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

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The Back Fence is Finished!



Hi friends! It has been a few weeks since we started replacing the back fence. I am happy to report that the back fence was finished!

1. Setting up the posts

Last time we talked, Slav just finished digging all the holes for the future fence posts. To keep our dogs in the backyard, we decided to set the new fence before demoing the old one.

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Slav dug all the holes at least 2 feet deep and about 18 inches in diameter. This size can accommodate a 4″x4″ post with plenty of room around it for concrete.


We purchased a pallet of cement mix from one of the big box stores, which costed about $240. For cedar posts, we purchased 16 of the 10′ cedar posts from a local lumber yard, the Front Range Lumber company. Back in 2018, we used the cedar product from the Front Range Lumber company for our front and side fence project. All the posts and pickets are holding up really well, so we decided to use the same lumber company again.


With the material in hand, Slav started setting the posts. He was able to stabilize them on his own with the help of clamps and stakes.


For each post, Slav used 3.5~4 bags of 60 lb cement mix. He pre-mixed the cement mixes 1 or 2 bags a time in a wheelbarrow.


This was the end of the second day looked. Slav used a string to keep all the posts aligned. It was crazy to realize how wavy our old fence was by comparing them to the new posts.



By the end of day 5, we had all 16 posts set.



The last post – which is also one of the corner posts took much longer to set. Our fence is actually built on top of a 3-feet high retaining wall. The wall ended just one foot away from our property line on each side, so the last fence post had to be set on ground level. Slav dug a deep hole into the ground, poured concrete, then used a tube on top to support the new corner post. The concrete in the tube was connected to the concrete in the ground with rebars, so this corner post should stay straight and secure.


This cornet post alone took over 6 bags of 60 lb cement mix. It is crazy how fast we went though the whole pallet. In the end, all 56 bags were used up and I think we purchased 1 or 2 more bags to finish the project.


2. Attaching horizontal pickets

After a whole week of post work, Slav picked up cedar pickets also from the Front Range Lumber company. We used dog-ear pickets last time due to the price. This time, we decided to use flat-top pickets, which appears to be in high quality. The flat-top style of pickets are more expensive than the dog-ear style ones when you buy them individually. But if you purchase a whole bundle, which included 224 pickets, a pretty good discount will be applied which offset the price difference between the dog-ear style pickets and the flat-top style pickets. Based on our rough calculation, we needed ~210 pickets to complete the fence, so a bundle worked really well for us since there were some pickets split or not straight, which we rejected.


It was exciting to watch the first a few pickets go up! Slav started from the South corner of the yard. To accommodating the retaining wall, the first post was set 1.5 feet away from the corner. So the boards were extended to cover the gap.

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By the way, this is Slav’s fence plan and material calculation sheet. It could not be more different from my renovation plans…LOL.


Finishing up the first panel – my hero!


Someone was not happy with the disturbance we caused. Do not worry, little buddy, this project would be completed soon!

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By the end of the first day – three panels were completed.


They looked SO good!


3. Demoing the first section of the old fence

As I mentioned in my last post, we neighbor two properties at the back, and the first property line ends around the fifth panel from the corner. Before Slav could complete this panel, he needed to demo this section of the old fence first.


Slav took off some pickets from the old fence and went to the other side. Technically, our property ends with the retaining wall. So the space behind the fence and on top of the retaining wall also belongs to us.


We rarely see this narrow strip behind the fence, so Slav took this opportunity to inspect the retaining wall and weed the area. My backyard neighbors will be looking at this side of the fence.


A rare occasion to look into two neighbors’ yard.


After this part of the demo was completed, Slav continued attaching pickets and finished this panel.


He did not need to use almost any tools to perform the demo – the pickets were attached using nails which were rusted. Most of the posts have rotted at the ground level, and a few of them were not cemented in, so he just pulled everything apart by hand and twisted the posts out.


The climbing roses were planted in early 2018. I have not been training them because I knew we would eventually redo the back fence. Now I can finally install proper trellis and give these beautiful plants a real home!


4. Finishing all the pickets!

Attaching the pickets are not difficult, it just takes time. We kept the new panels the same size as out old one, which is around 5’10” wide. This means that Slav had to cut off the ends of each panel before attaching them. We also had our first real heatwave around this time. After a week and half of on and off work, the fence was finally completed!


