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  • Writer's pictureMicah Taintor

Can I Build a Fence in Iowa in winter?

People call us from time to time asking can we build a fence in winter. They may be closing on a home purchase in January, or their new rescue dog is jumping their 4’ fence and need a taller fence. The answer is yes, depending on the type and how we manage certain challenges. Possible fence types include chain link, wood (with steel Postmaster posts), ornamental steel, and Trex. Vinyl is out of the question, since in cold temperatures it is hard to work with and more likely to break during a cold installation.

The biggest hurdle to building a fence in Iowa winter is ground frost. A frozen ground is not easy to dig into, even with a skid loader. Any post that will be set in a hole with concrete will first need to have the ground thawed. We do that a couple different ways:

  1. Via a ground heater blanket. Powerblanket is our preferred tool These are not cheap, but they thaw about 12” of ground frost in a day, so in late February may take a couple days to thaw 24” inches of typically frozen Iowa ground. Even if it’s been warm outside for a week in early March, you may have 6” of topsoil that is soft, and another 18” of frozen ground beneath it. Whether your yard has sun exposure will impact how fast ground will thaw without a heater blanket.

  2. Via small charcoal fires that we manage over several hours. This process is labor intensive, but an upside is that we usually get in the mood for grilled meats while working. Obviously fire safety is paramount.

With posts that don’t need to be set in concrete (chain link, ornamental steel, Postmaster posts for wood fences), we can pound them with our gas-powered post pounders. The posts will go through frozen ground, albeit at a slower rate than normal. Of course, if we run into subsurface obstacles (such as rocks and roots) then we’ll need to thaw the ground to remove the obstacles.

Other hurdles include cold temperature and the weather conditions. Batteries, tools, and equipment don’t work as well (or at all) when temperatures go below 15 degrees. Plus safety of people and equipment is important, so we likely won’t work in the field during a snow storm or when roads are hazardous. Therefore, plan that your project will take longer also. If a project in June typically takes 3 days, it might take 5 or more when factoring thawing the ground, shoveling snow, and coffee breaks to warm up fingers. Naturally, the cost of such a project will be higher than in warmer seasons.

All said, we still like the adventure, challenge, and opportunity to work outdoors during winter, so we’re happy take on a few winter jobs to keep our brains and bodies in shape, as well as protect your pets and kids.

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