A Fence Post – Part 1

The one major project that we tackled upon buying our house was to build a fence. The house itself was done, but there was no fence, which is a problem for Reagan (she is usually very good about staying near the house, but one time before we had the fence up, she disappeared when we let her out for a minute. We were on our way out to go to dog obedience school, no joke. The little shit must have sensed it. We got a couple of phone calls and found her making friends at the dry cleaners a couple blocks down the road). So even though we closed on the house and moved in mid-fall, we knew going in that this project was non-negotiable. Jesse used to have a little business where he and a friend put up vinyl fences, which it turns out is almost nothing like putting up a wooden fence. He is quite handy though, and we’re not afraid to dig in and figure out a solution. We also knew that paying for professional labor would cost us an arm and a leg, and we weren’t about to watch someone else put up our white brown picket fence, only to nit-pick at how we could have done it better (“they didn’t install the damn screws straight!”). So here’s how we went about it.

Part 1: Planning a cedar fence

1. Notify neighbors, verify property lines and footprint to enclose

We live on a corner lot, that has a lot of weird angles. Our house sits diagonally to the street, and our yard is actually a side/front yard. Figuring out a layout was our first priority. We spoke with the neighbors to let them know that we planned to put up a fence, avoid any surprises and be sure we were starting out on a good foot. When we talked about property lines, one of the neighbors pulled out an old drawing that showed something completely different than what we had assumed. In order to be safe, we decided to get the property surveyed to determine lot lines. Our neighbor generously offered to split the cost with us. I happen to have some connections in the construction industry, and managed to get a surveyor out for free as a favor. They came out and worked their magic machines to locate the property corners, and marked them out for us. Luckily, our assumption was closer to reality than what the neighbor’s drawing had shown. He did not have an issue with this, so we now had a rough idea of where the fence footprint would sit. Nice!

2. Check Zoning/Planning requirements, complete paperwork if required and modify your plan to meet regulations

The next step was to look into any City code requirements. We were not sure if we needed to pull a permit, and what other rules might exist. Requirements vary by municipality, so it’s best to double check with the authorities before you go DIYing major projects on your property. After some googling, I put a call in to the City Planning and Development office to ask some questions. They were friendly, and sent me some information on the Unified Development Code, specific to my fencing questions. The major points were:

  • A building permit is not required for a fence that is a maximum of 6′ high. Cool. No permit, no inspection.
  • On a corner lot, your fence can not obstruct the sight distance triangle of 35′ in each direction from the imaginary intersection of the two curbs if they extended out. Here’s a secret: we cheated this rule a bit. We did angle the fence along the corner though which worked out well with our lot, and makes it look like we are following the sight triangle rule.

sight distance triangle

  • No fence shall be constructed within 2′ of any public sidewalk. We were close on this one. We may only have about 1 1/2′ along a couple edges, but again, we made an effort. We spent some time riding bikes around the neighborhood, checking out other peoples’ fences to get ideas (research!). In doing so, we saw several fences that run right smack along the sidewalk, with no setback. So we figured we were following rules more than some and wouldn’t draw attention to ourselves.
  • On the side street of a corner lot, a fence cannot be constructed within 10′ of the street. No problem. Our property line actually restricted us more than the 10′ rule, but we cheated that a little and just went with 10′. So we built our yard out into the City easement a couple feet.  Oops.
  • Fences in front of the front plane of a house cannot be higher than 4′. I believe we followed this one, although it was left up for interpretation since we are angled on the corner weird, so I’m not sure how far out to the side of the house this rule actually applies. We may have used our unique layout as an excuse to do what we want. What we did was built a 6′ privacy fence around the back of the yard, and then transitioned down to a 3 1/2′ picket that wraps around the front of the house. Close enough.

3. Determine a materials list, take measurements to estimate quantities needed

So once we had an understanding of what the rules are, we knew how far we could comfortably bend them. Now that I’m reading this, it appears that we bent most of them (oooh, we bad). Anyway, we were set to figure our materials and cost estimate. The six major materials we needed were:

  • Concrete (Quikrete, comes in 40 lb bags)
  • Posts: Pressure-treated Pine in 4″x4″x8′ (PT Pine, while it can shrink and warp, should not decay in the ground as quickly as cedar would. Cedar posts are also more expensive.)
  • Rails: Pressure-treated Pine in 2″x4″x16′ (why did we go with PT over cedar for the rails? I think mainly because we went with PT posts, and for cost. Was this the right decision? I don’t know. I will say the fence has warped some in two years, but that’s character, right?)
  • Cedar planks in 6′ high privacy size/width (we found that these come in 5/8″x5.5″, 5/8″x6″, or 1″x6″, options, depending on where you get them)
  • Cedar planks in 4′ high picket size/width (5/8″x4″ or 5/8″x3.5″, also available with a flat or dog-eared top)
  • Wood screws (available in different colors to match wood/stain colors, we went with 3″ length for attaching rails to posts, and 1 5/8″ length for planks to rails.)

