Backyard Makeover Improves Outdoor Living

Completed paver patio and outdoor fireplace.
Completed paver patio and outdoor fireplace.

When a tornado tore through the Herndon’s neighborhood, their house was spared but the backyard was not. Once the damage to the trees and shrubs had been cleared away, we turned what had been a disaster zone into a paradise for outdoor living and entertaining.

Backyard makeover projects featured include:

    • Paver Patio: Compacted, crushed limestone was used as the base for the Pavestone paver patio with raised planters. Watch Tips for Laying a Paver Patio to find out more.
    • Outdoor Fireplace: The Pavestone fireplace kit included a firebox, chimney, log grate, blocks, polyurethane adhesive, and detailed instructions to help with assembly.
  • Garden Arbor with Bench: An arbor and bench were constructed from pressure treated pine using plans available from YellaWood and installed along the fence in the back of the yard to provide a restful retreat. Watch How to Build a Backyard Arbor Swing to find out more.

Further Information

  • Today’s Backyard, Part 1 (article/video)
  • Today’s Backyard, Part 2 (article/video)
  • How to Lay a Paver Patio (video/article)

Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner, we’re reinventing the great outdoors for a family as we convert their backyard into a backyard paradise. Stick around. Let’s go at it.

When the weather warms up, we all want to spend more time outside, which of course makes us take a critical look at our outdoor living spaces, and we don’t always like what we find.

Recently a tornado touched down in Mike and Leigh Herndon’s neighborhood. Though their home was spared the serious damage many of their neighbors faced, their backyard was a mess. Now that that mess is gone, they’re ready to make some changes.

Leigh Herndon: We went through, you know, the time when it was most important to have the huge play set and the trampoline and you know all those great things for the kids to play with. Now that they’ve gotten a little bit older, you know, we’re starting to look at what it’s going to be for our space. What our long term needs are and stuff like that.

Danny Lipford: Sure. Mike, do you use this very often?

Mike Herndon: Well, only on weekends, we have some friends over, you know. Come out here and have a little seesaw action.

Danny Lipford: It looks a little heavy right there.

Leigh Herndon: It’s kind of sad that that’s like the one last standing piece.

Mike Herndon: Yeah, but it was big enough that the tornado didn’t carry.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, there you go. About the only thing, huh? Well, what do you think about this space? I mean it’s not a giant space, but certainly plenty to work with. What are some of the ideas?

Mike Herndon: Well, the one thing we haven’t had out here is a sitting area. That’s one thing we definitely would like, and then the grass obviously is a mess.

Danny Lipford: Looks like maybe a little water gets in here.

Leigh Herndon: Absolutely. You know, and that’s another one of the challenges that we have had since we’ve moved into this house was the fact that we would have pockets of standing water. And it rained just a little bit yesterday and it’s, you know, the ground is still soggy and you know, it doesn’t have a whole lot of sun. So this is obviously what I would say one of our biggest problem areas.

Danny Lipford: Then, maybe a little bit of landscaping because a lot of this landscaping, like I see all of this landscaping over here, there’s a lot of good stuff there.

Leigh Herndon: We’re in an older house and we want to keep a lot of the plants that we think have been here a pretty good while as well. We don’t want to just kind of start from scratch. And so, it’d be great to clean some stuff up and then kind of maybe enhance what we already have.

Danny Lipford: Okay. Well, what about grilling? Do you guys do any grilling, like to grill?

Mike Herndon: Yeah, I do, I like to grill out a lot. Grill steaks and hamburgers and stuff, don’t really have an area kind of designated for that, so that’d be nice, too.

Danny Lipford: Mmm-hmm.

Leigh Herndon: And that has been a real need of ours. It’s just like Mike said earlier, just a patio space, just somewhere that we can kind of come out, grill, sit and hang out with friends and just enjoy ourselves and have a great, peaceful afternoon. And the weather right now is perfect and this is the time of year we like to be outside.

Danny Lipford: Since it looks like a patio will be the centerpiece, we’re partnering with our friends at Pavestone to create a great plan for Mike and Leigh’s backyard. Okay, guys, I’m anxious for you to see this little thing here.

Mike Herndon: Wow.

Danny Lipford: Does it look like your backyard?

Leigh Herndon: Holy cow.

Mike Herndon: That’s awesome.

Leigh Herndon: No, it looks better than our backyard.

Danny Lipford: Okay. You can see the walkway coming around from the carport, and you can see a little arbor area outside there that we can go with.

