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Paul Bianchina, Some common questions about your next fence project

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If building, or perhaps rebuilding, a fence is on your spring or summer project list this year, here are answers to a few commonly asked questions that might help make that fencing project go a little smoother.

Q. How do I lay out exactly where the fence will go?

A. First of all, you need to determine if the fence will go directly along the line between your property and your neighbor’s. If that’s the case, you need to determine exactly where your property lines are and lay out the fence accordingly. In fact, it may even be necessary to pay for a property line survey, because if you accidentally put your fence on your neighbor’s property, you may end up incurring the cost of ripping out all that fencing and redoing it.

If the fence is not going on a property line, then it’s only necessary to determine where you want the fence to start and stop.

Once you’ve determined the course of the fence, drive a stake in at each corner. Stretch a string tightly between the stakes, and use the string to determine the line of construction. If you have a long run of fencing, or if it will be making any changes of direction, add intermediate stakes as needed to keep the string line accurate.

Q. How big do I dig the post holes?

A. In most soils, you need to dig a hole that is about a third to half the height that the post will be above the ground. For example, if your post will be 5 feet above ground, you want the post hole to be about 1 foot 8 inches to 2 feet 6 inches deep. The looser and sander the soil is, the deeper the hole should be.

The diameter of the hole should be about three times the width of the post. So if you’re using a 4-inch post, the hole should be about 12 inches in diameter.

Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of metal posts versus wood posts?

A. Metal posts have the advantage of consistency and long life. They will not warp, twist, split or otherwise become deformed, and should last longer then any other component in your fence assembly. On the down side, special hardware is required for connecting the wooden horizontal stringers to the posts, a pipe cutter or hacksaw is required for cutting the posts to their finished height, and a metal cap is typically used to finish off the cut top of the post and prevent water from getting down inside (the posts are hollow, like a pipe).

Both wood and metal posts will work fine for just about any type of wood fence installation, but a growing number of professional installers are favoring metal. Properly installed, the metal posts can be wrapped with wood if desired to better camouflage them in the fence.

Q: Do I need to pour concrete at every post?

In my opinion, yes. Using concrete with each post will definitely help keep them straight and solid, and in the overall scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay in time and money for the peace of mind of a sturdy fence. Concrete is especially important for posts that extend above the ground 5 feet or more, or in loose soil.

Q: How do I keep the heights of the posts even?

There are two ways to deal with this: set the posts even, or cut them off afterward.

To set all the posts at the same height, begin by setting posts at each end of the fence at the correct height. Attach a block of wood of a known thickness to the top of each of the two posts — for example, 1 inch thick — then stretch a string between the two posts so that it passes over the two blocks. Now, set each of the intermediate posts 1 inch below the string.

By setting the string up on blocks at each end and then measuring to the string, instead of trying to butt the posts to the string itself, you eliminate the problem of the posts inadvertently raising the string as you go along.

The second method is to not worry about the heights. Simply set all the posts, then stretch a string from end post to end post after all the concrete has set up; mark the posts where the string crosses each one; then cut the posts off as needed.

Q: How do I set posts if the ground is not level?

The methods used for uneven ground are pretty much the same as for level ground, with the exception of utilizing more intermediate posts. In addition to setting the corner posts and cutting them off to the proper heights, you need to set a post at each major change in elevation. Measure and mark the desired height on each intermediate post, and tack a nail at the mark. Stretch a sting between the nails to establish the line for the remaining posts.

As you set each post, it is especially important that the posts remain plumb, regardless of how much the ground slopes.

Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at improvingyourhome@ykwc.net.

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