So you have decided to replace your fence. This article is designed for you, the buyer and most likely the property owner. This is a guide on thee the best way to plan for your fence purchase and installation and to provide a guide of the options available to you. Whether you plan to install the fence yourself or hire in a professional fence installer, the goals of reading through this is to make you aware of all of the options available, what factors to consider before making a decision, and to help you plan what can be both an expensive and rewarding long term investment in your property. It is a large expense for most homeowners and directly influences your property security and safety so the more information you can have in advance, the better equipped you will be.
There will be some debate on some of the items I mention however I am speaking form my own experience and research on this subject which is extensive. I do make reference to suppliers I have worked with, an provide links to external resources which you may find useful, however one thing to keep in mind is every installation is different and there are many factors to consider when making your decisions.
There are numerous options for planning your fence, whether the posts are timber or concrete, whether you want panels or featheredge fencing, how it will be secured into the ground, if you should have gravel boards and what kind, how should all of this be assembled and how long will it last.
Part 1 Neighbors & Local Councils
Welcome to the Consumers Guide to Fence Planning. In this section we will be looking at the importance of Neighbors and Local Councils in the planning stages.
So you would like a new fence, first things first, check your property deed to determine which fence is your responsibility. It may be the fence you wish to replace is actually your neighbors fence. If this is the case, you can ask them if they would like to replace it, and they can basically respond in almost any way they like. You can not force them to replace their fence, so ask nicely and keep it polite as you may be coming back to them several times so no point starting this discussion on the wrong foot.
If it is your boundary as noted in your property deed, I would still recommend that one of the first things you should do is discuss with your neighbors your plans to replace the existing fence and/or install a new one. This may seem like an insignificant step and one which is not required, however the best laid plans can go badly if they are not aware of this major change which is about to occur along the property line you both share.
Property boundaries are a source of many issues and disputes between neighbors. It may be that part of the reason you are installing this fence is to reestablish your property boundary, or to deter some of the influence your neighbors have on your life, or their weeds and garden have on your life, or their cars, or their pets. It may be for your own pets and young children, or for security reasons, or noise, or most often just for additional privacy.
Issues will arise if builders arrive to clear all objects and growth from the fence line, tromping all over the property line, lifting heavy materials through, using loud power tools like chainsaws, angle grinders, reciprocating saws, heavy concrete breakers, and hammer drills all to the surprise of your neighbor.
Your local council also has a say on this as well, specifically regarding the height of your fence. Almost all councils have a section on their website which states what the height of your fence can be in both your front yard and your backyard. Generally the rule is 2 meters maximum in the back yard and is often shorter than this in the front garden depending on what your property connects to (footpaths, roads) and where it connects. If you do want a taller fence than what is permitted, you can apply for Planning Permission.
Below are links to online resources which may assist for your Fence regarding Planning Permission and Permitted Development, however it would be a good idea to check with you local council before ordering anything:
Northern Ireland https://www.planningni.gov.uk/index/…/advice_home_fences.htm
Part 2 Fence Guide Measuring & Clearing your Fence Line
Measuring and clearing your fence line may seem like a small task, and in some cases it is, however it all depends what exactly is along that path.
Measuring can be done quite simply with Surveyors Tape. These are generally quite long rolls that will provide an accurate measurement from point A to B. It is much better than using a small tape measure roll, although this will also give you a rough indication of how long the area is. The Surveyors Tape, once attached at one end to a post or small stick or peg in the ground (point A) and once pulled open to the other end of where your fence will be (Point B) will show you 2 things:
- The length of your fence.
- The obstacles which are in the way of your fence.
The length of your fence is the number stated on the Surveyors Tape at Point B. I am writing this with a smile on my face as I am certain you figured this out. Make a note of the length and decide right then and there if you will be doing this project in Imperial or Metric Units.
The obstacles which are in the way are both above and below ground and may also be above your fence line suspended in the air. If you do currently have a fence installed and are replacing it, don’t assume it is straight or level or follows your property line. Often fences are installed quickly and installed in a way as to avoid all obstacles along their path resulting in a fence which does not run along your actual property line. The trick here is knowing which obstacles I am referring to:
- Trees, both on the fence line and nearby with extensive ranches and root systems
- Patio Paving
- Older Fencing materials, such as Concrete Repair Spurs
- Cables and Telephone Wires
- Underground Piping
- Gas Lines
- Electrical Cables
- Water Supply Pipes
Trees which run along your fence line, or beside it, may have extensive root systems which will impact the fence posts. You often see old fences leaning over looking like they have been hit by a car, however over time an extensive tree root system can gradually shift a fence post out of level.
