Status report: my inexpensive and talented but very flakey electrician keeps canceling (also known as not showing up), which means we haven’t been able to have the work finished, which means it can’t be inspected, which means stuff like the pantry and the ceiling-less dining room and the ceiling-less front room and patching the swiss-cheese walls in the entryway have more or less come to a stand-still. For a week or two, this led me to destroy more things (different post, different day) on the inside of the house, which is technically forward motion but kind of just feels like I’m making everything worse in our torn-apart house. It’s like I’m trying to figure out how many things I can break down before I start putting them back together again. It’s this fun game I play with myself where I end up totally insane.
I need a new electrician. And someone needs to confiscate my pry bar.
Honestly, I’m a little sulky and annoyed about the electrical thing, but secretly (except now, since I’m telling you) it’s also been a perfect excuse to finally get out of the house and get my hands dirty in, like, actual dirt instead of plaster dust and other types of dust and more dust. What a concept.
We’ve been in our house a whole year (and eleven days, technically) and thus far this is all we’ve accomplished in terms of exterior projects:
1. We added some new light fixtures. Big improvement, but I had very little to do with it beyond coordinating the electrical work and buying and installing the lights.
2. We had new electrical service run to the house, including a new service drop and converting to a single meter rather than two, since now the house is a single family. Hard to decide if it looks better or worse.
3. Mowing the lawn. Occasionally. Weed-wacking even more occasionally. We’re a mess.
4. Clearing a crazy jungle that had cropped up on the side of the garage, a bunch of grapevine that had run rampant from a neighbor’s property, and miles of Virginia Creeper that had overtaken the saddest and weediest flower bed ever at the back of the property. Much of which is creeping back a year later. Go figure.
5. Getting a new roof, which was a hellish and drawn-out ordeal involving 4 different roofing contractors spread out over about 8 months and something I’d pretty much rather die than repeat. What. A. Nightmare. But it’s done. Or done-ish. Done enough. Fuck roofing.
We’re awesome neighbors. I’m guessing the neighborhood had higher expectations when the house sold and a couple of homosexuals moved in. Homosexuals are notoriously good at having good taste and making things prettier, and I feel like we’ve been letting everyone down since our beautiful tiny laundry room hardly qualifies as an appreciable improvement to the curb appeal of our house. Most of the houses on our block don’t have a whole lot going on in the way of landscaping and whatnot, so I’ve tried to stem my guilt by thinking about it that way, but I’m a neurotic Jew. Guilt is my #1 emotion and way of being.
ANYWAY. Let’s remind ourselves of our yard situation:
As you can see, there are a few different issues.
1. All the asphalt. It must go. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’d give my left kidney to have it disappear and be replaced with something. Anything. I don’t care if it looks like the fucking dust bowl. I don’t even care of the Virginia Creeper wants to colonize the entire thing. I just want it to be gone. I guess the previous owner of our house had several cars and decided to pave half the yard with asphalt, but we have one car and it is tiny and I don’t need or want it at all. Not even a little bit. I think we’ll still have some kind of a gate and parking situation next to the garage, but I’d much rather just have two strips of bluestone or concrete or something with pebbles or ground cover surrounding it. I hate asphalt.
2. I found out from my neighbors that the old foundation (cinderblock disaster/weed jungle) just behind the garage was actually a half-baked plan to extend the garage, which is a horrendous idea that I’m glad never came to fruition. The garage is actually a really pretty cute little structure and I shudder to think what any kind of renovation would have done to it. That said, now we are stuck with a wildly unattractive crumbling foundation of broken dreams that all needs to be excavated and hauled away. Boo.
3. The biggest problem here, strangely, is the fence. There is fencing surrounding the entire property, which is great. I’m glad it’s there. But the purple lines demarcate an old (original, probably) wrought-iron fence, which I love, and the black lines are all cheap and very crappy chain link that’s all falling apart and looking a hot mess. And as much as I love the wrought iron fence, it’s only 3 feet tall. And despite that the top of it is surrounded by a threatening row of spikes (so witchy!), I have a Pit Bull with a very impressive vertical leap who can clear it with a smile on her face. Not safe.