Mike Herndon: It’s beautiful.

Leigh Herndon: Oh, my gosh. I would never believe that this was my backyard.

Danny Lipford: And do you see the fireplace?

Mike Herndon: Yeah.

Leigh Herndon: That is incredible.

Danny Lipford: Fireplace would be a focal position out here. Our friends from Pavestone have done a great job on putting all of this together. And do you see how they integrated the planter in over here? And do you see the dog? What’s the dog name?

Leigh Herndon: Haley.

Danny Lipford: Haley, yeah.

Leigh Herndon: She’ll be thrilled.

Mike Herndon: She’s not misbehaving.

Leigh Herndon: She’ll be doing laps. That is absolutely incredible.

Danny Lipford: So, that can give you an idea of what we’re going to shoot for, and actually this is only going to take a couple days for this to look like this. So, it’ll take us a few days to get all the materials, and then we’ll go to work. You guys going to help us a little bit?

Leigh Herndon: Absolutely.

Danny Lipford: We’re also getting some extra help with all of this masonry work, thanks to the folks at Pavestone and Quikrete who sent some experienced hands along with literally tons of materials. We got the weather, we got the tools, so, let’s go at it, man.

Lucas Barry: Let’s get started.

Danny Lipford: Because everything hinges on the new patio, the first step is laying out the footprint for it.

Lucas Barry: So, from that back corner we’ll have someone hold the string line. We’ll go out a little bit past the 12 feet.

Danny Lipford: Oh, I got you. Oh, just to get that parallel wall.

Lucas Barry: Just to get it parallel with that wall.

Danny Lipford: Okay.

Lucas Barry: And then we can take all of our other measurements afterwards and make sure that everything is square and plumb, to get everything outlined before we start moving that.

Danny Lipford: We already know that some things, like the old brick stoop, will have to go.

Andy Morton: We’re looking for a volunteer to get on the sledgehammer.

Allen Lyle: All right.

Andy Morton: Nobody’s jumping up to that.

Allen Lyle: Hey, Tim, you feel like swinging the hammer? A big hammer? A really big hammer?

Danny Lipford: So, it’s being removed, while the layout is finalized. Man, this is wild, this much help for us to be able to transform this backyard. It’s really going to look great with the patio going here, fireplace right here and a nice little planter there, and we’re going to build a nice little wood arbor right in the back.

This should really come together over the next couple days, and we’re going to show you a lot of things that you can use around your house. You don’t have to do it all at one time, one section at a time can really make a difference in your backyard. Guess I got to get to work here. Hey, Allen, you want to help, you going to help me with this thing?

Allen Lyle: Oh, yeah.

Danny Lipford: Okay, there you go. I knew you’d want to try to ride this thing a little bit.

Allen Lyle: Can we do that later?

Danny Lipford: That’s later.

Allen Lyle: Okay.

Joe Truini: This is not a tip about how to use a flashlight, right? I mean, you don’t need my help with that. That’s how you use a flashlight. But this is how you can enhance the use of your flashlight with a length of electrical cable.

Here’s a piece of Romex that I cut about two-feet long or so. What you can do with it is wrap it around the flashlight and twist it tight. And then you can bend it, bend the cable to form legs. Now you can aim the light exactly where you need it. See that? Just like that. And you can aim it down low or up high. It all depends on how you bend the cable itself, which form little legs.

Now, this is great if you keep a flashlight in your car, and you have to change a tire at night and need both hands free. Or if you do a lot of work under a sink, a kitchen sink, or you’re doing plumbing work. And you have your hands—you’re lying on your back—you have the tools in your hands.

And the other nice thing is you can leave the cable on the flashlight, bend little hooks into them. And then you can just hang it in your shop, and it’s ready whenever you are.

Danny Lipford: This week, we’re doing a major makeover on Mike and Leigh Herndon’s backyard with the help of our friends at Pavestone. Right now there’s a lot of digging going on to prepare for a new paver patio, an outdoor fireplace, and some custom planters. Uh-oh. We got a boss coming onto the scene here.

Leigh Herndon: Just checking out what’s going on. Wow, y’all have been busy already! Wow, I’m impressed. I’m impressed that there’s this much dirt actually still in the yard.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I know, it’s perfect.

Leigh Herndon: I didn’t know what I was going to come home to.

Danny Lipford: No, we’re not burying anybody, even though we thought about throwing Allen over in there.

Leigh Herndon: We’ll see how he behaves.

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Allen Lyle: I can hear you!

