Installing a Fence on a Sloped Site

Project: Basement Finishing and Family Space, Episode 7, Part 1



Back in Melrose, MA, Bob is outside for the installation of a white cedar fence that is racked to accommodate the sloping lot. The posts are sunk 36 inches into the ground, or one third the overall height of the fence, backfilled with dirt, then set with concrete for stability. The concrete is set outside the dirt packing so that water does not trap against the posts. The fence has its clear or beauty side facing out toward side neighbors, but facing in toward the yard in the back. The fence is built with wing walls to create adjacent mini sheds for gardening supplies, garbage, or backyard toys. Inside, Moynihan Lumber has adapted a Therma-Tru flush fiberglass door to fit the style and door opening from the basement to the yard. A new half-bath is installed with plumbing, wiring, and a macerating toilet to liquefy and expel waste from belowground fixtures. A tile floor is laid in the new laundry and bath with set-in electric radiant mats underneath for programmable warm floors. Fiberglass-faced wallboard is installed to keep the basement mold-free. It can be finished just like blue board with taping or a traditional plaster veneer.

Part 1: Installing a Fence on a Sloped Site

Bob talks with Jay Triandafilou from Architectural Fence Plus about the fencing installed on the side and backyard of the home in Melrose. The fencing was built using white cedar, a strong and long-lasting wood. The fence posts were installed using a concrete mix, which can promote rot if done incorrectly. Triandafilou explains that the base of the posts were placed into a 36- inch hole. Six inches of dirt were put into the hole and concrete was then added. This method does not create a total seal and allows water to pass through the dirt, between the wood and the concrete. The concrete provides stiffness and stability for the fence posts. The post should not be totally encased in the concrete. The fence on the side of the home has three stalls, which will provide space for a shed, a planting area, and a place to keep trash. In the backyard, there was an existing chain-link fence that needed to be taken down. The land was rocky, which made digging the 36-inch holes for the fence posts difficult. When placing fence posts, a good rule is one third of the post should be placed below ground and two thirds above. Triandafilou explains that the area where the fence was installed is a sloped site, which posed some challenges. Triandafilou and his team made the fence sections off site, but in some cases the board sections were created on site to accomodate the slope. A finished cap was added to the top of the fence to keep out rain. The top of the fence was cut to allow this cap to be installed. Triandafilou explains the "clean side" of the fence (the face without the horizontal rails ) was put in place facing the neighbors. In the back of the house, the clean side was installed facing the home.

Part 2: Cutting an Exterior Door to Fit
Part 3: Installing a Basement Half-Bathroom
Bob Vila helps a young family with an old house create family and recreational space for their active kids. Projects include replacement window installation, innovative plumbing solutions, and smart storage to make indoor and outdoor spaces ideal for this growing family.

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  • Episode 1 - Removing Unwanted Junk and Combatting Basement Moisture

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  • Episode 5 - Exterior Upgrades for 1921 Gambrel

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  • Episode 9 - Low-Maintenance Landscaping, Gutters, and Pantry

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Hi, I'm Bob Vila. Welcome to the show. We're remodeling a little 85 year old house here, and we've been working in the basement, creating a family room today.

We're putting in a half bathroom with a very unusual toilet and a laundry room in that area. On the outside of the house, we're building a white cedar fence that incorporates some very unusual storage features. And we're cutting down a door to install in the new basement entry. Stick around, it's good to have you with us.
Alright, the major landscape improvement that we're doing to the side and the back of the house involves fencing, and Jay Tarantifino is with us from Architectural Fence. This is all white heater they use, right?

Yes, sir.

So, why is that the best choice for this kind of fencing?

It's a wood that's a northern species, it's local and it's impervious to rot.

Yeah, it's long lasting.

It's long lasting, yes.

Yeah. And now one thing that I want to ask is, I've always thought that mixing concrete in a hole and putting it in a hole surrounding a wood post of any sort is a bad idea. Doesn't it promote rot?

It does, if it's done improperly. There is a correct way of doing it. What we do is, we set a post to approximately a 36 inch depth. We'll through approximately 6 inches of material dirt back on the hole.

Of dirt.

And then we'll add the concrete. That way it doesn't create a total seal. It allows the water to pass through the wood, between the wood and the concrete.

