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MY HANDMADE HOME: Our epic brick wall fail


By Heather Laura Clarke

When we had our driveway paved, I was thrilled to see the grey gravel banished forever. Our driveway had been lumpy and uneven, with a rocky hill leading up to the stairs of our porch -- which sat perched on a heap of gravel that kept slipping out from underneath it.

We tore off our old stairs, which needed to be replaced anyway, the day before the paving crew was set to arrive. It made total sense when the pavers explained they would need to even out the grade, giving us a flatter driveway and a nice surface on which to rebuild our stairs.

I didn’t care that it meant cutting into the front lawn a bit. I was getting a flat, paved driveway! They finished the work in just two days, and left us with a gloriously black, smooth surface. It was so beautiful, I didn’t want to drive on it and risk marking or denting the fresh asphalt.

Once the crew left, however, it was clear we were going to have to do something about the exposed chunk of earth that ran along one side of the driveway like a miniature cliff. As the yard got higher and higher, the drop down to the driveway got steeper -- and crumbles of mud started rolling onto my pristine new pavement.

We built the new, taller staircase and that hid some of the “dirt wall,” but it wasn’t enough. Despite having zero masonry experience, my Handy Husband decided he could manage a simple brick retaining wall. (Famous last words.)

He poured a channel of gravel between the mud and the pavement, and then went out and bought 100 bricks and a bag of mortar mix. He mixed up a batch in his wheelbarrow, adding water from the hose, and I was impressed by how quickly he had those bricks all lined up in the first row.

He started working on the other layers, slathering mortar in between to make them stick. Hilariously, I kept thinking of the Three Little Pigs and how the smartest pig built his home from bricks.

The wall was tallest by the stairs, where the drop down to the driveway was the highest, and tapered off as it went. By the time it reached the sidewalk, it was only one brick high. It wasn’t the nicest brick wall I’d ever seen, but it was fine. More importantly, it was done -- and it hid the mud!

Well, fast forward to the following spring, and it was far from fine. The ground had froze and expanded throughout the winter, putting too much pressure on our weak little wall. It now slants hideously towards the driveway, like the Leaning Tower of Bricks.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the kids and their friends loved walking on it like it was a tightrope. It wasn’t strong enough for that. In fact, one of the sections -- two bricks high -- actually crumbled apart from the rest of the wall, and occasionally needs to be propped back up.

What can you take away from our mistakes? Well, either hire a professional who knows how to build a proper brick wall, or at least do some research before thinking you can tackle it yourself.

We may have DIYed this project inexpensively, but the results look like garbage.

My Handy Husband thinks he knows how to fix it -- something about cutting further into the lawn, adding more gravel, and tamping it down well with dirt before adding the bricks. I just keep exclaiming “It’s too SKINNY! If it was two bricks deep, it’d be stronger!”

I have no idea how we’re going to fix this hot brick mess, but I do know we’ll never forget our embarrassing crooked wall of shame.

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