Installing Fencing Around Your Home
Installing Fencing Around Your Home
If you are thinking about installing fencing around your new home there are a few things to think about before you do so.
1. What is the fences purpose?
2. What types or styles of fence do I like?
3. What type of fence will do the job I need it to do?
4. What will it cost?
5. Can I install it myself?
6. AND most important, do I know where my property lines really are?
Post hole digger, long handled pointed shovel, string line, measuring tape, power saw with plastic cutting blade, extension cords, concrete mixing tub, 4′ level. A tripod and level can be rented and if your property is sloped, will come in handy to keep lines of fencing level as you step down (or up) in different areas, safety glasses and good work gloves. A wrench is necessary to tighten clamp bolts but a good ratchet and socket will save a lot of time.
Fencing with all appropriate fittings, caps, rails,etc.
Concrete Redi-mix, (bagged)
Paint or stain for wood fencing
Few wood scraps for temporary braces.
There are many, many types of fencing available today including chain link, wood, aluminum, plastic, PVC to name just a few. All are fences but have differing abilities to do different jobs. If you are putting a fence up to contain a 150 pound pit bull, a soft plastic roll type fence sure wouldn’t work. If you are putting a fence up to protect your garden, soft plastic roll fencing or chicken wire fencing may do the job. Determine what the fence is for and that will lead your to the types of fencing available for your purpose. For our example, let’s say we are putting a fence up to protect an in-ground swimming pool. Several fencing types will work well for this application. Chain link, steel, wood and PVC all come in high strength materials. An in-ground pool requires a 48″ high fence minimum in most states and when these types are checked, they all come in that height.
PVC fencing comes in various heights, is strong and durable and provides vertical slats that are acceptable for a pool fence. Although high end on the price scale, PVC fencing has a long life and requires little maintenance other that occasional washing. This fence has locking gates, finials, corner posts and other decorative accessories that can be added to create a beautiful fenced in area by your pool. DIY Self installation? Most handy homeowners can do this work and with a little time and care can create a nicely finished product.
Wood fencing comes in many styles and heights. Panels are generally 8′ in length so help will be needed to handle these large pieces. Wood fencing requires support posts set in concrete and can be modified by cutting and re-nailing for odd shapes and obstacles.
Chain link fencing comes in galvanized (gray), black and green wire colors. Plastic coated types are also available. Chain link comes in rolls ranging from 4′ to 12′ wide. Top, middle and bottom rails may be required to support the fencing and keep it straight and taut. Fencing is held to steel upright posts set in concrete, with heavy gauge wire loop ties. A special tool is required to bend these ties. Another special tool called a “come-a-long” is required to stretch the fencing tightly between posts before tying.
Different gauges (thickness’) of wire are available and you get what you pay for. Thin wire types will have a shorter life span than heavier wire. This fencing is not cheap to buy or install so invest well for long time use.
Soft plastic roll fencing generally comes in 4′ wide rolls. Steel or wood support posts are required for mounting the fence. This type fencing is considered temporary use only and is seen often at construction sites and along highways. Fence posts can be driven in with a sledge hammer and may have pre-made hooks on them to engage the holes in the fencing. This fencing is inexpensive and considered disposable. Wind does a real mean job on this fence and requires high maintenance.
Layout-Carefully layout your fence line so you can measure the length, corner posts, gates, etc. that you will need for the job. Gates comes in 3′, 4′, 6′ and 8′ widths. Larger widths are available by special order. WRITE down the measurements. Do not try and remember when you get to the store. With your measurements in hand, get a beverage and we will figure out what you need. Corner posts are easy to count. How many corners have you put in the fence? Let’s say 4 for this example. Write down 4 corner posts. Gates. How many do you want and what size? Is there lawn inside the fenced area? Do you have to go inside with your lawn tractor to mow? Make sure at least one gate is wide enough.
