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Before & After: Upgrading from Chain Link to Cedar Fencing

When we downsized back to the city, three things were very different about our backyard upon our arrival that first autumn:

1) There was privacy on the south side, rendering our neighbor's yard practically invisible.

2) There was chain link fencing on all sides, with the east side that faced the alley leaving us completely exposed to the world. If we had our back door unshaded, someone could literally see in from the alley into our living room.

3) There was patchy grass, a crap ton of invasive ivy, holly and plum, a dead tree on the other side growing through aforementioned chain link fence, and ancient grape vines from a long-collapsed arbor in the neighbor's yard dropping non-tasty fruit everywhere.

With that, before we'd even returned with the moving truck I had made a TON of calls to fencing contractors about replacing the alley side of the fence from chain link to cedar, and adding a gate in front of the then-used covered carport that took up about a third of the backyard area. Being that it was only a year and a half into the pandemic, the contractors were giddy with asinine quotes. $5,000. Really? For 30' of fencing and a gate? and using the existing chain link posts? Aw hell no.

Having built fences on the farm and knowing the cost of materials, I called BS on those labor costs. I knew first hand it was not that tough of a job - and so with that, I got to researching how to DIY that fence myself. And guess what? It is NOT hard! This one picture describes it pretty well:

Basically, all you do is hang a 2x4 rectangular frame around your posts and top bar, using 1 1/2" galvanized pipe straps, then connect your cedar pickets to the frame! That's literally it. I love that cedar will naturally weather to a nice gray and don't care about the finish, so bought the rough hewn pickets at the lumberyard and finished the fence portion of the project in half a day. The only reason it took that long is because they didn't have a fencing nailer at the tool library, so I was hand nailing the pickets in. FYI for the 2x4 frame, I nearly all of the wood was repurposed scrap I'd brought up from the farm during the move (yeah, I have a thing for free scrap wood, why would I leave it behind?).

(FYI - it is an absolute MYTH that you need to stain & seal your cedar fence. Do they tell people they need to stain and seal their cedar shingles on their home? Hell no. It's no different for fences. You only need to do that if you want to preserve it's new reddish color, which I consider strange as cedar is literally meant to weather to a nice grayish tone and sealing is just adding toxic chemicals to a naturally weather resistant wood)

In the spring, I'd attempted to gently negotiate with the nextdoor neighbor's landlord to have him remove the high-risk dead tree that was growing into our shared fence. It had been strangled with ivy and was at massive risk for coming down and hitting one of our houses, so I offered to replace the shared south-side fence if he had the tree removed. Well, not the friendliest of dudes, he did the ultimate in passive-aggressive behavior - he agreed to have someone remove it...but when they came? He had them literally cut down EVERY SINGLE tree & shrub on that side and more...hiring what my husband and I referred to as not an arborist but a "dude with a chainsaw". My nextdoor neighbor who was out of town when it happened nearly choked when he saw it. Suddenly we could both see right into each others yards, and his (otherwise unfenced) backyard lost all remaining privacy from the alley. So needless to say I got to work on building the southside fence immediately, which took about two days in all to build the frames and install the pickets, this time with my husband building the frames which made it go by considerably faster.

Building the gates? Now that was definitely a trip! When we replaced our roof, we learned the posts holding up the covered carport were almost completely rotted out, so we removed it, and with that, needed to find a way to create a gate that would close off the carport that we had no plans to use (we park in the front of our house - why would we want to park in our back yard?), and basically connect the shed to the existing fence I'd rebuilt along the alley. PLUS, we needed to be able to both lock/unlock it from both sides (my neighbors don't lock their gates, but knowing both city and country life differ wildly, and my experiences in my hometown with burglary, this was non-negotiable for me). So this is what we ended up with:

Instead of one long monster 12' gate, I built two gates that connect. The larger 8' one is heavy duty and really only if something really large needs to get in, which literally has only happened twice in a year and a half, once for our roofers to unload, the other for when we had an appliance delivered. I built the frame for it based on a photo I saw of another DIY, it was connected to the shed with some seriously heavy duty accessories, and supported as well at the other end with a heavy duty gate wheel and a cane bolt that we borrowed a heavy duty drill and concrete bit to secure it when not in use (both are essential if your gate frame is made from 2x4's, there's wind, or really if you just want to be sane working with heavier objects like this).

The narrower "door" gate that we use all the time was a different and quicker DIY process. I bought a galvanized chain link gate kit from the hardware store to build a very lightweight frame, used the hardware to connect it to the galvanized chain link post at the end of the fence, then connected the cedar pickets. To cover the frame yet enable the lock to be used , I cut a notch out of the last picket to make it visible and screwed in a piece of scrap wood for the latch to hold onto. Works like a charm!

For our other gate in our side yard that leads to the backyard, this was WAY easy as it was just about creating a lightweight frame (I used scrap cedar picket pieces), the galvanized straps, and pickets, then prettied it up a bit with a couple of our li'l garden birds my husband got me years ago (there were three, now there are two as one disappeared...kind of like real life, very metaphorical for those who know me).

It may not be the most professional fence to some but here's the thing. It's functional, it's created privacy, and the entire project cost less than a thousand bucks.

FYI: Nothing went into the trash. 100% of the chain link I removed was snapped up by folks responding to my 'free' ad on Craigslist. You'd be surprised what people will repurpose!

At the end of it all, I ended up painting a mural on the alley-facing side of the fence. With oodles of leftover paint, a third grade level of artistic ability, and feeling inspired by the colorful alleys of my husband's old stomping grounds in Australia, why not? Here's a look at it in full...

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