Terrific Broth

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

Category: DIY Built Page 1 of 7

New Floor in the Basement! – NuCORE LVP Installation

Well, the deed is done!

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During the past two weekends, Slav and I installed the NuCORE LVP flooring in our basement master bedroom:

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and the living/media room!

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In the last update on our basement renovation, we painted the basement ceilings and walls snow white. We had picked out flooring for the basement weeks prior, and having finished surfaces finally allowed us to move forward on the installation!

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The flooring we chose for the basement is NuCORE LVP flooring in Driftwood. We like it because 1) it is LVP with cork backing and we want something waterproof on the basement slab; 2) it’s only 6.5 mm thick and saves head room in the already-low-ceiling basement; and 3) it offers the highest scratch resistant rating (22 mil wear layer) among similar products. This floor will stand the test of puppy paws!

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An additional perk about the NuCORE is the locking system – instead of tongue and groove, it has channels on both long and short ends. With this locking system, every plank is locked and tapped in place without the need of a pull bar or a tapping block. It ensures a seamless look and therefore DIY friendly to flooring newbies like us.

Slav and I never installed floors. We watched some videos and followed the principles: 1) the long side of the floor boards should run parallel to the long wall of a room; 2) staggering the seams. NuCORE requires neighboring seams to be at least 8 inches apart; and 3) leaving 1/4″ space around the perimeter of the room while avoiding skinny boards (narrower than 2″) on both sides or short boards (shorter than 8″) on either end. These requirement are pretty straight forward so we quickly geared up for the installation.

Preparing the concrete slab

Before the exciting work of actual installation, the first step is always the boring prep. LVP flooring has to be installed on very leveled surface without significant holes or slope. Although our slab was pretty even, near the bathroom doorways, there were quite some settling. Slav leveled the low spots with cement mix, and filled holes and control joints throughout the basement.

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After the cement dried Slav came back and smoothed everything out with spatula and sanders. He also did a thorough cleaning with vacuum and mop to make sure the slab is a debris-free and dust-free.

Underlayment over the slab

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The supplier of the NuCORE flooring, Floor and Decor, recommended the Sentinel Protect Plus underlayment to go under the NuCORE. Because NuCORE is a locking and floating type of floor, the underlayment needs to be fairly rigid with high crush-resistant. I do not know how other brands of underlayment would work with NuCORE, but with Sentinel this underlayment is the only suitable one.

From my understanding, underlayment under basement flooring usually serves three purposes: 1) moisture barrier – for which lots of people use 6mil plastic in addition to underlayment; 2) cold insulation – so the flooring stays warmer in winter; and 3) sound barrier – so the flooring feels softer and prevent it from making clicking sound against the concrete slab beneath. The cork backing on the NuCORE flooring resists to rot and provides sound and cold insulation, so technically we could skip the underlayment all together. On the other hand, adding underlayment does not hurt and should improve the sound and cold insulation, so we still decided to use it for the peace of mind.

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Laying underlayment is pretty simple. We followed the included instruction and laid them perpendicularly to the flooring direction. We cut the 4′ wide roll to size, pieced the seams together, and taped them down with this underlayment tape. The long seams actually comes with built-in adhesive to connect neighboring pieces. But the connection is fairly wimpy so I still recommend to use underpayment tape on top.

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If the subfloor (in our case, the basement slab) is even and debris-free, the underlayment should go in like a breeze. It is also easy to cut around the nooks and crannies too.

The underlayment provided a clean, soft and warm surface to work (and walk) on without shoes.

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Laying down the planks

Before putting down the first plank, we measured the width of the room to make sure that the last line of boards will not be too skinny. We were lucky that both of our rooms had more than 2″ space left when we started with a full-width board. Once we have the layout planned, we opened a few boxes to make sure that we have the full spectrum of wood patterns on hand. The Driftwood color of NuCORE has six basic patterns that are printed on the plank in both directions as well as shift longitudinally. So we have more than 10 patterns to work with.

I took the initiative to plan the layout, select boards, and set them in place. Slav cut them to size and tapped them in place. These boards are easy to cut on the short direction with a razor blade pocket knife. I tried to work a couple rows ahead of him, while taking mini breaks to clean up the empty boxes and vaccum the underlayment ahead of him. It is always pleasant to work together. We are both very methodical thanks to years of training in research laboratories. We also tend to focus on different aspects of the project and pay attention to different details. Our similarity in work ethics and differences in tactic makes working with Slav a really enjoyable experience.

