Terrific Broth

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

Category: DIY Built (Page 1 of 6)

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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Bye Bye, Chain Link

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This lilac is now free!

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The puppies immediately showed up and gave their new territory a good sniff:

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Charlie was a bit unsure at the beginning, but quickly warmed up to the new fence and started wagging his tails.

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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.

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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.

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Yay for our first win!

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is the same spot after stump and trash removal:

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Slav worked on cutting tree stumps to the ground when I was on trash duty. The whole 90 feet of it.

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Annnnd…all cleaned up!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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However, the middle of the fence is in really bad shape.

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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.

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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.

At last…

Finally, after a three-day cleaning spree, we have our yard back:

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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?

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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