The Woods – The Great Backyard Renovation

We live in New Hampshire which is notoriously rocky. Our town in particular has some hills. And when I say hills, I mean HILLS. Our whole neighborhood is basically built on a mountain (or so it seems). While the developer did the best they could to plop as many homes down as possible, it also meant they didn’t put too much attention into creating usable, level yards. We have quite a bit of land, but not much was usable. Our backyard had a nice, small grassy area then a huge dropoff to another level. The lower level was moderately cleared but was not at all level, very rocky, and had 13 not-so-healthy fruit trees. 

Go back in time to September 16 (or somewhere around there). Our last home had a playset with swings and a slide and we used that thing every. single. day. We really wanted to get the kids one for Christmas, we just couldn’t figure out where to put it. We have 4 acres, but not a lot of it was cleared. And the cleared portion in the backyard was pretty much entirely septic underneath, so we didn’t have much area to work with. So Marcus goes to our side yard this September day and starts clearing an area to put the anticipated playplace. But he didn’t stop there.

I love a good before and after, so here’s what we were working with before. You can see the grassy area (which we will eventually fence in because, hills) and then a drop off to a wooded area. I know these pictures aren’t the best quality, but unfortunately this is the best I could find. I need to get better about taking pictures before we start a project, but in my defense, this is a project I didn’t realize was going to happen!

Picture Marcus’ initial clearing to the right of this picture. And where you stop seeing grass is a big dropoff, so we will essentially have two levels in the backyard. 

Before

You see the tops of the Japanese Maple and Evergreen trees? Keep scrolling to see where we moved them! The fruit trees were just beyond those decorative trees. 

This is where the future path is going to be. I will describe that more in a bit…

Exterior pictures are so difficult because you don’t really see the magnitude of the progress! Anyways, here is where we are at now:

This is pretty much the same view as the previous picture. You almost don’t even recognize it! (And do those trees look familiar?). 

After

Picture a fence where the grass and rocks meet. Please Lord let there be a fence #momofsmallchildren.


Do you see the two Japanese Maples?  We transplanted them to the edge of the cleared area and are crossing our fingers they stay alive! They were leaning towards the sun where they were previously, so we will have to stake them and hopefully help them straighten up. By some miracle they survived the crazy wind storm we had the night we planted them!

This is a view standing at the furthest cleared portion. 

More brush to burn!

Pretty spectacular, right?!

Do you see where that wood pile is? That is about where we will put the playplace. 

The stake on the right is the marker of our neighbor’s land.

Turning back around at the stake

You can see where we tore the trees up. I think the previous owners put these trees in to block the less than beautiful lower portion of the yard. (It was very rocky and not level at all and we had MAJOR groundhog and chipmunk issues. The ground was literally caving in some spots.) 

Here is a better picture of the trees we transplanted. Say a little prayer they survive! They are so big and beautiful. 

The plan is to create a path down at the bottom of those rocks along the treeline leading up to a playplace just through the trees you see (and that wood pile if you have good eyes!). I would love to line the path with flowers and bushes and have a sweet little retreat for the kids! 

The view standing at the back shed. It kind of messes with your mind, but where the grass ends is that steep dropoff. Hence the necessary fence. 

Looking to the right a bit. We have a small fire pit here, but we are planning on relocating it to the lower portion.

So here is what we have done:

  • Clear a million trees (I seriously wish Marcus kept track. Sooo many trees!)
  • Ground a few stumps
  • Used an excavator to dig huge holes to bury said million stumps and the plethora of rocks that were unearthed (did I mention New Hampshire is rocky?). 
  • Remove and bury the stone wall that went into the lower portion of the property (we kept the back wall.)
  • Level the lower portion as much as possible. There will be a slight slope still, but it will at least be smooth!
  • Burn said million trees and unkempt forest brush
  • Moved decorative trees to perimeter of cleared property

And here is what we still need to do:

  • Fence the top portion of the backyard
  • Build a path down to the future playplace
  • Install flowers and shrubs on path
  • Fill in current fire pit and build a new one at the corner of the lower level
  • Install zipline (!) that I got Marcus for Father’s Day
  • Possibly add a vegetable garden on the top portion 
  • Add dirt and grass to lower level
  • Add staircase from top deck to the right (we have one on the left, but this would make easier access to where the playplace will be).
  • Pool?!?! A girl can dream!

I am sure there is a lot more we have done, and a lot more we will add to our to-do list! I will do a better job of recording things next time, promise. And in full disclosure, we are doing this ourselves. And by ourselves I mean Marcus, my dad, and brother. My husband works for a company that lent him the machine, so our costs have been pretty low. But if we were to estimate the work that has been done, it would be somewhere near $40,000-$50,000. 

