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Lockdown labour

Troy Conole talks to Justine Tyerman about the juggling act of working from home, helping to occupy two young children and completing a major DIY project during the recent Covid-19 lockdown . . .

There are two kinds of people in the world. The do-it-yourself type and the pay-someone-to-do-it type. Troy Conole is the first type. It would never occur to him to pay someone to do a job that he, with a bit of imagination and effort, could do himself.

So when the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown came into effect at 11.59pm on March 25, Troy's head began buzzing with ideas about the projects he would tackle.

Top of his to-do list was replacing a big ugly farm gate that he and his wife Jess had to open and shut every time they went anywhere, regardless of whether they were on foot or taking the car.

The gate was needed in order to keep the couple's two small children and dog safely enclosed on the property, but Troy figured that he could redesign the accessway to incorporate a small pedestrian gate alongside the wide vehicle entry/exit gate.

Being a creative type, the plan had to be aesthetic as well as functional so the concept grew to incorporate a new fence and steps and the recladding of the front of the house to match the timber used in the project.

The first step was to sketch a plan of how the finished project would look, nutting out how the elements would all fit together.

“I spent nearly as much time thinking about it as doing it,” says Troy, who finished the job last week.

“I needed to leave an existing retaining wall in place because it was holding up the front of the property.

“First of all, I built a 1.7m high fence from recycled pine that had been used as trellising in a persimmon orchard. Then I tore down the front corner of the retaining wall and excavated where the steps up to the new gate were going to do.

“Four old yucca stumps and a puka tree had to be removed along with about two cubic metres of earth that I saved to spread out elsewhere on the property.

“It was hard manual work . . . accompanied by a few beers.

“I made the box steps on the floor of the garage, using 200mm x 50mm rough-sawn timber. I stacked them in place one on top of the other.

“Then I built the section of fence alongside the steps, which is 30cm higher at the top than the bottom. I also had to allow for the gate to swing open.”

Troy bought a galvanised steel kitset gate from Bunnings and clad it with plywood to match the board-and-batten finish on the house.

“Then I made custom moulds for the pavers and spent many nights mixing concrete in a wheelbarrow and pouring it into the moulds of different shapes and sizes.

“I constructed double swing gates for the driveway with another couple of kitsets, cladding it with faux board-and-batten out of plywood.

“The finishing touches involved installing automated lights on the steps that come on at a set time . . . and can be programmed from an app on my cellphone.”

To integrate the project, Troy painted the gates and step faces to match the house window frames in Resene's Half Sandstone. He also reclad the bottom storey below the upstairs deck to match other parts of the house.

The only element left to do is add copper soakers (corners) to the ends of the fence for aesthetic effect and to match the house.

“I knew it would be a big project so I'd put it off for five years — I'm stoked to have finally finished it. I'm happy with the finished product, and Jess and the kids love it too.”

Around 90 percent of the work was done during the lockdown and then the finishing touches over the past few weeks.

“It was a nice project to do during the lockdo​wn because the weather was fine and sunny most of the time. It was a bit of a juggling act, getting my regular work done, spending quality time with Jess and the children and keeping the dog under control — which is why I often worked at night, by headlamp, when the children . . . and dog . . . were asleep.

“There was a bit of swearing and cursing when I thought I was going to run out of recycled pine but overall the job went well.

“I ad-libbed along the way, deciding against incorporating planter boxes in the steps because the watering they required would wet the steps, and we didn't want extra gardening to do — so I made extra pavers instead. I also cut edges off some pavers to make them fit around posts.”

Essential items were his spirit level, tape measure and his dad's drop-saw.

“I couldn't have managed without that saw,” he said.

“I love doing DIY projects like this — functional, aesthetic and 100 percent my own work. The success of the project really boosted my confidence as a DIYer. I'm already thinking about what I want to do next . . .”