Do-It-Yourself Fence Installation in the Houston Area
If you’re like many homeowners, you take considerable pride in using your own skills whenever you can for home improvement projects. It’s an ideal way to save money and increase the value of your home. Every year, thousands of Texans build fences of all types on their own properties. Their experiences vary widely, though. Often, what seems to be a simple installation turns out to be a huge headache. Installing any fence is a time-consuming project that demands a wide range of skills. If you have those skills, and the time to do the job, though, a DIY approach can provide many benefits:
- DIY Saves Money – At least half the cost or more of most fences goes to labor costs. Building it yourself delivers big savings.
- Pride of Craftsmanship – If your skills are up to the job, you’ll take great pride in your work, once the project is completed.
- Design Flexibility – DIY fences can incorporate unique design elements that would be very costly if done by a contractor. Also, the savings can let you choose better materials and still save.
Know Everything That’s Involved
Installing a residential fence of any type is a complex project that involves many steps and phases. A wide range of skills is needed. Most fence contractors use more than one crew for each installation, with each crew specializing in specific steps in the process. Depending on the materials you choose, it’s also a time-consuming process, and requires at least some heavy labor and at least some tools that aren’t usually already in your garage. All too often, homeowners overestimate their skills and underestimate the scope of a major fence installation. That can lead to uncompleted projects. Here are all the steps involved in installing a simple fence design on a level residential lot. Think carefully about them before making your decision.
Initial Planning Is the First Step
As soon as you have an idea for your new fence, the work begins. You can start investigating available materials and thinking about how you want it to look. Measure the area to be enclosed, locate your property lines, and research local building codes and permit requirements on the city pages on this website. Then, you can draw a detailed sketch of the project to scale, showing post positions, gate locations and other information. You’ll need that sketch to apply for a building permit, and may also need other documentation, depending on the requirements for your jurisdiction. Expect to spend a couple of days in the planning phase.
Create a Complete Materials List
Working from your detailed sketch, you can begin to create a list of materials you’ll need for the complete fence. Visit your local building supply store or a fence supplies store. Once you choose material and style, you’ll need to list all the individual components. Handouts from manufacturers of specific materials, like wood, PVC vinyl, chain link and ornamental metal materials will help you with your list. Don’t forget hardware, hinges, latches, and other parts you’ll need. If you’re building a chain link fence, there are many small hardware items needed at every post. It’s easy to forget about some of these, sending you back to pick them up and delaying the job. Once your list is complete, you can order the materials and arrange to get them to your building site. Allow at least two days for these tasks.
Lay Out the Installation Site Precisely
With the property lines accurately located, drive stakes beyond the fence line on all sides and set up tight string lines that cross the centerlines of each post. Measure for and mark the position of each corner, gate and line post, using spray paint. For many fence types, precise placement of posts is essential, so take care with these measurements. Misplaced posts can cause all sorts of problems later and may delay the construction. Follow manufacturer’s directions carefully and check and double-check post locations, especially for gate posts and post placements prefabricated panels. The more time you take on this, the simpler construction will be. Allow half a day or so.
Dig Post Holes
This part of the project is where the most difficult manual labor occurs. A capable helper is almost essential for this phase. Digging postholes can be done manually, with a clamshell post hole digger or with a power post auger. Buy the manual tool or rent the power auger. In rocky soil, you may also need a heavy, chisel-ended digging rod, another tool you should buy, rather than rent. Power augers require two people to operate safely, and may not be able to cope with very rocky soil. Be careful to dig post holes exactly at the locations you marked, and to the depth required. A simple wooden depth gauge will help with accurate depth measurements. Digging post holes takes time, and is strenuous work. Allow about half an hour for each hole if you’re digging manually. Also allow for rest periods, unless you’re used to this type of work. The total time required depends on the number of posts.
Set Fence Posts Precisely and Embed Them in Concrete
Once all post holes are dug, you can begin setting posts. You’ll need a post level, an inexpensive tool available at all home supply outlets. You’ll also need a wheelbarrow or other concrete mixing container. Set corner, gate and end posts first. Put each post in its hole and adjust it to be centered, and with the top at the correct height. Check the distance between posts carefully and make adjustments as needed. You may have to dig holes slightly deeper or backfill the hole to get the height correct. Mix bagged concrete to a stiff consistency and fill the whole almost to the grade level. Tamp the concrete into the hole carefully, and use your post level to make it perfectly plumb in both directions.
For corner posts use scrap lumber to make angle braces to keep the post vertical. Keep checking with the level until the concrete has set. Install all corner and end posts, and then allow the concrete to set overnight before continuing. The next day, run tight string lines between the tops of end posts to establish post heights for the remaining posts. Then, continuing installing posts and embedding them in concrete, checking each post for plumb and proper distance from adjacent posts. Adjust post height to the tight string, and adjust as needed. With a stiff concrete mix, you may be able to set each post without bracing, but check each post with the level several times before the concrete sets. Once all posts are installed and double-checked, allow at least three days before continuing the installation.
Complete the Installation
Once the concrete for all posts is fully set, you can begin finishing your project. For wood fences, install rails and vertical boards. Use string lines to keep everything even as you go. Use only galvanized or stainless steel nails or screws, to prevent rust stains. For PVC Vinyl and ornamental metal fences, follow manufacturer’s installation instructions carefully. Chain link fences will require stretching during installation. You’ll need a stretcher bar and a come-along, which you can rent, along with wrenches and pliers for the hardware. A capable helper is essential for this job. Several pieces of hardware must be installed on each post before adding the chain link fabric. Check for proper hardware orientation as you go to prevent delays, and tie off the fabric to rails, after stretching, with aluminum ties, as recommended by the manufacturer. Finally, install gates according to the instructions, along with post caps, latches and other accessories. The time needed for this final assembly phase will vary, depending on the fence type and length.
Is a DIY Fence Project the Right Choice for You?
Once all the steps of fence installation are completed, the DIY fence builder can justifiably look at the complete project and take enormous pride in a job well done. If you have the necessary skills and adequate time to do the job, there’s no reason you shouldn’t install your own property enclosure and enjoy that pride and the money you’ve saved. However, if you read the steps listed above and feel uncertain about doing this job, DIY fence-building is probably not for you. Hiring a fence company in the Houston area to handle the job might cost more, but your own time is also valuable. You’ll also be assured of a quality installation done in far less time than it would take to do it yourself. That’s why most homeowners in the Houston Metro area hand this complex job over to professional installers. They take the same pride in their beautiful new fence, but with far less stress and arduous work. The choice is yours.