drainage report: digging up our yard

Back in May we talked about all the issues with our yard. Now that the deck is more or less done (still need to put the finish on it before the formal reveal), we’ve moved on to fixing our house’s drainage.

And you know what that means – it’s bobcat time!

So last weekend we rented a mini-excavator and dump truck. This was Kyle’s first time to rent heavy machinery of this caliber and after the 3 minute tutorial he received from the rental place, he was ready to roll. Backwards!

The main objectives of the weekend were to basically dig a moat around the front half of our house and take out extra dirt/mulch/gravel from the front yard. We picked up the bobcat and truck on Saturday afternoon. (One trick we’ve learned is that if rental places are closed on Sundays they usually rent from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning for the same rate as a 24-hr rental.) So we did that.

We started on the north side of the house. All was going well until we hit hardpan about 3′ down. Using the power of the machine, we thought we could just slam the bucket down a few times to break up the soil. Unfortunately, this method didn’t really work. What it did do was cause the right tracks of the bobcat to jump off the concrete driveway and into the dirt, which then caused the bobcat to get wedged against the house.

Bobcat FAIL! (As seen in the above right photo.) We popped a few boards under the track for traction and eventually backed it up onto the driveway, accompanied by the screeching sound of a crushed downspout. Oh well. On the bright side, we have plenty of experience restoring cedar siding and we also have an extra downspout. Which is good, because of course these aren’t your plain old downspouts that you buy at any big box store. No, they were special ordered from a gutter place up in Marysville. Why? Because they’re round. Ain’t no rectangle downspouts on chezerbey!

Once Kyle made his way to the west side of the house, he was getting the hang of things. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s grinning because he’s channeling Mike Mulligan (Kyle’s all-time favorite children’s book).

I mean, who doesn’t fantasize about being a steam shovel?

Even though we’ll be backfilling the dirt after installing the new drains, we still needed to remove and haul away a good amount. The process on the north side was tedious. Kyle would dump dirt straight into the wheelbarrows and I would then wheel them up and deposit the dirt in the back of the dump truck we rented.

I complained the whole time. I may have kicked a wheelbarrow, called it a name. Maybe.

This picture reminds me of that ridiculous arcade game where you try to use the claw to get a stuffed animal. Y’know…the game that is obviously rigged because no one ever gets the prize and the next thing you know you’ve spent your week’s allowance on a stupid machine. But I digress…this picture isn’t about arcade games, it’s about JORTS! Saturday was a blistering 82 degrees and the work jorts were in full effect. And Kyle owned them.

On Sunday morning Kyle started digging up the south half of our front yard and tearing out the weird mess of plants along our property line.

This half of our front yard is uneven and awkward and so our plan is to level it out a bit and create a small seating area (using some of the smaller pavers that we salvaged from the driveway in the backyard).

Digging on this side of the house went a lot faster and best of all – no wheelbarrows! We just backed the dump truck straight onto the sidewalk for easy access!

By this point Kyle was an excavating bad ass. Scoopin’, dumpin’, some more scoopin’.

And then tragedy struck. 

Around 10:30 a.m. we noticed that one of the hoses was leaking hydraulic fluid. Great. So much for our full day of machine-assisted digging. [The good news – we get the equipment again this weekend for free!]

But no worries, we still had good old-fashioned hand-digging on our side!

We also had the good fortune to not bust through our water line. (The main line was replaced several years ago, but the old (and broken) pipe was left in place.) Phew. (Note: we had our utilities located before we started digging so we knew where everything was. We just used the bobcat to take the first layer of dirt off before hand-digging around the water line.)

Kyle spent the afternoon hand-digging around the sewer line on the south side of the house while I shoveled mulch and pea gravel from the north side. This is the area where we’ll reuse the large-scale pavers that we cut from the old sidewalk in the backyard.

While we optimistically thought we could get all of the digging done in one weekend (seriously, when will we ever learn?), we probably would have needed two weekends even without the bobcat malfunction. (We hauled away about 8 yards of dirt and probably have 8 more to go. Crazy!)

