Easy as building with LEGO toys
If you're thinking about a new fence, consider this:
Vinyl fences last practically forever with no maintenance
whatsoever. They won't fade or rot or need
paint. In fact, the only care they could use is an occasional washdown,
and even that's optional.
This article will show you how to plan and build a vinyl fence.
We'll show you how professional installers set the posts in a
straight line, perfectly spaced, sturdy and plumb. That is the real
key to goof-proof construction. We'll also include some tips on
avoiding serious planning missteps that can cause major
headaches down the road.
But use our instructions only as a general guide; your fence
may have some different assembly techniques. You'll need standard
tools like a circular saw, a drill and an accurate 2-ft. level.
With basic carpentry skills and a couple of helpers, you can
install 100 ft. of fencing in a weekend. And best of all, you'll save
$10 to $20 per running foot doing it yourself.
If you properly space and set your fence
posts, assembling the fence panels is
much like snapping together LEGO
blocks. Rails snap into the post slots and
are held in place with locking tabs.
Boards interlock with each other and are
held in place with plastic U-channels.
Vinyl fences come in two varieties:
“panelized” and board-and-rail systems.
A panelized system has panels that hang
between posts. Board-and-rail systems
have individual boards and rails much
like a wooden fence. In this story, we'll
cover the installation of a board-and-rail
fence. But many of the layout and post-setting
tips apply to both, so read on
even if you choose a panelized system.
Set the corner and end posts first
1 of 3
Photo 2: Locate posts
Mark the post locations
on the line
and then mark each
posthole with a stake.
2 of 3
Make the line taut, then pull the tape measure from the corner and mark the string.
3 of 3
Photo 3: Dig holes
Dig 3-ft.-deep holes
about 8 in. in diameter
at each stake.
Drop a post into each
and adjust the depth
to position the bottom
rail 4 in. above grade.
With any fence style, set end and/or corner
posts first and then fill in between them with the “line” posts. Corner posts
have rail holes on adjoining sides, and end
posts have holes on only one side. Line
posts have rail holes on opposite sides to
support fence panels on both sides.
Start by driving stakes beyond the end
or corner positions, and then string a taut
line between them even with the outside
of the post locations. Then dig and set the
end posts (Photo 1). (Read the next section
for details on setting posts.) Use the
rail holes on the posts to determine how
deep the holes should be. (Read your
fence instructions. The rail holes are usually
about 4 in. above grade; see Photo 4.)
You'll drive all of the posts down to the
proper depth later (Photo 6), so starting a
bit on the high side is best. Never try to lift
posts after the concrete is added, because
they'll just settle later. If you need to lift a
post, add soil and pack it well before setting
Hold each post flush against the string
and plumb in both directions as a helper
fills around the post with concrete. It'll
take about two 60-lb. bags of premixed
concrete for each 4-in. post. Mix a fairly
sloppy batch so the concrete can ooze into
the large holes in the post sides to help
lock the post into place. If you want to
keep grass from growing around the
posts, trowel mounded concrete slightly
above grade so water will drain. Otherwise,
stop filling the holes with concrete
about 4 in. below grade and pack in soil
on top of the wet concrete.
Plan your fence (and follow the rules)
1 of 1
Photo 1: Lay out the fence
Stretch a string line
tightly along the
proposed fence run,
locate the corner posts
and dig 3-ft.-deep postholes.
Plumb the posts
and fill the holes with
Start by picking up a fence permit application
from the local building inspections
department, along with local fence regulations.
They will include setback requirements
from your property lines to the
fence and maximum heights. These
details will likely vary for front and backyard
fences and can even be different for
houses on corners or busy streets.
If you live in a “planned” community or
subdivision, you may also have to submit
information to a planning committee.
Follow all regulations to the letter. Otherwise
you may wind up tearing out and
moving your fence.
Draw a dimensioned sketch of your
yard that clearly shows your property
lines. Then add your proposed fence outline,
and gate locations.
not sure of your
hire a surveyor
to have them
of each side of
areas and anything that will interrupt
your fence, like buildings, trees or retaining
walls (and mark their locations on
your sketch too). The photos will also help
you and the supplier plan and choose a
fence that'll meet local ordinances, so have
them with you. With the fence style chosen
and the dimensions and layout in
hand, apply for and receive your permit
before ordering the materials.
