Terrific Broth

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

Category: Renovation (Page 1 of 20)

Breaking Ground on Our New Fence


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.


Over the weekend, we decided on the fence plan, obtained the permit, and brought all the lumber home.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



Look what we found during the demo:


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.


We removed the sleepers and started to clean around the retaining wall. There are lots of leaves and trash accumulated here.



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.


The retaining wall behind was in a pretty decent shape. But not so much for the posts of the wooden panel.


Slav cut the old posts off just above the ground. We will be burying new posts along this retaining wall for the new fence.


Day 2: Measuring for the new posts

It took us 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.





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.



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.



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.


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.


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.


A post digger was used to remove the soil. Slav cleaned up the bottom by scooping loose soil out with his hands.



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.


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:



The ground slopes down significantly here. We will be doing step-down style here to keep the horizontal fencing look neat.


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.


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!


Let’s Talk About Fence


Our house came with a fully fenced backyard, which we are grateful for. We have two strong and easily excitable dogs, and all they want is to lick the faces of people and dogs passing by our house. They especially love small children, who are low to the ground that they can easily knock down and love unconditionally. Needless to say, a fence is a must.

Although functional, none of the four sides of our fence is aesthetically pleasing:

The front fences:



Side fence on the southern side:


Side fence on the northern side:


And this was how the backyard looked when we moved in:


We’ve been planning to address the fence situation since day one. One of the challenges is how to handle the different types of fencing we have. We could never find a perfect solution without burning a big hole in our pocket, and there was more urgent and structure fixes in line (roof! I am looking at you). Therefore, the fence project waited.


This summer, we pledged to get the fence upgraded. It is hard to spend money on replacing things that are still functional – we cannot help but feeling a little guilty whining about our first world problems. But we both want the fence to be upgraded. The dislike to the chain link kept bothering us, especially after we have put all the effort into landscaping the front yard. We knew in our heart that the key upgrade to our curb appeal is still going to be a brand new wooden fence.


And not just any wooden fence. It needs to be a statement fence. A fence calls attention to itself. Our house is rather unimpressive (aka ugly), so we really need a fab fence with modern  feels to make the whole property look up-to-date.


interior design ideas brooklyn fending horizontal bluestar gardens

To make this fab fence, we decided to take the following steps:

1. Replacing the front chain link with 6′ cedar fence


As you can see from the pictures, our current front fences are aligned with the back of the house. It resulted in two side yards that are largely useless. All we ever do with them is mowing.


To increase the usage of the side yards, we plan to build the new fence more forward to the street, indicated by the spray paint line in the picture below:


The exact location of the new front fence was an easy decision. Our neighbor on the North already has a wooden fence, so we will line up our front fences with theirs to make the street view look more uniform.


The new fence line sits about 2/3 towards the front of the house, approximately 18′ forward from the original chain link. It will not only provide us over 600 sqft of new “backyard” space, but also includes our HVAC unit and one basement bedroom window into the “backyard”.


The new fence line will meet the house just behind the other bedroom window. We could not move the fence to the front of the window due to the location of our gas meter. Luckily this window is tucked behind an evergreen and hard to see from the street, we feel pretty good about taking the views of easy targets off the street.



One the other side of the house, a more forwarded front fence will provide a landing pad for unsightly trash cans and clothing line. It can also be used as a parking spot for Slav’s trailer. We will be building a 10′ wide driving gate here.



2. Replacing the southern side fence – Another chain link


On the lot line between us and our neighbor to the South, we have another section of chain link. It joins with a panel of wooden fence at the very back, which connects to the back fence.


The back of our property significantly slopes down at the last 20 feet. The back fence is actually built on top of a 5′ tall retaining wall, but the chain link on the side follows the slope and runs downward. It ends in the yard of another neighbor, who shares this corner with us. This property just changed hands and the new owner has three really reactive and barky dogs. As a precaution, we blocked this corner with a sheet of plywood, because we are fancy like that.

This is the view from the back of the plywood. You can see neighbor’s house in distance.


To replace the chain link here, we will remove its entire length as well as the wooden panel above, and build a new 6′ privacy fence on this side. It is difficult to decide on the height because we are pretty close to our neighbor on this side, and their dog plays with our dogs along the fence. We need to find a way for the dogs to continue playing. Design challenge accepted.

