Installing a Fence – Part II, Hanging Panels & Gluing Post Tops

7 09 2009

When part II of installing a fence happens the day after part I, be prepared for some sore muscles.  My shoulders are especially tight, so there were a couple of times I wasn’t sure I’d be able to lift the fence panels!  But with my creepy neighbor watching us intently during the entire project yesterday and coming over to chat with us at least once, I was definitely looking forward to sealing up the fence today!

We started by checking the posts to make sure the concrete had set enough to install the panels.  It was nice and strong, so we were ready to get started.  This was when we learned that we hadn’t been as exact with installing the posts yesterday as we would have liked – two of the panels would be too short to hang between the posts.  But before I get to how we solved that issue, I’ll start with how we installed the panel in the section that fit just right.  First, we decided how high the panel should be installed.  Since it was shorter than my neighbors’ fence, if we brought it in line with hers, it would leave a lot of space along the bottom for my puppy to stick his nose through.  So we brought it a couple of inches down, and marked where the first bracket would go with a marker.

When I’d first seen the brackets, I couldn’t figure out how they were used to hold the fence, since they were much narrower than the fence posts.  But with holes for screws on three sides, I soon learned that you line up the flat back of the bracket against the post, with the fully open side to the top (to slot the fence panel in) and the side with just a smaller opening to the bottom to act as a shelf for the fence panel.

The brackets get screwed to the posts first

The brackets get screwed to the posts first

Two brackets are used on each side, one at the top and one at the bottom.  We started with the top brackets, screwing in the first one to one post and then slotting in the panel to level it and determine where the second bracket would sit.  After marking that one, we moved the panel aside to screw the second bracket in.  Then, the panel was set back in the two top brackets to determine where the two bottom brackets would go.  When you slot the panel into the top two brackets, you might be tempted to screw them to the panel – but don’t jump the gun! You’ve still got to lift the panel one more time – after screwing the bottom two brackets in, we lifted the panel and slotted it into the four brackets.  The way the bottom of the panel was designed, we had to squeeze the bottom of the panel to get it to sit properly in the brackets, so this really was a three person job.

Once the panel was slotted in correctly, we screwed the brackets to the panel itself on both side of the fence.  That finished off the first panel!

Once the panel is installed, screw the bracket to the panel

Once the panel is installed, screw the bracket to the panel

Panel 1 is up!

Panel 1 is up!

For the second two panels, we had at least an 1 1/2 inches of extra space in each section.  So my dad came up with the solution of cutting pieces of wood, screwing them to the posts, and then screwing the brackets to these and repeating the above process.  Getting the fence put up was our main priority today, so next year, we’ll unscrew the panels and paint the wood white to blend in with the fence.  This solution worked great, and added just enough bulk to secure the posts tightly.

Looks good - keeps the fence posts in tightly!

Looks good - keeps the fence posts in tightly!

Finally, all of the brackets were installed and the panels secured and as I finished the side of the fence by my neighbors’ yard, he said “Goodbye” – because, of course, he’d come out just after we started and sat on his deck staring at us the whole time.  My dad put it best – it’s very “off-putting!”

But the work wasn’t quite finished – I still had to attach the fence post tops to the posts – since they’re so light, they could come off easily in a strong wind (something we on the coast know a little bit about!) and as I said yesterday, I don’t need any projectiles in my yard!  This was the easy part (and since it was easy, I was able to take a few more pictures, whereas with the first part of the day, I was busy working – hard to take a picture when you’re holding up a fence panel!).  So first, I dry-fitted the post tops to make sure they would fit snugly on the top of the posts and then I cleaned both the top of the post and the inside of the post top.

I cleaned the inside of the post top with a damp paper towel before applying the glue

I cleaned the inside of the post top with a damp paper towel before applying the glue

After wiping off any excess water, I wiped the glue along both the inside of the post top and the top of the post.

This is a case of do as I say, not as I do - it's good to spread the glue around, but not glop it onto the post!

This is a case of do as I say, not as I do - it's good to spread the glue around, but not glop it onto the post!

Then, I put the post top onto the post and held it tightly for 10 seconds.

Post tops are glued!

Post tops are glued!

Once the top was securely glued, I wiped up the excess glue so that it looks neater – I used a wet paper towel for this, because it cleaned up a little bit better than a dry one.  Finally, my fence was complete!

Ah, how lovely.

Ah, how lovely.

After creating a little barrier between my fence and my neighbors’ fence (only attached to my fence), I was able to let my puppy out into the yard without his extended lead for the first time ever! He was definitely a little concerned that something was wrong because I “forgot” to secure him, but I think he’ll really like being able to spend more time exploring the yard!