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To floor around the framing Slav cut the boards using oscillating saw. It made very clean cut without ripping the cork backing.

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For longitudinal cuts such as some corners or the last row, table saw worked perfectly.

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Transitions between rooms

There are three transitions we need to install between the rooms. For perfect match we got NuCORE transition moulding in Driftwood color. It comes in a kit with a channel and concrete anchors. In the picture below, you can see the channel placed between the bathroom tiles and the bedroom flooring. Slav drilled into the slab and secured the channel against the tile, then laid flooring against it on the other side.

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After both side of the flooring complete, the moulding was snapped into the channel to complete the look. It can be popped off easily when it is time to replace it.

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Finishing the stair landing

We decided to continue the flooring all the way to meet the bottom of the stairs. There were quite some cutting to do in this narrow (37″ wide) space.

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Underlayment was down:

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And the flooring! We used long enough planks that span the entire width of the landing here to add strength.

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The cost and a supply list

For slightly over 500 sqft space we used 28 boxes of flooring ($53.4 per box/19 sqft) and 6 rolls of underlayment (~$50 per roll/100 sqft). Adding on the transition mouldings and one roll of underlayment tape, the total material cost is about $1900. It does not include the cement product we used to level the slab, so I’d say that on average NuCORE costs  ~$4/sqft to install.

Time-wise, it took Slav and I, both of whom without prior experience, two 9-hour days to complete the installation. Again, this time frame does not include the leveling of the slab, which takes time to dry and polish. During the first 8-hour day, we installed the flooring in the bedroom (22′ x 10′), while really taking our time to figure out the layout, get familiar with the process, and establish a cohesive work flow between us. The media room and all three floor transitions took another 10-hour day.

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Just a friendly reminder, the installation is on the hands and knees, so I will highly recommend knee pads and gloves. It also put quite some stress on lower back. We did not do the work in one weekend – the two work days were on two separate Sundays, and we felt exhausted after each day. So if you could find more help – even just with carrying boxes or cleaning up periodically – take it.

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Aside from knee pads and gloves, we used the following:

Measuring tape, marker, pencil

Pocket knife (to cut the planks and open packaging)

Speed square (to assist the cut of the planks). I used a plastic one to avoid scratching the planks.

Oscillating saw (to cut irregular shapes and angles)

Table saw (optional, to cut longitudinally. A shape pocket knife and a long ruler together should work too)

More Befores and Afters!

Before I check out, allow me to remind you (and ourselves) of where we started:

The bedroom before:

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The bedroom now:

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The media room before:

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And now:

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The landing before:

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The landing now!

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Isn’t it much better? We love love love the color of the flooring, which is perfect in every lighting situations. We have only lived with the new floor for TWO days and I already start forgetting the ugly befores! It feels that the basement has always been this way and it should. It is such a joyful DIY victory!

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How Much Does It Really Cost? A Closer Look into Our Horizontal Fence

Renovation cost can vary a lot. Before we started the DIY fence build, one very important yet hard-to-find information we sought after, was how much a fence should cost.

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We did request a few quotes from local contractors, but for many reasons I will explain below, no one could tell us how much it would cost to build the fence we wanted. We eventually chose to DIY, and budgeted based on our design, starting from the price of raw material. We ended up spending <70% of the average quote, and got a quality product that would have doubled the average quote.

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In today’s post, I’d like to share how much we spent on the fence in detail, and how different design and building technique may affect these numbers. It might be a number-heavy post, but for anyone who is considering a new fence, especially a horizontal fence, these numbers might be helpful.

1. The anatomy of a quote

We received four bidding from local contractors. For ~125 ft of 6′ cedar fence, the lowest quote was $4200, and the highest was just under $5000. However, these quotes are based on the most basic/standard cedar fence in our area: 4″ x 4″ posts, 2″ x 4″ top and bottom rails, and 1″ x 4″ pickets running vertically. Chain link demolition and hauling away all the debris would have costed us ~$600 in additional ($5 per foot).