Plan an accessible
spot for a removable
fence so you can
get large equipment
or a pickup
truck into the yard
if it's needed in the
future. The fence
supplier can provide
As with any other project involving digging,
call before you dig (call 811 or visit call811.com)
to have underground utilities marked. As
a courtesy, discuss your plan with neighbors
who may be affected by your fence.
Ordering Fences Online
Type “vinyl fences” into any
search engine and you'll get
about 250,000 results! With so
many companies offering fence
kits online, the selection is a bit
daunting, but you can buy your
whole fence online and have it
delivered directly to your
house—with free shipping if the
purchase is over a certain
amount. It's an option for those
who live far from large cities.
But do plenty of research. Some
companies will help you with
your order if you supply a
sketch. Others expect you to fill
out your own materials list.
Doable, but you'd better be
extra careful in figuring out
exactly what you need.
Forgotten, missing or damaged
pieces will cause delays and
extra shipping charges.
Although every Internet source I
studied had a phone number
you could call for help, go with
a local firm if you can. You'll be
able to see the product, and it
helps to sit down with someone
to work out the materials list.
Set the line posts
1 of 2
Photo 4: Plumb posts
Drop a post into
place and snap in
the bottom rail. Then
position it against the
string line, plumb it
and add concrete.
2 of 2
Photo 5: Cut rails
Set the remaining
line posts. Cut rails
to fit as necessary to fill
in shorter spaces.
Tie the string to the end posts flush with
the outside edges. Hook a tape measure
on one of the end posts and mark the
string following the manufacturer's post-spacing
instructions (Photo 2). Then
drive stakes to mark the center of each
hole (Photo 3). Dig holes and set the line posts. Mark, dig postholes and set no
more than six posts at a time. Then begin
using the last post in line to mark and set
another group of posts. Otherwise, small
errors will accumulate and postholes farther
down the line may be misplaced.
Drop a post into the hole, fit in the bottom
rail and then use the layout mark on
the string to exactly space the post. Hold
the post plumb in both directions while a
helper fills around the post with concrete
(Photo 1). If there are high areas between
the posts, you may have to hold the posts
up a little more. Use the rail to make sure
it'll clear those spots before setting the
If you have a big crew and expect
to get a big fence installed in a
day or two, it's worth renting a
cement mixer and a power auger to
save on time and labor. Otherwise,
just hand-mix the concrete
in a wheelbarrow and dig the
holes by hand.
Some manufacturers require that posts
for fences 6 ft. or higher be filled to some
specified point with concrete. If that's
required, cap the ends of bottom rails
with duct tape before sliding them in.
Then pour the concrete in through the
post top. A cheap traffic cone works great as a funnel;
just cut the tip shorter for a larger hole.
Frequently check previously set posts
with a level as you continue building the
fence. You'll be able to straighten posts
that get a little out of line just by pushing
them around up to a couple of hours after
the concrete is added. If you're putting
your fence up in especially windy conditions,
brace the posts with 2x4s in both
directions while the concrete sets. Clamp
the 2x4s to the posts and stake them to the
Fine-tune the final post heights
1 of 3
Photo 6: Align posts
Stretch the string
even with the top
of the rail holes on the
end posts. Drive each
line post down to align
the rail holes.
2 of 3
After aligning the posts, lock the rails in place.
3 of 3
Photo 7: Add stiffeners
Drop metal stiffeners
into posts at
gates, ends and other
required for extra
Within two hours of setting the line
posts, fine-tune their height by stretching
a string between the end posts. Stay
on top of this step. Wait too long and
the concrete will set up and you won't
be able to drive down the posts. Make the string taut and sight it from one end
to see how much it sags. Small sags
won't be noticeable, but if the string
sags more than 1/2 in. or so on long
runs, clamp it to a post near the center
to keep it straighter. Drive the posts
down with a block and maul (Photo 6)
until the tops are even with the line. If
your yard isn't flat, you'll have to follow
the contours. Think in terms of sections.
