Installing a vinyl fence yourself can provide much-needed privacy, keep the family dog corralled, and add to the aesthetic appeal of your home for many years to come. You may even save some money in the process—but only if you follow the proper installation procedures.
Few DIYers look forward to a weekend spent mixing concrete and digging post holes, yet most are capable of installing a vinyl fence. Home Advisor’s data shows that those who get their hands dirty can save up to a third of the cost of a new fence by replacing professional labor with their own.
Before beginning a project without adequate preparation, it is important to consider all of the potential pitfalls. If not, issues such as overlooking building regulations, setting posts incorrectly, and inadequate preparation can quickly reduce savings and decrease the lifespan of the fence. To ensure that your DIY vinyl fence project is a success, it is recommended to follow the necessary dos and don’ts.
DO prepare the yard.
Before starting the installation process in your yard, take the necessary precautions and call 811 (or visit call811.com) to schedule appointments for your utility companies to come out and mark the location of their buried lines. This process takes about a week, so don’t neglect it. Not knowing what lies beneath the surface can have serious consequences, from injury to death, should you accidentally hit a utility line with a shovel.
Verifying your property line before erecting a fence is essential, as it is much better to take a trip to the local assessor’s office than to have to dig up a fence you built on your neighbor’s land by mistake. Check your deed or stop by the assessor’s office to make sure you are building the fence in the right spot.
After finding the utility lines and determining your property line, use a can of brightly colored spray paint to outline the perimeter of your fence. Also, be sure to remove any rocks, plants, or other obstructions.
DON’T install posts too close together.
To ensure your vinyl fence can withstand high winds and minor impacts, it is essential to properly install the posts. If posts are placed too close together, the panels will fit so tightly that the vinyl becomes rigid, limiting its flexibility and making it more susceptible to damage. Avoid this by spacing each post a full panel’s width apart, and use unaltered panels whenever possible.
Take note that, just as wood, vinyl fencing expands and contracts. Wood swells when exposed to moisture while vinyl expands when it is hot. To avoid warping or buckling, it is essential to leave a few millimeters in between each panel and the posts when installing the fence. This will provide the necessary space for expansion.
DON’T dig shallow holes.
The strength of your fence depends on the posts holding it up, so be sure to firmly set each post in the ground—particularly if you live in a region that is prone to strong winds or has soil that is soft. Posts with shallow holes are more likely to eventually tilt under the weight of the fence and could even be blown over in extreme weather conditions.
When it comes to fence posts, the exact depth you’ll need to dig depends on the soil and climate. Generally, you should aim to have a third of the post in the ground, plus an additional 6 inches for a gravel layer that will help drain water away. For example, if digging a post 3 feet deep, the hole should be 3 feet 6 inches deep to accommodate the gravel.
DO install end and corner posts first.
Accurately lining up posts is an essential part of a successful vinyl fence installation. The process of post-installment can be complex, so you don’t want to end up having to dig out a post and reinstall it due to inaccurate alignment. To avoid this, start by setting the end posts and corner posts. Then, run a string line between the posts, tightly pulling it until it is taut. Use this string line as a guide while installing the posts in the middle.
DON’T neglect a level.
It is not recommended to merely estimate if your posts are level, as the only reliable way to guarantee they are straight in the ground and of even height with the other posts is to utilize a reliable level.
Before the concrete has been set, check that each post is plumb by placing a level on two adjacent sides or using a post level. To ensure the posts are evenly in height, stretch a tight string line between the corner and end posts. Use a string line level or bench level to make sure the line is level, and then check that each post in between is at the same height as the string line, adjusting the post heights as necessary.
DO install one panel at a time.
The installation of vinyl panels is usually quite straightforward, requiring no more than hand assembly with minimal tools. This may bring back memories of the snap-together models you made as a kid but don’t underestimate the time it takes to fit the panels together.
As you install the panels, one at a time, have your trusty level close by. Make sure each panel is level before moving on. If the vinyl fence panels come in separate pieces, check the top and bottom rails for levelness when connecting them. If the panel is not level, use a hammer to lower the higher post before the cement dries. Making corrections while you’re building the fence is much easier than waiting until the concrete is dry and trying to level the entire fence.
DON’T hammer the material.
Vinyl fencing may be more durable than wood fencing in many respects, but it does not stand up well to blunt force impact. While not necessarily fragile, a misplaced hammer swing can easily cause cracking or even a hole in the vinyl. Despite this risk, a hammer is still necessary during the installation process to lower posts that do not line up correctly with the others.
Instead of hitting the post directly, use a 1×4 or 2×4 block to buffer the force of the blow. Place the block on top of the post and strike it. This will drive the post deeper while preventing the vinyl from cracking due to the impact being distributed more evenly.
DO check local regulations.
Avoid major headaches and expenses by researching local regulations before beginning your fence-building project. Make sure to check your homeowner’s association’s covenants and local zoning laws to ensure your fence meets the requirements; for instance, many municipalities restrict fence heights to 4 feet in the front yard and 6 feet in the backyard. By doing your due diligence, you could save yourself the hassle of having to tear down your fence later on.