Slav visited a few lumber yard to get an idea for material cost. For a basic vertical fence descried above, the lumber and concrete would cost under $2000. We assumed that contractors will get some kind of discount price from their own supplier, which means 2/3 of the quotes (on average ~4500) was actually for the labor.

Of course labor costs – it would take a few guys two or three days of work to demo and rebuild. However, with five grand of expected spending, we did not want to compromise on the quality and the style of the fence. We wondered how much more we needed to pay to get a horizontal fence with better materials.

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2. Option for Customization and the Decision on DIY

The first thing we discussed with our contractors was the option of using thicker pickets. The ones offered by contractors are similar to the ones you can find in big box stores. They are 5/8″ thick and fairly light-weight. These pickets are likely to be harvested from farm-raised, fast-growing trees, so their wood grains are more likely to be coarse and the pickets are easy to split around the fasteners. Our back fence is constructed with this type of pickets, and many of them have already split and even peeled off from the rails. We would like to swap for better lumber, however, the contractors wanted to stick to their suppliers and were resistant to our request of using different lumber.

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The second question we had was the plan for building on sloped land. Using the fence above as an example, this section of the fence sits on a 1~ 1.5″ per foot slope. The usual way of fencing is to following the slope, which means that the top of the fence would be parallel with the slope of the land. We would much more prefer a step-down look, but it would require cutting pickets to length, which in turn increases labor cost significantly.

The other dispute we did not expect regarding the front fences was the location of the posts. Also using the north front fence as an example, with 20 ft span and the common panel width being 6 ft or 8 ft long, we had to have a short panel on one end. We asked if we could space the posts evenly, but was told that this small customization would raise the quote significantly, also due to more cutting/labor involved.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the possibility of a horizontal fence. Running the pickets horizontally requires much more precision of setting posts, as well as cutting the pickets to length. Together it means a lot more hours of labor and results in much higher quotes.

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Without any promise of accuracy, quotes with customization were laid out and they sounded unreasonable. $8000, $9000, even  over $10000. The key reason is the labor of cutting pickets to length, which is inevitable for horizontal fencing. In the renovating world people say that one can only have two out of three things: cheap, good, and fast. At this point, we felt that hiring out may only get us the “fast” aspect. So DIY was the way to go.

3. How much we actually spent

We bought premium material from a lumber yard (without contractor discount) and did all the labor ourselves. At the end, we spent <$3200 (before tax) for materials and about 20 days of labor (one man). The permit fee is $65 in our city. It is hard to count Slav’s labor, but with the cash spending being 1/3 of the quotes for horizontal fencing, we consider this build a DIY win.

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The $3200 material fee includes all the posts, pickets, concrete, auger rental, and gate hardware. You can find the detailed budget here. and below is a quick break-down:

Demo ~200 chain link    $0 (DIY)

Auger rental (1 day)         $129.44 (from Home Depot, after tax)

Concrete (103 bags)         $267.80 (from Home Depot, before tax. We got contractor price for ordering 112 bags)

Screws, drill bits, post level, mason line, line levels, etc.  $114.88

Lumber (from Front Range Lumber. We did over-order and have leftovers. The numbers below reflect how many we actually used):

1″ x 6″ x 6′ pickets (285) $1558.95

1″ x 4″ x 6′ pickets (24)    $56.88

4″ x 4″ x 8′ posts (14)       $314.58

4″ x 6″ x 8′ posts (7)         $283.29

4″ x 4″ x 10′ posts (1)       $33.47

4″ x 4″ x 12′ posts (1)       $37.97

For constructing the gate:

2″ x 4″ x 8′ (4)                  $38.68

2″ x 4″ x 10′ (2)                $25.42

EasyGate kits (3)             $89.94

Cane Bolts (2)                  $19.96

Optional:

T-post (12)                       $53.76

Post driver (1)                 $34.98

Landscape edging (~80ft)   $79.20

Pea gravel (one ton)              $34.95

4. Paying more for quality lumber

The lumber we bought is much more expensive than the big box store cedar. 1″ x 6″ x 6 ft cedar pickets cost $2.87 a pop in Home Depot, and if you buy in bulk, it can be as low as $2.73 per picket. We paid $5.47 per picket for 1″ x 6″s, nearly twice as much. But these pickets are 3/4″ thick (opposed to 5/8″ from the big box store), and nearly twice as heavy. They are harvested from naturally grew trees from Canada. BTW, the price of cedar was a lot higher nowadays compared to that of two years ago. Trump’s tariff against Canada has raised cedar price by 70% in our area.

