Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Patio Fence

Betsy and I moved in last November, so we haven’t really had a chance to use the back patio all that much. However, we’ve been thinking all along that we might put a privacy fence up along at least one side of the space. There are cinder block walls separating our patio from our neighbors' on either side, but one of them is really low – about three-and-a-half feet high. If the neighbor and I happen to be back there at the same time, we're hanging out together, whether we want to or not. When our neighbors on that side moved away, they told us that a “young couple” had bought the house. We were excited about this, because the average age on our block is about 85. Visions of us all out back grilling and drinking beer together filled our heads. Maybe we didn’t need the fence. Then we met the new guy. In a conversation that lasted 2 minutes, he managed to establish himself as one of the most negative, down-in-the-dumps, killjoy people I have ever met. The fence was on!

Betsy and I paid a visit to the Lowes that Sunday, where we found a pre-built, pre-stained, cedar privacy fence. Our friend Kris had recently built a fence from scratch for her back patio, and although it looked great, it didn’t seem like all that effort was necessary for such a small length of fence. Well, relatively small - the fence was 6x8. Trying to fit it into the back of a small rented pickup truck along with a decent amount of impulse-buy patio furniture was tricky, to say the least. Fortunately, Lowes was generous with their rope and theories on how to secure everything. Still, the precarious nature of the packing job required we roll at about 5 miles an hour all the way home (fortunately, only about a mile).

There was a lip at the top of the concrete wall that was preventing us from mounting the fence flush, so the plan was to attach sections of 2x4 to the concrete wall and then attach the fence to the 2x4s. The 2x4s extended the same distance as the lip at the top of the wall, so everything would sit flush. We had bought a long piece of 2x4 while at Lowes, but it turned out I had enough scrap leftover from an earlier window project to just use that. Since this was going to be outside, I painted the 2x4s with a coat of wood stain. The next day, I pre-drilled Tapcon screws into the 2x4s and and then held them up to the wall one at a time, giving them a few good taps with a hammer. The screws put small dents in the wall, which I marked with a Sharpie. Then, using the special drill bit that came with the Tapcon screws (big thanks to Jim for telling me about that - never would have occurred to me otherwise), I drilled the holes into the concrete. Once the holes were drilled, I lined up the 2x4s and just drilled them in. I was doubtful about how well this would work, thinking the cinderblock might just crumble, but those Tapcon screws held fast.

The fence was about a foot longer than we needed, so using a sawzall borrowed from Jim, I cut through the three backing braces that were holding everything together. Again, this went much smoother than expected. Finally, Betsy helped me get the fence in place. The patio has a pretty serious slope built into it for drainage purposes, so we figured getting the fence level might be difficult. Although the 2x4s seemed well-secured, we weren't too keen on hanging the entire weight of the fence on them. Fortunately, a spare brick lying in the corner proved to be just what we needed. With the corner of the fence resting on the ground and the right corner resting on the brick, we popped the level on top and were amazed to see that it was perfectly level right off the bat. With Betsy holding the fence in place, I drove screws through the fence into the 2x4s. Sturdy as a rock.

I don't expect many other projects to go as smoothly as this one.

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