Prefabricated fencing panels offer a quick, easy way to build a fence. They come in wood, vinyl, composites, and even metal (although metal panels look best with metal posts), and they are easy to attach to wooden posts set in concrete. Setting the posts is the hardest part of the job, and if they are already set because you took down some old fencing and decided to reuse the posts, so much the better.
There's just one teensy problem. The posts have to be spaced exactly right, or the panels won't fit. Panels typically come in 6- and 8-foot lengths, so that should be the post spacing. If the spacing is wider than the panels, you might be able to make up the difference by shimming the posts, but if it's narrower and you can't move the posts, you either have to modify the panels, make your own panels, or use a different kind of fencing.
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Posts Must Be Straight and Solid
Fencing panels are heavy — likely heavier than the fencing material that was there before — and they are effective windbreaks, so the fence posts have to be strong enough to support them. The posts also have to be straight because if they aren't, gaps will show along the sides of the panels. If your existing posts are strong, straight, and spaced exactly right, you're good to go, but chances are they won't be.
If the posts are set in concrete, some are leaning while others are wobbly, and the spacing is a little off, you're probably better off making a slat-and-rail fence than trying to install panels. That way, you'll be able to cut the rails to fit. If the posts are set in dirt, however, you can pull them and dig a hole for each one with a post-hole digger or an auger. Each hole should be about 12 inches in diameter and deep enough to sink the post by at least a third of its length. This may make the posts shorter than they were before, but you should still be able to use them.
Set Posts One by One as You Install Panels
Posts should be set in concrete to brace the fencing panels against the wind. Start the installation by setting the first corner post plumb and level in concrete and waiting for the concrete to set. Measure the width of the first panel and then set the next post in its hole with its facing edge exactly that distance from the edge of the first post. Hold the post in place with braces, install the panel, and then move on to the next post and repeat the operation. Don't backfill any more posts just yet.
After you've completed the line of fencing all the way to the opposite corner, come back and fill each hole with concrete. Be sure to double-check the level of each post before you pour concrete; you don't want the fence leaning backward or forward. This method ensures the proper spacing for the posts, and it also allows for panels of different widths.
How to Attach the Fencing Panels
The easiest way to attach wooden fencing panels to posts is to screw them. Cut two short pieces of scrap wood to act as supports, screw them to the bottom facing edges of adjacent posts, stretch a line level between them, and make sure the bubble is centered. If the ground slopes, they may be at different heights on the posts. Set the panel on top of them and screw the panel to the posts with 2 1/2-inch exterior screws.
If you're installing vinyl or composite panels, they will probably be supplied with brackets to hold them to the posts. If not, you can buy the brackets. All panels have a top and bottom rail, and some have a middle one, so you'll need two or three brackets per panel per post. Space them the same distance apart as the rails, use a line level to make sure they are all at the same height as the corresponding ones on the adjacent post, and screw them to the posts. Set the panel in the brackets and drive screws through the holes in the brackets to secure it.