Dear James, I just moved into a house with a small crowd. I want some privacy in the back yard so I want to build a panel fence. The yard is sloping so please give me some advice on how to build it yourself. – Ron P.
Dear Ron, there are different designs of privacy fences depending on the level of privacy you want. They aren’t difficult to build, but you will likely need a helper to handle the 4 by 4 posts and dig some of the post holes. This is definitely groundbreaking work.
Before you go to the home center and start buying materials, there is some careful planning and layout that you should do. Primarily, contact your local zoning office to review allowable fence heights, setbacks from the property line, designs, and materials. Many fences have been built that are later torn out because they violate zone codes.
Second, to keep the peace, talk to your neighbors about what you have planned. Even if it is your decision, it is polite to speak to them. If you are allowed to put the fence on the property line, they may even offer to help pay for the materials. If so, make sure you write down who is responsible for maintenance.
There are basically three types of privacy fences that you can easily build yourself. A solid fence gives you complete privacy. The vertical pickets are placed very close together so it is difficult to see between them.
Another option is a semi-privacy fence with small spaces between the pickets. This may provide enough privacy for your needs and allow some airflow through. Because there is open space, less wood is used and the cost of materials can be lower.
The third design option is a shadowbox fence. In this construction, the pickets are spaced apart but alternate on either side of the fence for complete privacy without restricting airflow. Your neighbors may also like this better because both sides of the fence look identical and attractive.
Armed with the above knowledge, go into your yard and mark the positions of the corners of the fence with stakes. Drive a nail into the stakes and stretch the layout cords between them to define the line of the fence.
Since your lot has slopes, you have two options for following the slope: the parallel method and the step method. In the parallel method, the top and bottom fence rails follow the slope of the ground. This requires that you attach each vertical picket individually to the top and bottom horizontal rails.
It is best to use a step-by-step method and pre-assembled fence panels. Each complete panel is attached to the fence post so that the top is flat. Then each successive slab is stepped on the post to follow the slope. This leaves a gap between the floor and the bottom of each panel. The height of the gap depends on the degree of the slope.
Select your pre-assembled panels and carefully measure the length of each one. Mark each field with a number. The lengths of the individual fields determine the distance between the 4 by 4 posts. Drive the locator posts into the ground at the post locations by touching the cord.
Once the post holes are dug, place the pressure treated posts in them. Use a level for the posts to make sure they are vertical. Use 2 x 4 stiffeners to hold the posts in place. Pour in the concrete and hill it up a little against the post. After setting, nail down the pre-assembled panels after two days.
Send questions to James Dulley at Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.