Finishing the house after the buying it…

Having just taken yet another day off of work to complete work on my house, I just wanted to take a small assessment of the insanity that has possessed me of late.

Step #1: Weed the lawn

All the houses in my development didn’t come finished. That means there is a little oasis of grass in the front, but everywhere else is barren dirt. Well, it will start out barren dirt, but pretty soon they were all teeming with flora of the weed variety. In addition to that, I had a giant black berry bush on the back edge of my lawn. More on that later, but to paraphrase Dave Chappelle: "Bush, you are the goddamn devil."

I spent a few weeks of backbreaking labor weeding the lawn. I’d made a few desultory attempts before, that this weeding a very important prep step to putting in grass. I live in Seattle, so the shovel was nigh useless, so another tool was needed. Enter the pickaxe. I have grown to love this tool and its wonders never cease to amaze. The sharp point enters the same ground that is highly resistant to shovel entry, and additionally, its a great weeding tool. If you want to pull out the weeds by the roots, just strike the ground with the point and wiggle the pickaxe. The entire ground around the weed will be loosened, greatly facilitating removal. Additionally, if you’re in a hurry, the mattock end of the pickaxe will speedily hack off weed tops, and is even good for completely uprooting shallower weeds. I must admit at this point though, that after a few weeks of working at this, I was probably only 2/3’s done with the yard. So onto step #2.

Step #2: Buy Dirt

I had 19 yards of top soil delivered to my house in order to spread around, fill in the low spots, provide a good bad for my sod, and also grade out some of the elevation on the property. Before I continue, if you don’t know, 19 yards is a FUCK ton of dirt. Its enough to completely cover a large tarp and have dirt spilling off the sides. 19 yards of dirt provides approximately 4" of cover on 1100 sq feet, and gradually reduced cover for another 300 sq feet, which meant I was slightly short for my yard. Don’t skimp on the dirt, you’ll always have some use for it, and if you are short, your lawn is going to suffer. I actually over-ordered and ended up with just slightly less than what I needed. If you live in Kent, Carpinito Brothers is where I got my dirt, and as much as I can care about dirt, I liked the dirt from there.

Step #3: To Grass or to Sod? That is the question

I went with sod. It cost allot more ( approximately $500 for ~1400 sq ft ) than grass versus grass seed ( ~$100 for seed, tops ), but in the end, a few things swayed me.

  1. Faster: You can’t be instant grass.
  2. Somehow more familiar: It just seemed easier to find advice and help for sod.
  3. Timing: I put the sod in at the end of August, which is not ideal grass time, but it was ideal sod time.
  4. Weed preventative: The sod could compete much more competitively with the weeds than brand new seed. Additionally, it also compete very well with the blackberry, forcing the rhizomes to run under the grass.

I think seeding is a great low cost alternative, but I just felt more comfortable doing sod.

Step #4: Hire good help

I initially had this idea that I’d do most of the work myself over the period of 2 days. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I initially hired my friend Sean to help me with the dirt, and by the end of the day, we’d moved maybe 40%. By 12:00 PM a day and a half later, I was done. I was also contemplating the pure insanity that I was drinking beer on my front step with a day laborer I had hired before to celebrate the conclusion of the work!

In the end, I ended hiring 3 day laborers for 1 day, with 1 of them coming back the following day for 1/2 day. Total laborer days was 4.5, not counting my labor, although I helped everyday. A few hints for getting help, since this was the most confusing and scary part of the whole process.

  1. You get what you pay for: I offered around $100 for the day, and that seemed to go over well.
  2. Know where to look: If you live in the greater Seattle area, the words Home, Depot, and Lowe’s are a good starting place. If you put Seattle in front of the works Home and Dept, you’ll be even better off.
  3. Work with the help: Not only will you be able to supervise, but at least in my case, this seemed to help morale quite a bit. And I’m being serious when I say that morale is an important factor when hiring complete strangers to do your bidding.
  4. Don’t be scared, and treat them like people: I think this goes without saying, but if the prospect of having your car mobbed by a crowd of strangers, most of whom have only a passing acquaintance with the English language, don’t ever do this. They’ll know it, and will probably lead to general unpleasantness. Which leads into this part: EVEN IF THEY ARE DAY LABORERS THEY ARE PEOPLE!! I can’t believe I even need to say this, but apparently its common practice to fuck these guys over. Here is a little list in case you need it spelled out:
    1. If you pick them up, you drop them off.
    2. If they are working at your house, they get to use the bathroom! You of course are entitled to hang out while they do so, and I’d recommend that you monitor strangers in your house ( do I really need to say this??? )
    3. Be firm, but don’t be a dick. Unless its time to be a dick. Like if someone jumps into your car and pretends to not know that you are telling him to get out, its alright to say ,"Get out of my car. Right now. Get out of the fucking car."
    4. If you buy them lunch, like most people, they’ll be pretty grateful.
    5. Providing little things like water helps out.
    6. Pay in cash, and pay at the end of the job.
  5. It might be good to let someone know you are working with these people: I knew the builder’s people, and my sister also stopped by. I didn’t plan it this way, but if shit ever went south, it was a good idea on my sister’s part to check in periodically.
  6. Don’t answer anything you don’t feel comfortable with: Don’t go all silent, but if they ask what you do, feel free to fill in something vague. Same goes with any questions. You are there to get your work done, and being nice helps get that done, but to quote Dave Chappelle again ,"Where am I from? A little place called none-of-your-goddamn-business."

I never would have gotten done without them, and they helped me out by providing not just labor, but allot of experience in doing things that I had never done before.

So the grass got put in and everything was dandy. After that it was just laying down some sod starter, water every day, and not cutting it for as long as I can stand ( for the record, grass was done Aug 16th, and its still hasn’t been cut ). Next post will be about putting in the fence…

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