So you’ve finally purchased your “Forever House”. There’s enough room to raise a family; the kitchen is perfect, there’s even a little doggy door for your future family pet to run through whenever they see fit. The best part though, you’ve got a beautiful yard with plenty of room for the kids, and the dog, of course, to play in. Now all you need is a fence, preferably a beautiful wooden privacy fence, and today we’re going to show you the cheapest way to build one.
Luckily, privacy fences aren’t all that hard to build. Sure, it takes quite a bit of labor, but the steps are relatively straightforward. All you need to do is get all the materials and follow the steps we lay out for you and there you go – you have yourself a beautiful privacy fence that allows you to hang out and enjoy your privacy, while not having to worry about the kiddos or the dog getting loose!
Before we get into the build details, there are a few things that we recommend you confirm before building and making the fence of your dreams.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Pressure treated fence posts (4×4 or 4×6)
- 2×4’s for the rails (pressure treated)
- Pickets (These are the slats – they usually run 4″ wide x 1″ thick x 6ft. high- either Dog eared or Flat top – pressure treated)
- 10 penny Galvanized deck nails(if using a nail gun) or 2 ½ – 3″ galvanized Deck Screws
- Post hole digger
- Digging/Prybar- for prying out rocks or solid ground
- Power Auger (optional but highly recommended for a medium-large fence)
- Marking paint
- Concrete mix
- Batter board material (be sure to watch the you-tube video below)
- Spacer bar – You can use a 1″ thick picket for the spacer (spacing is required if you intend to keep space between slats for air flow and possible wood expansion issues in very high humidity conditions. if you want full privacy, you will not want any space between the picket slats)
Before you get started on building your Wood Privacy Fence, check out a “DIY” fence installation, that follows our article pretty closely:
Once you have all of the supplies you need, it’s time to get started on your fence project:
1) Check with Local Authorities
Every city has its zoning laws that everyone has to abide by, and fences restrictions are required in city ordinances. Check with local authorities, or go to their website to see what the fence ordinances for your neighborhood are. Even if you know the rules for the block across the street, it is still a good idea to check your own address, as there may be different restrictions for different areas of the city (historic districts are a good example of this).
You will also need to check in with your homeowner’s association to see what materials you are allowed to use, what colors the fence and be, and what the maximum (and minimum in some cases) fence height is permitted in your neighborhood. Do not skip this step, if you do and build something outside of your allowed regulations; you could be fined, or worse, be forced to remove the fence.
2) Survey The Land
Before you start taking measurements for your fence, have a land surveyor come out to your home and let you know exactly where your property ends, and where the neighbor’s property begins. Skip this step, and you may find yourself in a dispute with the people next door. And I assure you, that is not a pleasant way to live.
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3) Show Good Neighborly Behavior
Now that you’ve got your land surveyed, understand the ordinances for your city as well as what the HOA requires of your fence; it’s time to get started. But first, we’d recommend letting the neighbors know, just a friendly heads up.
There are some gentleman’s rules that you should follow when building a privacy fence. Give your neighbors the “good” side of the fence. This particular requirement may also be part of the city or HOA regulations. Even if it is not, you should probably do it anyway as a courtesy and goodwill to gesture towards your neighbors. The photo below shows the neighbors view of your fence, “the good side” after your done with the install. The photo above shows “your side” of the same fence.
Finally, plan for regular upkeep and maintenance. We understand that this may seem obvious for purposes of preserving and maintaining your new fence, but it also displays good manners.
4) Setting up the Foundation
Alright, you’ve completed all of your fencing homework, and now you’re ready to get started on your project. Here is how you get a perfectly straight perimeter when building a new privacy fence.
Get The Measurements/Mark the Perimeter
Since you’ve already had the land surveyed you should already have the fence measurements, but double check to be sure. I also typically recommend getting a little more material that you need. Mistakes are bound to occur, so it’s always good to have backup material when you need just a little more.
Now it’s time to mark the perimeter and layout your post locations. Mark the spots with batter boards and tie a string around the entirety of the perimeter (should be nailed/screwed to each batter board). This step will help you line the posts up correctly, so your fence is perfectly straight.
Pro Tip: Keep the string taut during this process. You’ll end up using the string to guide you when Setting the Posts in the ground. A loose string can result in putting up a fence that looks more wavy than straight.
5) Mark the Post locations:
Once you’ve got the batter boards in place, you’re ready to start marking where your fence posts are going to be. You can do this one of two ways; plant wooden stakes where the posts should go, or you can use marking paint on the grass. I prefer marking paint because it’s an easier process, and this is a labor intensive project, so I give myself a break on work wherever I can.
Ensure that you mark the post on the inside of the string and space each stake between six to eight feet apart from each other. The spacing depends of course on the width of fence panels (normally 8ft. wide) or the rail and picket installation which can be installed at 6ft or 8ft. Be as accurate and consistent as possible, and keep your tape measure on you.
Once you’ve got this done, mark where the strings are on the batter board and remove the string. This step isn’t ‘absolutely’ necessary, and you will end up putting the string back on once the holes are dug for the posts anyway. But it may make digging the holes a heck of a lot easier.
6) Digging Post Holes and Setting the Post
If you’re learning how to build a wooden fence, then hold on tight, because this is where the real labor comes in. You’ll need a shovel, post hole digger, and digging bar. These can be purchased at any of your local hardware stores or rented at Home Depot or Lowes. If you want to cut down on labor, you can also rent a drill to save time.
