Building fences

The Old House Web

Note: The following informationis used with permission of ServiceMagic,which provides free contractor recommendations from its database of 40,000 homeimprovement contractors & real estate agents. 

house and fence

Fences, often taken for granted and unnoticed (until that gate won't closeproperly), actually perform many important functions on your property. Many factors mustbe taken into consideration when choosing to install a particular style of fence,including privacy, security and landscape enhancement. If you build it right and keep itsimple, it will last for years.

Q: My wooden fence is leaning over and needs to be propped. Can I have it repairedor should I install a new one?

A: It depends on the integrity of the horizontal rails. If they are sturdy enough tohold a nail, generally you can replace the posts as well as any damaged panels to extendthe life of the fence another 10 years. But if the rails are deteriorated to the pointthat they cannot be secured, replacement is advised.

Q: The fence at our last house was installed years before we moved in and was stillstable when we moved out 15 years later. But the fence at our current house is only fiveyears old and the posts are broken. Why?

A: Because the redwood used years ago came from very old trees. Most of the lumberproduced was heartwood from the center of the tree, which is disease and rot resistant.Redwood trees harvested today are much younger. Fencing material is always the lowestgrade of lumber and consists of a lot of white sap wood. Since it does not have the sameresistant properties of red heartwood, posts made from it rot easily when exposed todampness. You (or your fence installer) can compensate for this by crowning the concreteabove ground level around each post to protect the wood from the damage caused by constantcontact with wet soil. This requires more labor and concrete, but the fence will last manyyears longer.

Q: Our fence is holding up fine but the gate has never closed properly no matterhow much I tinker with it myself. Any suggestions?

A: It's important to remember that the gate post carries an extra heavy load. Thereforeit is crucial that this post, more than any other, be crowned with concrete. Otherwise,the slightest decay will cause the gate post to break. It's also essential that every gatepost is complemented with a back-up post for extra support. The gate also needs to bebraced properly when it is built to prevent sagging. Finally, don't slam the gate!

Q: The fence between our house and the neighbor's needs to be replaced. Who isresponsible?

A: Ideally, you and your neighbor will agree on the type of fence you need beforehand,and share the cost equally. Sometimes, however, neighbors cannot communicate and they donot always have the same priorities, so frequently a contractor will deal with each partyindividually to work out mutually agreeable terms and conditions.

Q: We already have a chain link fence but would prefer a wood fence. Can this bere-done using the existing steel posts?

A: Absolutely! You can either use brackets to hold the horizontal rails or box thesteel posts so that they look just like wooden posts, which many people prefer foraesthetic reasons. And, they last forever!

Q: There is a cinder block sound wall along the back of our yard and we need tofence the sides. Any suggestions?

A: You can install a wood fence along the sides and use cinder block posts tocomplement the existing wall or build it entirely of wood. You can also build a wood fenceon top of an existing retaining wall.

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