Lessons on Fence Building, and how you avoid building a new one.

Rotting Fence

Rotting Fence


You need not be a Fence Builder to invest in learning the basics of Fence Building, and the five minutes you spend reading  this short story may save you a thousand dollars or more.

We are DIYers, and of course we spend time…. a good amount of time looking at other people’s work. You can find yourself in a Relative’s back yard looking at how a fence was put together, or how it’s being maintained, and then you ‘hear a voice’.. Yes! It’s your Wife attempting to pull you back to the present where a conversation is going on, and someone thought you were part of it. You’ve slipped away again as if you were in a dream, no one else thinks that fence should hold your interest longer than a second! And yes.. you do realize you’re rude 🙂

You caught the fact that the idiot who built the fence didn’t understand he needed to turn that two by four ninety degrees to provide the support necessary to keep the center of each span (post to post) from sagging and looking like the back of a 28 year old saddle horse,   but even worse it will live a short life.

Your Brother in law shared the story of how his buddy (a licensed fence builder) gave him a discount, and in exchange, he kept the fencing crew in beer on that hot summer day when the fence went up.

I’m in the process of watching half a dozen fences rot into the ground, what I find amusing is most who live adjacent to these fences think the fence is owned by the neighbor, and most likely the neighbor will be doing the maintenance work.  Perhaps that’s why they thought they could cover the bottom of the fence with dirt, or allow leaves to accumulate and compost up against the fence?

In one back yard I visited, I noted the fence across the back of the property was all rotted off across the bottom.  When the wind blew, the pickets floated as if the fence was waving hello to me. On investigation, I noted the homeowner had indeed used his neighbor’s fence for a berm, and piled up dirt and gravel a foot up the fence to level out his back yard, and the entire horizontal support rotted.

In addition, there was a windstorm that dropped a small fir-tree across the back fence at an angle and knocked down two sections. Yes, it was the neighbor’s fence all right, but a month later, it was still on the ground where the tree left it.  The owner had rented his  house out, and likely just making his payments as so many are. Did he care if the fence was on the ground? Nope.  From where the Wife of the house washed dishes, she could look into the back yard of the rental, watch dogs enter her yard and chase their cats. Her privacy was gone, and at times, she could see the Renter at her Kitchen sink washing dishes same as her.  Perhaps they should wave at each other when their eyes met?

Some folks move into a house and have no clue who put the fence in that borders their property, some are built to give you and the neighbor a ‘good’ side that looks identical. There’s often a trim board held on by two or three small nails that can be quickly removed to reveal which side the boards were put up from. Most people who build fences put the boards on from their property to assure they have access for repair. There’s no certainty that your neighbor will like you.. or even find you neighborly in the future, so don’t even think about building your fence in a way where you need access to his property to maintain it.

Just the other day, I checked on another fence along the side of a house, the owner hauled in Gravel there to park a vehicle or two behind a fence and again he covered the lower horizontal and caused it to rot out, I saw where he had pulled the trim and discovered the boards had been put on from his side, opps! he’s been abusing his own fence!

So where we going with this story? Following are some bullet items to consider IF you have a fence, OR your neighbor has a fence. feel free to add what you learned under comments, and thanks in advance.

  • Fences are expensive to have built, take care of yours, and take care of your neighbor’s fence as well, don’t bury the bottom, don’t allow grass clipping, leaves or dirt to lay up against it!
  • When you build or repair a fence, place the bottom support well above ground level, there’s no good reason to place the horizontal a half inch from the ground, and even treated material can rot out if you bury it in a compost pile.
  • If you move into a place with a fence, make a point to learn whose fence it is, note any potential past abuses, and discuss them with your neighbor, it might be an ice breaker.
  • A common short cut in building fences is shallow post holes, especially where the soil is hard. The effort you put into making the holes deep enough will pay dividends. I like to tamp in my posts with rocks and avoid concrete around the posts alltogether; but it depends on soil conditions as to what is best. If you bring the concrete right up to the top of the ground around the post, freeze and thaw can break up the concrete and leave the post loose in little time, some fence builders assure there’s some loose dirt on the top of the pours to act as insulation from freezing, but when you’re in areas where the frost level is five foot deep, it likely matters less.
  • Use treated wood for posts.

Remember the importance of putting in angle braces in the corners, and learn how to properly support a gate post, you’ll need add some additional support, as gravity works full-time to test your work.

One thing a guy really needs to consider >if< he starts with a clean sheet of paper. If you  have access to a Bull Dozer or hire one, consider locating the fence lines and making them smooth and straight as possible, It’s far more difficult to build a fence on ground that looks choppy as the ocean on a white cap day. It might cut your fence building time in half, and make it look far more attractive. It’ll look like you started with a plan 🙂



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