better homes & gardens

For your new front yard, try to marry modern materials to the feel of your house. This sweet Federation cottage is a fine example of how this can work. It has a host of simple makeover ideas that happily sit side by side with the old home. Once you’ve developed your ideas, it’s time to move step by step to the hard yakka, and the following tips will help.

When pulling down the fence, save a few of the bottom courses and render them as a base for a new picket fence. And while you’re at it, replace the existing tiny paving bricks that formed a path and courtyard on three slightly different levels. Lay large pavers all at the same level, with perimeter drainage and subtle garden edging for a more user-friendly space. Add tiered plantings of standard roses, proteas and low soft lamb’s ear, and your home will be a wonderful place in the sun to watch the world go by.

Approvals and demolition

Before making a start, check with your local council about any regulations that may apply to your front fence. Work within the council’s standard limits on height and materials to avoid having to obtain development approval. And have a chat with your neighbours, especially if you’re working on the dividing fences as well. Bear in mind that in older heritage areas, details such as permissible fence heights may vary from street to street. If you want to remove trees, check with your council first – you may find you’ll need to work around them.

If you are digging footings or changing levels, first contact Dial Before You Dig on 1100 so there will be no surprises such as water, sewer or gas lines just below ground level.

Step 1
Remove trees or shrubs that you are allowed to remove and that will hinder work. Pull up any old pavers. Try to off-load the pavers to a friend who may want them – it’s cheaper than dumping them, and they are still fine to use ... at somebody else’s place.

Step 2
Dismantle the top of the brick wall, using a bolster and lump hammer to take it apart brick by brick. It won’t take much longer and is less messy than smashing it with a sledge- hammer. If the bricks are laid with lime mortar, you can clean them to be re-used. If they are laid in cement mortar you will probably break them. Leave the bottom 5 or 6 courses as a base for a picket fence. This will be governed by the permissible final height of the fence, specified by your local council. Here, it was 1200mm above ground level. If any bricks are loose, remove them for re-laying later on. Have a skip organised for the debris.

Step 3
If you want to retain a fence but give it cleaner lines, use a lump hammer to tap the underside of capping bricks to loosen and remove them. This also makes rendering a lot easier as there are fewer nooks and crannies to go around.

Step 4
To remove aluminium lace panels without damaging the brickwork, remove the bricks above the panel. Chip away the mortar on one side of the panel’s fixing lugs so you can pull out the panel. Some brick joints may still crack and the bricks will need to be re-laid.

Acrylic render system
Using an acrylic polymer render, such as an Armawall system, rather than the traditional cement render, has several advantages. You can render surfaces that standard cement render will normally not adhere to, such as painted brick. The polymer render cures in a few days, rather than a month, and it’s flexible enough to take minor movement without cracking. The product is designed for professional application but you can buy the material to do it yourself. In most cases, you will need to apply two coats. Where the render is being applied to brickwork with deeply raked mortar joints, you need to apply a third coat.
When rendering painted surfaces, the only proviso is that the paint is sound. As the render has an acrylic polymer base, similar to most exterior paints, it is compatible and capable of adhering to them.

Brickwork and rendering

Gather your supplies
Spare or recycled bricks; mortar mix; Armawall render system

Step 1
Take out 1 or 2 half-bricks (batts), 4 or 6 courses apart, in the opening where the lace panel was. This helps key in the new brickwork. When adding new brickwork to the old, there is a chance that fine cracks will develop, but as this is only a patch in a wall, this should not be a major problem.

Step 2
If you do not have premixed bags of mortar mix, add 1 part of cement to 5 parts brickie’s sand. Add Bycol to the water to make a thick creamy mix. Place bed of mortar on the bottom course, butter the end of a brick (here half-brick) and bring it into position. Take the line and height of brick courses from the existing brickwork. Aim for a 10mm gap between bricks.

Step 3
To insert a brick in a notch, lay down the bed of mortar, butter the end of a brick and carefully feed it into the hole. Bed the brick so it’s aligned, then use extra mortar to fill the bed between it and the brick above. Feed in as much as you can easily. Then proceed with the rest of the bricks. Patch other holes or damaged sections with cleaned or new bricks. Let the brickwork dry and cure for a few days.

Step 4
To render over painted bricks, check that the paint is sound. Make 4 slashes on the paintwork in the shape of a game of noughts and crosses. Apply good adhesive tape over the cross so it is well stuck, then pull away. If the paint comes away, the wall will need to be scabbled with a scutch hammer to remove the paint. If the paint doesn’t come off, you can render.

Step 5
Mix the liquid and powder components of the render to a creamy consistency. If applying over painted brickwork add extra polymer additive to the mix to help it stick. Apply the first coat to about 3mm thick with a steel trowel.

Step 6
Where new brickwork is added to a wall, cover the joint with polyester mesh so, if there is movement, the mesh will reinforce the render and prevent cracking. Place the mesh over the wet render on the new panel and about 100mm onto the old brickwork.

Step 7
Work the mesh in with a trowel so it’s completely embedded. Then switch to a large float with rounded corners and edges to smooth out the render.

Step 8
Once the wall has dried, apply a second coat. Then, before it sets, wipe over the whole surface with a damp sponge to remove any tool marks. Paint as required.

Step 9
For accurate, strong and neat corners, use plastic corner moulding, similar to that used for internal plastering.

Step 10
You can add tints from most paint charts to the final render coat to match paint colours. Apply it as a thin coat with the steel trowel, then sponge the surface for a smooth sandy finish. For long-term protection, overcoat the wall with an exterior acrylic paint of the same colour.

Build a picket fence for front of the house
Steps on paving, draining and edging


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