Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Curb Appeal (Page 2 of 6)

It Starts to look Like a Fence

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By the end of the week 3 of our fence build, Slav managed to put the horizontal pickets up to 4 feet high. It really starts to look like a fence!

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Putting up pickets for a horizontal fence is quite challenging to us, which we anticipated when we decided to build a horizontal fence. Besides our lack of experience with fencing in general, the real devil lays between the pickets.

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As you can see, the cedar pickets are not very precise. The general width of the pickets we use is 5.5″ (1″ x 6″), but the pickets can taper off on one end depending on the wood grain. To make the fence look good, the key is to keep the pickets leveled, and the ends aligned generally.

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Another important factor for the fence to look good is the length of the pickets/panels. We chose to construct this fence by running 1″ x 6″ x 6′ dog-ear style pickets. This decision was made based on material availability and price, but also factored in the fact that horizontal pickets can sag if the span is too long. To work around the dog-ear style, we decided to set the post 5′ 10″ apart, which allows us to cut off the dog-ear portion of the pickets for a minimal look.

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Because these pickets runs horizontally, there was a lot of pressure on setting the posts exactly 5’10” apart, so the 5’10” pickets can join in the middle of the posts. This will give enough space for the pickets to attach to the posts.

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Another element that requires precision is the gap between pickets. We clamped the pickets on a post ahead of time to determine the desired gap for us, which is 1/4″.

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During the construction, it is important to keep the 1/4″ gaps consistent throughout. The best way to do it is to prepare spacers, usually cut from scrap wood. Coincidentally, the wooden chopsticks we have is exactly 1/4″! So Slav simply stacked the pickets with a pair of chopsticks in between and built from the bottom up.

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Slav took extra care to align the screws for a cleaner look. Love the man for his attention to details.

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The unique challenge we face with our fence is the slope. You can tell from the picture below, the bottom picket in the front part of the fence basically lines up with the tallest picket at the back.

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The steep slope not only calls for step-downs every 2~3 posts, but also requires that the bottom pickets to be scribed to fit the ground.

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The void under the bottom picket was further filled with pea gravel. Our land is a bit lower than our neighbor’s so we had to install metal edging or use the veggie garden edging to hold the pea gravel back to place.

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Charlie has been Slav’s sidekick during the build. He is such a daddy’s puppy.

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Besides the long fence on the South side, we also constructed the bottom pickets on the Northwest side.

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The slope on this side is every more dramatic – we had to step down two pickets (about a foot) for every post. Slav did a great job here with the bottom pickets:

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A few words on how he attached the bottom: due to the slope we can only attach one end of the bottom picket to the downhill post. So he clamped the bottom one to the one on top:

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And added a couple cedar blocks from the back.

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These blocks were cut from scrap pickets and cost nothing to us. They are suspended in the air and the only thing they do is to connect the bottom picket to the one directly on top. They are completely hidden from the front and hardly noticeable from the back.

The fence here is 20′ long, so we decided to space the posts 5′ apart to avoid the need for a short panel. I think it looks quite sharp from the street:

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I love that the new fence aligns with our neighbor’s fence/gate. I am always turned off by the misaligned neighborhood fence front. I understand that people prefer different styles for their fences, but having one forward and the neighboring one a few feet back just looks choppy to me.

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We still have all the top pickets to add, posts to trim, and gates to build. But it is worth to take a pause and celebrate the completion of the bottom portion of our fence! It is a mini-victory indeed. Not only it is a big chunk of the work load (and our garage is finally ready for a car again), but also through which Slav has become familiar and confident with the construction. At the mean time, we cannot wait to get rid of this “pitbull behind the chainlink” view from the street.

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Another good news? With the bottom panels completed, we felt comfortable to remove the temp fence erected in our neighbors’ yards. We are fortunate to have very supportive neighbors, who not only provided us space in their yards during the build, but also gave us all the time and patience (three weeks!) so we could work at our own pace and get things right. We have happy to finally return to them a cleaner space with a nicer fence to look at.

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Although we attached the pickets from our side, the view from their sides does not look too shabby.

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I’d say it is still a huge upgrade from the chain links, especially at the back corner:

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This was how this corner looked like before:

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Clean retaining wall, steady and sleek new fence, and most importantly: trash-free!

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Slav even took time to connect the neighbor’s fences to our new post. He patched the gaps neatly with hardware cloth. Although not our responsibility, it is a nice thing to do for our neighbors.

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Cappy was so happy to get her pee-pee spots back:

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Slav will be working on the top panels this week, during which we should have crisp Fall weather and gorgeous colors. It is a great time to work outside before snow and clouds set in. Happy Fall, guys!

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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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