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To a layperson, calculating the cost to build a fence may seem easy. Those with any experience, however, understand there is a lot of work involved in assessing the terrain and calculating how many posts will be needed. The more experience you have building fences, the more accurate your bid on future projects will be.
1. Gather All Available Information
The more information you have about a fence project, the more accurate your bid will be. If you're bidding on a public project, for example, you can get copies of surveyor assessments and other information about the terrain that will help you when determining your labor and equipment costs. If you're able to inspect the area yourself, you can determine what kind of soil you will be digging in. You can save yourself the frustration of discovering that beneath a few inches of soil, you'll be digging post holes into rock-filled earth.
2. Calculate Material Costs
To give an accurate bid, it's vital to figure out exactly what your material costs will be. To begin, you need to know if the fence is going to be wood, metal, chain-link, or vinyl; how long the fence will be; how many corners it will have; and whether or not it has end points.
Once you know what kind of fence it will be and its size, you can develop a materials list. For example, if you are building a wooden fence, you need to know what type of wood you need, such as pressure-treated lumber or cedar. You also need to know:
- Posts: What is the distance between each post? This is optimally 8 feet for a wooden fence, since rails are 8 feet long. How many corner posts and end posts are required?
- Rails: How many rails per section are required? These are the horizontal pieces that hang on the posts, supporting the pickets. Most wooden fences have at least two rails.
- Pickets: Is it going to be a single-picket or a double-picket fence? What is the preferred width of each picket and the preferred space between them?
- Gates: Most gates require two gateposts, which are are not attached to the fence. So for each gate, you will need two gateposts and two fence end posts.
- Concrete: Posts are usually stabilized with a concrete foundation. How deep the posts go will determines how much concrete you need per post.
- Hardware: How many nails or screws you need will be determined by the number of pickets, rails and posts. Rails should be attached with longer 3 1/2-inch screws or nails, while pickets can be secured with shorter 1 1/2-inch screws or nails.
Suppose you have been asked to bid on constructing a new section of single-picket fence -- without the need of gate or end posts -- that is 200 feet long. Posts are to be 8 feet apart, with two rails per section. The pickets are to measure 5.5 inches wide, spaced 1 inch apart. An estimate of your material would be:
- 26 posts: 8 foot, 4x4
- 50 rails: 8 foot, 2x4
- 370 pickets: 6 foot, 5.5 inches
- 26 bags of concrete
- 9 lbs. of 1 1/2-inch screws or nails
- 6 lbs. of 3 1/2-inch screws or nails
3. Price the Materials
The price of materials for fencing, particularly wood, can vary in different regions and from season to season. For the above list, if you use pressure-treated wood in 2017, the materials would cost between $1,400 and $2,150. A cedar fence would cost between $2,300 and $3,400. A redwood fence would cost between $3,500 and $5,000.
4. Price Labor and Equipment
Once you have your material costs calculated, you need to add your labor costs. This will depend on how many people are in your crew and how much you want to pay them. To keep your labor pricing competitive, you need at least two people to assemble a fence. Trying to build a fence on your own will take more man-hours than using two people.
Finally, add the costs of any equipment you need. If you need to rent a post-hole digger, a tractor or a truck, add these costs.
5. Add Your Profit Margin
If everyone bidding on a fence project has the same material costs and approximately the same labor and equipment costs, your profit margin will determine whether or not you get the contract. Factor in too much profit, and you could lose the bid. However, if you don't add enough profit, winning the bid won't be worthwhile to you, especially if you have other projects you could be working on.
- Include actual costs for any permits required.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has been a hiring manager and recruiter for several companies and advises small businesses on technology. He has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles on careers and small business trends for newspapers, magazines and online publications including About.com, Re/Max and American Express.