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Install decorative picket fence

Dear Ms. Builder: I have always wanted a decorative picket fence around the front of my house. I want to build it myself so that I can afford it. Please give me some design and construction tips. - Barb N.

Dear Barb: A decorative picket fence can make a dramatic improvement to your home without breaking your budget. This is assuming that you do the work yourself and plan it properly for minimum material waste.

Before preceding any further, check the zoning in your area. Most residential communities have restrictions on the location, height and design of fence that is allowed. These restrictions are usually more strict on fences placed in the front yard.

If you plan to place it on the property line, which is allowed in many areas, have your lot line surveyed first. If you are off just a couple of inches, you may have to tear down the fence later. It is generally better to move it in a little and avoid the surveying expense.

While you are doing this initial research, contact your local telephone and TV cable companies to find the locations of their wires. A surefire way to antagonize your neighbors is to cut the TV cable right in the middle of a big game on TV.

Since you are going to build the picket fence yourself, you have complete flexibility over its style. It is generally best to match it to the style and size of your house. Try to follow the lines and the wood type used on your house. You do not want it to compete with your house.

Although many styles may look good, there are some typical ones used with various house styles. For example, adding a lot of ornamentation on the posts would be a good fit on a Victorian. A simple standard white picket fence works well with a Colonial home.

On most picket fences, the posts are spaced between six and eight feet apart. I like eight-foot spacing for the most efficient use of lumber. Four-feet high posts are most common unless your codes dictate otherwise. You can attach this by cutting 12-foot posts in half and setting them two feet deep.

Next, determine the width of the pickets that you want. This has the greatest impact on the appearance of your fence. If you are unsure, visit a local fencing company and look at samples and pictures. Two to four inches wide is typical. The picket lumber is usually 3/4 inches thick.

Carefully layout your fence on your lot. For a professional appearance, it is important that the posts are all lined up properly. A wavy fence will just not look right.

To keep it straight, stretch a string with about two inches clearance away from the post locations. If you try to place the post right against the string, one post will surely touch and push it over. All the rest of the posts will then also be out of line.

If you are very accurate, you may dig all the post holes first. This saves time if you rented a post hole digger. I still prefer the safe method of digging and installing each post as you go. This eliminates the possibility of finding out at the end that you have the spacing wrong.

Western red cedar or redwood are two good materials to use for your fence. Assemble all the posts and horizontal beams first. Paint or stain this entire structure. Paint or stain the pickets next and then nail them to the beams. Use stainless steel or galvanized nails.

Tools and materials needed - band or radial arm saw (for decorative pickets), circular saw, hammer, screwdrivers, tape measure, plumb line, post hole digger, nails, screws, gravel or concrete, assorted lumber

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.