Danny Lipford: But that’s the slab there that we’re putting down for the big fireplace. So, neat, huh?

Leigh Herndon: I’m getting excited.

Danny Lipford: Working out the elevations takes a little figuring before the forms are staked and a layer of gravel goes in.

Andy Morton: We’re going to want a couple inches in here and then we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to run the plate compactor on it.

Danny Lipford: Mmm-hmm.

Andy Morton: Compact everything well again. Then we’re going to put our rebar in there, and get that all tied in, we’ll be ready to pour concrete.

Danny Lipford: Man. We’re using Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix for the slabs, so we can start building the fireplace sooner. And there’s lots of it to mix.

Andy Morton: I can definitely tell I took the right end of this job.

Danny Lipford: While that’s going on, the rest of us complete excavating the patio and compacting the soil, so that the limestone base for the pavers can be spread throughout the space. Screeding the base down to the proper elevation and slope is a tedious, but very important part of the job. Obviously it’s taking a toll.

Lucas Barry: Who’s that guy?

Danny Lipford: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think he delivered the Port-O-Let. Once the elevation is right, it’s time for more compacting with a plate compactor.

Allen Lyle: Hey, Danny, can I get you away from the noise a minute?

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I think they pretty much have that if they pack that out.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Danny Lipford: Put the sand on top, they’re on their way.

Allen Lyle: Well, I thought since it looks like they’ve got it under control, maybe you can give me an idea on the location for the arbor and the bench.

Danny Lipford: You know, we talked before about it lining up with that door. That’s about center, right there.

Allen Lyle: What are you looking at? I’m on the center here.

Danny Lipford: Center here.

Allen Lyle: Oh, I thought you’re doing the… Okay, I thought you wanted the center of the doors.

Danny Lipford: I am the center of the door.

Allen Lyle: I’m the center of the doors.

Danny Lipford: No, I am.

Allen Lyle: I’m telling you, I’m at the center of the doors.

Danny Lipford: We can measure off that parallel line there and show you that the center is right over here.

Allen Lyle: It’s right here.

Danny Lipford: Exactly where I said.

Allen Lyle: It was not.

Danny Lipford: You never mess with my squareness. I’m the squarest dude around.

Allen Lyle: That’s right where I was.

Danny Lipford: No, I measured over…

Allen Lyle: Oh, no, no, no.

Danny Lipford: I measured over 48 inches and…

Allen Lyle: Roll the tape back.

Danny Lipford: That’s exactly where it was, and you were standing over here, going… Whichever one of us is right, we have some digging to do to clear out these stumps for the arbor. Here, I use this.

Allen Lyle: And I use this.

Danny Lipford: You use that. We’re good.

Allen Lyle: Okay.

Danny Lipford: Back over on the patio, we’re ready for the next step, which is spreading sand. And Lucas explains what makes this bag of sand so special.

Lucas Barry: It comes with moisture in it, so it’s just a lot easier for a customer to spread it. It’s just pre-packaged, the customer doesn’t have to water it down because that moisture really helps settle the sand when you compact the pavers into it.

Danny Lipford: To be sure the sand is of uniform thickness we’ve placed electrical conduit in the space so we can screed off the level with the tops of them. The pipes will be removed before we begin installing the pavers. And Leigh is here just in time to set the first one.

Leigh Herndon: So, the first one goes in there.

Danny Lipford: There you go. All right, beautiful.

Leigh Herndon: How’d I do? Am I done? We finished?

Danny Lipford: No, we have let’s say about 1,000 more. That soldier course of brick-size pavers will define the perimeter of the patio. The interior gets a more random pattern with various sizes. You know, Andy, when you’re talking about being able to just lay these randomly like this, man, that makes it pretty darn do-it-yourself friendly.

Andy Morton: Yeah, it’s really there’s no way you can mess up the pattern. All you’re wanting to try to do here, kind of the name of the game, it’s just minimize the length that you have a long straight run of a seam, kind of try to break those seams up, that gives you the best strength. And after that, just try to mix it up, you know, make the pattern look whatever you want it to.

Danny Lipford: While we keep plopping down pavers, why don’t you check out this week’s Best New Product.

Jodi Marks: Having a drill and an impact driver in a kit is nothing new, but check out what those smart people at Ryobi have come up with. Now, I’ve got two batteries here to show you.

This is the 18-volt lithium-ion battery that comes in the One Plus kit that we’re talking about. Now behind it, I also have an 18-volt NiCad battery, but take a look at the difference. See the different size?

