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Ken getting ready to do something DIY.

Repost from Quora: What is your biggest DIY fail? How much did it cost to repair your mistake?

Ken Horkavy, Done more than most will in their lives, remember some of it

My wife and I built a deck out of recycled wood. Looks good right? Shiny, beautiful, coated all sides three times with Thompson’s water seal. What did I miss? Clearance. It was too close to the mulch and soil of the yard, so within two years it rotted to dust and I had to start over.

The cost of the deck was $200 in supplies, would have been $1000 with new wood. So not too bad. I did lose a week of work time building a ‘temporary deck’. Now we did win a $750 contest on creative recycling from Instructables: Hexagon Deck With Recycled Supplies.

So we made some money there and lost time.

THEN I pulled up the deck and used it in the yard as a temporary walkway of sorts, so a cost savings there:

More on the yard here:…

Or you can see it in this video: Ken Horkavy

Back to the story of the DIY deck adventure. My wife found a coquina-like stone drive way that was $500, but we had to pull it up by hand and it was concreted in. Back-breaking, trailer-bending, heavy, heavy work. We did it, even pulled up the two square yards of foundation sand that was underneath (in the rain). It was essentially SEVEN trips with trailers and vehicles. What a mess, but we got it done.

Then I had to buy many yards of additional foundation sand ($50/yard picked up) about $150.

This is what the patio looks like today

My breakdown:

Wood Deck: $200 – $750 prize = $550 profit for a temporary deck. 🙂

Stone Patio: $500 bricks, $100 fuel, $200 massages to recover, $150 in sand:
$950 total

To have a patio in the end, 15×30 feet, was $400 all totaled and probably a month of freakin’ work.

I would hire a builder to do it next time I think, but my wife and I had a good time working together. I love her very much. The greatest value I realized from this adventure was seeing how dedicated my wife was to me, following me down these rabbit holes!

Happy Building! 🙂


South Florida Soil Building with Mulch

This is a short overview on how to make new soil in south Florida.

This video illustrates the result of two years of fun work.  Replacing the ugly traditional grass and sugar sand with plants of all kinds and tons of mulch repeatedly.  This was a low cost, highly sustainable approach to creating good soil without buying it.

Additionally, the heat and humidity make it an ideal place to create soil quickly and efficiently with almost no expense (but lots of moving mulch into place, so free is relative).

There are a few pieces of equipment needed:

  1.  A wheelbarrow or something to move the mulch in.
  2. A strong pitchfork.IMG_20160608_151537
  3. Get a dust mask if you are sensitive to mushroom spores (if moving the mulch within the first month it’s on location).
  4. Cardboard (I get mine from behind Pier 1, they have huge boxes and I can usually get what I need in one stop.  I ask the manager once for permission and go whenever I need it.)
The overview on how to create soil for almost free:
1.  IMG_20160504_120250Acquire Mulch.  Tree trimmers are always ready to drop off a batch, so call around, find a local trimmer and give them clear instructions where to drop the mulch.  Always get much more mulch than you think you need.  You don’t need yards of if, you need truckloads of it to grow soil.  (One truck load at a time!)
2.  Put cardboard  over any weedy areas and mulch over the cardboard heavily.
 3. Put mountains of it in the walkways (within reason for safety) and anytime it gets flat, add a bit more.  Add it to plant beds to keep the weeds down, as thick as you can (use cardboard in trouble areas).  Give a little space to plants that may rot if they come into contact with the mulch, but I usually just pile it on and most of the plants seem to work well with it.
4.  Twice a year, you sweep aside the mulch in the walkways and find that dark young mucky soil hiding underneath.  Use a flat shovel and shear off the top soil and put it in the beds (sometimes you may need to break it up).  Don’t go too deep,  just the top dark layer.  Put the half cooked mulch back in the walkway and then what?  Add more fresh mulch.  This is essentially replacing the need for peat, which was something I was unwilling to buy because it is a non-renewable resource.
This is me in my mulching outfit. Glasses were because I was chipping too, but you get the idea. :)

This is me in my mulching outfit. Glasses were because I was chipping too, but you get the idea. 🙂

One of the things I’ve found is that timing is important.  If you can move a freshly chipped tree onto its cooking location (where it will remain for months) it will cook that much faster because it is moist and quickly form the mycelium that creates the heat and soil we are after.

I’m adding 3-6 inches of rich topsoil every year with this process for my whole yard.

One more optional step:

You can take it a step further….  I added a wood deck over my mulch so that it is out of the sun and will cook faster.  (It also makes my wife happy since she doesn’t have to wobble through as much mulch when working in the garden.)

It is a bit more work, but the wood was free and sitting around.  The process is the same, except you build your mulch up and then put a floating deck over the top.  Once a year I lift one set of boards, grab the soil and replace the deck on some heaping fresh mulch, then I repeat for the next set of boards.  I will usually spray the underside of the wood with Neem Oil to help keep it from rotting away with the mulch.

 The REAL magic is sooo tiny!

The rock-star in all this is the bacteria and mushrooms that go to work on the mulch so quickly.  They may be small, but they are mighty and with a little bit of help they can do the work so much faster than you would expect.

IMG_20160529_153115And there is another exciting thing you can do with mulch.  You can create hot water!  Low/no cost options for hot water or priming your hot water heater with warm water to save on the electric bill.  If you want to learn more about this subscribe to my newsletter, it’s free and you can unsubscribe if I irritate you.  Sign up below:


Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you think and be more sustainable everyday!

In Florida a white roof can save 20% on your electric bill, my personal experience

Step 1:  You find white paint (preferably old, unwanted)

Step 2:  Paint your roof.  That’s it, save 20% on your bill if you started with a darker colored roof.

You will feel the difference on your feel almost immediately after drying and the attic temperature may drop as much as 20 degrees that very day!  When you consider that my AC comes on much less often, the savings only compound over time.

My story:    I painted the roof on my shed to test this idea and the temperature change was immediate (before the paint even dried). I had a 15 degree drop in the space the same day (image 95 degrees drops to 80 degrees with just a roof color change, that is what I experienced). It took two hours and about ten gallons of outdated used white primer paint. Worth it every time I walk in the shed! The house is next! 🙂