This picture was taken on the evening of the 3rd – we pushed ourselves to finish attaching all the pickets before the long weekend,  so our neighbors at the back can enjoy the new fence as a backdrop during their holiday gatherings.


Before finishing the last panel, Slav went over to our second backyard neighbor’s side and demoed the rest of the old fencing.



To finish the last panel, Slav extended the pickets to pass the last post and butt against our northern neighbor’s fence. He got a really clean finish.


The space around the post is pretty narrow. However, we sometimes foster small dogs and they could potentially squeeze through. To cover the gaps, we put in a metal mesh (leftover from our fence project 6 years ago) and put some flower pots in front of it.


5. A cost summary

At the beginning of this project, we purchased one pallet (56 bags) of 60-lb cement mix (~$240), 16 4″x4″x10′ cedar posts (~$800), one bundle of (225) 1″x 6″ x 6′ flat-top pickets (~$1000), and one tub of exterior screws. At the end, we needed one more bag of cement mix to complete the job due to the unusual amount of concrete needed for the last/corner post. There was one picket left at the end of the project.


The whole project costed us about $2000 in materials. There was no labor cost because Slav did everything himself including demo.


And this is the final product! Slav trimmed the fence post to the top of the pickets and picked up some free mulch for the area.



Just in time for the long weekend!



Happy Seventh Anniversary and the Start of the Back Fence Build!

Till this week we have been living in our ranch house for 7 years. We spent the first 5 years renovating the interior of the house, room by room. Looking back at pictures we took during the closing, we definitely accomplished a lot.

The old living room before closing:

Ranch House - 5

The new living space:


The old kitchen:

Ranch House - 7

The kitchen now:


The main floor bath, 2017:


The main floor bath, now:


The basement in 2017:

Ranch House  - 10

The basement now:




We did not just worked on interior. We also replaced the roof, rebuilt the garden shed, and planted lots of flower beds and a vegetable garden.

The front of the house in 2017:

Ranch house - 1

The front of the house now:


The front yard in 2017:


After planting in 2018:


And now:


The backyard and the shed when we bought the house:



The backyard and shed now:



Also the backyard when we bought the house:


which has been converted into a vegetable garden:


The biggest changes we did to the exterior of the property must be the horizontal fencing. This was a DIY built to replace the chain link fence there before. By doing everything ourselves, we were able to keep the fence under budget. It was our most impactful project to date and we still enjoy looking at the fence every day.



However, when we did the fence project in 2018, we did not have time to replace the wooden fence along the back of our property. This 87 feet long wooden fence were a patchwork by multiple previous owners and the construction was done poorly. Not only the pickets were in different colors, several posts started to lean when we moved in.



It has always been on our to-do list to replace this wooden fence with the same style of horizontal fencing. But building a horizontal fence, although not technically challenge, does take a lot of time. For a few years, Slav was busy at his office job and simply did not have time to replace the fence. This summer, he took a well deserved break, and we are finally tackling the back fence!


As you can see, we marked on the old fence where the fence posts needed to be, and Slav started digging the fence holes by hand. To keep our dogs inside the property, we will not demo the old fence until the new horizontal fence is in place, so all the post holes were dug just in front of the old fence panel.


I also cut back all the climbing roses and blackberries near the fence before the project started. The climbing roses and blackberries are all the thorny varieties. We picked these varieties to add security to our back fence, but for the same reason, they are too prickly to work right next to.


We neighbor two properties on the other side of the back fence. The first 1/3 of the fence is behind the vegetable garden and one neighbor’s backyard is directly behind this section of the fence.


The rest of the back fence spans ~60 feet and other neighbor’s backyard is behind it.



At the corner, you can see that our back fence butting against the northern side fence. This side fence belongs to our neighbor so we will not be replacing it.

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After a few days of work, Slav dug all 15 fence post holes. These holes are about 2 feet deep and around 1.5 foot across. One 4 x 4 post will be set into each hole. Sometimes, the new post hole sat pretty close the the old post. To ensure the structure remains solid, We will not remove the old post and the concrete in the soil, but simply cut the old posts flush to the ground instead.


