Building Your Fence

Fence Building – Laying out the Fence

Drilling the Holes – Setting the Posts

Now that you have your fence planned , it is time to locate it or lay it out. If you haven’t planned your fence, check out our fence planning blog.

Hint: Before you go any further, call Alberta1Call – it can take 2-3 weeks get them out to your property. It is critical that they locate gas and power lines before you drill your first post hole. Hitting a power or gas line can be extremely dangerous.

First mark the corners or the places that your fence is going to change directions. Landscaping spray paint in international orange is great for this task. “X-marks the spot” is a good way to locate the center for when you are drilling the post holes later.

Next mark the locations of the posts in between. To ensure that you have a nice straight line for your fence, pound some wooden stakes in the ground at the corners and run construction string between them. Make sure the string is off the ground and taut. This will help you locate your fence posts laterally.

A word about style:

We chatted briefly about style in our fence planning article. It is important to understand how style can impact the location of your posts. You will need at least one rail stretching from post to post along the top and at least one rail along the bottom. These are needed to hold up the vertical fence boards. Rail material(either 2×4 or 2×6) comes in lengths of 8 and 16 feet. 8 feet is a key length. Making your rails longer than 8 feet will cause the fence to sag eventually. This means that your posts need to be located no more than eight feet apart.

Hint: The 16 foot lengths can save you a bit of time if you are planning to run one rail on the outside of the posts.

Bearing this in mind, it is now time to locate the posts between the corners along the string. Measure 8 foot lengths along the string and mark each post center with an X. You may wish to shorten the distance just a bit to about 7 feet 10 inches to allow for imprecision when setting your posts. You can always cut the boards off but you can never lengthen them.

What if the distance between the corner posts is not evenly divisible by 8 feet? The easy answer is to leave one section shorter than the others. So for example, you could end up with six 8 foot panels and one 4 foot panel. If you want the panels to look nice and even, divide the number of panels(7 in the example above) into the length of the fence and mark your posts off at even intervals.

Note: If your even intervals end up longer than 8 feet, you will know that you have made a mistake.

What about Gates?

You need to plan a minimum of 30 inches for your gate to allow the passage of lawnmowers and other yard equipment. 48 inches is about as wide as you should go. You will have sagging issues at wider widths. You will need a post on either side of the gate.

Tying into the house and other structures . . . .

Eventually your fence is going to butt up against your house, garage or other structure. You will need posts up against the house and you will be tempted to attach the post to the house in some way. Don’t do it! Modern houses are wrapped, sealed and protected and you do not want to breach this protection with external fasteners for a post. Manual “clam shell” post hole diggers can easily get close to the structure in question.

Hint: Leave about an inch between the post and the house.

OK – you should now have a yard full of red X’s. Go back and check to make sure that none of the X’s are further apart than 8 feet.

Ready to dig? It’s time to set your fence posts.

One more thing to consider before you dig your holes: How do you want the top of your fence to appear? Aesthetically, it always is more appealing to have the top of the fence to be flat or follow a long natural curve in the grade. Avoid up and down elevation changes over short(20-40 feet) distances. The reason this is important is it will bear on how deep you dig the post holes potentially and how much of the post you have above the ground.

It’s time to get serious

Now you need to start to spend money. You are going to need the following:

1 – 10 foot post for each hole. Why 10 feet? You will need 3 to 3 ½ feet in the ground so 10 feet will give you enough length to allow for small grade changes and things like decorative cuts on the top if you so choose.

1 – 10 foot post for each hole. Why 10 feet? You will need 3 to 3 ½ feet in the ground so 10 feet will give you enough length to allow for small grade changes and things like decorative cuts on the top if you so choose.

About 1 ½ bags of quick set concrete per post hole.

A few nails.

Enough sturdy construction string to span the longest section of fence.

A concrete mixer. Mixers can be rented at your local home improvement store.

A towable motorized post hole auger with a 10” bit. Avoid the 4 point augers unless you have 3 sturdy friends who push weights for a living.

A clam shell manual post hole digger. You will need this to clean out and sometime enlarge the holes and for holes that are close to your house and other structures.

A good construction level.

A hammer or two.

Ready access to lots of water.

Hint: You may wish to hire someone to put your posts in. This will cost about $90 per post depending on the size of your posts and the professionalism of the installer.

Hint: Don’t go cheap as it will cost you in the end.

Hint: Make sure that you start early enough in the day to complete the job in one day. If you have a large number of holes, you may need to split the job into 2 or more days.

Hint: Pick a day with promising weather. If it pours rain into freshly dug holes, they will collapse ruining all of your hard work and ultimately the integrity of the hole. If this happens, it is best to relocate the holes.

Setting the Fence Posts

The approach we recommend is to set the corner posts first. Drill the holes for 2 of the corners as close to straight up and down as possible. Measure to ensure a depth of 3 to 3 ½ feet. If it is too deep, throw some dirt back in the hole. If it is too shallow, get the clam shell digger and clean out the bottom of the hole. Now put the posts in the first 2 holes and ensure that they are located according to your plan. Your level is needed here to make sure the posts are vertical when determining the location. If they are not, get out the clam shell again and go to work. This is the last chance you will get to make sure this section of fence is located properly.

Once the posts have been located, put a few inches of dirt back it the hole and tamp it around the post. This will ensure that the post doesn’t move when you pour the concrete.