Ok, we decided we need one 3′ gate for a sidewalk and one 6′ gate for mowing, cleaning, etc. WRITE it down on your materials list. In our example our fence is 36′ long on each side to form a square. Gates are one in each of two sides. Therefore, the other two sides need 2 x 36′ of fencing or 72′. WRITE it down. One side has a 6′ gate so 30′ of fencing is required. The other gate is 3′ wide so 33′ of fencing is required for the last side. Now add all the fence figures together and we find we need 135′ of fencing required. Posts-If we know the fencing we have chosen comes in 6 ‘ lengths we will need a post every 6′ feet and each side of each gate. A little math shows we need 25 posts. One post every 6′, plus one extra to hold the 3′ gate. WRITE it down. You will use approximately one bag of bagged concrete per post for anything over 4’ high. These are your basic materials plus some misc. nails and scrap lumber for braces are also required. Go purchase your items and place in the area they are to be installed.
Pressure treated fence posts come in both round and square shapes. Lengths generally vary from 6′ to 12′ long. Why so long? If you are installing a 6′ fence you will need to bury at least 3 feet in the ground to support it. That means a 9′ post. Posts come in other wood types as well. Cedar, redwood, and willow posts are still available in some areas. Willow posts if left untreated can re-root and create a “living” fence in wet areas.
Do we have all our materials? OK let’s go. Starting in one corner, dig your first post hole.
Don’t cheat. A shallow hole will weaken your fence and shorten its life span. A 12″ wide hole is acceptable for fence posts. Now continue down one side of the fence line until all the holes are dug. If you are using a pair of hand post hole diggers, your arms are now worn out. If you are using a power post hole auger that you rented, it should make short work of this chore. Place your two end posts in their holes. Plumb them using your 4′ level and install two temporary braces on each to hold them plumb. With this done I’m going to save your some work here. Pour a bag of the bagged of concrete into each hole DRY. OH, OH. Where is the concrete? You didn’t get it? Did you write it down? If you look back I didn’t tell you to. OK. Go get the concrete, you need a break anyway. Seriously, it is a good habit to start to write down all the items you need before you go shopping. It saves a lot of time and extra trips.
OK now with a dry bag of concrete in each hole; hook up your garden hose without a nozzle. Start placing water on top of the dry concrete and by using your shovel to prod the concrete in an up and down motion and pushing the hose in and out of the concrete it will mix right in the hole. Don’t make it too wet. Somewhat soupy is fine but try not to separate the ingredients with too much water. There are several brands of redi-mix bagged concrete available and they will all work this way.
You can now start on the holes for the 2nd side while the concrete dries for the first two posts. Perform the same function with the next corner post and the 4th post until all corner posts are set in concrete. Go back to your first two posts. Using your string line, tie it to the first post and run it to the next corner post and tie it off making it as taught as you can between the posts. MAKE SURE THE STRING IS TIGHT AGAINST THE SAME SIDE OF BOTH POSTS. If you use the inside or outside it doesn’t matter as long as they are both the same. Now you can install the mid posts without a lot of measuring. By simply pacing the post against the string, you will have them all in the same line. Check carefully that your spacing is correct between posts. The posts may be off center of the holes but that’s OK. With all the posts in on one side, pour them in concrete. Try not to leave holes open overnight both for protection against rain and children or animals falling into them. Work your way around your fencing until all the posts are set.
Fencing-Each type of fencing has its own installation methods.
Wood fencing can be cut with a hand or circular saw for both height and length if necessary. Use good quality galvanized nails or screws to affix the wood panels to your posts. Nail at least 12″ on center to assure good support for the panels. Wind can cause severe damage to a fence that is not nailed properly. Keep the panel tops level. Nothing looks worse than a fence with sloping or uneven tops. If the ground level changes, make a step in the top of the fence to accommodate the slope, but in all cases keep the top level. Many states have laws regarding who gets to “see” the good side of the fence. In my area, the rear neighbor sees the bad side; the side neighbors see the good side. The front usually has the good side to the street for appearance. Your locality may have its own local laws governing this and front yard fence heights. Check first before your install your fence.