And the concrete is there for stiffness.

Stiffness, stability and it remains the elevation of the post.

So the key, is not to totally encase that post in concrete.

Correct.

Because if you That you would be trapping moisture in the wood.

Yes, sir.

And that accelerates the rotting process?

Yes.

I gotcha. All right. Well, what are we creating right here? This almost looks like shower stalls at the beach club here.

Yeah, it is in a sense. Yeah, basically Sarah came to us and...

Our homeowner.

Yeah, homeowner. She's said that very tight sight and she wished could have a shed, a planting area and a trash bin. So I says oh, we can give that to you. We have a spot on the side and this is basically what this creates.

So essentially, you got the fence going along the property line and you're putting up these little wing walls.

These are wing walls, yeah.

They're wing fences, and we'll have an enclosure for trash.

Let's talk about what you've already done though, because when you got here you had to deal with kind of a rough site. What's the first thing you had to work on?

When we came here, first Bob, we had, there was an existing chain link fence that was up in the back line with some heavy growth. So we had to come in, cut the growth and also remove the chain-link fence.

What about the digging on the site? Is it very rocky?

Isn't there some ledge around here?

There's quite a bit of rock here, as a matter of fact. We've struck quite a bit of rock in the holes as we're digging. Loose material and also some solid material.

These posts have to be dug to a 36-inch depth, so we find it quite frequently. That's why the cement also helps.

Is the depth because of the frost heaves that we encounter in cold climates?

It's for the frost as well as stability of the fence. A six foot high fence needs a certain amount in the ground.

It's generally, two-thirds of the height must be set in the ground.

Two-thirds above and one-third below?

Correct.

Gotcha. OK, and what about the actual panels?

These were made back in your shop and then you install them on-site?

Yes sir.

You've got a sloped site. How do you deal with that?

Well that's an interesting question. We have to do what they call racking receptions , which basically takes a section that's built square Yeah.

And actually slopes the boards to make up for the difference in the elevation and the height of the ground.

OK. And you can do that even though you've got double nailing on all of these boards and so forth?

Yeah, they go to a certain extent. Sometimes they reach a point where they won't rack any further, and in that case we have to build the panels on site.

Okay.

Which you've seen here.

What about the caps?

The caps. The fence caps on the top of the fence is a finish piece as well as it helps with the rain . Basically we have to sometimes, when you get into a position where the board's on a extremely racked situation your boards stagger.

Yeah.

So you have to cut the top of the boards in order for this cap to fit over, because there is only about a half inch that fits on the top of the board.

Now putting up fencing on a slope side has got to be the hardest job.

Yeah, it's not easy.

Yeah. Alright, so most fencing has a Well they're both nice size but one side is clear like this and other side has the rails exposed and so how do you choose which side faces in what direction?

That's up to the home owner.

There's really, unless there's some town ordinances that specify who gets which side basically this is what we call the good side.

The beauty side.

The beauty side.

And then the back side of course has the three horizontal rails.

And what have you done here?

We've done it both ways here Bob, as a matter of fact.

The rear fence actually, we turned the good side in to the homeowner.

Okay.

And then the side line, we turn the rails inside the homeowner.

So, we've given the beauty side to the neighbor.

Correct.

And the neighbor's very close to the fence.

Yes, it's a beautiful fence. The Owens Corning basement finishing system has given us a lot of warmth in this new family room. And one thing that we did was to build a little mud room here.

Our friends from Moynahan Lumber just installed a nice six-panel door here. And, Luce Andonaro, there you are. Have you finished with that door?

It's all set, Bob. Just finishing up the trim.

The door that was here was this little miniature fair because of the fact that we're in a basement that didn't have a bulkhead entrance, just this little door. Nasty little door that's been there since 1920, and you guys have done a great job of modifying a door for our opening.

Yeah, we took a flush fiberglass door, put some plants on it, glued them on, with some adhesive tape, cut a couple lights in it. Put double bolt security system in place.

So, you guys do this kind of work back at the shop? Pat Moynihan right?

Correct.

And this is, what 's it made out of, this door?

It's a fiberglass door: Thermatrue fiberglass. It's called a smooth-style door.

And so you started out with just a flush door, and you cut it down to size.

