Thursday, August 23, 2007

How To Build A Fence – Building codes and permits

by Gwyer Maitland

Local building codes can determine a lot about how to build a fence.

For example: Suppose you are on a corner lot, you may have specific height restrictions that are legitimate. If it’s too high when you’re finished, it may
restrict the field of vision of passing motorists which can increase the likelihood of accidents and be a safety issue for kids playing in the neighborhood or pedestrians passing by.

On my first house, I had a neighbor who said he would file a complaint if I built the fence in front of my house over 4 feet because he said it would block his view. It irritated me that he was telling me what to do with my house and I had a male dog who could jump higher than four feet who liked to roam.

Because of my lack of experience at that time, I wasn’t really considering his point of view fairly.

In retrospect, he was right.

A higher fence would have made getting out of his driveway trickier because he wouldn’t have been able to see to the end of the block and watch oncoming traffic as he backed out of his driveway.

How You Build Your Fence Can Create Poor Curb Appeal

From an aesthetic point of view and curb appeal perspective, a 6 foot fence would have impacted the subsequent resale of my house negatively. I ended up building an attractive redwood picket fence about 3 ½ feet high, with a trellised gate and bamboo decorated entry point. This highlighted the garden and the front of the house instead of hiding it.

By the way this was my first fence ever - and although it took me about a week to complete a few hours at a time – and even though I did not use a formal design, it really came out nice.

Side Note: About 26 years later, I visited my old stomping grounds and looked at the old house. The fence is still there, although the pass through trellis had been removed. Just goes to show that if you build them right, a fence can actually become a classic. I wonder if it takes 30 years for a fence to be considered a classic – like a car, maybe 26 years qualifies…

Building Codes

Building codes also determine things like set back requirements – like how close to the curb you can set your fence posts or how far away from your neighbor’s garage you need to be.

There may also specific restrictions regarding what percentage of the area of the property can be developed and built upon and in some municipalities that includes fences.

More than likely there are covenant restrictions attached to the title of the property if you live in a development which means the covenants determine exactly how to build a fence

Building Permit

Depending on the size of the fence you want to build and the local codes where you live, you may have to get a permit prior to building your fence and this may have a direct impact on how to build a fence.

If the permit is required, it’s cheaper and faster to pull a permit in many cases than having to take the fence out or reconstruct it if a building inspector red flags your work. This often happens because one of the neighbors has nothing better to do than call the city to complain - like Gladys Cravitz on Bewitched.

Even though building departments and inspectors can be a pain, I have found that you can actually get a lot of help from them and most of the regulations actually have a purpose. Take some time and pick their brains about details. Many of these people have a lot of experience and are full of good ideas.

Use the municipalities as a resource, before you decide how to build a fence on your property even if you don't need a permit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How To Build A Fence Video

by Gwyer Maitland

Eric Stromer How To Build A Fence video

Recently I came across a DIY/AOL how to build a fence video. It's one of the guys from a DIY t.v. show, Eric Stromer. He seems like a cool guy and it's a pretty good video.
Powered by AOL Video

One of the things that bugged me about the video - and I watched it twice to find out - was how the bottom rails were attached to the posts. Maybe I missed something...

I noticed that the upper rails were framed so they extended past the posts and were attached simply with a nail gun. What I remember about the bottom rails is that they fit flush against the posts between them.

Can anybody tell me?

I like the basic design of the fence but would like to know how to finish it...

Another cool tip from Eric in the video...

Eric suggested simply putting a couple of inches of dry concrete mix in the post hole before setting the posts to absorb the moisture in the soil around the post.

That seems like a really smart idea - never thought of it anyway.

Suggested Topic For Another Video:

Maybe it's me, but I've never had much luck getting the posts dead on center to accommodate pre-made fence panel sections. At least that was always the hardest
part, besides digging the post holes.

That is precisely why I never build fence sections in the shop before installing a
fence - even though I'm pretty handy with a tablesaw. It occurs to me that it would save a lot of time to prefabricate the panels if I could be sure that the panels - that were so pretty in the shop - fit the openings after the concrete is set.

I think a really good subject for a video might be exactly how that is done - in detail. That is, how do you lay out, dig, center and pour concrete for posts in such a way that pre-made panels slip right into place - snug the way I like to build fences.

It occurs to me as I write (and after watching the video again) that what I'm really talking about is a instructional video about measuring techniques. Maybe the stuff I was never taught, would have value for other people as well.

What are your suggestions for video topics, instructions and information that you would like to see? Post them in the comment section and we'll get busy.

That's it for now.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

My First Fence Taught Me A Lot About How To Build A Fence

by Gwyer Maitland

Building This Fence Taught Me A Lot...

Description: This fence was a decorative redwood picket fence built to enclose a front yard. It was about 40 feet wide on the front and about 30 feet long on the sides – about 3 ½ feet high. It had a picket gate recessed from the sidewalk with an overhead trellis and pergola about 8 feet high.