3. De-chain link-ing the un-neighborly double fence

This next situation made us scratching our heads a bit: the front yard chain link wraps around the northern side of the yard and directly against another wooden fence, which I assume belongs to our neighbor to the North:


This chain link fence does not provide much function except being a very effective trash trap. See the elm trees coming in between the two fences? They were not planted intentionally. They came up like weeds and because of the chain link, there is no way of removing them.


The chain link also runs down into the yard of north side neighbor’s towards the back. And the way it joins neighbor’s fence? I have no words…


Why is the chain link even there? We dug into the permit history for both our property and neighbor’s. Apparently our chain link was built first. Then when comes to the time our neighbor to the North constructed their fence, it was put up against the chain link. It is not uncommon, but to me and Slav, who grew up in villages where neighbor’s were close, this type of situation is just so bizarre.


But hot mess no more. We will remove the chain link on this side and repair our neighbor’s fence at our expense. As soon as the chain link is gone, trash (Elm) trees, your days are numbered.

4. The back fence stays put



We are lucky to have at least some wooden fence in the back. It was built in the 80’s and still have some life in them. They are not pretty by any means, but there is a retaining wall right behind it and it is just better to let the sleeping dogs lie.

This is the back fence when we bought the house:



We trimmed the dead trees around it, power washed it, and refinished it. We also planted fruit trees and climbing roses in front of it. So it stays.


The overall scale…

Based on our current plan, we have 130 feet of 6′ cedar fence to construct and 200 feet of chain link to take down. This is gonna be our last outdoor project for 2018. And we are rushing to finish it before the ground freezes. This post has gone longer than I planned, so I will leave the actual design of our fence to the next post. There is no shortage of challenges with building a fence for the first time. And we are welcome any advice/suggestions you might have. Also, if you are in the Greater Denver Area and know anyone who could use 200 feet of chain link, let us know!


Finished Doorway = Finished Office

Ladies and Gentlemen, our office doorway is FINISHED!




Since we framed the office doorway back to Valentine’s day (!), we have been living with this rough opening for weeks.


And today, we have this 🙂 :


The original plan was to install a pair of 36″ french doors here. We picked out the doors early February, long before we framed the rough opening. However, longer we lived with the opening, more we prefer the doorless look and the uninterrupted flow. In the end, we made the decision to return the door slabs (thanks to Lowes’ 90 days no-fuss return policy) and finish the doorway with trims.


The whole process of finishing the doorway was surprisingly straightforward and DIY-friendly. It included three steps: 1. Installing door jambs and door header (even though we are not putting up doors, we still want to finish the doorway as if we are installing them). 2 Installing trims to cover the gap between the jambs/header and the surrounding dry wall. And 3. caulk + paint.

1. Door Jambs and Header

The first step was to install door jambs and header. Door jambs are the vertical pieces on either side of the doorway (to which hinges would attach if there were doors). And the header refers to the horizontal piece at the top. The rule of the thumb is to have them slightly roomier than the door perimeter, leaving 1/8″ gap all around. They usually come with the pre-framed door purchase and ready for installation. But in our case, we had to buy door jambs and header separately. We ended up picking out two 8′ door jambs and a piece of pine board to make the header ourselves.


As you can see from the picture above, pre-made door jambs have small notches on the top for the header to sit on. Due to the ceiling height, our door header sits a few inches lower than the framing header. So I added a few pieces of 2″x4″ blocks in between for the door header to attach to.


The door jambs, header, and the floor below form a perimeter in which the doors sit. Understandably, they have to be a perfect rectangle, which means they need to be plumb, level, and square.


To help squaring the assembly, I cut a spacer as the same length as the header and placed it on the floor and between the center of two door jambs. It creates 2 pairs of opposite, equal and parallel sides, so I knew I had a parallelogram to begin with.


Let us talk about size for a second. The door jambs are ~11/16″ thick, taking just under 1.5″ inches of space total. The rule of thumb is to  leave 1/16″~1/8″ between a door and door jambs, which means 1/4″~3/8″ for a pair of doors (1/8″ in between the two doors and 1/16″~1/8″ between each door and its door jamb). With a pair of 36″ x 80″ doors in mind, I cut the door header and the spacer to 73 3/4″ so we have just the right width between the two door jambs both at the top and the bottom.