If your region is prone to deep freezes, we recommend you dig your post holes below the frost line. Frost lines usually are at 42″ below grade for most Northern US states. The frost line is where the water will freeze in max. Depth, and digging below that will ensure your posts don’t heave during those hard freezes. If you aren’t sure where the frost line is, that’s fine; it isn’t difficult to look up on google. If you’re going to go below the frost line in this case, and you plan to build a 6ft high fence, you would need 10ft high posts. Just set the bottom of each post 45″ below grade (for a 42″ frost line) and you will have 6ft. And an extra 3″ above grade to attach your fence pickets or fence panels too. Note: the bottom of fence slats normally are installed at 3″ above soil grade. You do not want to have any portion of the pickets or fence panels in contact with the ground, due to moisture wicking, however, set the fencing any higher, and the neighbor’s dog might pay you an unexpected visit.
Once you’ve got all of the holes dug, reattach the string, and it’s time to pour some concrete mix. Follow the mixing instructions for fast set concrete mix, then set the post in place squarely on the strings you laid out and set up temporary wood braces to hold the post plumb and in place.
7) Fencing Rails
After the concrete cures; and we recommend allowing two days, it’s finally time to start setting up the railing. When I first learned how to build a fence, this part seemed daunting. But after digging post holes and pouring concrete in the dead of July, it was a piece of cake. It’s just nailing horizontal 2x4s to the posts you installed a couple of days ago.
Important Note: The installation plan your reading here is again, for the “Cheapest way to build a Privacy fence”. If you don’t mind spending a few more dollars and want to save a lot of labor than skip the step below which adds “railings” to the posts, than individual picket slats. Instead, use pre-made 6ft. high x 8ft.wide “fence panels”. They are purchased pre-assembled and mounted to the three railings already. One major consideration between the two methods between panels or picket slats is whether you have a lot of contour in your lawn. The single pickets will allow you to install them with the contour. The panels are fixed and do not.
8) Picket method:
Install the horizontal railing (2×4) in two locations, one at the bottom of the post, and one at the top. The top of the lower rail needs to be placed 9 1/2″ inches above the ground, and the bottom of the top rail should be placed 64″ above the ground. Keep this uniform throughout the whole fence installation. Lastly, install the horizontal middle rail which between (in the middle of) the top and bottom rails.
When attaching the rails use hot-dipped galvanized nails (if you’re using a nail gun with a compressor) or for even more longevity, use 2 1/2-3″ galvanized deck screws. They are easy to install and hold even better than nails.
Hanging the Picket slats
Reminder: No matter what wood you chose to go with, always, ALWAYS get pressure treated wood.
When you hang the pickets, be sure you are installing them at a uniform height, there aren’t many things as unsightly as a jagged fence. Also, an excellent tool to have on hand is a 4 ft. Level; this will help make sure that you keep the pickets plumb and even the whole way through.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you choose to install “Fence Panels” instead of pickets and rails (found at most Home Supply stores) you simply find a friend to help you hold to level the fence panels and nail to them to each post, instead of nailing individual picket slats to the horizontal rails..
Once you’ve got the first picket located at your desired height above ground, fasten it to the top rail, then making sure it is plumb, attach it to the bottom rail. Put two nails or screws through the picket or fence panel an into each railing. Fasten the picket now to the middle rail.
Now take your spacer (if you want a gap between pickets), and place it against the first picket and install the next one, flush against the spacer. The spacer is there for two reasons; one, it allows air to flow through the yard freely. And also, wood tends to swell and contract depending on the weather. If you don’t space the pickets apart, they can begin to buckle. Usually, pressure treated lumber shrinks as it dries, so you should have a little tolerance for expansion after the wood dried in the sun for a few weeks. Acclimation to the climate will allow you to keep the picket slats tight, avoid the spacing and maintain more privacy. Continue nailing the pickets to the rails, until your finished.
There you have it; now you know how to build a cheap privacy fence in your own backyard!
Tips for Privacy Fence maintenance
1) How to Stop Your Fence from Warping
After a while, wooden fence slats can begin to warp, twist, split, crack, and shrink. That’s okay, wood is a highly reactive material, that goes through a lot of changes. When it’s cold wood likes to expand, when wood is wet, it soaks up the moisture getting bigger, and shrinking as is sweats. The bottom line, wood is a difficult material to control, but thankfully there are some ways to mitigate this problem.
2) Purchase Quality Products
Getting pressure treated wood will help it withstand extreme and varying weather conditions for a lot longer than it would otherwise be able to. When purchasing materials, always go with pressure treated wood.
You can also, get species of wood that are less reactive to weather changes. Wood like northern pine or spruce, cedar, fir, and redwood are great options for a privacy fence.
3) Pick out Materials Carefully
You should be ultra meticulous when you are shopping for your fence posts, rails, and pickets. And you should take extra care to get only the best lumber. Instead of just buying a bundle of dog ears, go through them one by one.
Yes, it is tedious, but wood rots, and you don’t want to start with rotted wood. You should also make sure the lumber isn’t warped or split in any way either. Taking your time here will save you the hassle of having to go all the back to the store and make an exchange.
4) Weather Treatment
Applying water repellent stain or clear coat treatment to your fence will prevent the wood from shrinking, cracking, and some common bug infestation.
We recommend you wait at least 30-60 days to allow the wood to dry and acclimate to the climate. There isn’t a way to stop the expansion and contraction completely, but a good weather sealer your fence will go a long way to protecting your new investment.
Pro Tip: Don’t just seal the front and backs of the pickets, be sure to seal the edges. That’s where most of the moisture is gained or lost.
Paint may have been something you were going to do anyway. A healthy coat of paint will help prolong the life of your fence, by shielding it from direct sunlight. Think of it as sunscreen for your fence. But be careful, there is some evidence that darker shades speed the process of warping. You also have to consider having to repaint your fence more often than you would, if you apply a transparent coat of wood stain/sealer instead.
How about you? Do you have any shortcuts or installation suggestions? Feel free to share them in the comment section below, and thanks for visiting BestHomeGear.com!