New fence, old fence, and the unfinished house behind


To the casual observer, this scene may seem rather odd. “Why,” you might ask yourself, “would anyone in their right mind spend an obscene amount of effort building a brand new fence when their house has been sitting, unfinished and relatively vulnerable to the weather for months, (going on years)? Well folks, the answer is simple: deadlines are what makes the world go around.

While our poor house has languished in a half-finished / half-abandoned state, deadlines have focused our energy on other things. The need to move out of our “rental” house in order to return it to its rightful owner pushed us to get the mini-home finished. Which it is now. Except for the ceiling in the bathroom. And caulking/floor trim around the doors. And exterior siding. And a finish on the water heater closet. (If you’ve built your own house, you know what I’m talking about. It seems like such a miracle to have actual functional plumbing that “minor” details go unfinished for obscene periods of time.)

And now that we’ve got a warm place to inhabit (yes! I’ll post pictures soon), we have other deadlines bearing down on us like a freight train. See, a year ago, our utility company announced that it was reducing its rebates for grid-tied solar electric (PV) systems. They gave 24 hours notice to get an application in under the older (more generous) rebate structure. And they gave one year to complete the project and still collect the rebate money. As you can guess, our year is waning very quickly, and we have to hustle in order to finish the PV system, get it inspected, and then wait nervously and fearfully while we wait for a very big check to repay us for our efforts.

So, what does a fence have to do with it? Well, it turns out that the only place to put a large-ish PV system on our property is along the fence on the north side of the property. Our very large trees shade most of the south-facing roof, and the little bit that is largely unshaded (over the future kitchen) will need to be used for our solar thermal system, which is more shade tolerant than a PV system. So we decided to rebuild our incredibly decrepit and shabby-looking fence into a new fence / racking combo. The beautiful new fence will face the street, and the solar panels hanging off of it will face the yard (and the sun).

We’ve hired our friend Andy, and expert welder to do the steel work for us. (Another friend was shocked when she heard the “news” that we’d hired someone to perform a building-related task for us — “WHAT? there’s something that you guys can’t do yourselves? What is wrong with you?”)

Andy and his partner, Tammy, weld the new fence sections in place.


While it is technically possible that we could have done this portion of the project ourselves, it would have exhibited very poor decision-making skills on our part. We’re not always very smart about this house-building business (read: self-torture), but we’re smart enough to know when to hire, and when we do, we’re smart enough to hire smart. Every one of the (few) people we’ve hired to help with something has been amazing, and Andy is no exception. His profession is welding, and he is quick, meticulous, and experienced. Oh, and he’s got all the right tools. So, he is taking care of the metal portion of our project, and we’re taking care of the “back-breaking labor” and solar portions of the project. Had we done the metal work ourselves, it would have taken months– maybe even decades– to complete, and it wouldn’t have looked nearly so nice. We would have missed our deadline. The deadline forced us to be smart enough to hire Andy. The rebate from the utility company also helped us hire Andy.

Augering holes for concrete bases

Prior to erecting the fence,we augered holes in the ground, spent a very detail-oriented weekend setting posts (not an easy job for the uber-anal amongst us, particularly with steel because you can’t screw supports into it), poured concrete, and then got Andy & his partner Tammy to install the horizontals. We’re now in the process of screwing wood to the metal “panels.” My idea here was that the wood would be sort of “framed” by the metal panels, and although a few details slipped through our grasp (spacing issues that likely nobody but me would ever notice), it is looking quite good.

Reclaimed wood going onto the new fence structure.


The wood is from a house that Luke & company tore down a couple of years ago. Prior to being roof decking (?) for a supremely ugly and ill-conceived residence, it evidently came directly from a sawmill that was staffed entirely by drunk people. Or maybe there’s some other factor that caused every single board to be different. The boards vary tremendously in thickness, width, species, and density. Many of them are even tapered in width (and sometimes thickness.) Most of them have major flaws that we’re trying to incorporate as nicely as possible. Needless to say, this stuff would be a real nightmare to work with if you were trying to build a building with it– but it works quite well for a fence, and it has a lot of character, which I suppose is one of the major aesthetic advantages of using reclaimed wood.

So,we’ll finish up the project, despite the growing cold and lots of other things pulling at our attention. There’s nothing like a little pressure to force you to stay up late, work in the cold, and push the boundaries a little. I can’t absolutely guarantee that I’ll post pictures of the progress because blogging doesn’t involve any deadlines, and that is precisely why I’m such a bad blogger. (Perhaps this is also why I always have so much trouble getting the book-keeping for our business done… the only firm deadline is April 15th, and I can usually fake it the rest of the time.)

Incidentally, it is precisely because deadlines make the world go around that we need more of them in our lives. And we need deadlines if the world (as we know it) is going to continue to go around. Every state in this country needs deadlines to force its utility companies to get a percentage of their power from renewable energy (called renewable portfolio standards –RPS), so that we don’t all just languish in the illusion that our bloated, coal-burning habits don’t actually exist & don’t actually have consequences.  It was Colorado’s RPS that made this project happen– and while I do have some real issues about the way the Colorado is addressing its energy future, at least it is happening.

Other photos of the process below.

By the way, I wrote this post several weeks ago, before the project was finished, but never got around to uploading photos and posting.  My old slow computer, slow internet, and our photo organization system made dealing with photos a frustrating process and a real deterrent to posting on my blog.  We’ve gotten all those issues (mostly) resolved now, so you will no doubt see an overwhelming number of updates on this blog.  I don’t however, recommend holding your breath.

  • Shabby-looking 50-year old fence, about to be replaced.
  • Luke demolishes an old coal shed in the yard to make way for the new PV system. This is a lovely metaphor, isn’t it?

    Luke practices with the auger on an ant hill.

    Steel structure taking form. The old fence is behind, to give us privacy while building the new fence.

    Mocking up the placement of the PV system.


    6 Responses to “deadlines.”

    1. 1 David Miller

      Burn the Coal Bin. Burn!

    2. 2 David Miller

      Ah the advantages of the dry lands. Use any old wood for a fence. Leave house partially open to elements for years. No gutters, no problem. I know there is fungus but does it ever eat wood there? Maybe if you cultivate it and add water.

    3. 3 Carl

      Excellent pictures, guys! It must be a great inspiration to have a completely finished product of your business close at hand! Great idea to hire the welder!

      With a few more pictures you could probably get an article printed in the magazines “Fine Homebuilding” or “The Journal of Light Construction.” They are always looking for manuscripts. (I don’t know if their pay rates would justify the effort to write the article, but if printed, an article would certainly act as a nation wide advertisement for your consulting and installation services.

    4. 4 laura

      Carl– I would love to do that!
      I’m going to write another post about the actual system– I just wanted to get a few pictures out there!

      In other news, our net meter is getting installed tomorrow, (so we can turn the system on & leave it on), and “the check is in the mail” from the utility (which means that they acknowledge that they are going to send it, and it “should” arrive in the next 30 days.)

    5. Finished pictures, please.

      And Laura, I want copies of your pics from the funeral.

    6. 6 sarah

      Great job!!
      looks really good!

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