When we moved into our farm house last year, we quickly realized that that the oustide A/C unit and propane tanks were on our most-used path in or out of the house. We literally walk by these things 8-12 times a day. Don’t get me wrong, they are welcome and necessary infrastructure for us – we like cooking food, for instance, and we like not cooking ourselves during the broiling summer months – but they ain’t pretty. In fact, they’re quite ugly. Walking by them every day was going to drive us (well, me) absolutely bananas. So we decided we needed a landscaping screen.
Picking A Landscaping Screen Design
I thought about just screening with plants, but the propane tank was quite tall, and the AC unit blows quite a lot of air around. You can buy pre-made screens from a number of suppliers , but honestly, I think they are pretty ugly, too. They tend to be white plastic, which doesn’t really go with our style, and stand out like a sore thumb. I wanted something more natural, which means wood.
From a design point of view, I wanted to hide the ugly away, but not interfere with maintenance access or the regular operation of the quipment. Using a lattice or fence-rail design to create a screen around your outside air conditioner works well, since the gaps allow the air blowing out of the unit to espace and thus, not overheat. I couldn’t cover the top of the A/C unit due to the giant spinny fan, and I didn’t need to worry about the back of the units, since they were butted up close to the house walls. I also wanted to be able to move them out of the way if I ever needed to. So that meant building a free-standing structure comprised of three sides, leaving the back and tops open, and keeping it light enough to be portable.
I decided to go with 5/4”x4” rails in a horizontal orientation, and used 4”x4” fence posts for each of the corners. You could easily use lattice screen instead of rails, if you prefer, but I liked the horizontal rail look a bit better, as it hid more of the structures behind it.
This is a reasonably simple project that can be completed in a few hours, using basic straight cuts and assembling the parts using nails or screws. I went with pressure treated luber because I’m a cheapskate, but feel free to pick cedar or redwood or something else as your budget allows.
- Power, Table or Miter Saw
- Drill or Screw Gun
- Measuring Tape
- Clamps (optional, but makes life easier)
- 4” x 4” for the upright posts
- 5/4” x 4” pressure treated rails
- Box of 1 1/2” deck screws
- Measure the size of the item that you wish to hide. You will need to allow sufficient width and height to effectively hide the item. For our A/C unit, I went about 10” higher than the top of the compressor, and I build the screen wide enough to clear the concrete base that the unit sat on.
- Cut your 4x4s to make your uprights. You will need 4 of them, at the same height. I suggest cutting them about 6” more than you think you’ll need. This will give you a bit of flexibility when you lay out your rails, and leave you a bit of length that you can set into holes in the ground on gravel get it perfectly level when you are done.
Cut your 5/4×4 rails. I cut mine so that the rails on the “front” were long enough to overlap the side rails for a more finished look.
- Build out your front panel. I laid the 4x4s on a flat concrete surface, squared everything, and starting from the top, laid out the rails to make a full assembled panel. I used two screws on each side, pre-drilled to avoid splitting.
Solicit some help. Place the front panel in it’s final location, and have your helper hold it straight. Working on one side, place the back 4×4 and attach 2 rails (top-most and bottom-most) with a single screw to begin framing one of the sides. Using the level, ensure everything is square, level and plumb, then placed the remaining screws for those rails, which should hold it in place.
- Repeat this same procedure on the other side. Double check everything is all square and level, and then you can attach the remaining rails on both side.