You would think that this lithium-ion battery would not be as powerful, not have a long run-time as say this bigger one here. But you would be mistaken if you thought that.

Now, you get two batteries, like this, in the kit. Pop them on the charger that also comes in the kit. In 30 minutes they’ll be charged up. When you’re ready to, say, put it in your impact driver, like so, you are ready to go.

This again has 20-percent more run-time, so you’re not going to run out of juice when you’re trying to run those long screws or lag bolts. It’s 45-percent lighter, so you’re not going to fatigue your arm. And the best part is, is you can get a lithium-ion battery at a NiCad battery price.

Danny Lipford: This week our gang is making-over the backyard of Mike and Leigh Herndon. With the help of some of our friends from Pavestone and Quikrete, we’ve gotten a great start an on outdoor fireplace and paver patio.

Concrete foundation for the 10,000 pound fireplace is dry now and even though it’s late in the day, we’re starting it, because the weatherman is calling for a lot of rain tomorrow. This fireplace kit calls for the pavers to be stacked one on top of the other with a bead of polyurethane adhesive in between each layer. But fitting them together seems to be a little more like child’s play.

Andy Morton: It’s like Legos, everything always is based on that one module. Yeah. No matter how you turn them, they all fit.

Allen Lyle: They all fit.

Andy Morton: Same idea here. It’s all based on a 3.5 inch modular. And the reason we do 3.5 inch is it modulates with your dimensional lumber. So you can also, you know, that right there is the size of a 2×4.

Allen Lyle: Correct.

Andy Morton: That’s the size of a 4×4. So, you can incorporate posts and things like that if you want to make benches and what not.

Allen Lyle: All right.

Andy Morton: So, yeah. All works like that, pretty much everything, no matter how you turn it it’s all going to fit together.

Danny Lipford: The process really is pretty simple, but these guys were able to show us a few tricks that might not be apparent to the casual observer.

Andy Morton: See on this block? It’s got these little marks on them. Those are called swipe marks and that’s when the block is actually demolded from the factory.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Andy Morton: What we want to pay attention to is when we’re doing this course like we’re doing here, we want to lay these blocks vertically like this, but we want that swipe mark to be horizontal to the ground. The reason for that, that gives us our most consistent height in the block.

Allen Lyle: Oh, okay.

Andy Morton: So, as we go up multiple courses high it prevents us from getting off, from blocks being just a little bit out of dimension.

Danny Lipford: That interlocking of courses, along with the adhesive, makes this fireplace incredibly strong and it goes up quickly. The firebox and the flue are metal inserts that come with the kit so it all fits together perfectly.

Well, I tell you, I can’t believe we’re still out here. It’s been like 10.5 hours since we started this morning. We’re pushing hard because we expect a lot of rain tomorrow, hopefully not. We already have our tent setup so that we can do the planter on that end in case it rains, but we still have a lot of work to go.

Hey, we even have Mike and Sally helping us out here and stocking up. We’re trying to go ahead and finish everything to do with the fireplace today. Looks like we’re going to be working till dark.

Unfortunately, as predicted, day two starts with a lot of rain. So, Allen and Tim are working under the Herndon’s carport to build the bench and arbor. But the question is what can we get done on the remaining paver planter? That seems pretty good. I thought this would be mushy, right in here.

Lucas Barry: Yeah, it looks like the tent here has kind of done its job.

Danny Lipford: So, y’all willing to work in these conditions?

Lucas Barry: We’re here, we might as well get it done.

Danny Lipford: All right, man. That’s great. All right. We’ll try to keep dry and let us know what we can do in bringing materials and that kind of thing.

Lucas Barry: Okay.

Danny Lipford: We’ll do the best we can.

Lucas Barry: That’ll work. Cool.

Andy Morton: Thanks.

Danny Lipford: So, once we mark off the edges and dig out several inches of the soil, the base goes in. This time we’re spreading out the dry Quikrete Fast-Setting mix. But since it won’t stay dry long, the guys are troweling it out level and placing the paver blocks as they go. Man, you guys are animals.

Andy Morton: We’re going at it.

Danny Lipford: Man, oh, man. I was checking the weather; they said it might be a little better in about an hour.

Andy Morton: Well, hopefully at that point we’re doing pretty good.

Danny Lipford: About the time you’re done.

Andy Morton: An hour, maybe we’ll be close to being in the dry.

Danny Lipford: Yeah. Great day. The weather never really breaks, but our friends from Pavestone don’t either and soon the planter is done and ready for soil and plant. But that’ll have to wait for another day.

