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Fences 101 - Chapter 4: Fence Installation Basics
Last Updated: 02/10/2012

Now that we've started thinking about the type of fence that we want to build and the material that we're going to use, its time to develop an installation strategy.

You might be wondering why a Do-It-Yourself Fence Buying guide needs to cover installation. That is a good question. The answer is that the supplies, accessories, and fence options that we choose are determined, in part, by our installation strategy.

This chapter will summarize the basic methods of installing a fence and a few specific installation scenarios that you need to keep in mind.

This is not a manual for how to install your specific fence. That will be supplied by the manufacturer.

Two Ways to Install a Fence

There are two basic ways to install a fence: in the ground or on the ground.

In the ground

In ground fence installation with cement

The majority of fences are installed in the ground using the traditional method of digging post holes, placing your fence posts in them, and filling the holes with concrete. The heavy concrete acts as an anchor, keeping your posts stable, in-line, and secure against wind, and other forces.

In ground fence installation with post anchor

Another way of installing a fence in the ground is to use something called a post anchor. A post anchor is a is a metal device that you drive into the ground with a sledge hammer or jackhammer; no digging, no concrete.

Post Anchors are a good choice for DIY fence installers because they reduce the amount of labor intensive site preparation work and allow you to focus more attention on your fence design and layout. Post anchors also reduce the effects of Frost Heave, a phenomena caused over time by the shifting of moist, frozen soil that can cause your fence posts to mis-align.

A final benefit of post support anchors is that they are easier to remove without damaging the fence if you make a mistake or need to move your fence for some other reason.

On the Ground

Cement mounted fence installation

The second method of fence installation is to mount them on the ground. This method is most typically used when the area to be fenced is already paved, such as a swimming pool area or parking lot.

To mount your fence posts on the ground, you will need either: a fence post that comes with a plate welded on the bottom or a post mount (aka floor or ground mount). Some fence systems can accomodate either option.

Installing Fence on a Hill or Grade

One issue to consider when installing a fence is the slope of the land. Sloped land requires a different installation strategy and, in some cases, different fence components than flat land.

There are 2 ways to deal with sloping land: stair-stepping and rackable fence panels.

Stair-Stepping your fence

A stair stepped fence installation

Just as the name implies, stair-stepping is a method of varying the height of your fence panels to adjust to the slope of the land. It is achieved by installing each successive panel higher (or lower) than the previous one. Stair-Stepping is often the only choice for really steep slopes.

The illustration above is a good example of a stair-stepped fence installation. As you can see, a stairstepped fence leaves gaps underneath the fence panels. If the purpose of your fence is to keep pets or children in, or to keep pests out, this can be a problem.

Rackable Fence Panels

A rackable fence installation

Stair-stepping works in many situations; but, as we mentioned, it leaves gaps under the fence and it also disrupts the smooth look of your fence line. If this isn't the look that you want, you'll probably want to install a fence panel system that is rackable.

Rackable panels are manufactured in such a way that the panels adjust from a square profile to more of a diagonal; the rails follow the slope of the terrain while the pickets remain upright. This feature enables you to install your fence on a grade without disrupting its continuity. An additional benefit is that the fence panels stay tight to the ground with no gaps.

See the illustrations for a better understanding.

Normal panel & Rackable Panel

There are two issues with rackable panels. First, panels can only be racked up to a point (depending on the manufacturer) and may not be able to rack enough to fit your specific application.

Two is that rackable systems may require you to cut holes in your fence posts to accomodate the new angle of your panel. These issues are beyond the scope of this beginners guide, check our other buying guide resources or call us for more information about rackable fence panels.

In this chapter of the DIY Fence guide, we discussed the basic options for installing a fence. The next chapter is our fence glossary that will equip you with the vocabulary of the DIY fence builder.

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Related Articles
 > Fences 101 - Chapter 1: Introduction
 > Fences 101 - Chapter 2: Fence Materials
 > Fences 101 - Chapter 3: Fence Types
 > Fences 101 - Chapter 5: Fence Glossary