Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fence Masters builds me a great fence …

Well, the season of the renovation is upon us … or more accurately, me. These images are a few weeks old as I was too burnt out by the renos to write anything up.

The fence was first in a long line of updates for this summer. I had the choice of two contractors and after speaking with each of them and looking over their estimates, I chose Fence Masters. I found out much later that they are The Home Depot’s installers. I got hold of them independently after a look up on Google.

Before I go on, let me just say right now that I was extremely impressed with the skills and efficiency of this crew. And my fence is apparently well-known around my town as few people build to the specifications I chose.

The fence was to be 82’ of pressure treated lumber, replacing the same length of Cedar. In the great wind storm of this spring, 47 feet of my fence was blown over completely, and insurance was willing to replace that part.

Rather than use Cedar, which does not quite last as long as pressure treated (PT) lumber, I chose to go with PT in larger sizes to get real longevity. I started with the most obvious upgrade -- 6x6 posts and 2x6 framing. Then I added super-privacy style, which has two overlapping layers of boards that combat shrinkage. I.e. very few gaps will appear once the wood has shrunk, unlike a privacy configuration with side-butted boards that will all show gaps after shrinkage.

Posts this size should last 30 years instead of the usual 10-15. This because although the 6”  post is 157% of the in each dimension over a 4x4 post, the area of the cross section is in fact 247% of the area of the 4” posts, i.e. 147% larger.


To illustrate the difference, imagine the overlapped posts shown here being eaten slowly from the outside in. After 15 years, let’s say that 1” has rotted at the soil line all around the post. The 4” post (nominal dimensions are 3.5x3.5) has a rather small 2.25 square inches of wood left holding the fence up, as shown by the lighter portion in the center. But the 6” post (nominal 5.5x5.5) has 6.25 square inches, in other words – a complete 4x4 post is still in place after 15 years. So you have another 15 years before problems start to appear. That’s why this is the best upgrade you can make for longevity. It’s not expensive at all when compared with replacing the fence 15 years early.

For some (fortuitous) reason, the hardware for hanging the stringers ended up being joist hangers rather than the much flimsier connections that are normally used. Peter asked me if I was building a fortress … and that is frankly how I think of this fence.

One last note on dimensions. The use of 2x6 framing not only added amazing rigidity to the fence (fortress does not really do it justice, believe me); it also allowed the fence to stretch beyond the specified 6’ height because the stringers are so wide that they can be moved 6” further apart and still have the same grip on the boards as 2x4’s would at 6’ apart. This was a tidbit dropped on me by Peter, the crew lead on the second and third days. I immediately requested that they go to 6’ 6” if possible and that is what they did.

Here is what the fencers saw when they arrives for work. Six sections (47 feet) had been destroyed by the wind and hauled away by the insurance contractor, who also left a nice steel fence to guard the pool. The remaining 35 feet were to be removed.

F300EXR  f/3.5  1/480s  100ISO  24mm

They came on a rather cloudy day, and immediately set to tearing down the remaining sections. They did this by literally pushing the fence over, snapping off the remaining posts. The fence is fairly old and a crew of four had no problem getting the two sections (East and North) to fall. Here is the North section just before it fell onto the garden.

The first day was shot with the D700. Wider shots used the Tamron 19-35 and longer shots the Nikon 70-300VR.

Those with really sharp eyes might notice the Astilbes blooming in that image. There are white flowers and deep red one. This is the first time that the Astibles have bloomed in the front garden in many years. The ferns usually keep them subdued or covered.

The mechanism for digging post holes is pretty automated these days. A monster auger makes short work of things, and the crew has templates that show exactly where the hole is and catch the dirt at the same time. This is about as efficiently as this can be done.

Two of the post holes had to be reclaimed by physically removing the cement inside the ground. This turns out to be a manual process that eats up a lot of time and labor.

End of Day 1 and the holes are dug and the temporary fence is up.

Day 2 proves sunny and a small crew of two arrives to cement the posts into the holes. First, of course, the extremely heavy 6 inch posts are lifted into the holes.

Day 2 was shot with the D7000 at the 18-200VR.

These guys made short work of things, despite the rather manual nature of the job.

Here’s a good view showing the fence parts to be hauled away and the destruction of the garden (they had my permission for that.)

And finally, day 3. The build.

Back to four on the crew, shown here preparing for the build. Day 3 was again shot with the D7000 and 18-200VR.

This is Peter, the crew lead. Very easy to talk to and very experienced. He normally does vinyl and composite, but I got lucky in that there were no builds of that sort of fence on that day. Peter did all the measuring and planning.

The joist hangers were hung on the inside of the fence, leaving a bit more post on the outside, which allows for the face boards to cover the top and bottom on the outside. Here John (the fellow who has the James Dean vibe going) installs one on the bottom of a post.

Stringers were hung as the hangers went on.

They completed the North facing front section first.

A detail view of super-privacy …

This is a view of the only assembly mistake that was made during the build – a hanger was installed on the front edge of one of the posts. I noticed this when I inspected the fence at the end and they quickly fixed it.

A very nice job of reconnecting the pre-existing fence sections. Each had to be ripped because of the size of the new posts. Also, this makes the higher size really obvious. My neighbor was so impressed that he is apparently getting this fence extended for his yard as well.

Facing boards waiting for installation …

Final facing board …

Pretty gorgeous result.

And the atmosphere inside the fence in the evening is wonderful …

I can highly recommend Fence Masters. They did a great job with this fence …

To see all the images, take a look at my album

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