Cedar decking, lattice, or other screening material
Four-by-four-by-eight cedar posts (two for each screen)
One bag of quick-dry cement per post
Do you have an outdoor space at your home that you wish was just a bit more secluded? Or maybe you have a shed or some garbage cans that are better out of sight when you’re relaxing on your patio. A screen is a stylish way to block off just a portion of your yard to add privacy and security or improve your view. Follow this simple guide for how to build a DIY freestanding privacy screen.
Prepping to Build a DIY Backyard Privacy Screen
Before breaking ground, call your local government to check your local building codes and zoning regulations to determine whether you need a permit for your project. You should also call 811 to ensure that there are no buried utility lines where you plan to dig.
If you’re using pressure-treated lumber to build your privacy screen, ensure that it’s had one to two months before or after construction to fully dry and cure before treating it with any paint or stain.
5 Steps to Build a Freestanding Outdoor Privacy Screen
Follow these steps to build your stylish DIY privacy screen over the course of a single weekend.
Dig Post Holes
Decide where you want your privacy screen to be located to determine the right length and height for your structure—whether it’s enclosing one end of your patio or cordoning off an unsightly garbage can storage area.
Space your posts so that you can easily connect them with the wooden slats or lattice privacy screen material you’ve chosen. If you have a wider space, you may want to consider building more than one screen.
Once you have a location picked, dig holes for a post on either end of the screen with your post hole digger or shovel. The diameter of each hole should be three times the size of your post. If using a four-by-four piece of lumber, you want a 12-inch-wide hole.
To determine the proper depth for your hole, look up where the frost line is in your local area. Dig your hole six inches deeper to prevent frost from pushing your post up in the winter. Once the hole is in the ground, add four inches of loose gravel to the bottom to provide better drainage and a solid surface for the post to sit on.
Finally, place the post in the hole. Tamp down the gravel, and with your post in place, determine whether you want to trim any height off the top—mark where you’d like to trim with a pencil.
Cut Your Wood
Photo: ljubaphoto / E+ / Getty Images
Lay your posts on a sturdy, level surface. Use your square or another straightedge to draw a pencil line where you previously marked your desired height. Using your square to maintain a straight line, cut your post to height with your circular saw. Wear safety glasses and a respirator dust mask when cutting wood, especially for pressure-treated wood.
If using wooden decking slats to create a fence-style look, you’ll also need to cut them to a length that spans the width of your two posts. How you cut the slats is entirely up to your personal style preference. Some ideas to consider include:
Whether the slats will lay flush against the edge of each post or overlap the edge slightly
Whether each slat will be the same width or varying widths
Whether you’ll include a gap between each slat or create a solid surface
Mark each slat at your desired length and cut each of them at a straight line, ensuring that they are all identical in length. You’ll need enough slats to cover the entire screen from top to bottom.
You can use a wooden or vinyl lattice or other decorative garden screening material as an alternative to slats. These can be purchased in large sheets and cut to your desired size.
Secure and Level Your Privacy Screen Posts
Place your first post back into the hole you dug for it. Hold the post steady by attaching temporary braces consisting of one-by-four planks. Use your power drill and screws to attach these braces so they can be removed later.
Use your leveler to make sure your post is level horizontally as well as plumb (or vertically level). Next, fill the hole with a quick-dry concrete mix. Drench the concrete mix with water according to the manufacturer’s guidelines on the packaging. Be sure to stop about 4 inches from the top of the hole.
Repeat this entire process for the other post, using your tape measure to ensure that it’s the exact same height as your first post before adding concrete. One way to guarantee the same post height is to place a board spanning across the top of each post, then place your level on top of that board. Give your concrete four hours to dry before removing your braces and moving on to the next step.
Once your concrete is dry, fill the rest of each hole with topsoil.
Span Your Posts with Slats
With your posts securely set, you're ready to attach your screening material. If you're installing horizontal decking slats, start from the bottom of your posts and work your way to the top; if leaving a gap between slats, measure and mark along both posts to ensure that your spacing is even.
Attach your planks or lattice with a power drill and galvanized exterior screws. Once all your screening is up, you can fill screw holes with wood filler. Give the filler 24 hours to dry, then smooth it out with sandpaper.
Finish and Decorate Your Privacy Screen
Lay down a protective plastic tarp before finishing, especially if your screen is next to a deck, patio, or pool. The stain, paint, or other finish you use is up to your personal preference. Apply the finish using a paintbrush according to the instructions on the product packaging. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear work gloves and your respirator mask to protect yourself from VOC fumes.
If staining, allow each coat to dry fully, then finish with one or more coats of polyurethane finish to protect the wood from the elements.
Once you’ve applied all the needed coats of finish and given it enough time to dry, you can decorate your screen and the surrounding area. Some ideas include attaching a small planter box, hanging seasonal decor, spreading mulch underneath the screen, or climbing plants such as ivy, honeysuckle, or star jasmine.
DIY Freestanding Privacy Screen vs. Hiring a Pro
In total, the lumber and supplies for this project will cost you about $250. If you need to rent power tools, expect to pay about $25 per day to rent a circular saw and the same rate for a cordless power drill.
Additional Questions About How to Build a Freestanding Privacy Screen
How high can I build a freestanding privacy screen?
How high you can build a privacy screen will vary depending on where you live. Check the local laws in your city, district, or housing development. Some areas will have no restrictions on freestanding privacy screens away from property boundaries, while others will have specific regulations.
You may also want to consider discussing any privacy issues and potential solutions with your neighbors before building any sort of privacy wall in your yard. For example, your neighbor may not be happy if your screen blocks their garden from sunlight.
Where should I put a freestanding privacy screen?
It’s best to put a freestanding privacy screen closer to your patio or other sitting areas to maximize the privacy benefits.