Often Patios and Decking come right up the the fence, in some cases the mortar is poured right against the existing fence and this may be on your neighbors side. If you find this sort of thing, this is when it came in handy that you have such a good relationship with them and were so polite to them when discussing your fence… You were nice and polite to them weren’t you as you are about to ask them if your installer can cut some of that mortar away and possibly cut into some of their patio stones if they are overhanging your property line.
Overhanging branches may also be a factor, especially if you are installing a Panel Fence (versus Featheredge Board) as the Panels will be slotted in from the top down. This means if your fence is 2 meters high, the clearance above your fence line must be an additional 2 meters to raise the Fence Panel above the Slotted Posts to slide into it’s new home, or 4 meters in total from the ground.
Often to avoid excavating old fence posts and their concrete, or tree root systems, new fence posts are installed at either different intervals along the fence line to avoid having to remove the older posts and all of their concrete, or adjacent to the older posts resulting in either a reduction or increase in your property size. I have worked on numerous properties where while excavating for a few fence installation, 2 older fence post lines remains where still in existence, out of sight, below the surface.
Other items to consider, most of which would be underground, are services such as Gas Lines, Electrical Cables, Waste Drains, and Water Supply Pipes. You will probably not know if you hit an electrical mains cable as you will most likely be dead. Water Supply pipes will spray water into your face, and waste pipes will give off a distinct odour you may recognise if you have ever changed a diaper… Especially you are working in your front yard or alongside your house there is high chance of buried pipework and cabling, however I almost always find pipe work and drains running behind houses as well. Just because you can not initially see the manhole does not mean it is not there, they are often covered.
I am not going to provide advice on how to avoid Electrical Cables or Gas Mains as this would be hugely irresponsible and dangerous. To start there is a wonderful website where you can request this information:
Also if you are ever in doubt on Gas or Electrical installations do not attempt to do anything yourself, please use the following as starting points in identifying a qualified professional near you:
Gas Safe Register https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/
Now provided everything is crystal clear, remove the old fence and weeds and shrubs and trees along the line of your new fence. I have found this requires a combination of a Pry Bar, Club Hammers, Chisels, a Chain Saw (for removing trees & tree branches) Reciprocating Saw (for cutting the old fence into sections or for cutting through stubborn old Nails and Screws, or both), an Angle Grinder (for cutting away old Concrete Posts), a Concrete Breaker (for removing old concrete), a Shovel (I prefer the long all steel Fencing Grafters), a Radio and a Kettle.
These old fence sections will be filled with hidden nails and screws and sharp pieces of timber and concrete, which in my experience at least, are desperately trying to hurt you. If you are lucky there will not be any Rose bushes or Holly. You will know why I say this if you do have Holly or Rose bushes.
Some of these tools are very dangerous if you do not know how to use them, do not take it lightly that all will be fine and its easy as that is a sure fire way to reduce your TNOF (Total Number of Fingers) or worse. Chainsaws, Angle Grinders and Concrete Breakers will cut through almost anything they come into contact with, and they don’t generally notice if you have slipped or lost your grip slightly, they also spray materials and dust around so double check you are using the correct type of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including, but not limited to, Protective Work Boots, Gloves with the appropriate Cut Rating, Safety Glasses, Ear Defenders, Dust Masks and Filters. Note PPE have differing British Standards compliance.
There is more information on PPE here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/ppe.htm
Part 3 Fence Waste Removal
Waste is an inevitable part of any Fence project. The waste you will have at the end of the installation will be made up of the following:
- Old Fence and Post Timber
- Earth an old broken up concrete from post holes
- Old Concrete Posts
- Excavated Materials from fence line along ground (Earth, Gravel)
- Tree Branches and Roots
- Waste from installation Materials (concrete and aggregate bags primarily)
There are several options to package up this waste.