Now, we never leave the dogs in the backyard unattended, but there’s always the risk that Mekko will get excited by something and jump over. It’s happened three times in the course of a year, and she hasn’t done anything bad or anything like that, but it’s so scary. We live on a fairly busy street in terms of both foot and car traffic, and I’d really prefer if my dog didn’t get hit by a car or terrify an unsuspecting neighbor who wasn’t quite prepared for a Pit Bull to jump the fence to greet them. Even if it’s friendly.
So, when Mekko jumped the fence last week to go see her friend(ish…they have a rocky relationship) Bailey from across the street (an adorable 150-pound white Boxer…I don’t blame her), I felt very overcome with the need to do something and do it now in terms of getting our fence situation sorted a little bit. Panic is pretty much my main motivational tactic (aside from guilt, as we have established, but the two go hand in hand), and the idea of my dog’s safety being at risk pretty much brings my panic-meter off the charts. So I built a panic fence.
This panic-induced fence was actually kind of a good thing. I’ve been planning it more or less since we moved in, but fencing is intimidating. There are so many different styles and decisions to be made, and after mulling it over for so long, I was more overwhelmed than anything else. Vertical boards or horizontal? Pre-fab panels or individual pickets? Attractive gate hardware? Post caps? Paint? Stain? Seal? Let it weather naturally? I’m exhausted.
There is SO. MUCH. TO. THINK. ABOUT. This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.
Added to this is the exact location of the fence. I definitely don’t want my house to look like some kind of fortress, and the old wrought-iron fence had to stay, which basically left building a new fence behind the original fence as the best option. Which is a good option, since it gives us the opportunity to have a front yard and a backyard instead of just…a yard. Like so:
Anyway, this panic-fence didn’t have time for complex decision-making. It just needed to happen. I already knew the general location, so I just measured and took myself to the local lumber yard a few blocks away, made a quick decision between standard stockade fencing and dog-ear style fencing, bought my stuff, stole my friend’s truck, and hauled it all home.
Newsflash: even cheap fencing is expensive.
Newsflash: it’s also very heavy.
Somehow I managed to unload the truck myself (and splinter-free!) and haul my six 6′x8′ panels and 8 4″x4″x8′ posts into the driveway.
I was less than thrilled with the panels I purchased, but at the time they seemed like the cheapest and most attractive option. But they were not nice. The wood was either pine or spruce, and it wasn’t even pressure-treated. Each panel had a few super crappy looking boards, the pickets themselves were narrow and unsubstantial, and they were about $65 a piece.
But then I went to Lowe’s, which is basically my home away from home. The employees are all starting to laugh at me every time they see me there since I am there constantly. I was just getting some supplies for the fencing that I couldn’t find at the local place, and then I meandered over to the fencing section, and developed a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Lowe’s had MUCH nicer dog-ear style fencing. The boards were wider. There was a pressure-treated pine option for about $48/panel and a cedar option for $50/panel.
Now. I’m all about supporting local businesses. Don’t get me wrong. Really, I am. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop local, despite the sorry state of my bank account, because I feel like it’s the right thing to do when given the option. But I’m not willing to sacrifice on quality. Lowe’s was offering a much better product at a much lower price, and it just didn’t make sense to stick with the garbage panels I’d already purchased, particularly since we plan to install the same fencing around the rest of the house to replace the chain-link, and I’d like all the fencing to match. Them’s the breaks. So I had the lumber yard swing by and pick up the shitty panels, loaded my new cedar panels into my friend’s truck, and hauled that all home and unloaded it, again, splinter-free. Tiny miracles, small victories.
Deciding on the exact location of the fence turned out to be easy due to this weird section of missing bluestone next to the foundation a few feet behind the front of the house. The missing bluestone had been filled in with a thin-ish layer of concrete, which was getting in the way of digging my first post hole. So I rented a jackhammer, you know, like you do. This location turns out to be perfect since it’s about 4 feet back from the front corner of the house, and gives is over 18 feet of front yard space between the wrought iron fence and the new fence. 18 feet! Right now it’s all sod, but eventually I don’t want any grass whatsoever and I want it to be a luscious magical garden that both I and the neighborhood can admire. I’m so excited.
Back to the jackhammer. There is no photographic evidence of this, unfortunately, since I was mostly flying solo here, but I discovered that using an electronic jackhammer is not only really very easy, but also really very fun. I’m a tiny person without a lot of weight or muscle, so if I can do it, you can probably do it. The hardest part was carrying the thing around, since it probably weighs about 80 pounds. And then clearing out whatever you’re jackhammering.
