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Resource Conservation: More on the Fence

May 11, 2018

Since rebuilding the back yard fence, weathering and the slogging decay of ten years has exposed some important mechanical issues that require a change in specifications for a strong durable wood fence.

Besides decay resistance the key components of a wood fence longevity are its structural parts, the posts and rails. For a wood fence the post needs to be the most durable part. My experience for years has been to economize and substitute concrete backfill for free draining rock, and count on the concrete ballast to support post shear strength. The concrete allows use of shallower burial; and an 8-foot post with 2-foot burial allows 6-foot fence post and also, fence height.

The economy of short post length and concrete is causing rotting of posts about 4-inches to six-inches below the surface of the concrete footing.

I was aware that concrete of standard strength caused wood to decay and posts to fail, and broke up several failed post footings to learn. However, felt a weak, crumbly concrete mix would permit complete drainage of moisture away from the wood. Apparently this practice is insufficient.

Public works departments–state and national, primarily–have subscribed to the fifty-percent rule, in which about  one-half of a fence’s exposure is buried at the post. And, clean gravel backfill (free draining) replaces the native soil excavation.

The standard practice in the Puget Sound region is to backfill posts using pea gravel … and, bury posts at fifty-percent of exposure.

Therefore, a 6-foot fence needs 3-feet of buried post, thus requiring a ten-foot post for the basic construction.


Some Site Cleanup

May 11, 2018

Removed links as most were dead.

I retired, but only my licenses

June 9, 2017

This spring, 2017, my Washington Landscape Architects license came up for renewal. Various others I had were retired over the past several years. It is costly, and uncomfortable legally, to keep a certification that has not been used for a year or two previously. So too, with WA #504, earned in 1989.

Landscape design is a lifelong avocation. I intend to post more tid-bits of knowledge, when I am inspired, or see when a “tip” can help other people working to improve the world we all participate in protecting. The landscape technically matures about the age when architecture presently feels its life term ending, planned obsolescence. That is hard to accept, and petunias (literally and figuratively) are a poor choice for landscapes.

Years ago when I was just learning to work for income after school and during weekends, I found employment with a ‘landscape architect’ who preceded the legal certification. Wheelock Wilson was a cranky old man of 83 and had plied his trade for 43 years when I slipped into an eyeful in 1966 at the energetic age of 15. For several months my mentor expounded on landscape in the Midwest, pointing out farms he planted in the 1920’s, elms he replaced for the original owners who lived down the block from me. Those owners sad to see an old friend leave had hired him to replace the lost tree. Mr. Wilson directed his crew to plant the new tree in the same location, because good design does not change.

I will continue working to see choices, and directives, that instill this pride of ownership for a lifetime.

Thanks for the great times of stomach acid, late and 72-hour all-niters. And, thanks to all who shared the great times with me. It was fun playing Real Monopoly; and being paid to do it, in real money.

Saying Goodbye Is Easy

February 1, 2016

My previous post of 2011 about Linked-In had been forgotten. After a couple more alienation moves, the “professional” account was finally closed in late 2015. When I opened the page to start the process those good folks still wanted access to my address book. Contrary to the Linked position, I felt no loss by cutting the cord.

Really? Yes, it is easy to say goodbye sometimes.

I’m Back

January 26, 2016

Life moves on and nearly a half decade absence from here is a wisp.  I wanted to add to this journal in the interim but some things slip out of gear and paths can develop various entanglements. A wish to comment on another blog finally was impetus to revive misplaced security codes to reactivate this site.


Linked-In Ready to Implode

August 26, 2011

Are you like me? Get excited about something, use it every day and then, every week? Then, oh, whenever… I did that with Linked-In. I opened an account about 3 years ago and religiously followed it, started conversations; linked to fellow employees, new people, and thought I was networking for a better position.

Then, the hawkers found me, and my groups. Linked-In started nagging for more information, my resume was only 80% complete; then it was only 70%. The nagging became irritating. I belonged to roughly 20 groups. I tried each for conversations. Two or three had active members. It was fun for a while. The hawkers drowned us out. I stayed away from my profile.

I was down to one group that I could converse in–none of the conversation was business improvement. Another group used Linked-In for announcements only. I had it on my forward list because it happened to be the “Announcement Page” of my Washington State Landscape Architect’s group.

The Recession–the one that never went away–of 2008 was deep six-ing any people and businesses in the construction industry. I went to a job seminar put on by a professional consultant. One observation he made that stuck to me like a tick was: “Do you really want your employer to know that you are looking for work?” That could be an issue, but my past employers, both, encouraged joining Linked-In for the business advertising. No, make my resume generic and “bloomy”, and my old bosses will love it. New employers will love it too.

A couple of weeks ago a Linked-In invitation showed up on a Yahoo group I belong to. This group is purely fun and games.  The member who was mortified by his error was just as furious. Well, today I saw how this poor victim was whamboozled. After a couple of months of abstinence, I opened my Linked-In Profile … And, there was the potential cause of future embarrassment.