But the saga with my creepy neighbor is far from over – while someday I hope to learn how best to handle a difficult neighbor, I haven’t figured it out yet.  About an hour after we’d finished the project, my neighbor walked around the block and rang my doorbell, so that he could show me a survey of the property he’d had done 3 years ago, which says that my neighbors’ fence and my new fence both sit a couple of feet onto his property.  According to my next door neighbor (the owner of the other offending fence) who came outside as we were talking, there was some confusion when the units were built in the 80’s, and so the neighbors actually each share a buffer of about 3 feet at the end of their properties.  She said that every survey you get will be different because it depends on how it’s read, so both of our fences are legal.  But the creepy neighbor said he had just come by to tell me that he and his wife “didn’t mind” the fence, and they thought we’d done a good job.  I was very polite, but I did make sure to say that if we’d known at the beginning of the project (you know, when he was sitting on his deck, staring at us) or even once we’d started to dig the holes (when he came over to talk to us about the project) that the fence was too far back, we would have moved it further in.  But I think he preferred to wait until the entire project was done, and my parents had left, to come over and tell me that it’s “okay” with him.  So although I’d hoped that the fence would end my troubles, it seems it’s only made my neighbor’s work of tormenting me more challenging.  But at least I don’t have to see him much anymore, thanks to my fence, and maybe I can spend more time enjoying my yard now!

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Installing a Fence – Part I, Digging Post Holes and Cementing Posts

6 09 2009

Today was one of the best days I’ve had as a homeowner.

Why, you might ask? Because today was the day we started installing my fence, an early birthday/Christmas gift from my parents.  You just can’t put a price on privacy.

To give a little background, when I first moved in, I felt lucky to have nice neighbors – neighbors who offered me help, advice and tools.  But after a while, I started to realize that because I live in a small neighborhood, everyone knows everyone else’s business and a few of the neighbors are on the nosy side.  The neighbor directly behind me is retired and a smoker, so I started to notice that he was spending hours sitting outside on his deck, just looking at my house and smoking.  Hours.  Every time I let the puppy out, he wanted to have long chats (I work from home, so although he has the time to just shoot the breeze all day, I don’t). He decided that I would be his pet project, so he started giving me unsolicited advice on everything from reminding me to check myself for ticks to what I should use to grill with. And he’d make slightly offensive comments about my ability to put together furniture, take care of my lawn, etc.  I’ve come to realize that he’s basically harmless, and is just bored, despite having a disaster of a backyard (he’s a bit of a hoarder for tools and even walks the neighborhood on trash day to root though people’s garbage and take things home to re-purpose) and a wife.  The last straw came when he started coming into my backyard to see my puppy (on an extended lead) when I wasn’t out there with him and I finally had to yell at him to get through to him that I didn’t appreciate it.  It’s gotten to the point where I feel uncomfortable even walking outside for a minute if he’s out there and I even wait to mow the lawn until I think he’s left the house.  So needless to say, I’m not enjoying my nice little backyard at all and either is my puppy, who I basically rush out and in a few times a day.  I’d always planned to finish fencing in the yard, which was fenced on 2 1/2 sides, but I thought it would be too expensive to have someone come to work on such a small job and I was worried it might be too complicated to have to install a gate at the front of the yard.

Enter my parents.

My mom, knowing how upset I was about the neighbor, was on the lookout for fencing solutions.  She recently noticed at Lowe’s that in addition to the regular 6×6 panels and posts that I could use to seal off the back of the yard, they also had shorter PVC panels that they advertised as accent pieces for the yard.  Because they’re much shorter and are staked into the ground, they would be secure enough to keep a short basset hound in the yard and short enough that I could still hop over them instead of having to install a gate.  Great solution.  I still needed to put off the project until I’d saved a little more money, but then my mom asked if I’d like an early birthday/Christmas present of fencing.  Some people might not be too excited, but what better gift could I get than privacy and peace of mind?

Since installing a fence is really a two-day project, I’ll break it into two posts.  We started the project today, heading to one of my favorite places, Lowe’s, around 8am.  But before heading out for materials, we’d already researched, discussed and planned it out.  My parents and I had separately been to Lowe’s to see the panels up close and estimate how many panels and posts would be needed.  We’d picked up a few brochures with checklists of what items we’d need and measured both openings, confirming my measurements from earlier in the week that showed we’d need to overlap the fence panels with my neighbors fence in the back and with my deck in the front.  I should mention that the back fence is entirely on my property and if you’re fencing in your own property, you’ll want to make sure to know where your property end lies.  I also chatted with the neighbor whose fence I’m overlapping to check that she’d be okay if we needed to close off my fence against hers.  Some neighbors will be very nice about this, but it can still cause issues when you go to sell the property, so it’s important to make sure that any connection to a neighbor’s fence is temporary and can be removed before you show your house.

Here's the space at the back of my yard to close up

Here's the space at the back of my yard to close up

And here's the space at the front!

And here's the space at the front!

We started at Lowe’s by looking at the different panels and making a final decision about which ones would look best and be most cost effective.  We figured that we would need three panels, four posts, four post tops, aluminum screws, brackets, stakes, something to mix the concrete in, PVC glue to attach the fence post tops, string to help with leveling the posts and five smaller panels for the front opening.  We had gotten a post-hole digger the day before at a flea market – these can run about $45, but we managed to get a brand new one for $20.  And I certainly can recommend it – it would have taken us MUCH longer to dig the holes with a small shovel.  To get our other supplies, we got help from a Lowe’s representative, who also managed to arrange for us to receive the materials this morning because they’d had a cancellation on another delivery.  Since both my parents and I drive MINIs, it makes transporting materials for big projects challenging, if not impossible!

