Fence Installation - How do I install a fence?

You've gone through the fence design considerations, and you've chosen a fence style. You've considered your budget. You're pretty handy with most common household repairs and tools. Should you contract the job out?

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First, let's consider how to install a fence

Simple wood fences such as split rail, picket, snow, PVC or privacy fences four feet or lower are well within the skill set for do-it-yourselfers. The fence components are generally light enough for one or two people to manage, only basic woodworking skills are required, as is the ability to dig and backfill postholes. It is okay to say that you do not know how to install a fence!

  • Some common mistakes include not digging the postholes deep enough to support the fence, encasing the post bottoms in concrete so water cups at the bottom of the post, and installing untreated posts directly into the ground. If you make cuts in any of the wood, be sure to coat the cut end in preservative. Also, be sure fence gates are well supported – they get a lot of abuse.
  • Taller wood or PVC fences such as privacy fence, horse or some forms of farm fencing are also within the skill set of do-it-yourselfers. However, the fence components are heavier, making this a two or three person job. Also, post holes are dug deeper, and posts must be sturdy enough to support significant lateral force from wind, animals and people. Finally, post installation has less "wiggle room" for vertical error, so more care needs to be taken so posts are located and plumbed precisely.

  • Chain link fence is generally installed by a contractor. Posts are installed in postholes filled with concrete. They should be fairly precise distances from each other to allow for smooth installation of the horizontal rails. Then, the chain link mesh is attached to one pole and stretched across the remaining posts. The mesh is secured to the posts, and the posts are capped.

Fence Installation

When dealing with your fence contractor, be sure to discuss the gauge, or thickness, of the components being installed. This makes a big difference in how the fence can tolerate stresses such as being pushed, pulled or climbed over.

  • Dog fence, rabbit fence, cat fence and deer fence are all within the capabilities of homeowners. Some of these systems are electrified, some are not. The hardest part of these installations is generally to completely enclose an area which may include driveways, walkways, uncultivated areas and other impediments.
  • Metal fencing such as iron, aluminum, ornamental and pool fencing are generally installed by a fence contractor. Skills for this fencing include metalworking, cutting components to length, and may involve welding. Also, many of these fences are installed in conjunction with concrete, brick or stonework, where even small mistakes become readily apparent.

Choosing a fence builder is much like choosing any contractor.

Some basic steps include:

  • Look for a contractors you know, or who somebody you trust knows. Look for names that have been in business for several years.

  • Call multiple contractors - do not go with the first builder you contact. Also, be suspicious of great deals "if you sign today".

  • At a minimum, contractors should be licensed and insured, and may also be bonded. The license only means that the contractor must live up to minimum skill and performance standards set by the State.

  • Ask for references and locations of recent work. Then, contact those references and physically view their recent work before signing any contract.

  • Make the quick call to the Better Business Bureau and your State registrar for contractors to ascertain if there are complaints you should be aware of.

  • Be very clear about what you want. The more precise you are, and the more detail you can provide, generally the smoother the process will be

  • Get bids in writing. They should include timelines, materials and costs. Please note: if it's not in writing, it wasn't agreed to. Verbal promises and assurances mean little if you have a disagreement later on down the line.

  • Be sure you understand the material quality that will be used. If you don't understand a term; ask! You may find it helpful to visit local fence supply companies to educate yourself about the fence components and available qualities. Web searches can also provide good information regarding quality and price comparisons.

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