I love the result of a good renovation, but I am not a fan of the “things have to get worse before they get better” aspect of reno. I do not mind the work per se. What turns me off, is the mess.
Oh, the mess. The dust of drywall sanding, the nails of doorway trims, the missing baseboards, the exposed electrical wires…I dread them all. And there is no exception now we are building a fence.
Although the fence build is mostly outside, it still turned our house into a dust bowl. We constantly track dirt, mud, and even concrete mix into the house, and the garage has been packed with posts, pickets, and bags of concrete. As the pickets went up, our yard increasingly became a dump ground. The old fence panels and trimmings from new pickets were scattered along the perimeters, rocks and broken concrete accumulated in the veggie beds, and shipping pallets were pilling up behind the garden shed.
And the leaves. Our crabapple tree shed its leaves in merely three days, which covered the entire yard. The leaves did mask some of other mess, but personally, I’d rather seeing rusty nails than feeling their existence under the leaves.
Aside from the construction mess, building new fence somehow made our yard feel smaller. This is a bit unexpected, since the new front fences enclosed a lot more space into the backyard. But the old chain link fences were still standing while the new fence was constructed, the view of both fences really made the yard feel like a maximum security prison.
It’s time for a mid-project clean-up!
Slav and I like things to be tidy. With the dirt work behind us, we decided to it is time for a mid-project clean-up. And when we say clean-up, we really meant it. We vacuumed, swept, mopped, and washed all the bedding and textures in the house. Slav loaded all the spent material and shipping pallets on his trailer for disposal, and I picked up rocks and scrap wood pieces around the yard. The leaves were raked, and our poor lawn can finally take a breath!
After cleaning up the construction debris, we decided to push further and remove the chain links. We have already demo-ed the chain link on the South side, which we used as temporary fence for a while. But on the North side, we have chain link running all the way along our neighbor’s wooden fence. Since the ultimate goal of the whole fence project is to de-chain link our yard, we felt like removing some of the chain links now would be a great “pick-me-up” in the middle of this long project.
Step 1 | Removing the northwest side chain link
We first tackled the stretch of chain links on the Northwest corner of the yard. It was sitting behind the HVAC unit, aligned with the back of the house. With the new northwest fence constructed, we no longer needed this portion of the chain link to keep the dogs in.
Removing chain link fencing is not difficult in theory. Chain link fence is composed of vertical posts, top rails, and chain links. All these components were held together by screws and wires, which can be cut off to disassemble the structure.
Most part of this stretch came off easily. We did have a lilac growing around the corner post, which I would like to save. The stems have grown to be intermingled with the chain link wires.
Slav carefully cut open the wires to free the lilac branches. It took a while but we did not lose any branches that had set buds for next Spring.
This lilac is now free!
The puppies immediately showed up and gave their new territory a good sniff:
Charlie was a bit unsure at the beginning, but quickly warmed up to the new fence and started wagging his tails.
This space made the yard feel a lot bigger. It is only 17′ x 20′ of space, but I think the magic is that it was tugged away. You cannot see this side yard from the back door. But as you walk around the corner, the side yard suddenly appears. It feels like a secret garden.
This most satisfying part of this demo was pulling the chain link out of the soil. There were so many weeds growing onto it and all of the root came right out with the wires. I was thrilled.
Yay for our first win!
Step 2 | Removing the Northern chain link and fighting with the Elms
Although satisfying, removing the chain link along the neighbor’s fence was a pain in the neck (and back, too).
We unfortunately have three elm trees growing in between the double fences, and if you know elms, they shoot suckers out at every height and in every direction, mostly through the chain link wires:
We worked as a team to tackle these trees. I clipped all the lower branches off with a sawzall, and Slav followed me to cut loose the chain links from the metal posts. He then removed the top rails and cut the vertical posts off.
Some of the vertical posts were embedded in tree roots. It was quite a bit of work to remove them. Slav had to dig down to expose the metal as deep as he could, then wiggle them out with a pry bar.
Usually at this point, the chain link should just fall itself. But in our case, the wires has carved deep into the tree trunk, and we had to cut around or off the tree trunk to free the wires.
Step 3 | Trash removal
To our best knowledge, this double fence situation has been going on for decades. Decades, guys. Not only the Elm trees were thriving in between the double fence, everything fell in between stayed.
We found kids toys, footballs, golf balls, rotten food, candy wrappers, Styrofoam cups, bubble wraps, shipping boxes, and plastic bags in between the double fence. We were removing them by wheelbarrows.
See the difference between the two sides of the tree trunks? I’ve done cleaning the trash on the left side, and the right side has not been touched.
This is the same spot after stump and trash removal:
Slav worked on cutting tree stumps to the ground when I was on trash duty. The whole 90 feet of it.
Annnnd…all cleaned up!
Step 4 | Decluttering the Northeast corner
Although the trash removal was undoubtedly the worst part, the real devil in the double fence was the Northeast corner, behind the shed.
There is a gap between neighbor’s fence and our back fence. And the previous owner’s solution? Stuff random things to block the gap. Can you see there was a mop stick in the middle? Whoever put it there had creative minds.
We began by pulling off layers of the crap stuffed into this corner. Wood pieces, some are rotten, table tops (?), cut into pieces, a mop stick, a piece of reflective (no longer) foam, and of course candy wrappers and random trash. Someone lived here really loved Reeses.
We finally saw the chain link. And the last barrier between the neighbor’s fence and our chain link is a piece of foam. It really puzzles me why anyone would choose to do somethings like this. It would have been much easier (and prettier) to just extend our back fence by a picket or two…
Thankfully the wooden fence behind all the rotten wood is in a pretty good shape. Now it can breathe from both sides, I think it will last just fine. This gives me a lot more confidence in the new cedar fence we are building – apparently cedar is truly rot-resistant!
By removing the debris we exposed the small gap next to our back fence and retaining wall (the sleeper in the ground), which we will patch cleanly with leftover cedar from our fence construction. I already have some ideas to dress this corner up. Space like this can quickly become a catch-all for unsightly things. I aim to keep it completely empty and clean so we will feel more inclined to keep it that way.
Step 4 | The final inspection
With all the chain link removed, we had an opportunity to take a better look at our neighbor’s wooden fence. The two ends of the fence do not look bad at all. The posts are pretty straight, and the pickets are holding up nicely.
However, the middle of the fence is in really bad shape.
As you can see, the Elm trees really did a lot of damage to the posts. They were lifted by the tree roots and started to lean. The elms also pushed some panels off their posts.
Our plan to deal with the issue is cut the Elm trees below the ground, so the current extended root/trucks will be out of the way of the panels. Then we will try to reattach the panels to their posts. We can also add support the leaning posts by adding a “deadman”-like structure above the ground. This wooden fence will never be completely straight, but at least it will not be broken.
Finally, after a three-day cleaning spree, we have our yard back:
No more leaves, no more trash, and no more chain links! Yes we had to pause the fence build, but it has been such a “pick-me-up” that we really needed. Sometimes, sanity outweighs progress. Do you agree?