- Large Collection Bags
- Rubble Sacks
- Flexi-tub Buckets
- Recycling Containers (for weeds only)
A Skip or Large Collection Bag are the easiest to manage as all waste can be put into one container and this is then collected by a Commercial Waste Collection Business. You will need space near the curb for the Skip or Large Collection Bag. Getting the Materials into these containers/bags is straightforward for the light branches and weeds, however once you get to the piles of rubble and earth and old concrete posts, they will get very heavy, especially when wet. You may need to build a ramp to get your wheelbarrow up to the skip height. If you go down this route you want to build your ramp properly, so the wheelbarrow does not fall off injuring you or damaging your driveway. You may also want to take care both yourself and the wheelbarrow do not wind up in the skip as well.
Rubble Sacks and Buckets are a good way to package up the material, however it does still need to be moved. That wheelbarrow will come in handy again.
Most councils will charge you a small annual fee for an additional recycling container which is specifically for garden waste. This does not include earth or builders rubble, however it is a good way to get rid of extensive weeds that may have grown along your fence line or on your old fence itself. It is a limited size and generally limited collection dates, however at least in my local area the annual fee is around £75.00 and I also use it for my grass clippings when I mow the lawn.
Old Timber fences can be broken up/cut up into smaller manageable sizes.
Removing the Waste from your property:
- These are the easiest to remove as you call your local Skip supplier and they will arrange a collection date with you.
Large Collection Bags
- Also very straightforward as you call your Collection Bag supplier and they will arrange a collection date with you.
- Currently I am using https://www.hippowaste.co.uk/ for all of my Rubbish collections. They allow me to book collections online which makes it much easier to manage with online receipts and emailed confirmations.
Rubble Sacks and Buckets
- Your own vehicle – Load up as much as you can and take it to your local recycling center. This is generally free of charge, however you do need to keep your materials separated appropriately as per your recycling centers waste containers (wood, hardcore, garden waste, and non-recyclables are the 4 main ones you will be using). Note you run a very high risk of damaging your vehicle as all those 6 foot long timber boards with nails are loaded/unloaded. Protect your vehicle as much as possible with plastic sheets.
- Someone else’s vehicle – Rent a large commercial vehicle and move everything that way. I don’t generally recommend this the cost is similar to a Skip or Large Collection Bag and also requires your time, renting, loading, unloading.
Note if you do remove waste regularly as part of your business you should look at getting a Waste Carriers License https://www.gov.uk/waste-carrier-or-broker-registration
Part 4 Timber Fence Posts or Concrete Fence Posts?
The Fence Posts bear the weight of holding the fence in position, against British winds, and bears the weight applied by trees, roots, and growth which attempts to press and push the fence out of its installed position. Heavy objects are often left leaning against fences, and not always on your side of the property where you can easily move them.
Part 4 Should you use Timber Posts or Concrete Posts?
Timber deteriorates due to its inability to fully dry, due to the moisture that comes from the ground. The UK has very high humidity. The question is, how long can it hold out?
Hardwood timber posts, such as Oak, have a much higher resilience to moisture.
Softwood timbers are more prone to moisture penetration. New methods of treating timber to a depth of 6mm (the treatment penetrates the wood to 6mm) greatly extends the lifespan of timber. There are several ways to do this, incising is only one of them. Incising techniques vary, and currently there is some debate on whether the techniques used by Timber Treatment companies works as well for Douglas Fir and Larch as it has proven to do for Spruce and Pine.
While the experts throw pine cones at eachother, what you, the consumer, are looking for your Timber Posts is Use Class 4 Spruce or Pine, or if you can afford it, Oak (or any hardwood is better than softwood).
These posts generally come in 100mmx100mm or 75mm x 75mm. I try to only use 100mm x 100mm as they are simply more sturdy. You also want to ensure they are not twisted as you will have gaps in your fence if you are installing twisted posts. A twisted post essentially looks slightly like a spiral. Find a level floor (test it with a long 6 foot level) and then check the post on all 4 sides to ensure it is flush on all sides with the level surface. If gaps appear between the wood and the level surface at any point, put that post back and choose another one.