String the line between posts at
the ends of slopes for those sections
and then use the posts at the ends of
level areas for them.
If you have hard clay soil or soil that's
riddled with rocks, you may not be
able to drive down the fence posts to
a consistent height later (Photo 6). If
that's the case, dig the holes a few
inches deeper, then add sand on the
bottom and set the posts. Now you'll
be able to drive down the posts
Install posts that flank gates with
extra care. Make sure the posts are perfectly
plumb and spaced. Since the gate
is a one-piece unit, there's not much
room for fudging. Even though gate
hinges are somewhat adjustable (Photo
13), the gate won't look good if the
posts are out of plumb.
Drop metal stiffeners into posts
wherever they're called for (Photo 7).
They're usually required on end posts
(especially ones that might continually
get bumped) and on posts that flank
Cutting sections to fit
It's rare to end up with full-width sections
of fence for an entire yard. Since the fencing
sections are modular and designed for a
certain span, each straight run will have at
least one odd-size section. Gates, property
line limitations and obstructions almost
always require you to custom-cut shorter
sections. Just cut the rails shorter with a
circular saw. Be sure to allow about 2 in.
extra on each end to insert into the posts.
Since you'll be cutting off the locking tab,
secure the rail with a screw (Photo 6,
detail). You may have to trim a vertical
fence board in a solid fence as well. That
means cutting off one end of the rails
(Photo 5) and usually ripping narrower
boards for the ends. That's easy with a circular
saw and a crosscut blade. But be careful
if you're building a picket fence like
ours. You may have to cut a little from both
ends of the rails to avoid having a picket
right next to the post. That looks bad.
Assemble the panels
1 of 6
Photo 8: Add pickets
Slip pickets into
the bottom rail.
Snap the top rail into
one post, slip it over
the picket tops and
snap it into the other
2 of 6
Photo 9: Fasten U-channels
Center and screw
three evenly spaced
screws into fence posts
for privacy panels.
3 of 6
Photo 10: Position boards
Slide the interlocking vinyl boards into the channel in the bottom rail.
Screw them to the U-channel.
4 of 6
Photo 11: Add top rails
Slide the top rail
over the boards,
locking the end into
the rail hole, and then
back into the rail hole
at the opposite end.
5 of 6
Photo 12: Cement caps
Add a small
dollop of PVC
cement or silicone
caulk to the tabs at the
top of each cap and
push the caps over
6 of 6
Photo 13: Hang the gate
latch to the gate. Then
center the gate in the
opening and screw a
catch to the other
Let the concrete set for at least four
hours before you assemble the panels.
Simply follow the manufacturer's directions.
The system we used required U-channels
for the solid panels, which we
screwed to the posts at each panel end
(Photo 9). Then we slid the interlocking
vinyl “boards” into place (Photo
Place a couple of dabs of PVC cement
or clear silicone on the glue tabs inside
the caps where the tabs will rest on the
top edge of the post (Photo 12). Next
mount the gates and hardware (Photo
13) following the manufacturer's
Photo 1: Elongate and mark
Building on Steep Slopes
Vinyl fences have a few limitations
on steeper slopes. The top and
bottom rails have to follow the
slope, but the panels have to
remain vertical. How much you
can angle the rails and still assemble
the panels varies with the
fence system. Roughly measure
the steepest slope that your fence
must span (measure the rise for
each horizontal foot) and ask your
fence supplier for advice. Sometimes
you can slightly modify a
system so it can handle steeper
slopes than it was designed for.
Mark the holes (Photo 1) and
cut them with a jigsaw and then
slip in the bottom rail. Elongate the rail
holes 1/4 in. on
slopes, at the top on
downhill posts and
the bottom on uphill
posts. Then scribe
(Photo 2) and cut the boards to
match the slope. Be careful to cut
just enough of an angle so the
whole board end will nest in the
slot 1/2 in. or so. It's OK if there is a
small flat area left, as we show. If
you cut off the whole angle, the
board may be too short. Test the
angle and then cut the top angle to
match at the right length. Check the
fit. When you're satisfied, use that
board as a template to mark and
then cut the other boards. It's safest
to order longer boards for those
sections so that after the angles are
cut, they'll still be long enough.