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How to Build a Privacy Courtyard

All it takes to transform a drab concrete patio into a charming private courtyard is some cinderblocks, pre-cast stone and fencing.

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wrought iron fence adds architecture to courtyard

Step 1: Design a Layout

This project uses cinderblocks, pre-cast stone and decorative wrought-iron fencing to transform a plain concrete patio into a privacy courtyard. Before beginning, have a specific design plan in mind. There are easy-to-use computer programs that can aid in this step.

Step 2: Mark a Base Outline

The cinderblock walls will be placed 2" from the edge of the concrete patio in order to leave room for the pre-cast stone. Measure in 2" from the first corner and use a framing square to align where the wall will be positioned. Snap a chalk line. Do the same around the patio perimeter for remaining three walls.

Step 3: Lay the First Wall

Prepare premixed mortar according to manufacturer's directions. Beginning closest to the house, trowel a bed of mortar along the marked lines where the cinderblocks will sit. Lay the first block by pressing it gently into the mortar. Make sure it is plumb and level.

Apply a layer of mortar to one end of the next block before butting it against the first and pressing it into the mortar (Image 1). Remove excess mortar as you work. Before completing the wall, insert sections of 1" PVC pipe intermittently between the blocks and through the wall to provide drainage.

Tip: Patio slabs typically slope away from the house, so subsequent cinderblocks may require more mortar below them to keep them level with previous blocks (Image 2).

Step 4: Lay the Remaining Two Walls

Continue laying mortar and setting blocks around perimeter of the patio, making sure all of the blocks are level and plumb. Insert sections of 1" PVC pipe intermittently between the blocks and through the wall to provide drainage. Be sure to leave an opening in one wall for the fence gate.

Step 5: Fill Cinderblocks

Fill in the core of cinderblocks with gravel. Pour concrete into blocks from top to fill in the remaining spaces.

Step 6: Lay Cap Blocks

Starting at one end, trowel a bed of mortar along the top of the cinderblock wall. Press the first cap block into the mortar making sure it is level. Apply mortar to one end of the next cap block before butting it against the first and pressing it into the mortar. Remove excess mortar and check for level as you continue down and around the wall.

lay cap blocks

Step 7: Install Pre-Cast Stone

Place a small bed of mortar along the base of the wall along the concrete patio. Apply mortar to the back of the pre-cast stone with a trowel and set into place. For irregular shape stones, it is helpful to dry-fit them before permanently affixing them to the wall. Use a trowel to add mortar to the joints after every few stones.

Work around the small PVC pipe drains with small pieces of stone. Continue until the walls two sides, but not the top, are covered in stone. When mortar dries about half-way, use a stiff brush to smooth out the joints and clean away any loose mortar.

install pre cast stone

Step 8: Install the Fence Gate

Temporarily set the fence gate into position within the wall opening. Check to make sure it is plumb and level. Place the included "L" brackets on the concrete patio and mark their position.

Remove the fence gate and drill holes into the concrete. Place the gate back into the opening and position the "L" brackets over the holes. Insert nail anchors into the holes and hammer securely in place. Secure the "L" brackets to the gate posts using steel screws. Attach gate latch.

set gate into position

Step 9: Install Fencing

Starting near the house, set a section of fencing on top of the wall and mark the anchor points at the base of the posts. Remove the fence and pre-drill the cap block using a masonry bit.

Secure the fence to the house using "L" brackets and to the wall using 2-1/4" masonry screws. Continue attaching sections end-to-end, making sure to align tabs with previous section. Attach fence to gate posts.

installing first section of fence

Step 10: Lay Top Stones

Using stones that are flat on top and straight on the edges, begin laying stones on top of the wall’s cap blocks. Apply mortar to the top of the cap blocks and press stones into place.

Work around the fence posts, getting as close as possible. Use a hammer to shape stones to fit in irregular spaces. Fill in around the posts with mortar. When mortar is almost dry, use a stiff brush to smooth out the joints and clean away any loose mortar.

begin laying stones on top of wall cap blocks

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