Use Classes for Timber
Use Classes for Timber are designed to advise what timber treated wood is suitable for the installation. There are 5 classes going from Use Class 1 with no preservative treatment for interior dry environments to Use Class 5 with the strongest available preservative treatments for use in marine environments such as Harbour Piers in salt water. There is additional information in detailing which Use Class each timber installation should be from the Wood Preservation Association (WPA). Note this is to give you an idea of the life span of the timber. https://www.wood-protection.org/about-wood/technology/#landscaping
If you want the specific British Standards documentation you will have to purchase it. They can be found here under BS 8417:2011+A1:2014 Preservation of wood. Code of practice and also here BS EN 335-1:2006 Durabiltity of wood and wood-based products. Definitions of use classes. General however, that is some very expensive, heavy, boring reading. The interpretations from the WPA should be more than enough advice needed for us mere mortals.
Concrete Posts are much more straightforward. Almost all posts are made by Supreme Concrete right here in the UK. They have a very long service life, are not damaged by excessive moisture as timber is. They can be purchased in various sizes to suit what you need, and corner and end posts are also available. They are available as either Slotted Posts and Mortised Posts. Their full range is here: https://www.supremeconcrete.co.uk/products/fencing-products Not all of the DIY retailers will sell all options, however your local Fencing and Timber Merchants will be able to get anything available in the UK from Supreme Concrete. If it’s not something the Fencing Merchant keep in stock, such as a rare post length, they can order it for you.
Concrete Posts are far heavier than Timber. If you are planning on doing this job yourself, this is where you phone a friend to help you lift these 45-50 kilogram posts.
The enemy of Concrete Posts is primarily chipping, and possibly cracking, which only occurs when a very hard object comes into contact with them, such as a car. Concrete Posts are fairly sturdy, however you can chip them easily if you drop them onto hardcore or sharp edges. They can also leave behind nice, clearly-defined trails etched into porcelain tiles and sandstone paving if you are not careful. I find it easiest to keep a few timber offcuts to rest the concrete posts above the ground on, so nothing gets scratched and the posts are easier to pick up.
Post Hole Depth
A minimum of 25% of the Post should be underground, this is specifically for post stability. In Canada growing up we installed posts 4 ft into the ground, this was to get them below the ground which remains frozen for months at a time through the winter, which causes issues with posts going out of level, almost all construction in areas where frozen ground exists for months at a time have to be done to a completely different standard.
In the UK, most guidelines are to have 25% of the post be underground. This rule is a minimum however, and I always aim for 30% for a bit more stability and longevity.
Post Hole Width
This is generally 3 times the width of the post, so a 100mm wide Timber Post should have a hole which is 300mm in total.
You will need to decide if you want traditional Mortised Posts, Slotted Posts, or Square Posts. All three options are available in Concrete or Timber.
The toughest decision on Timber versus Concrete is appearance. Timber posts look natural and offer more flexibility for stain and paint finishes, joining timber panels or arris rails for featheredge fencing, morticing or not, and affixing anything to the posts later. Concrete Posts look more industrial, however their service life speaks for itself.
Remember when considering Timber Posts versus Concrete Posts (and the same is true of Timber or Concrete Gravel Boards) you may have plans for treating the timber faithfully every year and keeping the bottom of the posts free from leaves, weeds, and growth but ask yourself, will your neighbor be doing the same? In most cases, where the fence is along a property line, you only have clear access to 50% of the post once the fence goes up. Whatever you do to extend the life of your fence has to replicated by your neighbor as well.
Repairing a Rotten Timber Post
Most of what I have written here comes from my own experience combined with research. Before I install a new fence, I am removing the old fence and can clearly see how and why it has failed. I replace Timber Posts fences every week, I replace Concrete Post fences every few months. One of the other jobs I do frequently is repair rotten timber posts using Concrete Repair Spurs. These are short (generally 3-4 feet long) pre-cast, reinforced concrete posts that are generally 75mm or 100mm wide with holes pre-cast in the concrete for bolts. These spurs are cemented into the ground beside the rotten post with some of the repair spur above the ground. Long Exterior Bolts are inserted through the Concrete Spur and also the Timber Post (drilling the hole out is required first) and then the rotten post becomes a good post again, thanks to the support it received from the newly cemented in Concrete Repair Spur. If you do have your heart set on Timber Posts, remember you can extend the post life in most cases once it rots, provided the rot is at the bottom of the post where it meets the ground.
So, can you avoid timber posts from rotting? No you cannot, deal with it.
I hope you found this Consumers Guide to Fence Planning helpful. I will be publishing more articles on the subject shortly. If you would like to get in touch please Contact Us here.