Interestingly, the price of the cedar posts from this lumbar yard was comparable to big box stores. Home Depot 4″ x 4″ x 8′ cedar post costs $23.72 and we paid $22.47 a pop for 4″x 4″s.

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5. Beefy Post, Stronger Fence

We used 4″ x 6″ posts instead of 4″ x 4″s for front fences. We live in a wind tunnel through which the northwest wind passes aggressively. So the fence facing west can always use more reinforcement. The two sections of front fence used seven 4″ x 6″ post total; and we paid $40.47 for each post.

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Contractors we talked to tried to convince us that 4″ x 4″s were plenty enough, and our neighbors usually use 4″ x 4″ as well. But based on our observation, there are plenty of falling fences in our neighborhood. Keep in mind that fence construction does not come with warranties – some company might promise a year of labor, which only applies to detaching pickets. Therefore, we decided that beefing up the posts on the west side is worth it.

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Our land slopes down at the back corner and required taller posts. We used one 4″ x 4″ x 10′ and one 4″ x 4″ x 12′ post here. This cost can be skipped completely if you build on a flat land.

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To decide how many posts we actually needed, we need to decide the spacing. We chose around 6′ because the horizontal pickets are likely to sag in the middle with longer span. Another important thing to consider is the actual length of the pickets. The 6′ pickets are not really 6′. They are always a bit shorter and there are some variation. So make sure you measure the pickets before digging the post holes. At the end, we spaced our posts 5’10” on center to accommodate the shortest pickets. This decision is completely personal. Decision like this might change the number of the posts for your fence.

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6. Bigger post hole means more concrete

Another detail that worth paying attention is the dimension of the post holes. 4″ x 4″ post calls for 12″ diameter holes, and a 4″ x 6″ post should be set in 18″ diameter concrete on the 6″ side. We were surprised when contractors advocated for 8″ holes, because “it should be enough” according to their experience. Although they might be right, but all these falling fence posts in our neighborhood made us wonder, “what if?”.

I think one big reason of under-dig is not for saving concrete, but for saving labor. Our area has very heavy and compact clay soil. Digging under 12 inches of soil is practically digging concrete. To do the right thing, we paid additional $130 to rent a hydraulic auger.

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Bigger post holes means more concrete to fill them. For 8″ holes and 4″ x 4″ post, you can get away with 1.15 bags of the 80 lb concrete, which means 92 lb per hole. We had to use 3.5 bags of 60 lb bags, total 210 lb, in one 12″ holes. This is not only because the void is much bigger, but also because we decided to bring the concrete all the way to the top of the soil to help with drainage.

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Besides the regular 4″ x 4″ posts, we also have seven 4″ x 6″ posts, which called for 18″ holes. It took 7 bags of 60 lb concrete to fill each of these 18″ diameter holes. Due to the sloped land, a few 4″ x 4″s on the back are much taller (12″ or 10″) and the post holes were proportionally deeper as well. In total, we ended up using 103 bags of 60lb concrete.

The good news is that we bought them in contractor price – the same $3.25 per bag concrete mix becomes $2.60 per bag when you buy 112 bags or more. It came out a lot cheaper (112 x $2.6 = $291.2) than buying exactly what we need in retail price (103 x $3.25 = $334.75)

7. Screws and Hardware

Using quality pickets, beefy posts and sufficient amount of the concrete, we spent double amount of the money compared to using standard materials and practices. But all these will be worth it now we have a long-lasting fence that should need less repairs. Quality lumber also improves the appearance of the fence – you can definitely tell these pickets apart from the ones from big box stores.

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We used standard deck screws and gate hardware. Each 1 x 6″ or 1 x 4″ picket was attached to the post with four screws, and each 1″ x 2″ was attached with two. This fence consumed 1400 screws, which cost less than $80.

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8. How much should horizontal fence cost?

In total, for 125 ft of the 6′ horizontal fence, including the pickets on the gates, we paid $2440 for lumber, including $670 for 23 posts, $1560 for 1″ x 6′” pickets, and $57 for 1″ x 4″ pickets (for creating the top pattern). For a standard horizontal fence, without the 1″ x 4″ pickets and 4″ x 6″ posts, you are probably looking at $2100 for 125 feet, which is ~$16.8/ft.