Correct. We cut it down the size height and width, and then we, like I said, we put the plants on it for ya. To give it some design so it wouldn't just be a flush door.

Yeah close it a minute cause you put it on both sides, and, what kind - I mean is it a wood molding that you put on there?

It's an Azek molding. We trim it in the shop. We make it to fit the plants and its the same profile for you.

It's a beautiful job.

Thank you.

Thanks, Lou. So, remodeling a basement often gives you some options you didn't know you had. And very often any remodeling project leads you to a point where you say, "Well, you might as well do this too, there goes the budget," sometimes.

But, what we had here is a situation where the back corner of the old nasty dirty basement, formerly a little paint closet , was a perfect location to carve out a badly needed half-bathroom.

This is a three, four-bedroom house with one bathroom. Very often that's what they built back in the 1920's, and this is a family with two little boys.

So it makes sense to provide some additional plumbing.

What we've been able to do here once we re-framed the area, restructured this little staircase that goes up to the kitchen was essentially to rough it out. Our plumber, Al Leone, was back with another apprentice from the Plumbers and Gas-Fitters Union.

Local number twelve training program. They made quick work of a pretty complex plumbing Bob by using Peck's flexible tubing.

We will have a combination of a half bathroom with a little sink. And hook ins for the laundry equipment, the washer and dryer. There will also be enough room for a spare refrigerator down here.

But once the plumbers were through with all the the essential rough work that had to be done, including some specialized plumbing, because the toilet in the basement doesn't necessarily work without some assist. More about that later. We had the electricians come in to move wires and pull wires and get things going.

Electrician, John Schevoni also had his work cut out for him. Running all the new lines. You don't think about it much, but a bathroom and a laundry require quite a few circuits, switches, and outlets. And, it's important to have a licensed electrician do this work and get the proper inspection.

Working in a basement, lots of choices to be made. We've used Georgia Pacific it's armor plus for all the wall board.

Actually, this a great product to use in basements. It's, the face is a fiberglass face, it's inorganic so it doesn't host mold or mildew like other paper face products do.

Then screw it.

It's very easy to work with. It's very similar to working with regular blue board or dry-wall itself. Cuts, snaps the exact same. This product will accept both plaster and a drywall finish.

Where you drywall finish typical three coats on the seams you'll completely skim the surface of the drywall or you could bond veneer plaster it, just like you would blue-board.

Once the walls were done, we took a look at the floor, which is an old concrete slab cold underfoot and we decided the best thing to do would be to put down a nice ceramic tile floor, with some electric heat pads underneath it.

Alright, so Kevin are you ready to put this in?

I am ready Bob.

Well, first of all. What is it? It's a radiant heating source, right?

Yes, it's electrical radiant floor heating. As you can see it comes pre-built. The only pre-built on the market.

It comes with your leads right here that go into a programmable thermostat.

Wait a minute isn't this, so this goes down underneath the tile.

This will go underneath tile, stone , or any kind of free floating wood floors such as laminate engineer.

And essentially these wires get warm and that's what transfers the heat?

Exactly.

This is one wire going through; it all gets warmed up and we can get it up to about 92 degrees.

Isn't it awfully expensive to rent?

You would think that, Bob, but actually running a mat like this in a room like this, it's equivalent to running your lights. But the great thing about it, it's on a programmable thermostat, so you can't leave your lights on, or you can't Leave this on. So I guess the thing to remember is that your not using it for constant heat all winter long.

You're only using it when you're in the area and you need the warmth, right, if you're barefoot and you know.

Right outside the room and kids are playing and running around and they want to come use the bathroom here.

Exactly if you're in the bathroom at five thirty in the morning you only have it on five to seven That's the only time you will need it.

So how do you install it, Kim?

Well, it's easy, Bob. Actually the way you go about this is first you're gonna dry fit it. Make sure it, you know, you have the right mat for the right room.

As you see this does fit. It fits perfectly with the vanity and the toilet.

So it doesn't have to cover every last square inch its just a general area.

Yeah, typically we don't want to get on any vanities. You know, we'll go 18 inches from the back of the toilet, just so you have, when you're standing you have the right heat.

Right.

What we do here is we got I tell people this is a small mat, but our mats come large. I tell them to start with half, open it up thin thinner mud it down.