Now you are ready to mix the concrete. Mix enough for the first post and pour it in the hole. Your level is now critical. Make sure the post does not deviate from vertical on all sides. You also need to sight down the line of the fence section to make sure the horizontal orientation is proper.

Now set the second post in a similar fashion. We set the first two posts before we do anything else to give the concrete time to set. We will be banging nails into these posts so they need to be set firmly.

You can now similarly set the balance of the corner posts. When complete, come back to the first two posts and bang nails part way into the tops and bottoms on the outside of the posts. You are going to string a line from bottom nail to bottom nail and from top nail to top nail. The bottom line will serve as a guide for drilling the holes for the intervening posts and ultimately locating the bottoms of the posts. The top line will serve as a guide for locating the tops of the intervening posts.

Go ahead now and drill the balance of the holes for the first section. Make sure that the bottom line is clear of any dirt that comes out of the holes. It is important that the line is taut and high enough so it is not snagged on debris. Using the lines as your guides, locate the posts and pour in the concrete.

Hint: You should be able to sight down the line from the first post to the last and not see a single deviation either vertically or horizontally.

Using the steps above, finish the rest of the posts.

Congratulations! You are ready to finish your fence. Check out our Fence Finishing article coming up next!

Fence Project – Planning

Fencing Project – Planning

Locating Your Fence

There are a number of things that you need to consider when planning your fence  project. Locating the fence is clearly critical. Here are the issues you need to think about:

First of all, where is your property line? When the surveyors lay out lots in a neigborhood, they drive iron pins into the ground at the corners and other strategic location on your lot. If you live in a new neighborhood, chances are excellent that the pins are still in place. If your neighborhood is older, the pins have often been disturbed or removed during the completion of earlier projects. If this is the case, you may have a Real Property Report(RPR) that will help you locate the corners of your lot.

Hint: A lot of people do not realize that the RPR document is included in the documents you receive when you purchase a new home.

Now that you have located your property line, you need to decide where you are going to place the fence. Are your neighbors good neighbors? If so, you probably want to place the fence right on the line. If they are not or if you are concerned about future neighbors, you may wish to give up a few inches of property and place the fence inside your property line.

Hint: You can extend your fence past the front of your house but it cannot be over 4 feet in height without special permission from the city.

What About Fence Height?

When it comes to fences, height matters. The most popular height in the current age of fence fashion is 6 feet. A 6 foot fence will give you a nice private yard free from the prying eyes of all but the tallest neighbors. A 5 foot fence is alright but there are lots of people taller than 5 feet these days and privacy can be compromised. If cost is a concern, a 5 foot fence will not save you a lot of money.

8 foot fences are getting more popular recently as the additional height provides ultimate privacy. And if you are concerned about security in a ravine location for example, a tall fence is almost a necessity. The problem is that any height over 6 feet requires special permission from the city. This is typically not easy to get but if security is a concern, it does not hurt to try.

And Fencing Materials?

Now what about materials? If you live in a new neighborhood, chances are the decisions about materials, styles and finishing have already been made for you. Check with your builder for the possible Architectural Restrictions in your area. If you don’t live in an area that has Architectural Restrictions, there are a variety of materials to choose from with the exception of the posts.

You need to use pressure treated material for the posts. A pressure treated post will easily last 20 years while any other material in the ground will rot in just a few years. Posts typically come in 3 sizes: 4×4, 4×6 and 6×6. 4×4 posts will give you a credible fence but is less structural and aesthetic than a larger post. 6×6 posts will provide incredible structure, that is there will be a lot less wiggle when properly installed. They can look out of place, however, depending on the style of fence you build. We like 4×6 the best. They provide plenty of structure and when set with the long edge in line with the fence, they provide a pleasing look.

Hint: if you are installing a vinyl fence, there are a variety of post strategies depending on the manufacturer.

If you are installing a wood fence, you essentially have only a few choices: 1) Smooth untreated SPF(industry nomenclature for Spruce, Pine, Fir 2) Rough sawn untreated SPF 3) Resawn untreated SPF or 4) Pressure treated material. While SPF will save in cost of material, the labor and paint costs more than make up for the difference. In addition, untreated material will require regular maintenance to get the years of service that you need. This makes pressure treated our favorite. While painting is an option, pressure treated material will weather gracefully making a long lasting and beautiful finished product.

With respect to size, choose 5 foot boards for a 5 foot fence, 6 foot boards for a 6 foot and so on. The thickness and width is typically 1×6. This makes a nice size for fastening and is a nice width to minimize warping and cupping.

Hint: even though the size is listed as 1×6, this is a nominal size. The actual size is approximately 3/4″ x 5 1/4″ to 5 1/2″ depending on where you buy your material. This is important to note when you are estimating the amount of material you require.

Post Setting Material

Concrete vs Foam vs Concrete – The way you set your posts is critical to the structure of your fence. Foam is the latest in post setting material and is readily available at your local building supply store. While it is light, easy to install and structural, it adds expense and the jury is still out on longevity. We still favor pre-mixed concrete as it is tested and is relatively less expensive. We do not recommend putting the dry concrete in the hole and adding water. While this method does not require a mixer, you cannot control consistency and wetness. Long term this will impact structure unfavorably.

Hint: If you are fast tracking for your fence project, now is a good time to contact AlbertaOneCall. This is absolutely required to avoid hitting gas and power lines when installing your posts. It can take a couple of weeks to get them out during the busy season.