to make a template on one of the boards or measure carefully along with the level. But as Andrew Thorn explains in the above video: If the exact measurements don’t look good, you mean need to eyeball the height so the fence lines look good aesthetically. Using a level line (a string hung between two posts) can help ensure you hang the pickets at an even height. A lot of the task is repetitive, so do your best to remain focused along the way.

Garden Furniture

The furniture that sits in your backyard often takes a beating from the elements, particularly if its made out of natural materials. Plastic chairs and tables may take kindly to quick hose down. But even those molded chairs will eventually fade and beaten down by the sun. 

Wood furniture can be refreshed with a wood cleaner and steel wool. You may want to stain, oil, or repaint the wood when you’re finished. Cushions can be scrubbed with a plastic brush and diluted dish soap. Of course the type of furniture you have will likely impact how you clean it. For example, rusted metal furniture may need to be scraped down, treated and repainted. 

If you want to completely redo the style of your backyard, you can look for lounge chairs, benches and picnic tables made from a range of different timbers. Consider if you want your final look to be rustic or polished, California-style or New England.

Retaining Wall

Placing a retaining wall around your plants or garden not only helps the soil stay in place, but also gives a finishing accent like piped frosting on the edge of cake. A string line and sakes can hep you figure out the drop of the area where you plan to place the wall. Decide which paving stones you want for the wall before planning in detail. 

The height will determine where you may need to remove or add soil to keep everything level. Be sure to string a taught line with a level to make sure you’re able to know the height of the final build. Math is your friend when knowing how much to dig out. It’s likely part of the wall be higher than another. To ensure an even starting point, you also need to layer paver base. Dig an initial trench where the wall will be. Pour in a couple of inches of paver base and then cover with an inch or so of sand. When you lay down the stones, you may need to add sand between them to ensure the stones remain level and appear even.

Whenever in doubt, it is always better to consult with professionals to minimize risks. However, that being said, when the job is straightforward and manageable with your budget, skill set and schedule in mind, feel free to get creative and DIY your garden renovation!