Fence materials

4. Price Check! Also consider options for how you will assemble your fence (materials, sizes, spacing, etc)

We took some rough measurements and figured we would have about 105 lineal feet of 6′ fence, and 65′ of 3 1/2′ picket fence. We then had to decide on sizes and spacing. I would definitely recommend checking prices at multiple lumber stores; we ended up getting our cedar planks from two different places to get the best price. We called Home Depot, Lowes, and 3 different local stores. The 6′ planks were around $2.15 each most places, but we found them for $1.99 at one of the local yards. This added up to about $30 in savings in our case (we estimated we would need about 185 individual planks for the privacy section). How did we figure this, you ask? With a couple of sketches and a spreadsheet (yay, google docs)! We knew we wanted to leave a little space between planks, even in the privacy fence. We did calculations for both 1/2″ spacing and 3/4″ spacing. We figured we would space the posts 8′ apart, since the rails come in 16′ lengths and this would avoid cuts and waste. Using the 16′ rail length also allows you to tie multiple posts together if you alternate where your rails butt up against each other. Like so:

Fence rail diagram

5. Estimate your total costs

So from there, we calculated # of planks and cost of planks in an 8′ section for a couple of different scenarios (the 5.5″ wide planks vs 6″ wide planks, spaced at 1/2″ apart or 3/4″ apart). Our total material cost for 6′ high planks ranged between $365 and $425. Ultimately, we went with the $1.99 planks which came in the 5/8″x6″ size, and spaced them 3/4″ apart, for the cheapest option. We also added cost and quantity of posts and rails to our spreadsheet (1 post per 8′ section and 3 rails – top, mid, and bottom – per 16′ section). We did similar calculations for the 3 1/2′ high picket fence, choosing the dog-eared pickets which were $0.97 each and 5/8″x4″, spacing them 1.5″ apart. Here are our final calculations:

Cedar planks cost/ea # planks per 8 ft Plank cost per 8′ # of 8′ sections total # of planks Cedar plank cost PT Posts 4x4x8 cost/ea # of posts Post cost PT rails 2x4x16′ cost/ea # of rails rail cost quikrete cost/ea Bags of 40 lb quikrete quikrete cost Total fence cost
Privacy- 5/8″x6″x6′ with 3/4″ (105′) $1.99 14 $27.86 13.13 183.75 $365.66 $6.97 17 $118.49 $10.00 19 $190 $2.83 25.5 $72.16 $746.32
Picket- 5/8″x3.5″x4′ with 1.5″ (65′) $0.97 19 $18.43 8.13 154.38 $149.74 $6.97 10 $69.7 $10.00 12 $120 $2.83 15 $42.45 $381.89
$1,128.21

Now, keep in mind this was our base estimate, which does not account for taxes, waste, tools, screws, etc. For a project dealing with lumber, I would recommend figuring about a 5% waste factor, for boards that are warped, cracked, discolored, or get cut wrong as you’re building. We ended up spending a couple hundred dollars on tools (shovel, hoses, post hole diggers, 100′ tape measure, level, string line, etc.). It’s a good idea to factor in some money for tools, especially if you’re a new homeowner and don’t have a large supply of tools on hand. The good news is, if you’re a DIYer, you are literally building your toolset for future projects. So our actual costs looked something like this:

Lumber & Quikrete: $1,255

Tools: $150

Wood Screws: $265

TOTAL: $1,670

6. Determine how you will pay for your project, taking advantage of rewards or benefits if possible!

Another thing that we did prior to making any trips to the store was to open a rewards credit card. I would highly recommend doing this if you are buying a home, or planning any large home projects. I could probably write an entire post on this topic (and will likely do so), because we really don’t utilize credit the way it is intended, and I don’t recommend opening cards and buying shit all willy-nilly. You have to be smart about it. BUT, using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card that we opened when we bought the house on this fence project helped us spend enough in a couple of months to earn the opening bonus of 40,000 points, worth about $500 toward flights or hotels. We ended up earning enough points in about a year and a half to cover both of our round trip flights to St. Lucia for our honeymoon. Pretty sweet!

So we had a fairly solid plan and materials list, as well as an idea of what the fence was going to cost us. Next up: Building the fence!

 

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