The great cover-up

My front yard is littered with unsightly items such as garbage cans and a generator. It’s all essential stuff that I can’t get rid of, but it’s a mess. I might as well have a rusty old bakkie out there, too. Any suggestions for bringing order to the outside?

Often our homes look better because of what we can’t see rather than what we can. In other words, your best bet is to hide that stuff behind a privacy screen that complements your home’s architecture.

We built ours for special projects editor Joe Bargmann to hide a pair of garbage bins at the end of his driveway. “We wanted to keep the trash away from the house without upsetting the neighbours,” Joe says. We used off-the-shelf supplies from our local home-improvement centre and put it together in an afternoon.

When designing your screen, don’t forget that whatever you’re hiding needs to be accessible. You’re not building a closet. We built an L-shaped screen and attached it to an existing fence to create a three-sided structure. With one side open away from the street, Joe can easily fill the bins and the city can remove them unhindered on trash day.

No fiddly door here. We also didn’t add a roof, which would have made it impossible to flip the lids off the cans without pulling them out first. We left 15 cm of clearance around the bins so they slide in and out easily. Keep in mind that if you build a screen around a generator, make sure you can still access its controls and maintenance points – and don’t block the exhaust vent.

To make the side panels, we started with 3 m x 1,5 m sheets of lattice. Most home centres and timberyards also stock lattices made of pressure-treated wood or vinyl, which is available in a variety of colours. Cut these to size with a circular saw (watch out for nails and staples) and then sandwich them between a frame made of 25 mm square stock. Don’t forget to use fasteners rated for outdoor projects, such as stainless-steel screws or hot-dipped galvanised nails. Attach these panels to pressure-treated 100 x 100 mm corner posts set in the ground or in precast concrete deck blocks, which is what we used. Another solution is to fasten the panels to 900-mm long 50 x 50 mm stakes driven 300 mm into the ground. You could build a portable screen that isn’t secured to anything, but don’t expect it to survive a gust of wind. Cap the panels and posts with a rail.

Joe stained his screen grey to match the colour of his house, though he also considered letting it weather gradually in order to blend in with its rustic surroundings.

Finally, before installing a structure that significantly changes the way your home looks, check for any building regulations that may limit what you can build. Plus, it’s always common courtesy to let your neighbours know what you’re doing – though chances are they’ll appreciate the upgrade. “Every one of our neighbours has stopped by to thank us for putting our screen up,” Joe says. “They couldn’t be happier.”

By Roy Berendsohn and David Agrell