Set All The Corner Posts First

I set all the redwood 4 x 4 posts in concrete (3 feet deep) at the edge of the sidewalk, recessing the posts from the edge a few inches so that the pickets would not overhang the sidewalk.

Positioning the corner posts was educated guesswork using 1 x 2 for bracing and string lines crossing each other attached to stakes to get corner locations and then dug out the post holes by hand with a post hole digger. These braces and string lines referenced the curb, the edge of the driveway and the front walkway as reference and measurement points of origin.

After the corner posts were located, braced and set in concrete overnight, I laid out the remaining posts positioning them about 7 feet apart so I didn’t have to buy 2 x 4’s longer than 8 feet for the rails - because even back then redwood was expensive.

Mortises For The Rails

I hand notched mortises into the posts on both sides to accommodate both the upper and lower 2 x 4 redwood horizontal rails. So when I finished there were four notches on the post – two on the side of each post - created by using the following tools:

dovetail saw
skill saw
wooden mallet
combination square

Then I cut the rails to the individual length between each post – which varied a bit - so the rail ends would fit snug into the hand notched mortises.

Use A Spacer Template

I also cut a spacer about 1 ½ inches wide which I used as a template to space all of the pickets. I first nailed the end pickets and made certain that they were perpendicular to the posts and then nailed the center pickets.

From the center picket, I nailed in each direction toward the end posts locating the pickets using my template as I went. This meant that when I got to the end posts, I only had to modify the very last pieces of picket to fit the remaining space.

The end result was very uniform. All pickets were the same distance apart and perpendicular to the posts.

Little things like that are very apparent to the eye – even though we may not know why it bugs us if the spacing varies. Maybe our minds seek continuity as a default.

Positioning The Gate

I recessed the gate from the sidewalk about two and a half feet by offsetting the 8 foot trellis posts about 30 degrees from the sidewalk pickets on both sides of the walkway. I also created an overheard trellis of 2 x 6 redwood notched into the front and back sides of the 4 x 4’s above the gate and then nailed 2 x 2’s at a 90 degree to the 2 x 6’s to create a simple pergola, even though at the time I had never heard the word pergola – or couldn’t even spell it.

It was a cool entry and a nice fence. Sorry no pictures. Maybe when I learn design software, I’ll add a sketch here later.

How to Build A Fence - Start with the design.

By: Gwyer Maitland

Getting started building a fence is the same every time because how you build a fence always starts with what it's going to look like and where you're going to put it.

Things you need to think about:

Design and dimensions

So, designing the fence is the first step.

It's important because you don't want an ugly or improperly proportioned finished product.

The design is a critical part of matching the look of the fence to any existing structures. It actually acts like a good trim deal on a window or nice woodwork in a living room, only it's trim for the front yard and the front of the house.

In addition, the design also determines the cost - or visa versa.

Part of the design function is creating a description and list of materials which you can take to your local building supply or lumber yard for estimates.

While I have often built fences without a formal design in the past, the more we are involved in renovation and construction projects, the more I rely on competent designers to eliminate a lot of headaches and save me time.

The design:

tells you how to build a fence and
shows you what it will look like
lets your carpenter know what you want (if you aren't building it yourself)
gives you more ideas by seeing it

Dimensions and positioning:

By thinking the project through ahead of time you get a clear idea of the dimensions of the length, width, height, size of the gate openings, and the proximity to existing structures.

One of the best reasons I have found for a formal design is it shows you things you might not have thought about. If you aren’t experienced in how to build a fence, or don’t build fences on a regular basis, it’s easy to overlook or forget stuff.

After you know how to build a fence and have done it multiple times, it’s often just a matter of figuring out your materials and building it.

But until that time, I recommend either hiring a designer to draw elevations or sketch them yourself.

How to build a fence – start with the design

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How To Build A Fence Correctly

by Gwyer Maitland

Comments On the Cedar Fence Below:

To improve structural integrity of

the cedar fence, I would suggest more lateral support of the 2 x 4 rails because of the direction of the grain and to prevent buckling as the wood dries and shrinks.

This can be accomplished by adding an additional horizontal 2x4 at a 90 degree to the existing top rail underneath it (like the top picture above), and then securing the top rail to the new support rail underneath it.

A trick for this installation is to clamp the upper rail to the lower one as you secure it and move the clamps section by section. Rather than screwing through the top of the upper rail, I would suggest drilling countersink holes from the bottom and screw into the top rails from the bottom with the clamps in place. This eliminates a chance for water penetration when it builds up on the top rail.

The additional horizontal rail also provides additional nailing surface for the vertical boards on the face of the fence.

Taller cedar posts would also provide more support for the vertical cedar boards and minimize warping and buckling with shrinkage.

Carpentergirl wrote this fun blog about how to build a fence. There are some good ideas. I think the picture gives you a good visual idea of the construction. As a model for fence construction, there are a lot of good points - particularly including her suggestions and descriptions.

In her clever and informative blog carpentergirl writes:
"Let us go over the steps to making a cheap and quick fence."

Read more:
How to build a fence...

Good looking fence carpentergirl...