After dirt removal, it’s waterproofing and drains. Could this be the most unexciting house project yet? Maybe. Probably. Unless you’re Mike Mulligan Kyle Zerbey.

Next time – more dogs and kittens!


18 Responses to “drainage report: digging up our yard”

  1. Ron says:

    Lovely fun.

    But you might want to include that it is always a good idea to dial 811 to have buried utlities located and marked on your property before you start digging.

  2. hjc says:

    Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel is the best book ever! I loved it as a kid and I made sure my boys heard it many times during their formative years (I still have my original hard backed copy). I am almost sure it is the reason they are such hard workers today (they dream of being encased in a basement and living out their days in rest and relaxation!). Good job on addressing the “non sexy” needs of your house. Not the most exciting project ever, but so necessary! You are protecting all the work you’ve done on your house thus far. Good work as always!

  3. Kyle Z says:

    Thanks, yes we have a hard copy too. I still read it sometimes. Always good to see mike and maryanne working together. I did find it ironic though that I was operating one of those evil “diesel shovels” that put mary anne out of work. couldn’t find a steam shovel rental though;)

  4. jason g says:

    jason g ‘likes’ this.

  5. Yolanda says:

    Wow. A blast from the past (I’m talking about Mike and Maryanne- not the Jorts!). Gotta remember to get that book for my boy. He’ll love it!

    Kyle, was the 3 minute tutorial helpful? We’re always inclined to hire out bobcat work, but you make it look easy!

    • Kyle Z says:

      @yolanda, Well I spent some time practicing in the driveway with the controls before digging next to the house. I did smack the house a few times with the bucket in the first hour or so but got pretty good with it in a couple hours. It’s just so much fun , the biggest personal danger is tipping it over with you in it or falling into the hole that your’re digging by getting to close to the edge, the biggest other danger is crashing into your house! be safe!

  6. Reading your blog makes me want to renovate my home from top to bottom! But…for now I’ll settle on reading yours while I drink my tea 🙂

  7. Jason says:

    I love it! My wife makes fun of me for finding projects that need a bobcat. It takes me back to the days of playing with Tonka trucks and digging in the backyard – just a little bit bigger and dirtier.


    Great job digging next to the house like that. I look forward to seeing how you go about waterproofing the foundation and such.

    • chezerbey says:

      Whoa, that’s an even bigger bobcat! I know what you mean about the Tonka trucks…we totally have photos of an infant Kyle doing the same thing!

  8. Amy Stoddard says:

    Awesome. We did the same thing to our mudhole of a house recently.


    What kind of drainage are you doing? The flexible stuff or Schedule-40, rigid stuff? I’m regretting putting in the flexy stuff already.

    • Kyle Z says:

      amy, I here you, I’ve heard mixed reviews about both products. We wound up going with a product called ez-flow footing drains which only has the black corrugated flexible stuff. http://www.ndspro.com/drainage-systems/category-overview/surface-and-subsurface-landscape-and-hardscape-drainage/ Really most of our water intrustion is due to downspouts dumping right onto the ground so we’re going to tie those into our sewer line. The rest of our process includes, pressure washing the concrete, then applying a skim coat of cemtent to patch up big voids, we’ll then caulk around penetrations and crakcs before applying a liquid applied rubber waterproofing. Then we will apply a foundation drainage mat to relieve any hydrostatic pressure. Then of course the footing and downspout drains. I think we;lll be good! I figure it’s best to just go “belts and suspenders” while it’s all dug up.

  9. Fat Cat says:

    Yes, more Bailey and kitty action, pleeeeeease 🙂

    And honestly is there anything you guys CAN’T do ?


Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Two weekends ago we dug out around our basement foundation to prep for new drains. A hose leak in the bobcat slowed our progress, but this weekend we were back at it, faster and stronger. Digging out around the basement was the first step, the second was to dig two trenches on each side of the front yard that go from the corner of the foundation wall out to the retaining wall (about 20′ each). During heavy rains, this gives excess water a place to flow (and then infiltrate) that is away from the house. […]

  2. […] the second half of August Kyle fulfilled his dream of renting some heavy machinery for the house. Before we could think about landscaping (or finish out the basement) we needed to […]

Leave A Comment