Sometimes the difference between a house and a home is a beautiful fence. I’ve had people ask me about fence building for years and they all have a different story to tell. I remember one older gentleman who asked me to guide his fence building about 15 years ago. He wanted to build a dark-stained wooden fence for his wife because it reminded her of her childhood. The fence was just in time for their 50th anniversary. But sappy stories aside, fence building can be a simple matter depending on how you go about it. Check out this guide to see just how easy it is to install your very own fence with my tips.
Why Install a Fence Installation?
That’s a great question. It may not be your 50th anniversary right around the corner, but I have clients come to me for all kinds of reasons. Some of our most typical customers install a fence for the following reasons:
- Privacy. Most of America lives in a big city, so what does that mean? It means we all live closer together. Although that may bring down the cost of living, it also increases how much others can see of your life. Privacy doesn’t necessarily have to mean shutting others out, but it creates a personal space you can call your own. A fence for privacy can be a beautiful piece of work and really make your yard special.
- Animals. A lot of Americans enjoy having dogs as pets (although I have seen individuals put up a fence for a pet turtle). Fences can make an animal legal in your home and also provide a safe space for the newest member of the family.
- Aesthetics. I have lots of couples come to looking for something to spruce up their lawn. It’s a good thing fences come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors!
- Safety. If you live in a rough part of town, or are just plain obsessed with aliens attacking in the night, a fence can solve your problems. There are plenty of legal ways to build a fence if safety is an issue.
Although there are plenty of other reasons clients want to build fences, we should focus on what it takes to install a fence.
What Material Should I Use?
This question can have your mind running in circles for days. Consider these common fence materials and what they have to offer:
- Wood. As the most common material used in fence construction, wood is always an obvious choice. But do you understand all of the housekeeping that comes with a wooden fence? Staining, sealing, and high maintenance days are ahead of you. If you don’t mind the time and money put into a wooden fence, then by all means get yourself a wooden fence.
- Vinyl. Looks almost as nice as wood and has a lot less headache. It’s also pretty cheap in comparison.
- Bamboo. Sounds exotic, right? Bamboo fencing has an exotic appeal, but depending on what quality product you’re willing to settle for the price tag can be a deterrent.
- Chain link. This fence is the most practical if you really don’t care for aesthetics and have some animals to care for. What’s great about chain link is you can replace it easily with almost any other fence type in the long run.
- Other metals. That’s right, a chain link fence isn’t your only option. Steel, iron, or aluminum are also great choices.
Survey the Land
This doesn’t mean sit down and ask your piece of dirt a bunch of open-ended questions. This means you need to actually get some tools and take some measurements. Before you begin any fence installation, make sure you know your property lines. Do your homework first and find out your city’s specifications when it comes to a personal fence. Once you have clearance from the right people, survey the land.
The best way to go about this, especially if you don’t have the means to do it, is to contact someone who can survey it for you. A property survey is totally worth it because then you know that your fence will be in the correct spot. I’ve heard too many horror stories of individuals who decide they already know the points of their property line. To save yourself a lot of time and money, just call someone else to take exact measurements for you and mark the property line.
If you decide to survey the land yourself, be sure to check up on local documents to find out where your property line is. Use small wooden stakes with brightly colored flags to signal where the fence can go. Just be sure you don’t encroach upon another’s property.
Now that you have your outside perimeters established, you can move on to bigger and better things. For example, determining where you want the posts to go. Contrary to popular belief, not each board on a fence is a post. Posts are spaced anywhere from 6 to 8 feet apart and they’re what hold the entire fence in place.
Here’s how to successfully determine where to put your posts:
- Measure each side you want your fence to go on.
- Divide so that each side is spaced evenly
- Decide how far apart you want your posts to be relevant to each side.
- Tie a string from one end to the other for each side.
- Mark the string with brightly colored flags to signal where the posts should go.
If you don’t like the string method, there are plenty of other ways you can mark spacing. You can simply stick a stake into the ground or spray paint the grass. However you choose, be sure you are taking accurate measurements. Bring some friends around, second opinions are always appreciated.
Putting Holes in the Ground
Now comes the hard part. It’s digging time. When you dig the holes for your posts be aware of the processes that come after the fact. You will need to tamp the hole once the post is in, and being level the entire time is essential.
So break out your toolkit and follow these tips:
- Set your corner or end post first. This will help guide you for the rest of the holes in between.
- Use a pair of post hole diggers (yes that is their official title). This will ensure your holes are the proper depth.
- If you need help breaking up tree roots use a “digging stick” that has a blade of sorts on the end. It will help break up any organic material in your way.
- The holes must be about 1/3 of the total length of the posts you will be setting in.
- Tip: depending on the terrain of the land you are digging on, it may be helpful to dig the holes one day, fill them with water and do it again the next day to eliminate loose soil. You can also do this to soften the ground if the land is very hard (set yourself up for success!).
Now that you have all of your holes dug you can install the posts.
Using a spirit level (once again, that is the official title) set your posts in the holes and tamp them. Here is the official Merriam-Webster definition of the word tamp:
“to press (something) down by hitting it lightly”
The process of tamping and keeping your post in the correct spot can be tricky. YouTube videos online provide a great resource for those who are unsure during their first time. The most important thing to remember is to tamp just enough to pack the earth into the hole, but not so much that you move the post around.
Keep in mind that you may want to put some gravel at the bottom of your hole for the post. This will help keep the post sturdy and level through time. Use the spirit level to help you out if you need it.
Filling the Holes
It’s important to consider the vast array of materials at your disposal when it comes to filling in the holes once the post is set. Here are some suggestions:
- Dry sand
- Mix of dry masonry sand and concrete
- Crushed rock and soil
Tip: I have heard some buddies of mine completely disown concrete when it comes to filling a hole for a post. They say that concrete will only make the post rot faster and hold water. I don’t know if that’s true, from my own experience I haven’t had a problem. I personally like mixes such as sand, crushed rock, and soil.
After your posts are set, let them sit in the soil for a few days. This will allow the posts to settle well and then you can build the rest of the fence.
What comes next?
Use your desired material choice and fill in the gaps! First add the bracers that will go across from post to post and then fill in the desired planks from there. If you’re building a wooden fence make sure to stain and seal everything when you’re finished.
Although you can expect a lot of work and time to go into this fence you’re building, you can definitely expect a great outcome. Especially when you look out over your land and see that hand-made marker of territory, you will feel accomplished. Congratulations on your first Do-it-Yourself Fencing endeavor!