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Gated Community

Yes. Our grass needs mowed again…  And yes, we are recycling fools.

But the point of this post is neither how crazy fast grass grows in PA, nor a lecture on green living.

Rather, the point of this post is the very scary, insanely steep porch steps that threaten to send us all to the emergency room once a week. Their menacing nature has made using the porch as anything more than an expressway to and from the car impossible.

Not so much a problem during the winter months, but once spring had sprung, I was determined to create an outdoor space we can really use.

My first preference would have been to put in a metal gate, like this one (left):

Or construct a sturdy, finished-looking wood gate like this (below right):

But, considering our budget restraints, the best we can accomplish right now is to do better than this (below left):

So, in hopes of hitting somewhere in the middle, we picked up a single section of raw-wood picket garden fencing, a wire cross brace and a quart of exterior latex paint.

A cross brace is a brace that helps “square up” a frame. They run diagonally from corner to corner and can be wood, metal, wire… really any material that will help keep the frame taut & square. They are especially important on gates, because they ensure a good swing.

 

Full Disclosure Time: We got lucky on this project. The former tenants had installed a gate in the same place. However, it was terribly built and FAR too heavy for its hinges, so it fell off. Lucky for us, the hinge/latch posts they’d mounted were in perfectly good shape, so we didn’t have to build them ourselves. Score!

(It’s too bad, but amid all the chaos, I forgot to take “before” pics. Ooops, opps, opes.)

Anyhoo – see the more orange-colored wood plank behind the lighter-colored wood gate (photo right)? That’s the pre-existing hinge post.

And again, the planks behind the gate = existing post. This one is on the latch side (photo left).

If you didn’t have an only-vaguely-competent craftsman living in your house before you, you’ll have to install the posts yourself. This will require some “how-to” research on your part. I do essentially know how it’s done & could probably walk you through it successfully, but because I didn’t actually do it (and take photos of the process), explaining all the steps here would be lengthy, boring and a pain in the rump.

And this blog is supposed to be inspirational and fun, not an intimidating downer 🙂

But really, don’t get discouraged: Putting in gate posts isn’t hard to do, just a lot to explain.

Tip: Check Ask.com — it’s a good jumping-off spot for this kind of research.


Ahem… so… back to business.

Next, we measured & marked the picket fencing section (Again: Garden fencing, not yard fencing. Far cheaper/lighter.)

We took off a few inches along the bottom and along the top. That way, the horizontal pieces would still look centered. Plus, the whole piece looks a little less “country” without the pointy tops.

Then, we removed a few sections from one end to achieve our desired length. (Heh, heh. Desired length.)

Once all the cuts had been made — we’re lucky enough to have a power saw, but you could totally do it by hand  — we just had to drill our bolt holes and secure them with our nuts.

Is this part of the post extremely dirty-sounding, or is it just me?

As you can see, we improved the gate-to-hinge strength by reinforcing with an extra piece of wood, which we “stole” from the leftover section we got while cutting the gate to length.

Tip: Hang onto your extra wood. You can always find a use for it later.

See? Dirty.

Then we measured (using the highly scientific you-hold-it-there-and-I’ll-mark-it-with-a-crayon method) and mounted the latch.

Purple 🙂

Again, we were lucky that the former tenant had already drilled/cemented in the latch. It’s actually well mounted, so we just “stole” the catch piece from the old, fallen gate and whacked it on there. We were also fortunate that the pickets of our gate lined up so well with the existing gate posts.

If we’d had to install the latch, we would have done it on the wood of the fence post instead of bothering to drill into concrete. Lazy? Or smart? I say… smazy. 

Tip: Always pirate good hardware from old/failed projects. Always.

Once the gate was mounted, we installed the cross brace. It was ridonkulously easy.

Basically, you assemble the hookie screw; mount the corner pieces and stretch the wire between it.

Then tighten it all by twisting the lower hookie screw into the whoseywhatchit sleeve.

See? Couldn’t be simpler.

Seriously, though. It was super self-explanatory. My three-year-old could have done it.

Then, for extra close-ability, we added a simple slide latch to the bottom of the gate. We don’t have to use it, but it’s a nice touch. It makes our porch a nearly impenetrable fortress when locked (a.k.a. in the “shields up” position).

Sure, the mailman has to leave our overdue bills and Mrs. Fields’ catalogs on the front steps, but on the plus side, we haven’t been asked to sign a petition, subscribe to a magazine or join a church since we started putting this little baby to use.

Rental House Rule #9: A secure perimeter is a safety tool. Make it hard for strangers to get near your home. 

I don’t remember whose idea this simple latch was originally, which is a shame, because it works famously. Besides making the gate nearly impossible to open from the outside, it also works sort of like a kick-stand:

See how it slides right down into the cracks between the boards? Awesome.

We can totally prop the gate open:

Major score.

If you look closely, you can see a big, curved scratch in the floor paint. That’s where the old, too-heavy-gate’s too-small-wheel had scraped along the porch under its yolk of oppression until a merciful storm blew the whole damn thing to Oz.

You think I’m kidding. Wind be CRAZY around here. We found the gate in our neighbor’s yard… R.I.P. garden gnomes 😦

My point being: the path of our new latch matches the scratch-rainbow pretty closely, which runs more or less perpendicular to the floorboards. So… we can effectively prop open the gate at any angle. Booyah!

Then I added some eye screws and laced string through it, tying off one end with a small washer (to keep the string from slipping back through the eye screws). Viola. A way for US to open the lower latch from the outside.

Fortunately, there’s a trick to opening it that first-timers can’t seem to figure out… perimeter still secure.

** Yes, these pics were taken at a later point in time… namely this afternoon. Because I forgot to take pics earlier. Hence the magically painted gate followed by the mysteriously unpainted one in the next shot.

(Just go with it.)

So here’s where we’re at:

Heh, heh, kiddo. You be trapped.

All that was left was to sand a little…

Before:

And after:

Finally, I slapped on a single coat of paint. I didn’t bother to prime or seal, since I want it to fade into a slightly weathered look over time. It’ll match our house better that way.

Here’s the finished product:

The color doesn’t match exactly, but we’re planning to retouch the porch using the gate color VERY soon (hint, hint)… so we’re not too worried about it.

So, for about $40 and one afternoon’s effort, we’ve expanded our living space exponentially.

We use the porch all the time now. In fact…

NEXT POST: PHASE ONE PORCH MAKEOVER!!!

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