DIY Fence Building Tips
LESLIE: Well, whether it’s a matter of keeping the kids in or keeping road noise out, a fence can act as a stylish frame for your yard.
TOM: That’s right. But building a fence is more than just a matter of putting some posts in the ground. There are design considerations and building regulations to take into account. For pointers on successful fencing projects, we welcome Roger Cook, the landscape contractor for TV’s This Old House.
ROGER: Hi. How are you?
TOM: We’re well. Thank you so much for coming by The Money Pit.
So first off, let’s talk about preparation. What kind of preparation needs to be taken care of prior to fence-building beginning?
ROGER: Before you buy a piece of stock, before you dig a hole in the ground, you want to know where the property line is. There have been more lawsuits over fences being put in the wrong place with your neighbor than anything else, so …
TOM: And if you put that fence like 2 inches on the wrong side of the line, that’s going to be a very expensive piece of property, that 2-inch strip.
ROGER: Right. And no one likes to be surprised and come home and find a fence put up and not have any knowledge about it. So, communication with the neighbors is essential. Walk them out, show them what you’re going to do, where you’re going to do it. If there is any inkling at all that the property line is iffy, get a survey done. It’ll be well worth the money you spend.
LESLIE: So now that you know the property line and you know that you’re going to be putting the fence on your property itself, what do you sort of make a list of to figure out what maybe the best material is? Are there …?
ROGER: Well, I go right to what’s the purpose of the fence. Is it there for noise reduction? Is it there to keep pets in? Is it aesthetic? Lot of different questions you need to answer before you pick the type of material.
TOM: Because a lot of designs are going to impact on what that goal is.
TOM: Just like if you’re putting a fence in for a pool, you’re doing it for safety. If you’re putting a fence in for pets, then maybe that’s a different reason.
ROGER: Right. And there are certain restrictions you have to know about, as far as a height of the fence. To be code for a pool, it has to be a certain height and a certain type and you’re only allowed to go so high on some fences. You can’t put in a 10-foot fence.
TOM: Now, in terms of those regulations, I think something else that’s interesting that a lot of folks don’t recognize is that fences have good sides and bad sides, right?
TOM: And you’re required, though, to show the neighbor your good side. You can’t put the fence up backwards. You’ve got to show the good side out always, correct?
ROGER: So they tell me. Yes, it’s just common courtesy. And there would be just another reason for the neighbors to be upset if they come home and they saw the back side of the fence. And some fences don’t have a back side. Some fences are built like a shadow-box fence.
ROGER: It’s equal on both sides.
TOM: Right. Sort of board on board, where it looks good for both sides.
So, once you’ve decided what kind of fence you want to install and you’re cleared with your building regulations, I guess the really key element to making sure your fence is done and done well is the installation of the post.
ROGER: Right, that’s critical. Everything’s hanging on the post, so you want to dig a hole that’s about a third as deep as the post is tall.
ROGER: That’s the starting point. You set up a string line to give you a nice, straight run because there’s nothing worse than looking down and seeing a crooked post here and there.
TOM: How do you approach setting a post? I mean I’ve always used stone around the post. Do you prefer stone or do you like to use concrete?
ROGER: I prefer stone, just like you, because it drains. It’ll hold the post in place nicely but it drains and we get the water away from the post. The more you get the water away from the wood, the longer it’s going to last.
LESLIE: And I guess you’re keeping the post in place because you’re tamping all of that stone down as you’re installing it? You’re sort of impacting it?
ROGER: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of times, what we use is an iron bar with a big, metal end on it, 2 or 3 inches across, so you can sit there and really pack that material in. You have to spend a lot of time on your post getting them straight and plumb. And then the rest of the fence will go in easily.
TOM: Now, a fence isn’t just functional; it can be beautiful, too. Any tips for sprucing up a plain fence?
ROGER: Well, I like to do a lot of different things. You can actually buy hangers that you can grow plants in and hang them from the fence themselves. And again, you could train a rose or something like that on the fence. What I tell people is to stay away from vines that are real heavy, like wisteria. That can really get heavy and cause a fence to move.
TOM: Great advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House andAsk This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Lumber Liquidators. Hardwood floors for less.