Terrific Broth

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

Category: DIY Built (Page 1 of 7)

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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DIY Fence Gates – The Home Stretch

Five weeks into our fence build, we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Slav finished installing fence pickets last week, which brought us to the homestretch: building gates.

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The Design

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Being on flat ground, this 15 feet stretch is the only portion we could incorporate gates. We decided on a 4′ walk gate + a 10′ drive gate combo, a big upgrade from the little 3′ walk gate we had before.

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We are excited to have a real drive gate. There has been a handful of times that we had to let in big vehicles (hi, concrete truck), which required taking down the chain link.

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An average truck is 8′ wide, so we decided to build our drive gate 10′ wide. It is more than enough for Slav’s trailer to go in and out easily. In fact, we found that the newly enclosed side yard is the perfect spot for parking the trailer.

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I am particularly excited about the new 4′ walk gate – the old 3′ gate was a hair wider than our wheelbarrow, which I push around a lot while gardening. I love to use my garden caddy on top of the wheelbarrow, which is 6″ wider. It is going to be so convenient to not have to unload the caddy every time when I pass the gate!

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We have erected the posts with the gate dimensions in mind. But we had no experience building gates. Heck, we had no experience building anything before buying this house. With any project, we started with extensive research – getting information online and from people we know, evaluating all the information and creating a strategy/protocol, then off we go. It has worked out pretty well – we never made a mistake so big that we had to backtrack. But this gate build was particular challenging.

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Let me be clear, building fence gate is not hard, not technically. What’s difficult were all the small decisions we had to make, which are often arbitrary and require a certain level of experience. We also insisted on a certain look, which added another layer of complexity onto the build.

Step 1: the Gate Assembly

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We made a good decision to use these EasyGate kits. Each kit contains four corner brackets, which make constructing the 2″ x 4″ assembly a breeze. The hinges are welded directly on two of the brackets, which adds stability.

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To use the kit, we needed to decide the dimension of the 2″ x 4″ assembly. Deciding the width of the assembly was easy – it is the width of the gate opening minus 1″. In our case the distance between the post and the side of the house is 48″, and we had to mount a 2″ x 4″ onto the house to receive the latch, so the width of the assembly/gate was set to be 45 1/2″.

The nightmare came when we had to decide on the height of assembly. For vertical fencing, the top and bottom rails can be at any height, as long as they make sense for the weight distribution. But for horizontal pickets, the rails are better hidden behind the pickets, an issue we overlooked during the initial build. Slav had to rebuilt all three gates so the top rails would not block any gap.

The second challenge is the location of the hinges. Without any prior experience, it was hard for us to decide how far to space hinges for the best weight distribution. We initially made the top rail on the drive gate higher considering they are heavier, but immediately regretted it. Misaligned top rails made the gates look choppy next to each other.

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Slav ended up adjust the top rails once again. Ugh. Fortunately we accidentally over-purchased cedar 2″ x 4″s. #mistakenotmistake

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The actual construction was not too bad. With the kits, all we needed to do was cutting 2″ x 4″s to length. Slav also polished the ends so the two matching 2″ x 4″s were at exactly the same length, which helped to square the gate.

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He also chipped the corner of the 2″ x 4″s down to accommodate the welding spots. Nice! I knew I praise Slav frequently on the blog for his attention to details, but things like this are the exact reason why I trust his DIY over contractors.

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Everything was dry-fit before screwed together:

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Then onto the post!

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Step 2: the Hidden Hinges

For 15 ft of space, it is pretty crowded to have three gates. We wanted them to look more like a fence from the street, which means running horizontal pickets all the way continuously, including the front of the posts. To get a seamless look, we decided to hide the hinges, by mounting them on the side of the posts.

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To accommodate the thickness of the bearing, Slav carved out shallow tunnels on the side of the posts:

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We really like the hidden hinge look. It enabled us to attach pickets in front of the posts.

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Step 3: Creating Support for the Top Pickets

Once the gate assemblies were mounted, it was time to attach pickets. Unfortunately, it was not as straightforward as it seemed. A work of advice – for your first fence DIY, do not go horizontal. The second word of advice: with a sloped land, do not go horizontal. Yes, we are building a horizontal fence on a steep slope as our first fence, and we lived to tell the tale (almost), but boy did problems rise daily! In case of the gate pickets, there had to be continuous vertical support along the entire height for the pickets to screw onto. With the top rails being at the eye level, we needed to mount additional 2″ x 4″s over the top rails.

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We could have brought the top rails all the way to the top, in which case the pickets would be screwed onto the side rails. But we have decided to run a different pattern with narrower pickets on the top for the front portion of the fence, which forces the bulky top rail to sit at the eye height, behind the first 1″ x 6″ picket:

I know, I know. First fence, no prior experience, horizontal pickets, sloped land, and now, decorative patterns…we are asking for troubles. And surely, we’ve gotten them. But we have already gone this far and embraced all the problems along the way, there would be no concession now.

Slav added 2″ x 4″s on top of all the top rails with pocket holes:

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Patched the holes with saw dust and glue:

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And attached the pickets:

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With short panels covering the post from the front, the gates look more seamless from the front.

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Step 4: the Latch Work

The last step was to install latches on all the gates. Slav picked a push latch for its sleek look and easy-to-open mechanisms from both sides.

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In order to have something to latch onto, a piece of cedar 2″ x 4″ was mounted to the house:

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Slav attached the 2″ x 4″ using masonry sleeve anchors, drilling through the mortar. He also filled the holes with sawdust and glue:

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A bit had to be cut off near the ground to accommodate the foundation. Little details matter.

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The finished product:

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Gates, 95% Done!

We are 95% done with the gates, with only one task left: setting the drive gate cane bolts into the ground with concrete. With all the snow, concrete work has to wait. To hold the drive gates together and in place, we mounted the pair of cane bolts horizontally, and put the sawhorses I built last year on both sides.

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We’ve taken down majority of the chain link during the mid-project clean-up. With the gates installed and operational, the very last bit of chain link behind the gates has come down. Finally, we are chain link- free! I will not miss this pit bull-behind-chain link look.

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We are waiting for the next warm day to finish the cane bolts. In Colorado, it could be a day or a month away. Weirdly, I feel no rush. I am enjoying the wait, as if I am savoring the moment. The big reveal is coming, and I am looking forward to it as much as you are. Happy Winter, everyone!

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