Building Better Fences
In at least one way, wooden residential fences are like most other home improvement projects. The more you put into design and construction details, the more you get back. This article is for people who want a lot from their new fence. So if you’re satisfied with the standard designs common everywhere, there’s not much point in reading further. You’ll be well served by the how-to pamphlets stacked near bins of galvanized fence clips at lumberyards everywhere.
If you’d like a distinctive, beautiful and long lasting fence -- either built yourself or hired-out -- then I have things to show you. None of these will save you time or money, but they will point you towards a great fence. And in the long run, that's often the most economical approach when satisfaction, durability and property values are factored into the equation.
Ideas about Fencing Durability
No matter how beautiful a fence is, if it leans, sags or rots, it's toast. There's almost nothing you can do to fix these problems once they emerge. That's why durability is crucial and must be incorporated into fence design from the ground up.
Set the Fence Posts
- Start from below the ground. One of the main durability factors is how you set fence posts. Although not all fences need to be anchored in concrete, load-bearing ones -- like those on each side of a gate or at corners -- should be.
- But even this isn't necessarily enough to stop frost-induced heaving posts. This distinctly northern hazard can even raise posts that extend down below the frost line through a process known as frost jacking. If the outer edges of the concrete are rough, or if the top of the concrete plug is larger in diameter than the bottom, frost around the surface of the soil can grip posts and raise them incrementally, a little each year, eventually making your fence really wonky. Avoid problems by digging the fence post hole slightly wider at the bottom than the top, with sides that are as smooth as possible.
Treat with Wood Preservatives
- Pressure-treated lumber is a popular fence-building material because it's rot resistant and relatively inexpensive.
- Regardless of whether pressure-treated posts are set in concrete or dry-packed soil, coat below-ground parts with creosote before installation.
- Most zinc-based wood preservatives aren't rated for underground applications, though you'll only read that in the fine print.
- Choose a design approach that allows preservative to be re-applied around concrete-encased posts every few years. This maintenance routine takes a few minutes work, but it yields longer fence life.