So what is the mud you are using?

It's just your typical mud. Your thin set you know you can get it as watery as you want or as you see I didn't.

It's why I kept it, sissy a little thick that's the way I like to put it.

And what I'll do is I'll just come and don't be afraid, you're not going to ruin the mat it's very durable.

I put in half here, and I just go at it do what I have to do with my saw.

Alright.

And basically, it will adhere to the ground it is a porous mat so it will come through let's get a little more here.

Alright.

So you're using a float now, just to press it down into the.

Yes, sir. I want to make sure I get all the bubbles out.

Mm-hm.

And make sure it's as flat as possible.

Is the mat made out of some sort of plastic or fiber glass?

It is a poly-carbon type fabric.

Like I said, it is porous, so it will come through, seep through a little bit.

And then, do you put another layer of the thin-set on top of it now?

Yes sir, as soon as you going to put the tile down.

Okay, so the next step, the next step would be the tile setter putting down his mastic and tile.

Exactly, and like I said don't be afraid to walk on it.

Yeah, it's simple.

Alright, well thanks Kevin.

Thank's Bob.

Alright, so Mike, how long have you waited between setting the tile down and doing the grout?

24 hours Bob.

That's generally the recommended time right?

Right.

That's correct.

And what kind of grout is this?

It's just the basic grout.

There's nothing nothing synthetic or anything?

No that's just what you get.

These are Dowell tile we are putting down. Is it a ceramic tile or a porcelain tile?

These are ceramic, Bob.

OK.

And I believe the homeowner's choice had a lot to do with, well, not putting down a plain, white finish that would show dirt and dust and lint because after all, this is a laundry room.

Right.

It' a good choice. And once you've grouted it, then how long do you have to wait before you can actually move in?

Another 24 hours, basically.

There you go.

In a basement, if you want to install a bathroom and a toilet, you're usually going to be too low below the ground to be able to have stuff go out to the sewer, so you have to install a specialized toilet that involves pumping and macerating.

Bob, tell us about the design of this toilet. It's unusual. It looks different from anything we're used to seeing.

Well as Alan mentioned, it's a back outlet toilet. That's so that the waste can be evacuated from the bowl into a macerator behind it.

Right, right. inside the macerator is a motor with stainless steal blades that spin at 3600 RPMs.

So that all solid wastes are being churned up.

It turned into a liquid.

Liquified.

Yes.

Yeah.

That allows us to pump out of a three quarter inch pipe. So that's a very difficult thing for some people to understand that we are pumping liquids at that point. We're not pumping any solids. All the paper and waste is turned into a slurry, so to speak.

Exactly. Now the actual design of the bowl seems different.

It's a European style bowl. It's, the company's been based in Europe for fifty years, and in Europe many of the manufacturers make this type of bowl.

Yeah.

It's an elongated design.

It is an elongated bowl but we have a round front in this particular model is elongated as well.

Al, can I bring it in?

Absolutely.

OK, now from the point of view of water conservation in all this, does this conform to?

It is the 1.6 gallons, 1.6 liters.

1.6 yes Again, no kind of rubber flange or anything there?

There is a tank to bowl seal.

Oh I see it, yes.

It's a standard tank. And then again, you bolt it down to the base.

That's correct.

So, Bob, having a pump attached to a toilet, one would worry about maintenance and stuff, I mean.

Virtually no maintenance needs to be done.

Really?

There are certain things that you don't want to do with this. You don't want to flush down, just because it is a grinder, you don't want to flush things down here that you wouldn't flush down an ordinary toilet.

You have to be careful what you put in.

Yes.

What about the cost?

Cost or suggested retail list price is at $869 for this unit.

Including the macerator?

Macerator and toilet.

The whole package, yeah.

Yeah.

Well, it's absolutely terrific as it's really the only way to locate a bathroom in a basement situation, below grade.

It can save you thousands of dollars over any other method of installing a bathroom in the basement below the grade.

Terrific.

Well, the addition of a half a bathroom will make a big, big improvement in the quality of life around here for this little family of four.

That's all for this week.

Next week, we'll be putting in the underlayment, installing slide lock storage cabinets and doing some necessary chimney repairs, and putting in a fireplace insert.

Till then, I'm Bob Villa. Thanks for joining us.

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