While I had the jackhammer at my disposal, I also decided to get rid of this weird concrete path in front of the house, next to the entryway steps. I don’t know why this path was ever put in, since it has no access from the outside or from the porch, really, but I figured the space could be much better served by plants than by concrete. Little did I realize that the concrete was VERY deep in spots and underneath it was a ton of rock, which all had to be excavated and hauled out before it could be back-filled with dirt. Luckily, digging fence posts creates a lot of displaced soil.
Here are the remnants of the path and the rocky dirt, which I finagled Max into loading into a wheelbarrow and dumping onto the asphalt. It will get hauled away when the asphalt is removed. Which is hopefully super duper soon.
ANYWAY. Once I got the jackhammer situation sorted out and my first whole dug, it was time to place the first post!! EEEEEE! Progress.
BETCHA WEREN’T EXPECTING THAT. Maybe you were. I decided that the fence should be black. I really want it to look as unobtrusive as possible and really recede, and I think the black will do that perfectly. I don’t want a “statement fence” and I don’t want it to detract at all from the architecture of the house. And even though the cedar panels are pretty brand new, they’ll fade over time and I hated the idea of a light wood fence next to the house, calling attention to itself. I’m very, very, very happy with this decision. I used Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain (tinted black, obviously), which goes on much like a paint and looks like paint, but should still allow the wood to breathe while also protecting it a bit from the elements. The benefit of using a stain rather than a paint is that it shouldn’t chip and peel over time and need to be redone like paint does.
For the posts, I bought 8 foot long 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated lumber. I dug each post hole about 30″ deep (which, by the way, is really fucking deep), then threw in about 6 inches of drainage gravel, and then filled it in with fast-setting Quickrete, which you just dump into the hole, soak with water, agitate a bit to mix it up (I used a stick), and let it sit, all the while checking that your post is super duper level and won’t move. The concrete sets up in about half an hour. One thing I didn’t account for is that while the local hardware store employees claimed I’d need one 50-lb bag of Quickrete per post, I averaged more like 3 bags per post. Back to Lowe’s! This section of fencing is about 30 feet long, and I think I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 bags of Quickrete for the posts. Luckily it’s cheap.
I bought a post-hole digger for this project, but ended up returning it immediately. Soil in Kingston tends to be really rich and kind of sandy, which makes it really very easy to dig. I averaged about 30 minutes to dig each post hole with a shovel. The post-hole digger I think is better if you have really hard soil, but I found it completely worthless for us.
After the first post was in and setting, I built the gate! To do this, all I did was cut down one of the 8 foot panels with a jigsaw and added vertical 2×3 supports, which are attached to the original 2×3 horizontal supports. All in all, very easy. It seems super sturdy to me.
After it was stained and the second post was in, I put it up! You’ll notice that it’s a bit wider than the path (the gate is little over 3 feet) but I wanted it to be wide enough to cart a wheelbarrow through with ease. I’ll find a way to tastefully widen the path a bit, I think. I picked up a gate hardware kit from Lowe’s (I can’t find the link, sorry!), and two gate hinges. I think I may add a third one to the middle, just for some added support. All are made by Stanley.
The one thing I did do to complicate things for myself was that I decided to space the rest of the posts evenly, rather than 8 feet apart and end up with a shorter panel on the end. Then I decided to attach the panels with stainless steel 5″ L-brackets (spray-painted black) rather than screw the panels into the front of the posts. The L bracket is screwed into the bottom of each of the horizontal 2×3 supports, and then into the 4×4 post. This leaves the front of the post exposed, which I think looks a little nicer and more custom from both the outside and the inside. I was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with the brackets rusting or falling apart, so I’m hoping for the best. If we run into problems down the line, I think I could replace the brackets with vertical pieces of pressure-treated lumber (exactly like the gate, pretty much), and screw those into the posts. If that makes any sense.
Once all of the posts had set for 24 hours, it was time to put up the panels! Before doing this, I decided to dig about an 8″ deep trench under where the panels would sit and fill them with drainage gravel. We used about 15 bags, which added about $60 to the overall cost of the project, but the gravel should help keep weeds from growing at the fence line, and provide drainage underneath the fence so that the bottoms of the pickets don’t rot out. Additionally, because the fence is black, the gravel should help keep the color looking good when it rains and soil crap would splash up onto the fence if the rocks weren’t there. I think it was worth it.
