Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

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Concrete Days – Week Two of Our Fence Build

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We spent our second week of fence build on setting all the posts – total 23 of them.

Day 1 of Concrete Work – Front Yard Posts

Neither of us had any experience setting posts or working with concrete. On the first day, we decided to take things slow. We also acquired a few tools that could help us newbie’s to get things right, including several clamps and this post/pipe level:

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We spent an hour on our first post to get a “protocol” down. Starting by cleaning all the loose soil from the post hole and compacting the bottom of the post hole with a dirt tamper, we made sure the bottom of the hole was more or less level. Then, we set the post into the hole and made sure that it is straight.

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The other two parameters to consider for the placement of the post were the distance between posts and the alignment. We set the first and the last post of the entire south portion first, then connected them with a string. All the rest of the posts had to align with the string with a preset distance in between, which is critical for constructing a horizontal fence. After all the parameters were met for a particular post, we drove a few stakes (cut from scrap wood) into the ground near it and clamped it into place.

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After the post was stabilized by clamps and stakes, we proceeded to mix the concrete. For each 12″ wide, 2′ deep hole, with a 4″x4″ post, we used between almost 4 bags of 60 lb concrete mix. The 12″ auger we used to dig these holes tends to made the holes a bit wider than 12″, so we are using more than recommended 3 bags.

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Slav hand-mixed all the concrete in a wheel barrel, two bags at a time, then shoveled it into the post holes.

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I tampered the concrete mix with a scrap 2″x4″ to let all the air out as Slav filled the holes, then Slav floated the concrete to make the surface smooth. It is common to fill the concrete a few inches below the ground, so turf can grow on top and be continuous. We opted to fill the concrete an inch above the ground and slope the top outwards. This will ensure the surface water runs off from the posts as quick as possible.

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The first post was in after a whole hour of work. We measured, measured, and measured again before pouring the concrete. We were so nervous! This particular post sits at the front corner of the fence and dictates the placement of all others in both directions. It also will have a driving gate attached to it. To make sure it is strong enough to handle all the pickets and the gate, we chose to use 4″x6″ for this post. This post requires a 18″ wide hole. It took 7.5 bags of concrete for us to set just this one post – 450 pounds total!

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By the end of this 12-hour day, we set only five posts. LOL. But at least we got the protocol down and Slav has figured out how many pounds of concrete his back can handle at once (120 pounds, ~ one Alison).

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The picture below suggests how the southwest corner of the fence will look like. In between the two 4″x6″s facing the street, there will be the driving gate; between the 4″x6″ to the right and the side of the house, there will be a walking gate.

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Day 2 & 3 –  Setting Rest of the Posts

Even with the protocol down, it still took us two more 6-hour days to set the rest of 18 posts. We opted to use 4″x6″s for the fence facing the front, and 4″x4″s for the rest of the fencing between us and the neighbor to the South. We ended up using over 100 bags of concrete mix, which is more than 6000 pounds! But this step is extremely rewarding – all of posts ended up to be super straight, strong, and aligned perfectly. It is quite a pleasure to put the most difficult part of the build behind us.

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The only challenging part of the post work was at the back corner where the retaining wall is. Like most of the fence build, the last panel will be shorter than the rest, so we decided to split the difference between the last two panels to make the transition less obvious. We also need to place the very last post forward a bit to avoid the current corner post, which is holding the back fence.

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The last post was set 18″ next to the current corner post:

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The retaining wall here does not run forward enough to meet the new post. The soil here was contained pretty much by random sleeper pieces and rocks. We cleaned everything up and built a rock wall to extend the retaining wall.

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Below is the other section of the front fence, which locates on the north side of the house. We decided to use all 4″x6″ here to combat the strong wind from northwest. We live in a wind tunnel where the Spring wind can get to 90 mph. Fences here can be blown down if the posts are not strong enough. Marking the west/east direction 6″ should give the posts enough strength to support the fence panels in high wind.

