Home projects are just real life dominoes | Outdoor Chalkboard DIY | This WONDERfilled Life

If you’re just tuning into ‘this WONDERfilled life’ it's important that you know that we live in the city…like we live IN the city, the city of Chicago…so going from growing up in Alaska to living in a very extremely urban setting has been hard.  We miss our green space but we miss our privacy most (houses in general are not this close to each other where we grew up).  When we bought our home there were TWO things that we needed and considered non-negotiable…a fire place (wood burning preferred) and a garage.  Eddylow had neither... *sigh* We dealt with the no fireplace by buying an electric unit a few years after we moved in, it doesn’t have the sound or smell of a real fire but it gets the job of ambiance done fairly well.  The garage was a bigger feat. The yard was ready for a garage (meaning it didn’t have one) but the yard was encompassed by a 3 foot chain link fence…that offered no privacy and quite honestly no security.  We knew what we wanted to do but we also wanted to do it right and only once…so we waited…mostly patiently but there were definite impatient days.  We love to entertain, especially outside, and so for almost 8 years we smile and nodded as neighbors walked through our alley, talking to us, commenting on our yard as we enjoyed our yard and entertained our friends…but when random strangers began to comment on how big P was getting we decided it was time to get serious about the improvement. The thing is, projects are often like a real-life dominoes, you have to do them in the right order to do it right…and be cost effective.  So while we needed a fence, it made no sense to build that to turn around and tear a third down when we finally added our garage, and we desperately needed a new car, but we couldn’t buy that until we had a garage to park it in (we were not interested in parking a new car on the streets of Chicago).  So… garage had to come before anything else.    I won’t bore you with the details, but we designed our garage specifically for our needs, a one and half car garage, extra deep (we wanted work benches around the car for projects) and an extended length.  We also had them add a 10 foot overhang (roof) and we built a large 14’ x 12’ deck for entertaining.  That same summer (technically that same week we did the deck) we tore out the chain link fence and built a beautiful cedar privacy fence.  It was such a game changer for us. We could be in our yard and not be on display.  The linden tree we planted was growing leaps and bounds and the yard became our own little sanctuary…or OASIS as we lovingly refer to it.  Every year we do little things to make it even more perfect and I joke that once we get it completed it will be time to move!

This year we had a few things on the agenda, I wanted to paint the garage's concrete foundation, but since we didn’t have gutters on the garage we had a mini mud pit out back every time it rained…so we had to do that… with that done I decided that I was tired of worrying about the kids getting heat stroke playing with the sand box and got the brilliant idea to move the “kid” area out back under our linden tree.  I’ve been working hard on making the back a safe, fun place for them that doesn't require a ton of setting up every time we want to use it…just open the back door and go.  I was about to move the sandbox against the back fence when I read on a neighborhood watch group how a mom caught a young man taking pictures of kids in a yard through the gaps in the fence pickets.  This totally freaked me out so I went out back and looked through ours, pretending to be walking by and sure enough I could basically see everything….

You can see the alley and any movement behind the fence.

So then I went out back to see what it looked like from the alley...

And then I put my eye up the gap and low and behold I could see everything...

Super had wanted to add a “board and baton” look to the fence when we first built it but I resisted…but now I was completely on board…pun not intended but I like it. Ironically, the day after we bought all the supplies for the fence privacy fix we had a drunk woman call Bubba over to the fence and try and talk to him...I am really glad there was a 7' wall between us cause I almost went Mama Bear on her...but I digress.  During the brain storming for the fence I had been thinking about making P an outdoor chalk board.  She loves to draw but we don’t have much sidewalk in our yard and she would always end up rolling in it and chalk would get everywhere…so the wheels started turning and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone if I recessed some chalk boards in the back part of the fence wall.  I worried about it killing the aesthetic of the yard so I decided to put them on the side and we grabbed some lath strips for the rest of the back fence.  All in all it turned out perfect and I think once we stain everything this fall it will really look great.  Best part? The kiddos love it, they’re safe, and I can enjoy my patio!!

You can see the difference.  Here the bottom is done but the top is still "open".

All the lath in place.  Looks kind of neat this way but we will stain it all this fall.

The "white" you see is the back of the lath.

Mission accomplished!!!

With all the lath strips in place it was time to start the fun part...oh wait...that's after everything is done...and for the kids...oh well! 