I’m sorry this picture is so awful, but I also wanted to address the section of chain-link fence that would now sit in front of the new fence, which separates our yard from our neighbor’s. Chain-link is just such a bummer, particularly when it’s so close to the street, and I wanted to find something better that would tie in with the original wrought-iron fence in front of both our properties.
I searched a couple salvage places for something old (no dice), but then on another trip to Lowe’s I found this stuff! It’s nothing super fancy—galvanized steel that’s been powder-coated black, but the size was good, the price was good (about $30 for a 4′ section), and installation seemed (and was) very easy. I really hope it lasts. I thought removing the old chain-link would be a huge pain in the ass, but it was super easy. I used bolt cutters to detach the chain link from the posts, and the posts—which I thought would be set in the ground with concrete) just pulled right out of the ground with a little of my manly brute strength. Awesome. To fit our dimensions, I just had to cut one of the panels down with my Sawzall, which took roughly 30 seconds, and attach it to the last post. Overall, it’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it does look good and feels pretty rigid, and it ties in nicely with the original fencing.
Did I mention my wonderful and long-suffering friend Nora was here during all of this? Poor thing thought she was coming up for a nice few days in the Hudson Valley and got sucked into my insanity. While the panels were going up, I put Nora and Max on staining duty, which they were obviously loving. It was pretty much the time of their lives. As you can see.
EEEEEE! Almost done! I include this process image mostly to show the difference between the cedar and the black. See how the cedar is super visible and kind of obtrusive, whereas the black just kind of disappears? I think so, anyway. I also like that it ties in the with the black window sashes and other black accents I have planned for the exterior.
Annnnnd, DONE! Here’s the view from the back, which I know is nothing amazing but I think a hedge or something will do wonders. The gravel should settle down a bit and look less ugly over time, besides. After all the panels were up and stained, I used my Sawzall to cut the posts to the same-ish heights and topped them with these generic and affordable fence post caps from Lowe’s. I think they look nice!
In the front, I’m super pleased with eliminating the area of chain-link while we were doing this anyway. The fencing on the left is the new faux-wrought iron, which I think looks pretty damn good for what it is. Again, it’ll look better with some plants and whatnot, but it’s just so much more inviting and pretty.
I secured the last faux-wrought-iron fence panel to the wood fence with some super cheap plastic PVC connectors I found in the electrical aisle. They do the job. I spray-painted them black. Exciting stuff, I know.
I’m really pleased with how the gate turned out. Nothing fancy, but it opens from the inside and outside and it looks good. Obviously we need a better situation for the hose, but I’ll save that for another day…I have a couple ideas. Let’s just all ignore the vinyl siding and the missing end of the downspout and the foundation work we might have ahead of us. This is about the fence!
I really like how it looks from the street, which was obviously a big challenge when thinking about this project. Setting it so far back keeps it really unobtrusive, and I’m SO excited about our new dog-free front yard! I think the fence will look a million times better once we get a bunch of plants growing in front of it and some real landscaping going. All in due time! In the meantime, I have pretty much no experience with landscaping and could use some plant suggestions and ideas for how to use the space…hint, hint.
I’m also really glad I broke up that concrete path and got back those couple of feet of gardening space in the front next to the entry. I backfilled the hole and obviously need to plant some things and mulch, but I think it already looks better. I also went on a MAJOR weeding/pruning spree to try to get the Rhododendron under control a little. I actually really don’t like Rhododendron in general and I don’t like them here (too tall!), but the pruning definitely helped me like them more. Someday I’d like to get rid of them altogether (or at least the one on the right) and replace them with a bunch of other stuff I like more.
ANYWAY, I’m so excited to have this new foundation to work with as we start to plan some more landscaping! As for the rest of the fence, I’m not sure I have it in me to DIY-it (it’s a TON of fence…) but we’ll see. There’s also the whole matter of cost—I haven’t added up every little thing, but I think I probably spent about $700 for just this section of the fencing, including the faux-wrought-iron business, so I might continue to just do it in sections where it’s most necessary and go about things that way. For now, I’m just glad to have this section taken care of—not only do I think it adds some curb appeal, but it definitely gives me some peace of mind where the dogs are concerned. They still have plennntttyyyy of space in the backyard to run around and play and poop, and this just goes such a long way toward keeping them safe. So that’s good!
I want to plant stuff. Tell me what to plant.