7 DIY Fence Installation Mistakes to Avoid

January 19, 2015 ~ Posted By Kathy Crum


One of the greatest achievements for any homeowner is to make their exterior property their own.  Whether it’s through a gorgeous and elegant garden, landscape architecture or creating a living space that extends the ability to entertain, one of the privileges of homeownership is creating that perfect space we call home.  Fencing is often part of creating a home and for the DIY enthusiast, building his or her own fence is one of the greatest projects to undertake.  However, there are many common mistakes homeowners make when taking on a fence project that affects how the fence will look when you’re finished. 

Below are some of the common fence installation mistakes homeowners make when building their fences and what you can do to avoid them.

Lack of Planning

Many of the major fence installation mistakes homeowners make revolve around the lack of planning.  Before you buy fencing materials and start digging, you need to take some time and truly plan your fence project.

measuring fence posts

Not Knowing Your Property

One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make when installing a fence is to assume what’s considered their property.  Make sure you have a plat, which clearly indicates the divisions of a land area, or a set of blueprints so that you can avoid putting up a fence either on your neighbor’s property or on public land.  This can lead to not only exorbitant costs to move the fence, but also high fines and legal fees.  And at the end of the day, it’s also simply embarrassing when you have to admit to such a costly mistake.  If you’re not sure where your property ends, have a survey done to identify your property lines.

Always measure twice!  Even if you’re not taking your fence to the edge of your property, you still want to measure it more than once to make sure you have accounted for exactly how much fence you will need.  The last thing you want to happen once you begin installation is realize you don’t have enough materials to complete your fence or that you’ve ordered too much materials that you often cannot return when you have a surplus.

Not Checking Your Local Zoning Laws

Not all fences are allowed in all areas.   You need to make sure that you are within any height limitations and also any boundary requirements. Some locations allow for fencing on a property line, others may require an offset. In addition to verifying your local zoning laws, also check with your local Homeowner’s Association (HOA) as they may offer strict guidelines on the types of fences (and in some cases, colors) you can build. If you’re building a pool fence, you also need to ensure that your fence adheres to local and/or state safety codes.

Forgetting to Call Before You Dig

Always call Miss Utility before you dig!  Skipping this step is the worst thing you can do.  Most fence posts need to have one third of their height underground; gate posts on aluminum fences should be a minimum of 30 inches deep. You don’t want to run the risk of hitting pipes or wires underground, so always make this one important call—cannot stress it enough!

Not Measuring Your Sections or Accounting for Post Holes

One of the important final steps before installing your fence is to know the sizes of the sections you’ll need and account for any inconsistencies up front.  For example, if you are installing a paddock fence that comes in 8 foot sections and your property line requires you to install a 3 foot section, you’ll need to modify your section before you install it.  You also need to know where to set your post holes. This is why measuring your fence line is so important.  A failure to account for varying fence sections or post holes creates a lot of headaches when you have to redo your work once you get to installation.  Knowing where the posts will go and the number of custom cuts on a fence section will save you lots of time and money.

Improper Post Setting Techniques

Fence posts play a major role in creating a fence that’s stable and secure.  Your posts need to withstand the pressure from the elements, such as snow and wind, and they need to securely connect your fence panels or rails to hold up the materials.   Posts not set deep enough in the ground or not anchored by the proper material may collapse. Your posts should be at least two feet in the ground and anchored by a layer of gravel and concrete that is flush with the ground. You can choose to go deeper and use more gravel and concrete, but if you do not do the minimum then you may find yourself reinstalling your fence after the first significant gust of wind or major snowfall.  Additionally, when installing your posts, give them time to properly set before hanging your fence panels or rails on them. If the posts start to lean when you install fence panels, your end product will not only look bad, it could also fall apart before you’re done with your project!

Not Accounting for the Grade

Unless you live in the Midwest, it’s rare to have a yard that doesn’t have some sort of slope to it.  Sometimes they are slight enough to where you can barely see an incline or decline on your property.  However, you will surely find out the consequences of not accounting for the grade on your property when you go to install a fence! Make sure that you adjust your panels to compensate for any incline to ensure your fence is neat, uniform and stable.  Adapting fences for inclines requires surveying tools and advanced carpentry skills, which many homeowners do not have.  This actually goes back to proper planning, but it’s also an installation issue when your fence requires a special type of fence panel in order for it to adhere to your property.  The last thing you want is a gaping hole at the bottom of your fence—especially if it’s meant to keep small children and pets from wandering off!

man fixing fence

Not Setting the Gates Correctly

Most homeowners require a way to get in and out of the property while outdoors, which means installing a gate to create access.  Make sure you properly measure the area for your gate and account for any hardware deductions.  You also need to make sure you install sturdy hinge posts to hang the gate from.  You also need to check the ground below the gate; if it isn’t level, make sure the far end of the gate is high enough off the ground to allow movement.

Ready to Try Your Own DIY Fence Installation Effort?

Are you ready to build your very own fence? Or, would you rather sit back and let the professionals handle the job? Have a specific question about what you can and cannot do in terms of fence installation? Contact us today and one of our expert fence consultants can help you design and build a fence that meets your needs and stays within your budget!

Photo Credit: all images in this article are used under license from Thinkstock.

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