Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Fence "Post" - Our most recent fav project

We (finally) have a fence!

Over yonder on houseblogs.net, they are having a little show-and-tell contest, sponsored by True Value Hardware: www.StartRightStartHere.com. So, because we love our local hardware store (and we love contests), we'll join the fun and show off the latest in our yard improvement.
My previous post talks about all they "whys" of the new fence- basically, the puppy could get out. And the old fence was ugly (see this first pic). The "hows" of the new fence are another story. As in, who knew HOW much work it is to put up a new fence?! I'll take you through our saga act by act.

Act 1: Trying to dig 15 Fence Post Holes
Act 2: Trying to dig 15 Fence Post Hole Again
(Interlude): Angry dancing and occasional cursing
Act 3: Re-digging Fence Post Holes
Act 4: Setting posts, Putting up Fence Panels (YAY!!)
Finale: Happy dancing and cheering

Act 1: Digging Fence Post Holes
Before we begin, there are several important things to know about our digging environment. Our house lies in what was a river valley several thousand years ago. As a result, the ground beneath our home is an unpredictable mixture of sand, clay, limestone, and a host of other "earthen" varieties. It is in this mixture that we attempt to dig.
We also live in Minnesota, where the frost line sits at about 42 inches. Technically, you need to dig below the frost line to prevent heaving, although in our investigation of other neighborhood fences, it is clear that many post holes are not that deep. Hmmmm. Since our city code doesn't give us a firm rule, I examine the "literature" on the subject (ie, the internet). I see suggestions to dig anywhere from 2-4 feet deep. But we want to "do it right." So, 42 inches down we plan to go.

We begin our scene with a discussion of the best digging tool. The two-man auger is available for rent at the local hardware store, which is still open. Never having used a two-man auger before, Sean and I assume I can play the role of one of the "men" on the two-man team. (In the end, this decision would be the plan's fatal flaw.) With the 10" auger bit attached, Sean and I begin to drill our first hole. About 6 inches in, we get stuck. We lift and heave the auger out of the hole and try again. We dig further. Are stuck again. We lift and heave, and this time it is REALLY heavy. I can barely lift it. We take a break. We dig a third time, and this time, we go all the way down but stick hard. And I can't lift the thing up no matter how hard I try. The auger completely stuck, Sean and I tug, we dig away dirt and try again. Finally, a strong neighbor happens down the alley and offers to help. Between the two of them pulling with all their might and me digging it out, we manage to get the auger out.
We realize this is not the right tool for the job. Grrr.

In my internet search to find out where we went wrong, I learned 25% of all post holes end up having to be hand-dug. Interesting. I also read that using a two-man auger is a brutal, back-breaking task, even if you are pretty strong and have a lot of stamina. And... that two-men augers are virtually useless unless you are digging in regular ol' soft dirt. Ha! Why didn't we know this? (If you have never used a two-man auger before and you are thinking of it, I recommend watching any of the sometimes comical, informative demos on YouTube to be sure it's the way you want to go.)

Act 2: Trying again: Rent a Dingo.
This time, we got our tool of choice: a DINGO. I own no stock in Toro, have no ties to Dingo, and had never seen one before this project, so I can shamelessly recommend it for any of your post-hole digging needs. Yes, it was a bit more expensive to rent (about $240/ day with the trailer). But to operate it, you only need to be able to control a joystick and a lever... significantly saving on that back-breaking labor. Can I say it again? I LOVE the Dingo. Sean's brother, Jarame, had 15 post holes dug by lunchtime.

With the post holes dug, we were ready to pour concrete and set posts. So we started on our merry way, making sure our layout was still accurate and everything in the right place. Was everything in the right place? No. No? NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! (Angry dancing and cursing ensues.)

Act 3: Re-digging fence post holes
Four of our post holes were not going to work. Old concrete for old posts beneath the ground had shifted the Dingo's path enough so the holes wouldn't work. We should have double-checked this while we still had the Dingo. But we didn't. So we began to hand-dig- We had to dig up the old concrete and relocate 4 holes. Did I mention that we did this by hand?

Act 4: Setting posts, Hanging panels
Setting the posts was also a two-man (ok, one man, one woman) job, but not a back-breaking one. One of us needed to make sure the posts were plumb and get them staked, then we did the concrete pour. With the posts set in concrete, the hard part was over. Now we just had to attach the pre-made panels. It starts to look like a fence! Happy dancing and cheering begins!!

The dogs are a little confused. But we're ecstatic.

This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The fence "post" #1

So, we've been looking at replacing the old chain link fence that surrounds our entire city-corner lot for over a year. Why? Well, we quickly learned that houdini-puppy could make her way UNDER the fence. Then she grew big enough to jump OVER the fence. Then she found her voice and started barking at every dog (or moving biker, runner, skateboarder, etc) she could see THROUGH the fence. Then she got smart enough to use her nose to OPEN the fence. Then there's the fact that the old fence was just old and ugly.
So, in the name of puppy safety and owner sanity (and yard asthetics), the new fence moved up the priority list.

Turns out, putting up a new fence requires a lot of decision-making. Height of fence. Type of material. Design of fence. Special city codes that regulate fences on corner lots....
To do it ourselves or have it done for us?
To build our own panels or buy them pre-built?

I browsed real-live fences and pics online. Sean and I decided on a few options and then set about to get some estimate. Before shopping, we decided on a wood fence that was semi-private in the back. In the front, because of code regulations on the corner, we needed a fence that had 80% visibility. So, we were looking at aluminum fences that looked like wrought iron. I wasn't so picky about what the wood fence looked like on top-I actually preferred less diagonal lattice and more vertical decoration. But price would really help us make our decision. Because we had absolutely NO idea how much a fence could possible cost.

And it turns out, fences cost a lot. Of course, if you have ever put up a fence, you have also probably experienced the nearly heart-stopping gasp of disbelief when the friendly fence man handed over his estimate for said new fence, including gates, hardware, post-caps, fasteners, etc.
Usually I don't talk too much about prices in the blog, but I think this is important folks: Fences are expensive to have installed. If you do it yourself, you can save a bundle.
To install about 80 feet of the lattice-top wood fence from the fence company, it would have cost about $10,000. (Yes, that's $3,500 more than our ROOF cost.) Yipes.
In addition, to have the 80 ft. of aluminum fence done, it was going to be about $6,500.

After smiling and nodding while the friendly fence man explained all that was included in the costs (clean-up!), we thanked him, got into the truck, shook our heads and said, "Well, I guess we'll be doing that fence ourselves, huh?"

So we started pricing out materials and fence panels at the local do-it-yourself stores!

(To be continued...)