Spring clean your property

It’s been a long, long winter. As warmer weather starts to arrive, here’s what you need to know about maintenance for your yard, home exterior and landscaping features

By Jennifer Murray

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The old heave ho

If your patio or interlocking driveway isn’t quite on the level anymore, you can blame frost heave: As the ground freezes and thaws, it expands and contracts. Heaving or sinking can affect anywhere from a few stones to your entire patio, driveway or walkway. But before you reach for your tools, landscaper Rick Hofstetter says it pays to wait a little longer before starting this DIY: “If it’s the early part of the spring, chances are, if you allow it a little time for the winter to get out of it, it might settle itself down.”

If you’ve given the stones plenty of time to settle, but they’re still a jumbled mess, here’s how to straighten them out.

First, pour water on the sand around the stones you want to repair. This will soften the joints.

Next, tap the stones with a rubber mallet; they should start to shift.

Dig out the screwdrivers or, if your stones are 2 x 2 feet or larger, a shovel, to pry them up. “You may possibly chip the stone,” says Hofstetter, “but by watering and tapping it, you’ve softened up the sand that’s between the stones so you’ve got a better chance of getting it out. Hopefully you have a few extra stones kicking around, anyways.”

Once you’ve got those pesky stones out, here’s what to do:

Heaved stones:

Dig out the extra base material until you have a level surface for the brick. Gently tamp the surface, then replace the bricks and fill the joints with sand again.

Sunken stones:

Put a little sand under the brick to fill the hole and level it off. It’s very important to tamp the base material down, to make sure you get all the air out and provide a solid surface for the bricks to rest on. Fill the joints with sand.

“The base of the job is the most important thing,” Hofstetter says. “If it’s not there, if it’s done so badly in the first place, it’s not a matter of repair, it’s a matter of completely replacing and ripping out the old stuff to redo it properly.” If you find the same problems cropping up year after year, or have large areas of your patio or driveway affected, it would be well worth it to have a professional come in to discuss having your paving stones re-installed with a better base.

Hit the deck

Frost heave affects more than just stones: Your beloved back deck can fall prey to it, too. “If your deck has heaved, it’s a situation where it wasn’t done right in the first place, “ Hofstetter says. Most decks, especially those utilizing deck blocks, are more likely to sink, but if you have concrete footings that weren’t dug far enough into the ground, you’re also susceptible to heave.

If you want to remedy the problem once and for all, the best solution is to dig temporary holes and install temporary footings to hold up your deck. Then, dig down four feet, or below your area’s frost line, and redo your original posts the right way: using poured concrete, sonotubes and proper fittings. “It’s a lot of work,” Hofstetter concedes, “but it can be done.”

If you’re not ready to invest the manpower or your deck is due for rebuild in a few years anyway, you can jack up the deck and either wedge up or shorten the deck post. “It’s not a professional way of doing it, it’s a homeowner way of doing it quickly,” Hofstetter says. But hey, it works.

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