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These West Ashley neighbors missed each other. So they turned their fence into a bar

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Fences are typically used for keeping people and critters out. They're a form of isolation, a way to keep private. As Robert Frost famously wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." But amid the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina, the West Ashley residents decided that now, more than ever, they needed some neighborly love. Provided/Amy Halberda

Amy and Joe Halberda saw the video on Facebook, and they couldn't help but smile. 

At the height of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, two neighbors from Durham posted a video of their quarantine DIY project. A man in a hat walks over to his picket fence, and his friend on the other side rotates one section of the wall from being vertical to horizontal, flattening it out like a bar. A couple of chairs, a set of place mats and a few neon-orange drinks with umbrellas are placed on top. And just like that, a safe, friendly happy hour amid a global pandemic. 

The West Ashley couple and their neighbors, Mike and Erica Garriss, are very close. As are their children. When they saw the video circulate on Facebook, they thought they should recreate the DIY project themselves. 

"We saw that viral video on Facebook and joked around about it," Erica Garris, the Halberda's neighbor said. "We're taking it very seriously, and we have young kids that need socialization. And we're very good friends with our neighbors, so we thought 'why not?'"

Fences are typically used for keeping people and critters out. They're a form of isolation, a way to keep private. As Robert Frost famously wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." But amid the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina, the West Ashley residents decided that now, more than ever, they needed some neighborly love. 

Amy Halberda said her children had already been sitting on ladders so they could peer over the fence and talk with their friends. They had even joked with the neighbors about putting in a breezeway before. So, inspired by the viral video, the neighbors got to work on their fence. 

Using a saw, two small chains, a door hinge and a latch, their socially distanced fence bar was complete. The whole project cost practically nothing; they had the materials on hand and it took less than an afternoon of work. 

As many Americans self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic, more homeowners have turned their attention to DIY projects as a way to improve their quality of life and stay busy. 

Search engine queries across the nation for DIY projects increased substantially on March 15 and have been steadily climbing as the virus has spread throughout the country, according to Google Trends data. 

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But not everyone rejoices in the challenge of doing projects themselves. 

Almost two-thirds of homeowners say they regret tackling at least one DIY project, according to a 2019 survey by Improvenet.com, which helps pair people with contractors. And one-third have called in a pro to redo their attempt at handiwork.

But for the Halberdas and the Garrisses, it's the best decision they've made.

"The fence is the highlight of our day," Amy Halberda said. "The kids use it all the time, and on Fridays the adults do happy hour." 

The trend has popped up in other parts of the United States, too. 

Bill Venteicher, of Cedar Park, Texas, made headlines when he made an elaborate social distancing fence bar. His included cutting the bottom section of the fence and placing chicken wire at the bottom for extra visibility. He also was influenced by the viral video.

“We are keeping safe and following stay-at-home advice, but we are desperate for social time and our kids miss each other,” Venteicher told a Texas TV-station. “They have not played since the week before spring break, and we have barely left the house except for dog walks and bike rides.”

The Garrisses and the Halberdas have tried their best to cope with coronavirus, a way to establish a new normal.

Amy Halberda has worked to transform the backyard. She's added a garden and an above-ground swimming pool to help keep her kids occupied. But she and her neighbor agree: Nothing works as well as the simple things, like looking at an old fence and seeing a new way to communicate. 

"There's a difference between talking to people on Zoom and doing it in person," Erica Garriss said. "This means so much to us."

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

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