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Fencing 101: All You Need To Know

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Build A DIY Perimeter Fence – What To Do And What Not To Forget

Everyone loves a good neighbor, and there’s none better than a nice tall privacy fence. It lets you live your life without prying eyes and, if you have dogs, keeps them safely in your yard.

But if you’ve ever gotten a quote from a fencing contractor, there’s a chance that your jaw is still on the floor as you read these words.

Well, we don’t blame you, especially since putting up a fence isn’t all that difficult. It takes a little knowledge, a lot of planning, and even more labor, but it is a task well within the skills of even the most modest DIYer.

Plan Everything Before You Buy Anything

Building a brand new fence is a labor-intensive activity, and the last thing you will want to do is backtrack to fix something you missed.

So, you need to plan everything out before you spend a dime because once you start digging holes, it’ll be too late to change your mind.

Check The Rules

Local codes may limit the type of fence you can build or prohibit them completely. Check with your local authorities before you do anything else.

Areas that trouble themselves to specify rules on the types of fencing you can use will not be shy about forcing you to tear it down if you guess wrong.

Measure Your Yard

Step one is always knowing what you want. In this case, it’s knowing how much you want, and that means measuring the path for your fencing.

When planning the path, avoid getting too close to anything that might produce a large root system. Nothing can change a fence’s path quite as quickly as a 12” root right where you need to place a post.

Also, keep in mind that fence panels come in either 6’ or 8’ lengths when you are plotting the path. Try to limit the need to cut panels as much as possible.

Once you have your fenceline measurement, you can divide that number by eight and by six to determine how many fence panels you will need.

Sometimes the shorter panels will cost more to cover the same area as the long panels, even if they are individually less expensive. So you want both numbers for comparing costs.

Pick Your Fencing Material

Each type of fencing material has its different quirks, which we go over in detail on other pages linked below, but the overall theory is the same for most fencing.

You have your measurements and know how many panels you’ll need, so the math becomes simply the number of panels x the cost for one panel.

You also need to decide if you will turn panels into gates or want something fancier and include that decision in your budget.

Some of the most popular fencing materials are:

  • Chain Link – popularly considered a cheap way to build a perimeter fence, but the expenses add up quickly. No other fence type needs more hardware than a chain-link fence. Make sure to add it ALL up when comparing prices.
  • Wood – Premade wooden panels, usually in 6’ or 8’ lengths, or just rails and pickets. Each style comes in treated or untreated wood. We recommend treated wood for its longevity.
  • Vinyl Panels – Light and durable, vinyl will last decades with almost zero maintenance and is priced accordingly.
  • Aluminum – Also light and durable, aluminum will last decades with periodic maintenance.
  • Wrought Iron – Heavy as sin, and just as eternal, wrought iron fencing will last for generations.
  • Steel – Heavy and long-lasting, steel is difficult to put up and harder to remove.
  • Barbed Wire – Generally illegal in residential areas, barbed wire is an easy and inexpensive way to mark your rural property.

Make sure that the cost of the panels doesn’t eat up your whole budget, as you have posts, nails, hinges, and a ludicrous amount of cement to purchase, too.

Plot Your Fence’s Path

All spacing measurements are measured ON CENTER.

Use stakes and string to mark the path, placing stakes where you need to set each fencepost. You should also mark where you plan to place any gates.

Keep in mind that the beginning and end of concurrent panels can both be attached to a single fence post.

Keep an eye out for rises and valleys along the path and decide how to tackle those obstacles. Just remember that what you decide might change the positioning of your posts and measure accordingly.

Some prefer to ladder-step the panels, even if the change is less than 12” in 6’, while others are happy to tilt the panel to match the difference in heights.

Start Counting

Once your stakes are all in the ground, you can count them up to determine how many posts you will need. Then count your gates and count on needing at least two hinges per swinging section.

If you want a secure yard, decide what kind of locking system you want to use and how many locks you will need.

Do you want your gates to swing easily? If your gate is fairly heavy, you may want to consider putting spring-loaded wheels on the bottom of each piece.

We recommend two rollers, one near the outside edge and one halfway down the length per gate. The springs will keep the wheels in contact with the ground, and the rollers serve to take some of the stress off the hinges.

Now Place Your Order

Now that you know how many panels, posts, hinges, and rollers you need, you can place your order. We recommend that you don’t start digging holes until after your order arrives.

Why?

Because you never know what you might run into when you go to set your first panel. You might have missed that the side of your house isn’t a straight plane and didn’t consider the cutouts.

Measurements aren’t the same as test fitting that first panel. Things you’ve missed will become obvious in an instant. Things that might throw all your measurements off by up to one foot. So, be patient and wait for those panels to arrive before you start digging.

