The Dumpster Do-Si-Do

One of the (many) common denominators in a remodeling project is demolition. With demolition comes the necessity to get rid of the debris. There are two basic approaches for a DIY’er to address this requirement: (1) Pay somebody to come and do the clean-up and haul all the detritus away; (2) rent  a dumpster. A third option, which is not DIY, is to task your subcontractor to dispose of any waste generated by the job. This makes sense, especially if you’re dealing with things like brush removal, tree trimming, or hazardous waste, like asbestos, which is typically encountered with HVAC upgrades. But usually the folks who you will subcontract know how to deal with this, and again, it ain’t DIY.

Option one, paying somebody to come in and haul away your stuff, can be very useful, especially if you have a relatively small job. These folks are quick, efficient, tidy, and you don’t have to concern yourself with any of the codes, regulations, or liabilities of disposing your waste. The downside is that these folks are pretty expensive, and you lose some flexibility with respect to generating your waste on your own time schedule.

Option two, renting a dumpster, is fairly typical of what a remodeling contractor will do. The dumpster will be placed in front of the home, and you can add as your needs require. How simple can that be? Well…. NOTHING in remodeling can be so simple!

You just can’t plop a dumpster anywhere you want. If you have some space on your property, then consider yourself lucky as the requirements are typically less demanding. In my case, I have no room on my postage stamp sized property, so the only option was to place it on the street in front of my house. Now the fun starts.

Because the street is owned by the homeowners association, I had to get permission of the HOA board. They granted permission provided that I informed  my neighbors about the dumpster. Turned out that I had the opportunity to meet some of my neighbors (for the first time), so maybe that is a blessing in disguise. However, I also had to deal with the city ordinances, and the company who would supply the dumpster is contracted by the city, so there was no way out. When I first requested a dumpster from the waste services company, all of a sudden, I had to deal with additional complexities. (1) What type of waste? (general residential demolition). (2) Do you have any heavy waste? (Yes, I have concrete, stones, brick, and dirt. (3) Concrete, bricks, and stones go in a 15 yd dumpster. If you put dirt in it, we have to charge extra. (Well , at least they told me.) (3) Do you have a permit from the city? (No, but not required because, this is a private street). Here is where the plot thickens.

I tried, valiantly, to get an answer from the city as to whether I needed a permit or not. I left a message with somebody at public works, but I wanted to find out the answer, so I kept calling the city and eventually found a city employee who said “If it’s a private street, you don’t need a permit, but you have to place traffic barriers with flashing lights around the dumpster.” I inquired about the necessity for that requirement and was told that there had been a number of accidents whereby the drivers of certain vehicles have crashed into dumpsters parked on the street because they did not have the same kind of reflective markings that a parked car does. I am certain that alcohol was NOT a factor in any of these incidents. (The person on the phone chuckled appropriately.) In any case, I agreed to procure (purchase) traffic barricades and lights. Heck. They may be useful in other circumstances in the future.

So, I called back the dumpster company, and I reassured them that I did not need a permit, and that all I needed was a HOA letter telling them that it was OK to put a dumpster on the street. Then, 2 days before delivery, I get a call from the city saying that thee person whom I called was out and that they looked up my address and determined that I would need a permit. So much for inter-organizational communications! So I went to the place where they issue permits, got the permit, and e-mailed it to the waste disposal company to make sure that everything was square. I’m not sure what the $65 fee was used for other than supporting the city’s bureaucracy, but being a retired military officer, I should not be one to judge. I followed up with the dumpster company and was assured of prompt delivery on the date agreed upon. The dumpster came and I was ready to accept in all respects.

This is what I learned:

(1) A bureaucracy has a mind of its own, and you need to be flexible, and  be accommodating, to get what you want. Honey is better than vinegar.

(2) Your project has a mind of its own. After I took a lot of effort to setting up the dumpster, and equipment rental, I originally wanted to get all of the demoe’d hardscape into the dumpster the first day, but the backyard retaining wall was far more difficult to demo. I ran into serious trouble. My schedule was trashed, and  I had to quickly re-arrange my plan. The bottom line is that I did not have the right tool for the job. So I came up with plan “b”. Rent a hydraulic breaker with the steer-skid, and stop the manual demolition nonsense. Heavy equipment (on a DIY scale), will make short order of this problem.

More to follow….

Site Planning Complete — Digging Has Commenced!

Although I had to submit a “site plan” to the city for inclusion in the building permit plan set, I really didn’t have a plan that was detailed enough for me to work with. Additionally, when it came time to start digging, my wife and I took a second look at the front yard and decided to completely change it since it had to be gutted anyway. As mentioned in my previous post, I had to add an irrigation system, and I determined that all existing retaining walls had to be re-done because when I lowered the backyard grade to the correct level, it would undermine the existing retaining wall. Talk about project expansion! So, I went about revising the site plan, and I’ve uploaded it here: 1370 BFD LANDSCAPE PLAN R 0.0 for your reading pleasure.

