About a year ago I purchased a foreclosed home.  The backyard contained what came to be known in our household as "the pit."  It was a sectioned off area of the yard that measured 30 feet by 40 feet and contained pea gravel that was 5 inches deep throughout.  At one time "the pit" was home to a large kid's area that contained a play set and swings.  Our initial thought was to get rid of the pea gravel and lay down sod, this was easier said than done.  In an attempt to rid ourselves of "the pit", we advertised the large amount of pea gravel on craigslist for free.  Our thought was that someone would likely have a need for it.  My assumption was correct, there were many in need of pea gravel for various reasons.  Unfortunately they all wanted to come to my house and fill up a few 5 gallon buckets at a time.  The thought of having 50 strangers lining up at my house with buckets wasn't all that appealing to me.

If we couldn't rid ourselves of the gravel, we at least needed to relocate it.  Luckily there happened to be a gentlemen down the road from us with a skid loader.  We were able to get him to scrape up the pea gravel and move it to the back of our property.  Once the gravel was relocated we discovered it would be quite costly to prepare the area and install sod.  At this point, the brainstorming began.  What if we would make a patio out of pavers to reduce the size of the area we needed to cover with sod?  This seemed like a great idea until we found out how much pavers would cost.  Then it happened, we were driving to the Home Depot, on the way there we passed a construction site and saw a large pile of broken concrete.  Maybe it was all in my head, but I swear it had a magical glow about it.  Anyway, my wife and I were thinking the same thing.  We would use broken concrete instead of store bought pavers.  When we returned home we hopped online to search craigslist for broken concrete. Just as we had suspected, there were many posts from people who had driveways, sidewalks, or patios redone and wanted to get rid of the old broken concrete but didn't want to pay to have it removed.

I contacted several of the concrete donors and was able to source a steady supply of broken concrete. Now it was time to get to work.  To frame the new patio area I used the existing railroad ties that previously bordered the "gravel pit."  Since I was already the proud owner of a mound of pea gravel, it was the perfect resource to create the base for the patio.  Even if you do not have easy access to a large amount of gravel, search some local online classifieds, just like concrete, it seems to be pretty easy to find for free.  The purpose of putting down the gravel first is to provide drainage for water.  This will help prevent water from freezing beneath the concrete in the winter.  If you are lucky enough to live in an area with frigid winters, you are probably well aware how freezing water expands and causes shifting.  

In the past I had made a fairly small paver patio with store bought pavers.  With that project I was very careful to make sure the pavers were perfectly placed and level.  I spent hours upon hours using leveling sand to ensure the patio looked perfect.  Am I going to take the same care in creating the broken concrete patio?  Heck no I'm not!  Initially I was going to go the same route making everything perfect and level.  My concern with each piece being level quickly went out the window when I realized the time involved and how it would test the limits of my sanity.  In my case, the broken concrete I was working with varied quite a bit in thickness, however, you may get lucky and find concrete all with the same thickness.  At first I was somewhat concerned that just "eyeing up" the patio would make it appear sloppy and thrown together, but once I got some of the broken concrete in place I realized it wouldn't be an issue.  Whether or not you can get away with just "eyeing it up" will greatly depend on the placement of the patio and obviously your specific tastes.  Since my patio is out in the middle of my yard with a fire pit in the middle, the imperfect approach worked for me.  A quick piece of advice, do not spend much time trying to find the perfect spot for each piece of broken concrete.  All the pieces will be irregularly shaped and you will drive yourself nuts trying to fit pieces together nicely.  My suggestion is to just lay it down where it looks like it will fit fairly decent and just leave it.  When you finish your project you will realize that the placement of each piece really doesn't matter much at all.

Once I had all the broken concrete pavers laid down, I filled in the gaps between the concrete pieces with... you guessed it... pea gravel!  I accomplished this step by shoveling the gravel onto the patio surface.  I then used an old broom to sweep the gravel into the gaps.  You can also use sand for this step if you'd like.  Initially I was going to fill the gaps about three quarters full of gravel and fill the rest with sand (which can also usually be found free) but I liked the look of the pea gravel in the gaps so I left it as is.  Once you've finished filling the gaps, for the most part, that's it, you're done!  

In conclusion, I'm hoping this has inspired at least a few people to give this a try.  The biggest hurdle is deciding to do it and taking the first step.  

A couple more tips for anyone who decides to tackle this project:

-Get some well-fitting thick leather gloves. Why? Concrete is heavy and if you are moving it around without gloves, you will pinch your fingers between the concrete, it will break the skin, it will hurt and it will be followed by foul language.  I know this first hand (no pun intended).

-Do not wear sandals as they offer minimal protection against falling concrete.  Instead I would suggest a boot, preferably steel toed.

-Do not strive for perfection, its broken concrete, you will not achieve it.  If you are looking for a patio that is perfectly level with each piece fit perfectly together, this project is not for you.

If you have any questions or have done this yourself please comment below.  I'm interested in hearing your experiences.



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