Building a Fence Part 1 – On the House

Building a Fence Part 1

By on January 30, 2014

As we travel the land we are surprised to discover that fences are not popular nationwide. We find them to be more common in the West. Since they are used to establish boundaries and create private space, we assume that there must be cultural differences between those who have them and those who don’t. In any event, fences define specific areas of use in the yard: recreation, vegetable gardens, flower and herb gardens, pet areas, relaxation and storage.

Besides privacy, fences, gates and walls can frame views, defining and accentuating them. Tall, solid fences also restrict the view from the outside and improve security.

Planning a fence should involve a trip to the local building department to find out what restrictions might exist. For example, a fence might be limited to a certain height. Also, whereas fences normally are placed exactly on the property lines (between properties), a fence might be required to be set back from the front property line. As with most building rules, if you feel that it is important that you be allowed to vary from the norm, you can apply for a variance. Finally, if you are considering a swimming pool, you should check to see if your building department requires it to be surrounded by a fence.

Be sure that your fence is planned so that it doesn’t collide with underground facilities such as water, sewer and power lines. Check with your local utility or private service (whichever applies) to locate underground lines. Regardless of who you decide to use, do not begin drilling fence-post holes until you have done your homework. Nature also creates obstructions. A tree should not be used as a fence post. Driving a nail into the trunk could damage the bark. Damaged tissues and nail holes are invitations to infection. Also, as the tree grows, it can uproot your fence. Rocks are sometimes like icebergs _ often 90 percent of the mass is below grade. Make sure the rock can be removed before deciding on a fence-post layout.

Most important, always talk to your neighbors when planning a fence or privacy wall. Fences between property lines can have an impact on your neighbor’s property too. Your neighbor might have valuable input and might even be willing to share the cost. On the other hand, if you have a neighbor who doesn’t want to help with the design or the cost, build the fence a few inches inside your own property line. Make sure to have your property line surveyed to ensure that the location of the fence doesn’t come back later to haunt you. And, by all means, be sure to check with your building department to ensure that you comply with all setback regulations.

Building a fence isn’t brain surgery, but knowing the rules can help you to create one that is stronger and cost-effective.

First, lay out the post holes. We suggest placing them 8 feet apart or less. You have a choice: The post can be placed atop a concrete pier, bolted to a steel anchor, or it can be set in the concrete. The steel anchor might not be strong enough to resist the wind that exists in certain areas. Placing the post into the concrete pier adds substantial strength, but its life is shortened by rot. Rot can be reduced by placing a foot of gravel or drain rock at the bottom of the post hole. Water that collects in the area will end up in the gravel instead of the post. Place the gravel in the hole, set the post on the gravel and pour the concrete around the post. The post hole should be a minimum of 10 inches in diameter; 12 inches is better yet. Two feet of concrete and a foot of rock are sufficient for a 6-foot-tall fence.

With the post holes drilled, and before pouring concrete, a bit of additional preparation will guarantee a better job. The end posts and corner posts should be positioned in their holes and braced in two directions so that each is absolutely plumb (level up and down). Upper and lower strings should be strung between the braced posts. These can be used to align all of the other posts so that the resultant fence will be perfectly straight. Each post will have to be plumbed in the other direction.

If 8-foot centers are used, we suggest an 8-foot long 1×10 or 1×12 kick board nailed sideways onto the bottom rail and the posts to add strength to the fence. (Sort of a horizontal fence board that acts as a base as well.) As a matter a fact, we actually prefer 2x material for the kick board when the budget allows.

When it comes to assembly, the rail details become very important. A notched top rail and a dadoed bottom rail are the strongest combination. The others work all right, but don’t offer the same support.

It would take a book to cover the many types of fence styles. But, no matter what you choose, be sure to consider either pressure-treated wood, redwood or cedar. As we have so often written, these materials resist moisture and pest damage better than others. Oh, and don’t forget fasteners. Hot-dipped galvanized nails or ceramic-coated construction screws are excellent choices.

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