The Linked-In  “Nags Window” wanted my email password so Linked-In could contact my contacts for me, to “Invite [my friends] to join Linked-In.”

Instead, I methodically went through my profile, resume, and edited it down to basic, minimum information. My “Summary” says: “I no longer use Linked-In. You may contact me at: .”

Resource Conservation (The Fence, Continued)

June 22, 2011

After two years I am looking back at my fence restoration. There is no evidence of the mess and vacancy of construction. Except for paired nail holes in most of the pickets, the fence looks brand new. In other recycled products, those nail holes are status symbols. I don’t mind them—they are status markers.

I reviewed the original fence restoration article and realized it is unfinished. I was going to add the costs as a comment, but realize there is much more involved than a few numbers. One thing is ego: The proof is in the pudding.

So, we see the rest of the story….

2009 Fence Restoration Cost

Posts: 24 total, including 2 gates, two corners and three end posts. Concrete was used for backfill. Washed pea gravel is an alternate that will extend post life.

4x4x8’ pressure treated fir post = $10.00

One 60lb bag of premix concrete (use the cheapest) for every two posts at: $3.50 per bag.

Rails: 2x4x8’ pressure treated rails were $4.00 each. I needed 4, to finish my fence. To use new rails, I would have needed 84 pieces (3 per 8’ section). I saved $320.

Panel boards (pickets): At $1.50 each (1x4x6’) and 23 per 8-feet of fence section, the fencing is a huge chunk of the overall cost ($4.30 per linear foot). I salvaged all of mine, and 30 feet of a neighbor’s. I saved $860.

Much of the old fence line was on slope, and the panels were somewhat level at the tops. Fence boards ranged from 48-inches to over 6-feet in length. The new fence had 3 sections in the side yard reserved for shorter fence boards. It was a lucky “guestimate”, because I trimmed about six longer boards to finish a short panel section.

Hardware: Included in this cost is all nails, new hinges for gates (use at least 6” hinges), any treatment, and post brackets. Everything is galvanized. Each section of fence has 4 brackets, at $0.40 each. I think I paid around $60 for hardware, and have several pounds of nails remaining. Gates need to be priced individually. Simpson sells short framing nails for hangers. They work great for attaching the brackets to posts, but I used small 6-penny for the rails. The cap-rails had a 12-penny common toe-nailed at each post, which really improved rigidity of the panels. Simpson includes space for this on their post brackets.

Paint: One gallon of latex covered all wood surfaces in 20 linear feet. One face of the fence was previously painted so required much less paint. Estimate one gallon per 15 linear feet of unpainted or previously stained fence (150 sf). Buy good brushes and care for them, as well as the cheap rollers.

Paint at 10 gallons = $23 per gallon.

Concrete precast curbing: Standard HCMU caps at 4x8x16” = $1.25 each. Bricks (2x4x8”) for fill-in = $0.35 each. Since I used old pier blocks from a sunning deck, curbing cost me about $100. If building new, with post spacing at 8-feet, 6 caps plus fill bricks will go post-to-post (one cap aligned at 90-degrees). Concrete post backfill will mess up the estimates.

My posts were at 7-foot spacing, to use salvaged rails, and miss all, but one, of the old buried posts.

Ok, so all this estimating is intended to taut the effectiveness of conserving resources by extending the useable life of a renewable resource that is not sustainable under existing standard repair and maintenance practices. We compare costs of a “new” new fence and one using recovered materials.

We cannot include labor costs in this comparison. Restoration and salvage require an investment of time and labor that exceeds the cost of new material and the labor to construct a new fence. Salvage not only includes the same construction costs, but also, the deconstruction costs and the very labor intensive cost of cleaning salvaged material.

While I was building and wolfing down aspirin, I figured that the $1300, or so, saved in material was costing me two to three times as much in labor and equipment wear.

The comparison:

Restored Fence- $750 for 200 linear feet. Or, $3.75 per foot for a very well-built and long lasting fence.WashingtonStatesales tax is shy of 10%. I paid the tax, so it is wrapped in the material costs.

New Fence-

  1. New pickets- (+) $860
  2. New rails- (+) $320
  3. Gate hardware (closure spring, latch) (+) $45
  4. Disposal of old fencing (est.) – (+) $200
  5. Curbing (28 piers at 12” recycled)- 21 concrete caps at (+) $26
  6. Extra paint- 4 gallons at (+) $92
  7. PLUS (!!!) the costs in the restored fence, which includes only new material- $750?

New Fence Grand Total- $2293 for 200 linear feet. Or, $11.50 per foot for the same fence.

(Note, no labor costs are included. I am a slave to myself.)

The final line, above, says a great deal about human nature and social attitudes. History is rife with cycles of excess and conservation. The Greek civilization actually disappeared for several hundred years and then recovered “glory” (or, opulence). Global economics has always fluctuated.

When demand exceeds supply and turns into need, society will initiate conservation by necessity.  The past few years have witnessed several phrases, and terms for resource thrift, but those terms represent the same thing that has moved civilizations and people and human history for its entire social existence.