So, when the weather breaks a few days later, it’s up to us, and the homeowners, to fill the planters and finish up rest of the work. Mike and Leigh and I get the landscaping going, while Allen and Tim assemble the pieces for the arbor that they created in the carport just a few days ago.

Both it and the bench, which is already complete, are made from pressure-treated wood so they could handle the weather beautifully. Plus the plans for both projects came from the manufacturer’s website at, so this couldn’t be easier, except for moving this beast into position along the fence.

Allen Lyle: Ooh, I love it.

Danny Lipford: While I help finish up the arbor, Mike’s spreading some new grass seed that’s supposed to be very hardy and sprout in just a few days. Meanwhile, dig real deep. Leigh has gotten Sally involved with the plants.

Leigh Herndon: This is a little trick he taught me. Hold on. Put a little cut in them. I guess that helps them grow. So, there you go. Put it in, push it in a little bit, and now all this dirt, you can smush it all around it. Nice job.

Danny Lipford: With the arbor complete, we can use the last of the Fast-Setting concrete to secure it in place and finally move the bench into position beneath it. And it’s none too soon, because these three days of work, have really taken a toll on us. While we take a break, here’s an answer to one of your questions.

Danny Lipford: Alex asks, “Is it possible to paint vinyl siding?”

Just about any surface on the outside of your house can be painted, including vinyl siding. Of course it all starts with proper preparation. And when you’re talking about vinyl siding, one of the best ways to really get it clean is to use a TSP solution, or trisodium phosphate—maybe a stiff bristle nylon brush.

Now after you clean it, you may go, “Hey, that’s looking pretty good,” and you won’t want to paint it. But if you do, the next step would be applying a bonding primer over the entire surface, or use a high quality exterior primer with a bonding primer additive. After that dries, you’ll go back with two coats of high quality acrylic latex, and you’ve completely changed the look of your house.

But you have to keep in mind, one of the big advantages of vinyl siding is it’s virtually maintenance free. If you put a coat of paint on it, you have to paint it again sooner or later.

Danny Lipford: Hey, Mike, how you doing?

Mike Herndon: Doing great. Just getting some burgers on the grill.

Danny Lipford: Man, perfect day to be using the patio, huh?

Mike Herndon: Yeah, you’re just in time. Hope you’re hungry.

Danny Lipford: Awesome, awesome. Look at all of this. Man, the girls are working hard. Leigh, how you doing?

Leigh Herndon: Good. How are you, Danny?

Danny Lipford: Good, good. Okay, how’s it changed back here? I mean, you guys always had a backyard, but it’s a little different now.

Mike Herndon: Well, we’re definitely using it more and the girls are asking to eat outside, and we’re getting a lot more use out of it already. Hanging around the fireplace, having a good time.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I can see you already got wood in it.

Mike Herndon: Yeah, yeah.

Leigh Herndon: Normally the girls are…

Mike Herndon: Absolutely.

Leigh Herndon: Normally the girls are ready for it to be warm weather, but I think this year with the fireplace…

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Leigh Herndon: …they’re going to be ready for cold weather to start.

Danny Lipford: Yeah. It’ll be fun, marshmallows and everything. Now, what about the little seating area in the little arbor out there? I know the vines are starting to grow a little bit and so forth, it’s been a couple weeks. I’m sure you’ll be able to use that a little bit.

Leigh Herndon: Yeah.

Mike Herndon: Yeah, we already are, and that’s really kind of the girls’ favorite spot there. They sit up there and Haley, the dog, jumps up there and hangs out with them, so it’s already getting a lot of use too.

Danny Lipford: Well, I’m so glad that you guys are able to have a patio you can use, perfect time of the year for it.

Leigh Herndon: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Danny Lipford: I hope you girls enjoy it and use it a lot out here. Hey, I hope you enjoyed seeing this project come together and you can see, even though we had a lot of help and a great crew from our friends at Pavestone and Quikrete, you can tell how little by little you can put together a patio, planters, as well as a fireplace.

Hey, thanks for being with us this week here on Today’s Homeowner. I’m Danny Lipford; we’ll see you next week. And these are looking good, I didn’t know you were so skilled at the grill master here.

Mike Herndon: We’ve got enough for everybody, hope you’re hungry.

Danny Lipford: Perfect, perfect. This looks great.

Allen Lyle: Have you noticed, Danny’s missing? Where’s Danny? There’s work going on, no Danny.


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