Solo House Projects: Pavers and Gazebos


June 29, 2015 by Jean

hardscape front walkway redoOne of the challenges in living alone is completing house projects that require physical strength and/or more than two hands. I’m no weakling, but tasks that require lots of heavy lifting or with instructions that explicitly warn against doing it alone give me pause. Over the years, I’ve learned that I can complete many of these projects alone – if I think carefully about how to use my body and tools to greatest advantage and if I pace myself. I can and will ask for help if I need it, but my preference is to get things done by myself.

Recently, I’ve been facing two such projects. The first is the hardscape around my new addition. I consulted with a landscape architect as part of the planning for his project, and his design included a small patio and a series of walkways. I had hoped to have this work done by my contractor; but when I saw how far over budget we had gone on the construction, I knew that I would need to substitute sweat equity for cash investment. I’ll admit that I dreaded it. This is fussy, tedious work that I am not good at; it took me several years to complete the long walkway through the back garden that connects my back deck to the driveway. Fortunately, the crew that put in the retaining walls for the patio laid out all the hardscape with compacted soil and gravel, giving me a good base to build on; and my contractor gave me some tips to make the work easier.

I’m using 1’ x 1’ concrete pavers for all the hardscape. The individual pavers are not that heavy, 17.5 pounds, well within my capacity to carry (two at a time) and maneuver. I need more than 200 of these pavers to complete the job, however, so collectively I’m dealing with almost two tons of weight! I have been bringing them home from Home Depot in the back of my car, 16-20 at a time, and doing the work in two-hour stints. This weekend, I reached the halfway point on this project, with three walkways (to the front door, back door, and patio — a total of 106 square feet) completed. Next is the 8’ x 8’ patio and then one more walkway (leading from the patio to the lower garden). I’ll be happy to have this project behind me, but it was easily doable by one person.

back garden enterThe screened gazebo for the back deck is a different story. Maine’s impressive population of biting insects (especially blackflies and mosquitoes), make sitting outside in summer much more enjoyable if you have a screened structure to sit inside of. Since I had the deck added to the back of my house a dozen years ago, I’ve always put up a screenhouse/gazebo on the deck each spring and taken it down in the fall. These structures take hard use and usually need to be replaced every few years.

I was very happy with my last gazebo, which was sturdy, which I could put up or take down by myself in a couple of hours, and which lasted about 6 years. I had expected to replace it with the same model, but discovered that they are no longer available. I found several that looked similar but had terrible online reviews from dissatisfied customers. After considerable research and more hesitation than is typical for me, I ordered a new gazebo that was more expensive than those I’ve used in the past, was also heavier and more substantial, and had outstanding consumer reviews. Part of my hesitation about buying this gazebo was concern about whether I would be able to manage it by myself; but at least one or two reviewers said that they had put it up alone, which reassured me.

Now that I’ve tried it, I can’t imagine how anyone with only two arms could put this up alone. I began work on it one afternoon last week and got as far as counting and laying out all the parts, carefully reading the instructions, and assembling the four crossbars that connect the corner poles before I quit for the day. At this point, the instructions that assembly required 4-5 adults worried me; but I have assembled other gazebos and many pieces of furniture that the instructions said should not be done alone. (My chimney sweep says that these instructions are written by the lawyers for liability purposes.)

I designated the entire afternoon of a sunny, dry, and cool day later in the week for getting the whole frame assembled and installed on the deck. First I got the four corner poles out and into their approximate positions. (These could not stand alone, so I leaned them against the railings of the deck.) Next, I decided to attach the first crossbar to two of the poles while they were all horizontal on the deck and then stand the whole assembly up. This worked well; it was when I tried to attach the next crossbar that I realized I was in trouble. As I stood on a stepladder in one corner of my deck, holding one end of the heavy crossbar over my head with one hand while I tried to bolt it to the corner pole with the other hand, the weight shifted and the whole thing started to fall over on top of me, threatening to push me off the ladder. At that point, I decided that my behavior was stupid and dangerous and I admitted defeat. I disassembled the first crossbar from the posts and put the pieces back in my basement.

I considered seeing whether I could get a few friends to come help me with this job, but it seemed like a lot to ask (about 2 hours work, not a few minutes) and a big hassle to try to find a time that would work for everyone. Instead, I went online to my favorite “find a contractor” website ( and put in a request for handyman services. A highly recommended carpenter/handyman got back to me a couple of hours later. The problem is that he is very busy right now, and it’s not clear when he (and a helper he would need to bring with him) could get to this job. I’m going to call him back to check on this today. As a back-up, my next door neighbor has offered the services of herself, her daughter, and her son-in-law the next time the daughter and son-in-law (who live in a neighboring state) are visiting.

One way or another, I hope to get this gazebo up so that I’ll be able to sit out and enjoy the back garden. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lesson in the limits of my capacity for solo house projects.

7 thoughts on “Solo House Projects: Pavers and Gazebos

  1. Congratulations on your walkways and here’s hoping someone can help you with the gazebo because no one wants to miss a moment of Maine’s summer season but those biting bugs get annoying. I need to redo a walkway and I keep putting it off. On my knees is not my favorite place to be after knee and back surgery. 🙂 But, I hate crying uncle and asking for help as well. In my case, I can find the help but I get the 50 questions starting with why do you want to do this. 🙂 can’t do it.

    • Jean says:

      Judy, The advantage of doing it yourself, as you know, is that you can do what you want without having to negotiate your vision. On the other hand, laying the pavers is definitely hard on the knees 😦 .
      One way or another, I’m determined to get the gazebo up in the next two weeks. (I may have to send out invitations to a work party and order pizza!) I can sit outside now on the new front porch, but there’s no garden there. I want to be able to sit out in the back by the time the garden reaches peak bloom.

  2. Jean R. says:

    Your sidewalks look great! I’m doing a similar project only on a MUCH smaller scale. It’s hard work but worth it.

    Your gazebo story makes me happy I have a screen porch instead. Maybe it’s a Michigan thing but they are pretty common up here—as are the portable gazebos. Do you leave your framework up in the winter? My niece-in-law has a gazebo that is similar to yours, I think, and that’s what they do in the winter, just taking in the screen side panels when the snow flies.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I have a screened porch on my new addition (you can see it in the top photo), and I have been sitting out there — but it’s not as roomy as my back deck and the garden is in the back! In the past, I’ve always taken the gazebo frame down and stored it in the basement over the winter, but this one will need to stay up, so I’m glad to hear that has worked for your niece-in-law.

  3. Melanie says:

    Lovely! What satisfaction you can derive from your labors!

    • Jean says:

      Melanie, It is satisfying when it’s all done, but I don’t particularly enjoy the process. I’m taking a break from paving stones this week to get one small flower bed by the front door dug and planted. Then I’ll begin work on the patio next week.

  4. I got a taste of going it alone with garden projects as the hubby hurt his back and I don’ t see he will be able to do any big jobs until maybe fall…and if not then I will have to finish a few big projects alone…I better get in shape. Hope you find help for your project soon Jean!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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