On Fence Building
About two years ago we had a storm in our area that took down half the fences in our yard. In fact, fences were blown over throughout our entire county – according to our insurance adjustor. What a mess. Shrubs were damaged, plants were crushed and our privacy disappeared. It didn’t take us long to make the needed repairs. You may not have had a windstorm in your area, but if you have a fence here are a few good things to know:
First, all fences have pretty much the same basic components – vertical posts set in the ground (hopefully with concrete), horizontal rails that traverse between the posts that hold fence boards or pickets. What’s the difference you ask? Well fence boards are usually installed together to produce a solid barrier. Pickets are smaller boards that are space apart for an open look. Both are good at keeping out some pesky critters, but the solid fence works best.
A couple of rules
Generally speaking you won’t need to get a building permit to build a fence. However, you should check with your local building department to find out more about local fence building rules. They do exist. In our area for example, fences cannot exceed 6’ in height and must not protrude into a side or front yard setback. Front yard fences are must not exceed three-feet or so and must look a certain way. In some areas community approval is required before a fence can be altered or built. Rule of thumb: don’t spend your money on fencing material until you find out WHO the boss is and WHAT the rules are.
Certain types of wood are better for use outdoors than others. Pressure treated wood is best, but cedar and redwood are also quite good. Practically any kind of wood can be used for a painted fence. Keep in mind that painted fences must be regularly recoated to maintain a waterproof surface and to insure lasting quality of non-weather-resistant woods such as Fir and Pine. A good alternative to painting is heavy body stain. With stain there is no worry about chipping and splitting. However, recoating is required every several years. Even the best outdoor woods will last longer and look better if protected with a wood preservative. We have always used an oil-base product. Water base products just don’t last. It also is important know that water doesn’t bead on a properly treated wood surface. The TV commercials you see are deceiving. Wax makes water bead on wood. That’s because wax seals the surface causing it to be smooth – and the water beads. What you really want is an oil base product that gets down into the pores of the wood. A wax job will last for about three- to six-months where oil will last for a year or two. Wax evaporates into the air over four times faster than oil. In other words, the wax will disappear in no time.
Fasteners should be weather resistant too. We suggest stainless steel or hot dipped galvanized (not electro galvanized) nails or construction screws. Construction screws are the ones with the really wide threads that go most of the way up the shaft of the screw.
The person selling it to you may refer to it as a new polymer or PVC or by some other exotic name, but it’s all still plastic. Don’t get us wrong; plastic is becoming very popular for fencing. We don’t feel that plastic will last as long as wood, but we are pretty sure that it will be far less difficult to maintain for the time that it does last. No paint, no preservative, no nail pops and no splitting. What a country!
Some home centers and hardware stores offer pre-assembled sections of fencing. Lots of work can be saved here, but there are a few things you need to be aware of. Many of these neat little assemblies are destined to fall apart almost immediately after they are installed. Here’s why. The connectors are not truly weather resistant. They may look galvanized, but could be the cheap kind. Also, the wood used may be especially sensitive to attack by sun and water. Be careful. You can end up with planned obsolescence at your front gate. Again, all you have to do is insure that the sections are made out of redwood, cedar or pressure treated wood and that the connectors are guaranteed to be water resistant.
Regardless of the type of fence you build you will need fence posts and they will need to be installed in concrete. Here are a few tips:
- The whole should be about 10- to 12-inches in diameter and about 2 ½ feet deep.
- Fill the bottom of the hole with about 6-inches of drain rock.
- Set the post on top of the rock (not in it) and pour the concrete around it.
- The concrete should be at grade – yes it should show – and it should be crowned so that water will shed away from the post. Water MUST NOT puddle around a fence post.
We like our fence posts 6- to 8-feet apart. Six-foot centers render a stronger fence, but cost more. For gates 4’ wider or larger use 4×6 or 6×6 posts in four-foot deep holes. Make sure that the holes are at least 16-inches in diameter. Remember: the better you build it the longer it will last. And, good luck!