Canadian Contractor

Dave Gray   

Beginner basics on building a trendy fence

Renovation Contractor

In the poem, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost, he states, “Good fences make great neighbours.”

In the poem, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost, he states, “Good fences make great neighbours.”

Interpret that how you may, but it is definitely nice to have privacy from even the greatest of neighbours.

In a conversation with contractor John MacMillan, of Scenic Fence and Deck in Stratford, Ont., he let us in on a few key tips that will certainly help you before you start any fence projects. He has also enlightened me in the art of homeowner management. Not just the homeowner you are working for, but up to five other homeowners that are adjacent to the lot you are working on.

John MacMillian

Divide and Conquer: John MacMillian builds fences – and good neighbours.

The first, and most obvious, tip is ensuring that you know where the lot lines are located. Triple check survey measurements. The last thing you want to do is build a fence only to find out later that you have to move it wasting time and, undoubtedly, material in the process. It’s not uncommon for adjacent homeowners to get out measuring tapes at night and even move survey stakes. It wouldn’t hurt to make a phone call to the local building department to ensure that there are no easements on the property or setbacks required. Always “call before you dig.” Make sure you have the local utilities survey the area and mark out where the services are located.

Once your lines are established it’s time to set posts. Scenic Fence and Deck will mark where the posts will be set days before they actually dig to allow homeowners the chance to visualize where the fence is going and air
out any grievances prior to actual construction. When setting posts, it is important to dig only the amount of posts that you can set in a day as it is hard to clean out liquid dirt the next day. Make sure there is no loose soil in the bottom of the hole. You don’t want the post to sink as the loose soil compresses over time. Some contractors will place crushed rock at the bottom of the holes to allow for drainage around the bottom of the posts. Scenic Fence and Deck also recommends the use of 5”x5” posts to help eliminate the potential for smaller posts twisting. Once your posts are set use string lines, braces, and stakes to keep them plumb and in line.

The next step in the process is to set the stringers that span the space between the posts. You want to use levels or a laser level at this point to ensure that the stringers are indeed level. You can use fence clips (small joist hangers) to attach the stringers to the posts. Fence clips provide adequate strength for most fence jobs.

Finally, it’s time for the fence boards. Depending on how you framed the fence will determine how you set the fence boards. It is key for a nice looking fence to have the top of the fence level and in line. If you use a board on the flat attached to the top stringer simply run the fence boards to the top. If there is no top board, string a line for the final height of the fence to keep the fence boards uniform. Make sure the boards are installed plumb.

“Triple check where the lot lines are located. The last thing you want to do is build a fence only to be wasting time and material moving it

MacMillan says that building a fence uses basic carpentry skills but the most useful skills he has acquired has come from 28 years in business and learning how to manage people. He was eager to share these tips when dealing with “hostile” neighbours. Not all homeowners are happy that a fence is being constructed! “Get out in front of any issues,” says MacMillan, before they become problems that slow down production. He has seen it all from disgruntled homeowners, including purposely parking vehicles in the way, leaving dogs out to bark at his employees, turning on sprinklers while they work, cutting string lines while they are on break, and even fistfights between neighbours.

“A neighbour that is angry with you is not going to hire you.” Try to turn these neighbours into opportunities for your business. MacMillan tells his employees to kill them with kindness. “A five-minute phone call and a handful of grass seed goes a long way.”

MacMillan also warns to have alternative jobs in the ready in case of delays from weather, equipment, neighbours, or other unforeseen obstacles.

Recent trends are changing the look of fences. A 90-degree shift is probably the most noticeable. Horizontal fences are now taking shape in many backyards giving your perimeter a more contemporary look with long, sophisticated lines.

Scenic Fence and Deck are installing more wrought iron fences than in years past. MacMillan does say to use fencing components manufactured in Canada as he has seen his share of offshore materials not hold up to the Canadian environment noting that the paint peels within a few years.

Other trends include staining the fence with dark colours to provide a backdrop that brings out the landscaping in front. The sharp contrast between the dark fence and the shades for green in the yard is stunning.


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