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We spent additional ~$200 for the two gates, which includes $64 for 2″ x 4″s, $90 for gate kits, and $40 for latches and cane bolts.

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One thing saves with a horizontal fence is that you do not need horizontal rails on each panel. That saved two 2″ x 4″s per panel, which can be costly as well. However, with the rails you only need two screws to attach each pickets, which we had to we used four screws for each 1″ x 6″s. For anyone who is considering a vertical fence, you can halve the screw cost but need to add the cost of 2″ x 4″s.

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Moreover, our building permit costs $65 and this price may be higher where you live. Including permit and tax, we spent close to $3400 on the fence. It is not cheap, but building such fence by contractor would have costed us three times as much.

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I hope this post is helpful for people who are considering horizontal fencing. Slav already mentioned that he would like to replace the back fence (another 90 ft!) next Spring. And with this experience, I am sure that the next round will be a lot easier and faster. Let me know if you have any questions!

Fence, Finished!

After five weeks of hard work, our DIY fence was complete.

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Do you like it? WE DO. A LOT. 🙂

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Besides a few weeks of planning, this fence took five weeks of physical work to build, including demoing the old chain link fence. Here is a week-by-week task breakdown:

Week 1: Preparing the ground for the fence

Week 2: Concrete work – setting fence post

Week 3: Attaching bottom pickets

Week 4: Demoing the old chain links and a mid-project clean-up. Slav also finished attaching the top pickets during this week.

Week 5: Building Gates

The goal of this fence project is to replace the old chain link with cedar fence for both privacy and curb appeal:

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And here are the new fence we built in the place of old chain links:

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The north front fence is the perfect backdrop for the front yard landscape we installed this summer. To accommodate the slope, we divided this 20 ft of fence in four panels and stepped down after each panel. We also made each panel 5′ wide so we would not end up with a short panel on one end.

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The new south front fence on the other side of the house is only 15 feet long. It consists of a 4-ft walk gate and a 10-ft drive gate:

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You might remember how much trouble we went into building these gates. Now we are fully rested, all the effort feels worth it. The choice of simple black hardware and the decision of having them hidden resulted in a perfect seamless look from the street.

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For finishing touches, Slav mounted address letters onto the new fence, which we have been holding onto since moving into the ranch, 17 months ago.

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The new south side fence is the longest stretch of this build – it is a little over 90 feet and also sits on a slope. Slav incorporated several step downs to keep the height under 6′.

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You may notice that the pattern of the side fence is a bit different. The side fence is constructed with only 1″ x 6″ picket, whereas the front fences have decorative details on the top.

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Slav did 90% of the work. Despite being his first fence DIY, Slav did a fabulous job. Don’t we all expect this though? He is a perfectionist and we all knew it. 🙂

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As expected, the new cedar fence has been the biggest upgrade to our curb appeal. Here is what the north side yard looked like this Spring:

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And here is the same angle today. I loooooove how the color and the texture of cedar play with the evergreens, black mulch, and river rocks.

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This is what the south side yard looked from the street before:

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And today:

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The new front fences not only added privacy, but also enclosed two side yards which we can now access from the back. The northern side yard used to get lots of afternoon sun and had to irrigate. But now, with the 6′ cedar pickets to its west, this area is in shade and a lot cooler.

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Without the chain link running along the northern fence, we can finally landscape this area. It will be a great outdoor project next spring:

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We needed a “utility yard” for a long time and the new south side yard is just that. Behind the drive gates is the perfect spot for Slav’s trailer, and we are thrilled to keep the waste bins off the view from the street.

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With two dogs we always had a poop bucket outside. Someday I would like to have a beautiful porcelain planter just for that. But for now, a Lowe’s bucket with a “bullshit corner” plate mounted above will do.#pitbullmom

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Here you have it, our new horizontal fence. As our first DIY fence, we are proud of ourselves for pulling it off in 5 weeks. Most importantly, we wrapped it up before the harsh winter set in. It is beautiful, it is sturdy, and it will become the perfect backdrop for more pretty things – I am talking about pergolas, climbing vines, and solar powered outdoor lighting. But we will save the fun for next Spring, because the mountain is calling!

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