Monday, June 7, 2010

Mid Century Curb Appeal - DIY Modern Screen Wall

My mock up of our new Mid Century Modern screen wall withstood the entire winter and spring with hardly a nudge. I guess I wasn't expecting much from a over thousand pounds of concrete block. This project was part of our Curb Appeal series that we left last fall I finally got around to setting this puppy in place and figured it was a good opportunity to explore a 'how to' blog post highlighting my process of something from start to finish. Before proceeding, please refer to the Gened up 'before' scenario here, a long overdue green lumber fence, no thanks Gene.

Although the mock up wall, freestanding by none other than its own weight was doing okay, the plan was to 'set' the wall permanently and level it out. The mock up revealed the concrete base wall we had poured was not exactly level in either direction. This photo shows the wall out of plumb about an inch with the blocks 'stepping' a bit indicating the wall was leaning the other way as well. The plan was to use a bed of mortar on top of the concrete wall to use as a leveler and then glue the blocks together. Technically the wall would need to withstand a 250 lb point load to any point of the wall. I have mucho faith in Gorilla glue.

My entourage of equipment included (1) 10 lb bag of mortar mix, 4' & 1' levels, knee pad, bucket, drop cloth, rubber mallet, (cold chisels), trowel, brush, rubber coated gloves, and of course the glue.

Although not pictured, the wall screens our electric meter (previously on the front of the house), and our trash/recycling bins not shown in any of these photos. One of the main reasons I chose the block I did is the transparent nature of the block once the leftover concrete in the holes starts to come out. The tedious task of busting all the holes out was the first thing in line.

I tried a couple of ways to knock the concrete out of the holes, it ended up that my super long handy dandy chisel was the best tool for the job. I threw down the drop clothes to catch all, make that some of the debris and went to town.

Along the way to feel some sense of progress, I started disassembling the blocks. This also gave me the chance to brush off and clean the blocks of little grit and debris before their final placement.

As I'm more than halfway through at this point I started having fond memories of picking through the pallette of blocks at the store to find all the perfect ones. Then had to make two trips with the wagon to get them home, the car was on the ground for both trips. At each block weighing 23lbs, 56 blocks = 1,288lbs total moved 6 times = sore back.

Once the block was removed, it was time to dig into the leveling issues. As suspected there was a heavy 1/2" lean going down towards the house and slightly towards the rear of the house.

After quickly mixing up the small batch of mortar in the bucket by hand, I recalled all of my lessons from 'This Old House' episodes and threw down my best version of a base mortar bed using my hand trowel. Before doing so I was sure to get everything nice and wet to keep the moisture in the mortar. Also made sure not to use all the mortar so I could fill in the face gaps after setting the block.

After getting the mortar base down it was time to wiggle the block into place and level across the wall at the same time. Sounds simple with just a 4 block width, but it took a few time and adjustments to get it right. This was the most difficult and time consuming part of the job.

Since the block will have some thermal expansion with the change in weather, I made sure to leave a little space between the blocks. Working from one side to the other the base course was set. I then filled the needed gaps in the mortar and hosed off the driveway, it was time for the fun part.

You might have to enlarge this photo to see the Gorilla glue dots, 10 per block. Since water activates this glue I kept the block nice and soaked between each course. The weight of the block is enough to keep the glue from rising which it tends to do. I also decided to glue the wall freestanding and not anchored to the house. The brick will move independently of the block so there was no sense in creating a problem.

About halfway up, I'm avidly awaiting the cover up of the electric meter. Along the way I double checked the levelness and alignment like a hawk. End was in sight.

The finished job to the right still in the process of drying. I gave it a couple days to set up and with a lack of fancy scientific measuring devices, I physically tried to push the wall over, no dice. This beast is solid, freestanding on its own, and in the event the next homeowner could somehow conceive of the notion to knock it down some day, it wouldn't affect the house. But why would someone do that?


  1. Love this project! I've been looking for ideas to hide my trash cans & such at the side of my garage. This gives me some good food for thought.