If you are thinking of doing some yard work yourself or hiring it out, just consider the factors. It took us (him) nearly two months to do the amount of work that was done. That is most weekends and most evenings, and the occasional helping hand from family and friends. But, the cost savings was significant. So if you have the time and the willpower, go for it! If we can do it, you can do it.  And I did help! I moved some branches and corralled kids…

Here are some of the items that were so helpful during the process:

Chainsaw

Gloves

Safety Glasses

Shovel

Having a large tractor and an excavator was extremely helpful too! Even if you rent one and do the work yourself, it would be worth the investment. We couldn’t have done the amount of work we did without them!

So, what do you think? Is there anything else we should add? I am so excited at the progress and I can’t wait to see it complete. But in the meantime, I will continue to give daily baths from the kids playing in the dirt.

 

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Finishing the Basement: Now It’s Getting Real

My mother in law was up a couple weekends ago from Pennsylvania for Eloise’s birthday party. (Sidenote: She’s ONE? How?!). I was talking to her about the home, the basement, and organizing the house in general. Basically I was apologizing for the condition my home was in. She gave me a good reality check because in the scheme of things, we had only been living in this home for seven weeks. That isn’t even two months! In that time we have done more unpacking and renovating than anyone should. So totally a tangent, but that’s my excuse to not give an excuse for being more consistent with blogging. I have been a little busy. One of these days I will get my act together and be more organized!

Carrying on, if you’ve followed along with the basement series, we started with the before, and last was the framing. Now we are onto the more glamorous and big impact items- sheetrock and drywall! Cue the confetti! This is where it gets exciting.


From this angle is where you would be walking in from the garage. This is the workout area, and the doorway to the left is the guest room. Crazy awesome, right?! That little nook under the stairs is going to be a fun little area for the kids if they want to join me while I work out.


Guest room!


Isn’t it a thing of beauty?


It is a little harder to tell (and photograph), but this is the inside of the guestroom. Yes, it’s small. But it’s just a guest room. Guests aren’t meant to stay forever 😉


And here’s the office! Where the door is propped up is where a window will be cut in. Just use your imagination to picture the beautiful natural light. Looks good, right?!


Backing up a bit, looking at the office down the hallway.

We are getting close! I’ve had some people ask why we are rushing a renovation when we just moved in. I wouldn’t call this renovation rushed, rather pressured. I’ve mentioned before that Marcus works from home, and since we have three little people under foot, the first floor office wasn’t a viable option for him. So we turned the upstairs office into a playroom for the kids, and that’s why we are building him an office in the basement. Less noise. Less disruption. And we also have guests staying at our home all the time, so we figured to do it all at once and finish off the guestroom as well.

We are almost done!
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Finishing the Basement: Before Pictures and Plans

Two weeks into owning our new home, my husband looks at me during dinner. “Want to finish the basement off tonight?” Um, yes.

It was something that we were planning on having done, just the timing was never set in stone. Now is as good as time as ever! We actually really needed it done because Marcus works from home and with three kids under four, he needed an office way away from the noise. The house has a first floor office but we are using that as a playroom while the kids are young and noisy… We learned the hard way in our last home that kids on the same level as work does not go well!

So that night after the kids went to bed, we demo’d a small room that had been framed out and moved all our things into the unfinished portion of the basement and into the garage. What can I say, when we decide on something we get it done.

So this is what it looked like when everything was cleared out. Boring, I know. But at least you can see the general layout.

Stairs to the right of the frame, garage door to the left.

Same area, looking straight on.

View from the garage door looking in. Where you see the junk is where a wall will be for the mechanicals and storage.

Here’s a mockup of the basement. The little room on the top wall was the one we removed. If you’ve watched the progress over on Instagram I’ve shown a general layout of what we are going to do. 

 

You can see by our very official green lines of our anticipated layout. It has changed slightly since we physically laid it out, but not by much. Basically we are dividing the basement into four areas: office, guest room, workout/mudroom area, and mechanicals/storage.


We are undecided which room is going to be which at this point. I am team guest room on the right. My reasons are:

  1. More room for a bed
  2. More room for guests (which we have a lot) and the accompanying baggage that comes with them. So room for suitcases, crib for baby, etc.
  3. Because it will look better aesthetically…

Marcus wants the bigger room to be the office. His reasons are:

  1. He pays the mortgage so he should get the bigger room.

I mean I can totally see his point of view. So we will see where we end up 🙂 But I digress…

Now onto the cool stuff! Here is the space in 3D so you can really visualize the layout. Awesome, right? It isn’t perfect (there won’t be a wall in the stairs obs) but it’s close.

   

So that is part one. There is a lot more coming! Stay tuned 😉