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S19 E27: Summer Special

Tom travels to Colorado to help a couple build a swing set. Then, Jenn travels to Raleigh to build a self-watering vegetable garden, and Mark helps a homeowner build a fire pit that comes in a kit.

Previous episode: S19 E26 | Next episode: S19 E28

In this episode:

It’s Summertime on Ask This Old House and the team is here to help with some fun outdoor projects! First, general contractor Tom Silva travels to Colorado to help a family build a DIY swing set for their young son, Charlie. The boy has outgrown his plastic playset and his birthday is coming up so his parents were hoping to give him a much-needed upgrade. They’ve run into a couple of problems—for one, the yard has a slope to it. There’s not a good place for an off-the-shelf playset. Also, large swing sets are expensive. But Tom has a solution- a semi-custom swing set. For less than $100, there are kits that include everything you need to build your own- angle brackets to attach the wood together, the swings, and all the hardware. The only thing you do need to supply is the lumber. Tom and the parents work together to build Charlie a beautiful playset that will last for years.

Afterwards, landscape contractor Jenn Nawada travels to Raleigh, North Carolina to help a couple build a self-watering vegetable garden. The homeowners loved the idea of having a garden and thought it would be a great idea for their kids to get involved with it. However, the reality is that during the summer, when the most maintenance for a vegetable garden is required, they’re away on family vacations. By the time they come back home, the plants have died and they give up for the rest of the year. The current planter the homeowners have in the backyard isn’t in the best condition anymore. Jenn suggests they start from scratch, so she can set them up with a vegetable garden she feels confident they can keep up with. Jenn helps the couple build a brand new planter that will be smaller, but much easier to maintain. She shows them how to install a drip irrigation system and a timer, so they can program it to water the plants once a day in the early morning and the evening. They also plant a brand new vegetable garden that will be ready to pick later in the year.

Then, mason Mark McCullough helps a homeowner build a cost-effective fire pit for a backyard. The homeowners have a small, portable fire pit but would like something that will be more of an attraction to have people over. An expensive custom fire pit is out of the budget, but Mark suggests getting a fire pit kit. The kits are pretty easy to install and don’t cost much more than a portable fire pit, but they’ll give a much more permanent look. Mark demonstrates how to assemble the kit while giving some pointers along the way. He shows how installing a masonry fire pit can really upgrade a backyard.


How to Build a Swing Set

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva travels to Colorado to help a couple build a DIY swing set for their young son.

Where to find it?

Tom installed the Do-It-Yourself Pioneer Custom Play Set, which is manufactured by Swing-N-Slide. It comes with a basic set of swing set parts and then you can order additional parts to customize it to your needs.

The lumber Tom used to assemble the swing set was Western Red Cedar.

All the other tools and materials used for this project, including the drill driver, screws, and speed square, can all be found at home centers.

Expert assistance with this project was provided by the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association and Nathan Gilbert Carpentry.


How to Build a Self-Watering Vegetable Garden

Ask This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada travels to Raleigh, North Carolina to help a couple build and plant a self-watering vegetable garden.

Where to find it?

Jenn built a heftier raised garden bed using cedar 2x lumber, which she got from Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. The corner brackets that held the lumber together and contained the hose connection are the Aquacorner Raised Bed Soaker System, which is available through online retailers. The timer Jenn connected to the spigot was a 1-port single dial irrigation timer, which can be found at The Home Depot.

Because the homeowners wanted to grow vegetables in the garden, Jenn selected an organic raised bed/potting soil mix. She also selected strawberries, tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, Thai basil, and lettuce for the vegetable garden. These can all be found at The Home Depot.


Building a Fire Pit from a Kit

Ask This Old House mason Mark McCullough installs a fire pit kit. Mark recommends a fire-pit kit, like the 48-inch Necessories Grand 48-inch Firepit Kit.

This kit includes enough heat-resistant, cast-concrete blocks for a circular pit three courses high, and a powder-coated steel liner. To build it, you need 6 1⁄2 cubic feet of crushed stone, 2 cubic feet of paver base, 5 cubic feet of lava rocks, and a couple of tubes of low-VOC adhesive, such as Gorilla Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive (Gorilla Glue). The blocks all have a roughly trapezoidal shape; there’s no need to cut them.

Where to find it?

Mark installed a Necessories Grand 48-inch Firepit Kit, which can be found at The Home Depot (the model installed by Mark is discontinued, but a similar model is available; $552, at Home Depot).

For the base, Mark used crushed stone and pack, which can be found at landscape supply stores.

To secure the stones in the kit together, Mark used Gorilla Construction Adhesive made by Gorilla Glue.

The other tools Mark used to install the fire pit, including the shovel, level, and rubber mallet, can all be found at home centers.

Original Air Date: July 11 2021 Season 19; Ep.27 23:12


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