Check Your Tool Inventory

Putting a fence up on your own doesn’t take many tools, but the required ones are irreplaceable. Either you have them, or you’re not finishing the project. The basic tool list for installing a fence is as follows:

  • Post Hole Digger – get an auger, if you can
  • 3’ Level – bigger is better here
  • Circular Saw – for adjusting panel lengths
  • Hammer
  • Drill/Driver – Hammer drills are helpful
  • Finishing Trowel
  • Work Gloves
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • Cement – 1 to 4 bags per post depending on the size
  • Gravel – 1 bag for every four posts

If you love yourself even a little, rent an auger for the post holes and get yourself a framing nailgun. Pop-pop-pop is so much better than bangity-bang-bang-miss-bang.

If you have large roots in your yard, rent a hydraulic auger instead of a simple one-man unit. If you have massive roots in your yard, get a chainsaw. You’ll thank us in the end.

Installation Day(s)!

Ok, you’ve done the math, test fit your first panel, and adjusted for what you missed, and it’s time to get to work. Hopefully, you have at least two friends to give you a hand. You don’t want to be doing this on your own.

The first thing to know is that this will take much longer than you think is reasonable. For such a simple task, putting up a fence is an activity full of obstacles. Rocks in the ground, roots, and unplanned changes are almost guaranteed to come along and extend the job.

So don’t get in a hurry, and calmly approach each obstacle as it comes. DO NOT put yourself on a clock. You’ll be living with the result of your efforts for many years to come, so just relax and take your time.

Digging The Post Holes

The general rule is that you need a hole with a diameter three times larger than the size of the post and ⅓ to ½ as deep as the finished length of the post. So your average 4”x4” fencepost needs a hole that is 12” in diameter and 2’ to 3’ deep for a 6’ fence. That’s an awful lot of dirt, rocks, and roots to get through.

If you plan on laying down gravel in your post holes (and you should), add the depth of the gravel layer to the target depth of your post hole.

The chances are that your first post will be offset a bit to allow your fencing to abut your wall. Remember to measure from where the panel begins and not the posthole for your second hole.

As you dig your holes, measure from the center of that hole to find where the center of your next hole belongs. Yes, we know you already staked it out, but things can change, and at the installation phase, inches matter. Measure twice and dig once.

Be sure to remember where you plan to place your gates and adjust your measurements to allow space for the hinges and the gate’s swing. You need at least an inch or two of free space for the edge of the gate to pivot into, so you can’t have the gate panel directly against the next fence panel. Leaving open space for the hinge bracket should cover that need.

Once the hole is of the proper dimension, pour in your gravel. Six inches of gravel will keep moisture away from the bottom of your post. Then you can drop your post in the hole and use it to pack the gravel tight.

Now, prepare the proper amount of cement and start to fill the hole with the post centered in the hole. 

While you are adding cement, check the position of the post with your level every few shovel fulls of cement. Make sure it hasn’t twisted on you, and check the side facing you and the side to your left or right with a 3’ or longer level.

There should be no lean in any direction, and the side facing where you’ll be hanging the panels needs to be parallel to the fencing.

Once the hole is full, bring the cement high enough that you can use your finishing trowel to put a humped cap on the cement to encourage water to flow away from the post. It’s best to come back to the post after you have set the next one.

That way, the cement will be dry enough to hold your finishing touch with the trowel. You should also take this opportunity to check that your post hasn’t moved on you.

Once you’ve set your final post, leave them to cure for 4 – 24 hours.

Setting The Panels

While each type of fencing panel attaches its own way, we will be speaking of wooden panels here since they are the most popular fencing choice. Just translate nails and screws to whatever action applies to your type of fencing.

There are rules for putting up fence panels. The most important one is never to let your pickets touch the ground. There should be at least 2” between the pickets and the ground for any wooden fence. This gap prevents ground rot in your fence. If you want to seal that gap, use a rot board or garden trim to cover the space.

Place spacer blocks in the space the panel will be covering to help you maintain that minimum gap. Rest the panel on the spacers and use your level and shims to get the panel sitting straight.

Once the panel is in position, put nails or screws through the top, middle, and bottom of each side of the panel and into each fencepost.

The first panel you place should be the one you’ve trimmed to fit against your wall.

If you’ve measured things carefully, this process should go fairly quickly.

Don’t forget to leave space for your gate hinges when you install your panels!

Hanging Your Gates

Attach your hinges to the fenceposts first, then use the same methods you used to install your fence panels.

If you are installing rollers to your gates, don’t forget to attach them to your gate panels before you hang them since the rollers change how your gate sits.

Kick Back And Enjoy Your Privacy

Now that your fence is up, it’s time to relax.

If your fence is made of treated wood, give it a full year to dry out before adding paint. If the wood is too wet, the paint won’t adhere to the surface.

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