Chain link fencing has a different set of installation rules and different equipment is needed to do the work. Post setting is basically the same except the posts are steel.
Ask your retailer for post spacing recommendations for the height fence you purchased. After setting the posts and pouring the concrete, you must unroll the fence alongside the posts. Slide in an end bar which is a flat piece of metal the height of your fencing. Carefully standing the end of the fence up against the first post, place end clamps around the post and the end bar and insert the supplied bolts anchoring the fence to the post.
Now when you stretch the fence, you are really pulling on the post and the bar not on the fencing itself.
Wire ties come in differing lengths and gauges. A special wire tool is available that will bend the loop around the chain link. Ask your dealer. Pliers can be used but are lot a harder. Invest in the tool.
Once you have the chain link fastened to the first post, you must stretch the fencing to obtain a taut condition between the posts. Chain link does stretch and will sag if not pulled tightly. By using another end bar, insert it at the other end of your fence run, at a corner or at least several posts away from your start point. Wrapping the come-a-long around the post and hooking to the end (termination) bar. By cranking the come-a-long up tight, you will pull the fence taut from end to end.
Available at hardware or tool stores, Come-A-Long will hook to the post on one end and the hook will connect to the end or termination bar for pulling. By cranking the handle, you reel in the cable pulling the fencing taut.
Once you have the fencing pulled tight, you can start installing the wires ties on the intermittent post, tying the fence to the posts. Using a minimum of three ties per post, place one on at the bottom, middle and the top of the post. Once all the posts are tied, you can carefully release the come-a-long and move on to the next section of fence. Corners are a bit tricky to get the fencing tight but after a few posts are done, you will get the hang of it.
Remember-Each time you end the fence, you must install an end or termination bar. A four foot fence requires at least three clamps per bar. If your fence is in excess of 4 feet, you may want to install a top rail to keep the fabric from bending or bowing between posts. You may of course use one on a 4 foot fence as well but it is generally not needed.
If your fencing is for security or around a pool perhaps, you may also want to install a bottom rail to keep unwanted intruders from bowing the fence and slipping underneath.
If your goal is to keep rodents from your garden, you can bury a foot or so of the fence fabric below ground as many rodents burrow only a few inches below grade.
Plastic or PVC Fencing- These fences are generally high end (costly) products but due to their long lasting appearance and very low maintenance, are becoming very popular to day. Unless you enjoy staining your wood fence each year, this may be the way to go.
Installation is basically the same as wood or chain link as far as post installation goes but extra care must be the rule when handling and screwing the sections together to avoid marring the PVC finish. A goof here in cutting or scratching the finish will be long lasting.
LOCATING YOUR FENCE-
If you are placing your fence around your garden or pool, chances are you will not encounter a conflict with property lines. However, if you are installing a property line fence, MAKE SURE you know where the property lines really are located. Bushes, tree lines or stone walls are NOT a good and reliable indicator of property lines. You may have been mowing a section of lawn for years but that doesn’t make it your property. You may have just been being nice to your neighbor all those years.
I have heard over and over how someone is sure that is where their line absolutely is only to find out after they install the fence that their neighbor sues them and has it removed. Survey maps will show the shape of the property and location of adjacent streets. Most will show accurate locations of corner pins.
Property corners (usually a steel pipe or concrete monument) can be located from your site plan or survey map DO NOT GUESS where your property lines are located. Have the lot surveyed and legal corners markers set. This way your investment in your fence will not be wasted.
Fencing is usually a multiple weekend project but with a little care you can have a beautiful finished project and save a great deal of money on labor.
Your Friendly Building Inspector
BICES-Building Inspection & Code Enforcement System Software
Pete Ackerson is a 30+ year building inspector with experience in both public and private construction industries. From schools to treatment plants, from private homes and condo projects, to large residential landscaping projects, he has worked both in the building design areas and field construction in the Eastern US. In 2006 he formed along with two other building inspectors, Wagsys LLC which produced software for municipal agencies in the fields of building departments, planning boards and Zoning Boards of Appeals.