"Digging a hole, dropping in the posts and backfilling with concrete is just asking for drainage problems and rot, even if you use pressure-treated wood. If you set the posts on metal brackets instead, you can extend the life of the fence for many years."— Joseph Guido -- General contractor
Perhaps more than any other DIY project, erecting fencing is one that involves the neighbours, according to Joseph Guido, a contractor who has been putting up fences for thirty-five years. "You always want to check your property lines," says Guido, "as well as the prevailing styles in the neighbourhood. It's also important to check on height and style restrictions with the local building authorities. Finally, don't forget to call the utility company before you dig any post holes."
Laying out the fence
"One of the biggest mistakes people make when putting up fencing," cautions Guido, "is failing to pay attention to the property lines and allowing the fence to encroach on the neighbour's property. Even if you and the neighbour are best of friends, an encroaching fence can cause legal issues if one of you sells." Guido always checks with local or district councils, ensuring any height or style restrictions are met. Generally, planning permission is not required for fences in the UK unless they're over 2 m (6 and a half feet) in height.
• Map out the property lines. You may have to hire a surveyor to map out your property if you don't know where the lines are.
• Lay out the perimeter of the fencing, keeping it at least 30 cm (a foot) inside the property lines. Drive stakes at the corners of the perimeter and connect the stakes with string. Clear out any vegetation in the way.
• Mark the positions of the posts with stakes. They should be approximately 2.4 m (8 feet) apart, but you may have to space them closer if you're building on a slope. Don't forget the gate posts.
The posts are the backbone of the fence; they determine its strength as well as its appearance. As far as Guido is concerned, there is a right way and a wrong way to set them -- and most people choose the wrong way. "Digging a hole, dropping in the posts and backfilling with concrete is just asking for drainage problems and rot, even if you use pressure-treated wood," he says. "If you set the posts on metal brackets instead, you can extend the life of the fence for many years."
Guido uses a post-hole digger to dig holes that are as third as deep as the height of the post. He backfills the holes with concrete, using a circular mould to build up the height 5 or 7.5 cm (2 or 3 inches) above ground level.
• Install a galvanized steel fence post holder in the concrete when the concrete stiffens slightly, or about an hour after pouring it.
• Bolt the post to the bracket with two coach bolts after the concrete has set, or at least 24 hours after pouring it.
• Use a level to plumb the post before tightening the bolts.
Erecting the fencing
"I'm a big fan of pre-fab fence panels," confides Guido. "They look good, last long and are easy to install. You have to plan for them by setting posts accurately, but if you take the time to do that, panels save time as well as money." Whether or not the design calls for panels, Guido offers a few tips for getting things straight and level.
• Start installing rails or panels on the post that occupies the highest ground.
• Nail a scrap piece of wood to the post to support the panel or bottom rail and extend a string with a line level from the top of that support to the adjacent post. Mark the point at which the string is level and nail another support there.
• Set the panel or bottom rail onto the supports and and use coated screws to affix it to the posts. Remove the supports.
• Repeat the procedure to set a top rail, if you aren't using panelling. The top rail should be about 30 cm (a foot) below the top of the finished fence.
• Install slats with 3.2 cm (1 and 1/4-inch) coated screws if you don't use panelling. Use a spirit level to plumb each board and align its top with the board next to it before driving the screws. Drive two screws through each slat into each rail; each slat should be held by four screws.
Constructing the gate
The gate is the finishing touch to any fence. It may or may not match the style of the fence -- some gates are constructed with interest-grabbing embellishments -- but it needs proper bracing to prevent it from falling out of square. "Some builders use tension wire, but I usually affix a single wooden diagonal between the gate rails. To be effective, the lower end of the brace must be on the hinge side to compress the top of the gate toward the hinges."
- Measure the space between the gate posts and ensure the distance between the tops and bottoms is the same. If it isn't, you may have to re-plumb the gate posts.
• Construct a frame that is 1.3 cm (1/2 an inch) narrower than the opening to ensure the gate won't stick.
• Cut a diagonal brace that fits underneath the top rail and on top of the bottom rail, Cut the ends at appropriate angles to make the brace fit flush on the rails. Affix it with screws.
• Hang the gate with gate hinges and test it to make sure it opens and closes smoothly.
• Attach the slats, using a level to plumb them. Mount the latch and handle last.
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