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Day 4 – Drainage Solution with Landscape Fabric and Gravel

After all the concrete dried, all the posts were rock-solid and ready to receive pickets. We decided to take an addition step, which is to lay gravel under the fence. The gravel will serve three purposes: first, it facilitates drainage away from the fence posts, bottom pickets, and the concrete, which prevents rot. Second, having gravel instead of soil under the fence can prevent dirt from being splashed onto the bottom pickets when it rains, so the fence should stay cleaner. Last, it is always hard to weed along the fence line. Having gravel under the fence can prevent weeds from ever coming up near the fence, making mowing and weeding a breeze.

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After making sure that the neighbor on the other side is happy with the gravel idea, we got to work. Our neighbor’s yard is higher than ours, so I dug a shallow trench along the whole length of the fence on their side for the gravel to end. Our side of the yard is a bit lower, so we had to use garden edging to hold the gravel in place.

We also decided to run landscape fabric under the gravel to suppress weeds. I do not use landscape fabric in my garden beds, but I will not hesitate to use it under hardscape such as fence or dry creek, wherever I do not want anything to be growing. Time to take out my landscape fabric tools again:

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I laid down the landscape fabric along the fence and cut out the portion I needed. Our veggie garden is only a foot and half to the fence, so I decided to cover the path between the fence and veggie garden completely.

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Below is how I ran the landscape fabric – on our side, the space between the veggie garden and the fence, which extend all the way to the back of the property, was completely covered, and for the rest of the fence towards the front, I used a narrower strip to just cover the width of the concrete. In this way the front portion of the fence is centered above the gravel. On our neighbor’s side, the gravel will be a straight line.

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We put down about a ton of pea gravel here – look how tidy it looks! We will not be walking on it much since the veggie garden next to it provides a wider and softer path. So it should be easy to keep the gravel clean. Well, I hope the pups got the message too. See these tiny paw prints? Apparently they have checked out the gravel. 🙂

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The last step

The very last step we took before putting pickets up was oil all the posts. If you are building a fence and want to stain or treat the wood, do it before putting pickets up. It is a lot easier. We decided to only coat the posts with linseed oil, as we did on our back fence, so I spent a few hours oil these babies up. The oil brought out the color and the grain of the cedar and really made the posts look great.

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What’s next? With all the posts set and treated, and the drainage rocks laid down, we are finally ready for pickets! We worked together to set a pretty sexy pattern for horizontal pickets, and Slav is tackling this task by himself as we speak.  This week marks the 3rd week of our fence build – how did contractors build fence (including demo) in just two days? I want their magic!

Breaking Ground on Our New Fence

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When we started planning our fence, we had no idea how long it would take to build one. Here in Colorado, the ground freezes in mid-November, and we usually experience the first frost during the first week of October. As soon as we are back home from our separated trips, we started working.

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Over the weekend, we decided on the fence plan, obtained the permit, and brought all the lumber home.

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The new fence will be 6′ tall and made of cedar. We decided to run pickets horizontally, using a mixed 2″, 4″ and 6″ pickets, sort of like this:

Day 1: Demoing the southern chainlink and Setting up temporary fencing

The new fence on the south side will be built exactly where the old chain link is. So we started our first day of work by removing the chain link on this side.

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Slav uncoupled the top rail from the vertical posts. These posts were set in concrete under the ground and had to be cut off below the ground.

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To keep the two yards separated during the fence build, we ran a line of T-posts a few feet into our neighbor’s yard, and tied the chain link to the T-posts.

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By pushing the chain link into our neighbor’s yard and keeping the front portion for now, we still have a fully fenced yard to work in.

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The situation at the back corner is a bit complicated. Our existing chain link ran down into another neighbor’s yard, so removing the chain link and the wood panel here would expose our yard to the neighbor’s dogs.

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Before removing the chain link fence at the back, we built a temporary wall with T posts and plywood to keep neighbor’s dogs out of our working area.

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Look what we found during the demo:

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Taking down the wood panel also gave us an opportunity to inspect the retaining wall below. Without proper care, the sleepers supporting the wooden panel were in rough shape.