After all the post holes were completed, Slav purchased the same type of lumber we used for our last fence project (from the same company too). In total we need 16 of 10-feet cedar posts (in some places we have to bury the post over 2 feet deep or build up a bit more than 6 feet due to the slope). He also got a whole pallet (56 bags) of concrete mix (60 lbs per bag) which is just about what we need.


We will be setting all the posts next week, then attaching the horizontal pickets and demo the old fence. We will follow the same process as that during our 2018 fence build (here, here, and here), except we will not be building a gate this time. I will come back in a couple weeks to hopefully show you the finished back fence. Wish us luck!

The Hot Tub Electrical

We moved the hot tub last Fall and have since powered it with an electrical cord. Although functional, it was unsightly and not necessarily safe. So this spring, Slav decided to run an underground electrical line for the hot tub, when the weather was still cool and the ground was relatively easy to dig from all the Spring rain.

1. Bringing the power to the side of the house

Running an electrical line is more than just burying an isolated electrical wire. The insulated and specialized electrical wire needs to be put inside a metal conduit. And the conduit needs to be buried at least 18 inches deep as measured to the top of the conduit according to our local code. In some places of the country, directly burying electrical wire is permitted, but we decided to take the safer approach to use the conduit.


There is already an electrical box installed on the north side of our house, close to the hot tub. This electrical box feeds power to the AC unit via a specialized electrical box below. Instead of splitting the power from these two boxes, which should be designated for the AC, we decided to wire the hot tub on its own circuit. Slav installed an electrical box next to the one powering the AC unit (on the left in the picture below), and laid down a long wire in the attic to bring power from our main service panel to this new box.


2. Burying the conduit and electrical wire

With the power brought to the side of our house, Slav started working on the hardest part of the project – digging. According to the building code, we need to bury the conduit at least 18 inches deep. But due to the slope of the yard, Slav had to dig down over 2 feet at some places.



Luckily, the hot tub is not too far away from this corner of the house. But the trench is still over 30 feet long. Slav decided to put the outlet to the side of the hot tub away from the house, so this outlet can be closer to the garden shed where we sometimes need power as well.


The trench ended inside the small flower bed I created last Fall. Slav had to take the retaining wall apart partially to finish the trench.


After the trench was done, Slav installed the conduit on the side of the house, and laid down more conduit in the trench. Electrical wires were threaded through and connected to the electrical box.





3. Installing the terminal electrical outlet

At the end of the trench, Slav buried a 4 x 6 post to bring the electrical wires above the ground.


Then, he installed a waterproof outlet box on the post and ran the conduit and electrical wire to it.



After closing up the trench, Slav finished everything up with a thick layer of mulch and everything looked super neat. No plants were harmed during this project. 🙂


4. Burying the downspout extension

Right after Slav buried the electrical conduit, I suggested that Slav bury the downspout extension too. Originally, the downspout extension pointed to the left in the picture below. This corner of the house is significantly higher than the surrounding area, so whenever there was a storm, the rain water rushed out and washes away some mulch. By running the downspout extension under the ground, the surface soil and mulch can be preserved. We did the same for one of the front yard downspout which worked very well.


Slav gladly ran with my idea and brought the downspout extension out. He used an elbow to connect the downspout to a PVC pipe:


Then ran the PVC pipe out about six feet until it is leveled with the soil surface lower on the slope.


Then he covered everything back up and resurfaced the ground with gravel and mulch.


Now we have a clean finish around the downspout.


And you cannot even see the opening of the PVC pipe. We have observed how well this system worked during the last a few storms. Since the slope of the PVC is a lot more gradual than the slope of the slope, the rainwater tends to trickle down the slope and does not wash away the mulch anymore. The pipe is also directed towards one of the evergreen tree we planted last Fall and hopefully can be used by the tree root.


5. The final results

So! Here is the result of a couple of weeks of labor – an underground electrical line to power hot tub and shed use, and an underground downspout extension! To top everything off, Slav replaced the broken insulation on the HVAC refrigerant line and grouped all the wires and pipes neatly together. Although I do not like to see the HVAC unit and two silver conduits outside of our house, these units are necessary for our enjoyment and are hidden on the corner of the house we rarely see. Good job, Slav!


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