The first action that I had to do was remove all of the bricks and sand from my existing patio. Rather than toss the bricks and buy new ones, which would be tremendously expensive and wasteful, I decided to pressure wash them and stack them up. For the sand, I needed a way to screen out all of the mess, and after some research, I came upon a website that had plans for a hand “trommel”. This is a device that was used by gold prospectors, and it turns out that there is an active hobby community that goes out and does this sort of thing. Hence, there are resources available. You could buy a motorized one, all assembled, for a lot of money, but a guy developed a plan for a real DIY trommel that is made of Home Depot (or Lowe’s) buckets, some PVC pipe and fittings, and some screen. Here is a link to his page, and here is a picture of my finished model.

Site Work 043

I also needed to get rid of all of the plants in front of the house. This would be no easy task as it was overgrown with agave and rosemary. They were pretty plants, and it was a nice ecosystem with zero maintenance (no watering), and buzzing with bees who were hard at work gathering rosemary nectar. (That would make awesome honey!) Alas, with heavy heart, we called in a landscaper to do the dirty work. Good thing because he got attacked by the bees and had to go to the drug store to get some benadryl. Plus, digging out that agave is a royal pain. It as well worth the $850 I paid him and his helper. Here are before and after pictures:

Front Yard After

Front Yard After

So, work is now well underway. There’s still a lot of site work to go, but I’ll have more updates along the way. Next up: Dumpsters and Steer Skids!

Front Yard Before

Front Yard Before







Irrigation — And How A Project Expands

This past week, I’ve been working on gutting my landscape. The reason for this is because the first order of business is to install a site drainage system. The reason this is first on the list is because I have to excavate in order to install my upgraded electrical power line from the power head on the street. I then have to cover it up and pour concrete because that is where I am going to place the temporary storage box for all the household crap I have to move in order to vacate my master bedroom to build out the addition. A real Chinese puzzle.  But I digress. So, if I’m going to excavate and break up concrete and hardscape, I better do this once. That means that I have to plan for ALL underground utilities, being it 12V lighting, drainage, or irrigation.

When I started looking into irrigation, I wanted to make sure that I was making a very conservative plan as water, especially for irrigation, is a scarce resource here in Southern California. My studies revealed that the two approaches which made most sense were drip irrigation with a xeriscape, and use of grey water from the laundry. First the xeriscape.

The idea of a xeriscape is not new. There are several high quality example gardens in our area, and we have visited them on more than one occasion. The idea is that you provide some drip irrigation to start the plants out, and as they mature, they require less and less water. Plus, drip irrigation is very efficient as it waters the roots directly, as opposed to spraying water all over the place and having the excess run down the storm drain. Let’s face it: if you live in Southern California, or any other place which is subject to drought, then you should be ashamed of yourself if you have spray irrigation. Especially if you have a lawn. If you like the expanse of green, then get artificial turf. The modern and smart way to landscape is with drip irrigation and water conservative plants.

The best reference I was able to come up with was a website called  The person who writes this is a professional landscape architect, and his information is very detailed and practical. Regardless of what irrigation system you choose, you would do well to visit this site and to peruse, if not read thoroughly, what he has to say. I learned a TON about what to do, but more importantly, what NOT to do. Pay particular attention to the section on backflow prevention. This is serious stuff, especially if you don’t want your drinking water contaminated with whatever happens to be on or near your drippers. After all, animals, both domestic and wild, have to do their business somewhere!

The other thing I discovered, and I am STOKED about this, is the use of grey water for irrigation. Grey water is waste water from your house that is not sewage, e.g., not from your toilets. So, anything from your sinks, showers, dishwasher, or laundry, is considered grey water. Now, if you’re ultra conservative, you could set up a system that uses ALL of your grey water for irrigation purposes. But some of this requires permits and professional design. However, there is a low-cost DIY approach: using the effluent of your washing machine. Your washing machine uses a lot of water per load. If you have a top loader, then it’s 40 gallons per load (20 gal wash and 20 gal rinse). Even the high-efficiency front-loaders are 20 gallons per load. So, why not put all of that water to use in irrigating your property? The answer is that it’s pretty simple and definitely within the realm of a DIY project. First, there’s typically no permit required. Second, it’s relatively cheap. All you need is a 3-way valve, a vacuum breaker, some PVC pipe and fittings, some materials to make a bunch of mini-dry wells (perforated pipe, gravel, and circular pavers), and some inexpensive valves to regulate the flow such that you have an even distribution of water. There are some regulations that you have to be aware of, such as property line setbacks and having sufficient surface area to distribute water so that it doesn’t pool or overflow, but these requirements are spelled out very succinctly in a number of on-line articles. The best one is a manual that was produced by the city of San Francisco, CA (San Francisco Grey Water Design Manual) that is a very comprehensive guide. It includes detailed instructions for installation of a DIY laundry effluent grey water system. In my jurisdiction, Chula Vista, CA, the city took (plagiarized) elements of this manual for local guidance. So, if you care about water conservation and are in an area where drought is a concern, this something very simple and do-able for the average DIY.

The San Diego County Water Authority published a good guidebook on how to design a “water-smart” landscape (here). Additionally, the City of Chula Vista posted some professionally designed xeriscapes. Here is the link, but for some reason, it’s not working at the moment I’m writing this, so I’ve posted one of the plans here: wildlifefriendly-irrigationplanwildlifefriendly-planwildlifefriendly-plantimageswildlifefriendly-concept,

So, this was an expansion to the original project, but for several reasons, I think this is the way to go. I’ll have more details about my site plan in future posts.