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We removed the sleepers and started to clean around the retaining wall. There are lots of leaves and trash accumulated here.

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The most interesting found is this McDonald take-out box for burgers. It was used in the late 80’s and has two layers. It was designed to keep the burger patty and lettuce/tomato separated for ideal temperatures.

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The retaining wall behind was in a pretty decent shape. But not so much for the posts of the wooden panel.

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Slav cut the old posts off just above the ground. We will be burying new posts along this retaining wall for the new fence.

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Day 2: Measuring for the new posts

It took us a solid day to demo and move the chain link. The next morning, Slav cut all the metal posts off their concrete support, and I worked on measuring for the new fence post locations.

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I marked the location of the new posts with flags. Fortunately, none of the new posts overlap with the old ones, so we can just cover the old concrete and remaining metal posts with soil.

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A string perpendicular to the house was used to determine the new front corner. It sits 18 feet from the back of the house, aligning with our neighbor’s fence (also our new ones) on the other side.

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Day 3 and Day 4: Dig holes for concrete

After Marking the post location, we had two solid days of rain. Although it delayed our plan to dig holes for concrete, rain also helps with digging by making the ground softer. As soon as the rain stopped, we were anxious to dig the holes for the fence posts.

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We will be using 8′ post, which need to be set in 2′ into the ground in concrete. We knew in advance that we have very compacted and rocky clay soil, so instead of digging by hand, we decided to rent a hydraulic auger to make the job easier. This auger can be paired with different sizes of drill head. We opted for 12″ bit for 12″ holes that are recommended for 4″ x 4″ posts.

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Even with the help of the auger, it still took two of us a whole day to dig about 20 holes. Our soil is sooo solid and heavy. Every a few inches, Slav had to use a digging bar to break the soil for the auger to work. And when it was in action, Slav held it in place and I put all the weight on top of the bit.

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A post digger was used to remove the soil. Slav cleaned up the bottom by scooping loose soil out with his hands.

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We are building a 10′ drive gate in the front, with a 4′ walk gate next to the house. So on this side we only have two post holes.

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The front fence on other side of the house has five posts. One post will be set next the foundation, and the last post will be right next to the neighbor’s corner post:

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The ground slopes down significantly here. We will be doing step-down style here to keep the horizontal fencing look neat.

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The entire South side consists 16 posts. We spaced them 5’10” on center so we can cut the dog ear portion off the 6′ cedar pickets.

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We decided to use 4″ x 6″ post at the corners and for the gate to attach to. The next day, Slav manually enlarged the corner post holes (needs to be 18″ wide instead of 12″) and worked on a couple more that the auger could not reach. We are now ready for concrete!

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Let’s Talk About Fence

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Our house came with a fully fenced backyard, which we are grateful for. We have two strong and easily excitable dogs, and all they want is to lick the faces of people and dogs passing by our house. They especially love small children, who are low to the ground that they can easily knock down and love unconditionally. Needless to say, a fence is a must.

Although functional, none of the four sides of our fence is aesthetically pleasing:

The front fences:

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Side fence on the southern side:

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Side fence on the northern side:

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And this was how the backyard looked when we moved in:

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We’ve been planning to address the fence situation since day one. One of the challenges is how to handle the different types of fencing we have. We could never find a perfect solution without burning a big hole in our pocket, and there was more urgent and structure fixes in line (roof! I am looking at you). Therefore, the fence project waited.

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This summer, we pledged to get the fence upgraded. It is hard to spend money on replacing things that are still functional – we cannot help but feeling a little guilty whining about our first world problems. But we both want the fence to be upgraded. The dislike to the chain link kept bothering us, especially after we have put all the effort into landscaping the front yard. We knew in our heart that the key upgrade to our curb appeal is still going to be a brand new wooden fence.

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And not just any wooden fence. It needs to be a statement fence. A fence calls attention to itself. Our house is rather unimpressive (aka ugly), so we really need a fab fence with modern  feels to make the whole property look up-to-date.

