How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.

Herringbone pavers don’t stretch.

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Herringbone is a great pattern on a jacket.  It’s different and sort of mathematical because of it’s clear angels and weave.  It’s a great pattern in brick patios too. It just weighs a lot more.  A herringbone brick patio might slide a little, it could sink or rise in a couple places depending on trees and water shed.  And this can all take place differently from season to season.  If the patio was set in sand and not a slab things get a little organic.  
About eight years ago a customer asked me to help him with a ground drain near his house.  It was backing up and causing some water problems inside the basement wall.   The drain was in and odd spot right up against the foundation and also caught a downspout.  The house was only about twenty years old and built town home style to look antique. It’s neighbors are late eighteen hundreds victorian houses.  Every thing is tall and narrow and landscaped with paver bricks.  
We tried to clean the drain drop and ran a water pressure hose thirty feet into the four inch landscape tubing underground.  This didn’t really help and after a couple of other tries by other companies my customer decided I would dig a new line across his herringbone front patio, which just happened to go completely across the front of the house.  Not the little one near the garage or the side patio where no one looks, but the entry patio.  I suggested he enlist the service company that his home’s association dues paid to do these exact jobs.  He said no.  I reminded him of the option to get some bids.  He ruled that out.  He expected me to do the job.  I tossed out the disclaimers I knew about the challenges of paver bricks set in sand herringbone style.  I tossed out a couple more just to make it stick. I reminded him that even with lots of tamping and careful reinstallation the work may show and need some re-work after a few seasons.   He said he was sure it would be fine.  With the formalities out of the way we shook on it and put it on our calendars.  
The patio had some slope.  I pulled a string line and started removing a course of pavers wide enough to drive a trenching tool through.  I marked the cut pieces and laid them carefully to remember where they went.  Using a gas powered, self propelled trenching machine I made a first initial cut as deep as possible, between thirty and thirty six inches.  I spent the rest of the day with a four inch trenching shovel sloping the trench across the front of the house to the side of the house where the drain would daylight.  The trench ended up about forty-two inches deep at it’s deepest point, it was about a fifty five foot run. A nice slope on the edge of the house allowed the drain to daylight pretty easily.  (By the way, daylighting is basically the act of installing a drain underground with enough down hill slope to cary water to daylight where it spills out into a gravel or grass swale.)  This is the good spot.  The point of a job where the digging and scraping and clawing end and the job starts to get put back together.  The trench is in and sloped nicely.  It’s ready for the drain to go in.  
I started putting the drain pipe in early in the morning. I used rigid landscape drain with a bed of gravel under it and on top.  I ran a level the whole time to insure good slope.  I tied the old flex drain into the new one since we could not determine it’s functionality.  Lot’s of nice rock on top the drain to give it good drainage.  Every thing’s going nice.  Since this was about seven years before I ever even heard of a smart phone I lived by the seat of your pants weather watch.  It started to rain. I had open soil stacked out on both edges of a trench.  It was getting soaked.  The seat of my pants got soaked.  In an act of insanity to keep things moving I started to shovel the dirt, now mud, into the trench and pack it. This seemed like it was going to work, until I realized my customer was watching me under and umbrella from about fifteen feet away.  “Jonas, you’re soaked” he said.  I agreed and explained I wasn’t about to let this mud wash out onto the patio.  I mustered up the confidence to express my beliefs that packing the mud in wet during a downpour would reduce voids and settling.  I hid my panic with determination.  He told me to get warmed up when I could and went back in. 
The next day I returned to put the brick back into the gap in the patio.  According to the seat of my pants it was sunny and probably going to stay that way all day.  I found the trench to be soaked and washed in beautifully by the rain all night.  The soil I shoveled in was filled and smooth.  What luck.  I started adding sand to the gap and working the brick back in herringbone style.  The customer was gone at work that day, which was good.  Re-installing herringbone brick into a gap is weird.  It’s one of those, “please don’t interrupt me” jobs.  Not trying to be rude but this requires attention and rhythm.  The rhythm was good.  The brick, including the cut ones, hopped right back into place.  The soil was soft so tamping the sand and brick in level went really nicely.  I swept the project with sand and left an invoice with a note that said “no traffic on the repair for two weeks”.  I don’t know why I thought that would help but I wanted the whole thing to have a chance to settle in flat and solid before a cocktail party broke out. 
Years later that patio repair is basically invisible. Flat and perfectly blended.  Coming into this fall season reminded me of those cool rainy days when I made that repair. It reminds me of the sudden storm, the rain and leaves.  That customer and I laughed at that job a year or so later standing on the patio.  Maybe he’s in upper state New York, watching fall blow in there this year, laughing about it again.   


Author: Jonas

Working on private homes since 2000 has inspired me to share the experiences and challenges customers face. Homeowners and non-homeowners alike are encouraged to make choices reflecting their hearts and minds. Acting on these choices and the realities of time, money and lifestyle add confidence and peace to the lives of those living in these homes.

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