Shortly, the materials had arrived and we were ready to get started!

Three panels, hanging out against my neighbors' fence

Three panels, hanging out against my neighbors' fence

Three of the four fence posts

Three of the four fence posts

Fence post tops, screws, string, brackets, glue for the fence posts, and the basin to mix concrete!

Fence post tops, screws, string, brackets, glue for the fence posts, and the basin to mix concrete!

Looks like small bags, but each one of these babies is 40 pounds!

Looks like small bags, but each one of these babies is 40 pounds!

This was another two-person job for me, so I had help (and direction!) from my dad.  Fortunately, because otherwise, I would still be fenceless.  Or in a very big mess.  To start, we lined up where the first fence post would go and placed a plastic stake in the ground in its place.  We tied a piece of string to this and extended it to around where the last post would go, so that we had a straight line to use to line up our fence panels and posts.

We needed a straight line for the fence

We needed a straight line for the fence

Each of the posts were eight feet long, so we had to dig post holes that would be two feet deep to accommodate them. We started at the end of the yard (so that we wouldn’t find out at the last minute that we hadn’t allotted for enough space!) and alternated digging the first hole.  We were fortunate not to run into any big rocks or roots, though the soil did become progressively more clay-like and compacted with each hole.  Using both a small spade and a larger heavy  pole tool, with a tapered end (take one guess who lent us that tool – yup, the nosy neighbor!), we were able to loosen up the soil enough to dig it out with the post hole digger.  One of the reasons I thought it was so useful that we used the post hole digger is because it created just the right size hole and made it straight, so that we had to do very little leveling when the posts were in. It made a big job so much easier!

Two feet is a deep hole, but at least it wasn't four feet!

Two feet is a deep hole, but at least it wasn't four feet!

Once the first two holes were dug (and we had used the actual panels to measure the distance between each hole), it was time to mix up some concrete.

Mixin' up the concrete

Mixin' up the concrete

I’d never worked with concrete before, so I didn’t know that there were different types, though likely if I’d thought about it long enough I would have assumed as much.  The type that we were using had a number of rocks in it, which made it thicker and will hopefully keep the posts more secure in the ground.

All mixed up!

All mixed up!

But because it was so thick, pouring it into the holes first and then trying to push the posts down as far as they needed to be in the ground wasn’t an option.  So instead, once my dad had mixed up the concrete, we put the posts into the holes and my dad checked that they were level.

The first post, prior to concrete, hanging out with the post hole digger

The first post, prior to concrete, hanging out with the post hole digger

To keep them level, I scooped in concrete on the side that needed to be better supported first, then each subsequent side.

Adding concrete to the holes

Adding concrete to the holes

We used the tapered pole tool to tamp down the concrete into the hole and make sure it was filled.  After smoothing out the top of the concrete, I wiped off the excess splatter from the posts before it dried.

All filled and smoothed!

All filled and smoothed!

Then, it was on to the next two holes to repeat the process.  Concrete needs 5-6 days to fully cure, but we should be able to install the panels tomorrow.  I asked my dad whether rain would affect the concrete’s drying time, and he said it won’t, but a hot and humid day can make it take longer – I hope those are over until next year!

Posts are ready for their panels!

Posts are ready for their panels!

Once we’d gotten these four posts in, it was time to install the shorter staked panels along the front of the yard.  We again ran a string line from the neighbors’ fence to my deck to make sure the fencing was straight, and started at the fence line with the first panel.  The panels came with brackets that could be attached to each other, so we attached the five panels to each other, and the final panel to my deck.  Eventually, I’ll have to get an L-bracket to secure it to my neighbors’ fence as well (it’s wooden).

Front fence looks good!

Front fence looks good!

Once this fence was installed, we were both wiped out and ready for a rest.  But then came the worst part of any home improvement project – the clean-up.  After the end of a project, I always want to sit back and look at my hard work, feeling satisfied.  But there’s always something to clean up!  After my dad watered down the concrete and dumping that with the stone by the side of my house, I used the basin to scoop up the dirt and put it in the corner flowerbed in my yard.  I obviously couldn’t get it all, but I raked it around to loosen up the grass a little, so hopefully a good rainstorm will clean it all up.  The rest of the clean-up was as simple as putting some things away, before tossing all my clothes into the washing machine – definitely wear clothes that you don’t mind permanently dirty-ing, because although I was lucky to wash all the concrete out of my jeans, I wasn’t so sure that I was going to manage it! And although I didn’t feel too tired out while we were working, now that I’ve sat down for a little while, I can certainly feel muscles I didn’t know I’d used stiffening up!

Part II of installing a fence will be about attaching the panels, which should be easy compared to the post hole digging and installation.