Inspiration

interior design ideas brooklyn fending horizontal bluestar gardens

To make this fab fence, we decided to take the following steps:

1. Replacing the front chain link with 6′ cedar fence

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As you can see from the pictures, our current front fences are aligned with the back of the house. It resulted in two side yards that are largely useless. All we ever do with them is mowing.

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To increase the usage of the side yards, we plan to build the new fence more forward to the street, indicated by the spray paint line in the picture below:

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The exact location of the new front fence was an easy decision. Our neighbor on the North already has a wooden fence, so we will line up our front fences with theirs to make the street view look more uniform.

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The new fence line sits about 2/3 towards the front of the house, approximately 18′ forward from the original chain link. It will not only provide us over 600 sqft of new “backyard” space, but also includes our HVAC unit and one basement bedroom window into the “backyard”.

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The new fence line will meet the house just behind the other bedroom window. We could not move the fence to the front of the window due to the location of our gas meter. Luckily this window is tucked behind an evergreen and hard to see from the street, we feel pretty good about taking the views of easy targets off the street.

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One the other side of the house, a more forwarded front fence will provide a landing pad for unsightly trash cans and clothing line. It can also be used as a parking spot for Slav’s trailer. We will be building a 10′ wide driving gate here.

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2. Replacing the southern side fence – Another chain link

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On the lot line between us and our neighbor to the South, we have another section of chain link. It joins with a panel of wooden fence at the very back, which connects to the back fence.

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The back of our property significantly slopes down at the last 20 feet. The back fence is actually built on top of a 5′ tall retaining wall, but the chain link on the side follows the slope and runs downward. It ends in the yard of another neighbor, who shares this corner with us. This property just changed hands and the new owner has three really reactive and barky dogs. As a precaution, we blocked this corner with a sheet of plywood, because we are fancy like that.

This is the view from the back of the plywood. You can see neighbor’s house in distance.

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To replace the chain link here, we will remove its entire length as well as the wooden panel above, and build a new 6′ privacy fence on this side. It is difficult to decide on the height because we are pretty close to our neighbor on this side, and their dog plays with our dogs along the fence. We need to find a way for the dogs to continue playing. Design challenge accepted.

3. De-chain link-ing the un-neighborly double fence

This next situation made us scratching our heads a bit: the front yard chain link wraps around the northern side of the yard and directly against another wooden fence, which I assume belongs to our neighbor to the North:

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This chain link fence does not provide much function except being a very effective trash trap. See the elm trees coming in between the two fences? They were not planted intentionally. They came up like weeds and because of the chain link, there is no way of removing them.

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The chain link also runs down into the yard of north side neighbor’s towards the back. And the way it joins neighbor’s fence? I have no words…

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Why is the chain link even there? We dug into the permit history for both our property and neighbor’s. Apparently our chain link was built first. Then when comes to the time our neighbor to the North constructed their fence, it was put up against the chain link. It is not uncommon, but to me and Slav, who grew up in villages where neighbor’s were close, this type of situation is just so bizarre.

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But hot mess no more. We will remove the chain link on this side and repair our neighbor’s fence at our expense. As soon as the chain link is gone, trash (Elm) trees, your days are numbered.

4. The back fence stays put

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We are lucky to have at least some wooden fence in the back. It was built in the 80’s and still have some life in them. They are not pretty by any means, but there is a retaining wall right behind it and it is just better to let the sleeping dogs lie.

This is the back fence when we bought the house:

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We trimmed the dead trees around it, power washed it, and refinished it. We also planted fruit trees and climbing roses in front of it. So it stays.

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The overall scale…

Based on our current plan, we have 130 feet of 6′ cedar fence to construct and 200 feet of chain link to take down. This is gonna be our last outdoor project for 2018. And we are rushing to finish it before the ground freezes. This post has gone longer than I planned, so I will leave the actual design of our fence to the next post. There is no shortage of challenges with building a fence for the first time. And we are welcome any advice/suggestions you might have. Also, if you are in the Greater Denver Area and know anyone who could use 200 feet of chain link, let us know!

 

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