I had read on another blog (https://www.heytherehome.com/diy-outdoor-chalkboard-holding-3-years/) the idea to use "greenboard" also sometimes referred to as cement board for the base of the chalk board.  Originally I had thought to use 1/2" exterior grade plywood but the sheets were too big for our car, too heavy and more expensive.  I researched the "greenboard" option and found this "e-board" at Menards. Taken from the Menards site: 
Green E-board is a ceramic tile underlayment that is manufactured from magnesium oxide as its primary ingredient rather than portland cement. The construction of this product offers a better environmental alternative and an upgrade to replace gypsum drywall and cement underlayment boards. Green E-Board is a durable, water-resistant environmentally-friendly product that is suitable for use as a tile backer on countertops and floors.
It comes in a 3' x 5' sheet, is lightweight, cost under $8 for each sheet and could fit inside our car with our kid seats removed and I needed to clean the car anyways.  I decided to make TWO boards...first...because obviously I have two kids and limiting the arguing ensures the backyard is as peaceful for me as it is for them, AND, we had two weird squares at the back of the fence that stepped up to meet the alley and I thought this would help disguise it a bit.  

I loved that this was an "eco-friendly" option and that I didn't have to prepare it extensively.  One side of the board is smooth and the other is rough...this is for different types of installation.  The only bummer was that the product sticker was on the smooth side... so I sanded down what I could, wiped the boards down with a damp rag and went to work.  

Sticker residue.  I was worried you'd be able to see it in the end but you can't, partially due to the frame.

Boards set out in the super hot sun, ready to be painted...stupid, rookie mistake on my part.

I used a small can of Rustoleum, Chalkboard paint and a foam roller brush to start with.  No primer...just went for it.  I was worried I wouldn't get the coverage I wanted and the small can went quicker than I thought it would.  Mostly because I was an idiot and set up the boards in super hot direct sunlight...it was like I was painting tar.  I didn't have to wait at all for the boards to dry to re-coat.  Between the heat, direct sun and my roller brush I just wasn't getting the full coverage I wanted. So I bought a second can of paint and a good quality brush and set up in the garage.  It was still humid and warm out but I tackled a third coat one night after a meeting and it seemed to do the trick.  With the brush I was able to get the paint into any of the imperfections in the board, and it was great practice to repeat the mantra, this is for the kids and in the backyard...over and over...

Enjoying my beverage of choice in the summer.

I think rolling with a foam roller out of the sun would have been a great base, but the brush really had a nice finish.

Once the boards were dry and 'cured' per the instructions we (Super came out to help!) started to install them! The other awesome advantage of the "e-board" is that it can be cut with a utility knife.  We knew the sheets were smaller height wise for our openings (but the frame would cover that) but they were a tad too long so we marked the length and got smart.  Using some clamps we clamped a yard stick to the board and then ran a box knife down the side a few times.  A quick karate chop and the boards were trimmed and now fit!

We decided to take a chance on the installation and used our brad nailer.  It was perfect.  Using 5/8" nails got us through the board and the back fence picket but not all the way thru.

Super is pretty partial to zip-zapping things in place with our nail gun!

I wanted a wood frame around the boards so we grabbed 8 cedar fence pickets from Menards and mitered (cut them on a 45 degree angle).  Mitering can get confusing so I made sure to draw the direction of the cut on each end as we marked them.  Nothing is worse that cutting the ends of a board only to find out you cut one end the wrong direction! We also didn't measure anything for this.  It was much easier and more precise to hold the pickets up to the fence and mark where we needed to cut.

I marked every single cut so I wouldn't screw up the direction of the angle!

Then I changed the angle of the chop saw for every other cut...tedious but worth it in the end.

Considering we built the fence three years ago and parts have shifted so the "squares" are not all that "square" anymore,  we were able to make the mitered corners work.  I won't lie, there was a little swearing, a pry bar and a "quick nail it" overheard during the process...but now that it's done who's keeping track?

We were pretty proud of ourselves (can you tell?)!!!  Look at those corners!!!

With the boards done all I had to do was add two hooks I had left over from a project last year and hang my Target *dollar bin* metal buckets filled with sidewalk chalk and we were done...well until a week went by, then I could "season" the board...

Don't our lights make it so magical back there??? And Super's Gpa made that cute little bird house you see.  Bubba loves the clock above the door!

Last but not least we had to "season" the board by rubbing a piece of chalk over both boards and then erase.

One board down...one to go!

DONE! Ready for fun!!

Our little artist contemplating what her first masterpiece would be...she was more than happy to erase my welcome drawings.

The best part was watching P, Bubba and their friends hover around the boards and drawing all sort of things during a recent playdate.  Isn't this the sweetest?

I'll post more updates once we stain everything but gosh, this was a fun and relatively inexpensive project with such a great impact for our kiddos! Bonus, I don't have chalk on my sidewalk or the kids' clothes from laying on their artwork plus they have oodles more space than what our yard sidewalk offered them...all in a safe, secure and private area.


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