We also needed to leave 1/8″ above and below the door. For 80″ doors, the header should be 80 1/4″ above the floor. Our floor is 1/4″ off level, so I cut one door jamb to 80 1/4″ and the other 80 1/2″.


To get a perfect rectangle, I made sure the door jambs were plumb and the header was level. This step was accomplished by putting shims between framing studs and the door jambs. It would have been a lot easier with two people – with one holding the frame while the other shim. I was flying solo so I screwed two plywood pieces at the top corner to hold the whole assembly in place.


As you can tell from the gap between the framing studs and the door jambs, we framed the rough opening just wide enough (~74″). I always cut close – it give me a high for being risky. It also saved us unnecessary drywall work.


Shimming was kind of fun. There was lots of leveling and hammering until everything was perfect. That is my definition of fun y’all.




Professionals often square the door framing using a plumb bob, which aligns the center point of the header to the center point of the spacer. We do not have a plumb bob, so I measured the final opening diagonally to make sure I had the same distance between two measurements. And the result was pretty good.


Once all the shims were set to place, I secured everything in place by shooting nails through the door jambs and the shims into the framing studs. Then I took the plywood pieces off.



After I finished framing, Slav patched the missing drywall:


and finished the seams with tape and joint compound.


Up until this point we were still on the fence about the doors – you can see them in the picture above. Ha! Although we decided on a doorless look, I am still glad to have framed the doorway precisely so that we have the option to add doors later.

2. Trims

Things started looking up after the drywall was finished. We picked out trims and Slav cut them to length on our miter saw. Finishing nails hold everything in place.




We decided to have a tiny bit of reveal (<1/16″) between the edge of the trim and the door jambs. It gives a layer look while keeping a narrow profile. My understanding is that reveal is for hiding imperfections of whatever you frame around, such as a door, a window, or an opening at the front of a furniture piece.  More crooked the opening is (in our case, door jambs), wider the reveal you will need. Fortunately, our door jambs are perfectly straight and plumb, enabling narrow but consistent reveal along the entire length of the trims. 🙂


We also chose a narrow reveal to leave enough negative space between the trims and the library built-ins.


We love how elegant the trims look – it is more decorative compared to rest of the trims in the house (now I want to replace everything!), but simple enough to not be distracting. It makes the office feel traditional and elegant.


3. Caulk and paint

To polish everything off, Slav caulked around the trims and filled nail holes with wood filler. I then coated everything twice with ultra pure white by Behr in semi-gloss, the same paint used on all the trims and doors.


A new grille covered the vent return that had stared us for months. :


Within a couple days, we went from this:


to this:


then to this!


It is amazing how trims transform a room. With the finished doorway, we officially closed the curtains on the office renovation. Starting early January, we’ve accomplished a long list of things in order to convert this small bedroom to Slav’s office/library:

Reverse the office closet to face the bedroom
Cut out a new doorway
Put up drywall in the closet and old doorway
Open up the new doorway to its final size and rough framing
Patch the floor
DIY built-in library (bookcase assembly, create a built-in look, DIY  baseboard drawers, add crowns and trims)
Upgrade lighting and hang window blinds
Install Ethernet cables
Drywall finish
Finish the now-bedroom closet with trims and paint
and today, finish the new doorway!

The “Before and After”s

Out of everything we did, I am most grateful for the decision of changing the layout. It certainly created a lot more work, but as a result, our living space became much more functional. For example, this was the office/living room wall before the renovation:



And these are the shots from the same angles today:



Closing the original doorway made room for our dream library wall. This is the office/bedroom wall when we moved in:


And this is the same wall just before office renovation:


And today 🙂 :


Changing the layout also added the second closet to our bedroom.


This was the same wall in our bedroom on move-in day:


It looked a little better before we reversed the office closet, yet still failed to provide enough storage:


We now have his-and-hers closets which are much more functional:


Our master also feels more secluded, a bonus we totally did not expect. Closing the old office doorway created a new “entryway” dedicated to our bedroom and the bathroom. Although small, it creates an effective negative space separating the “master suite” area and the rest of the main floor.


Comparing to the hallway when we moved in:


And before the office renovation:


Quite a transformation, right?

I think Roxie agrees.



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