Project Preparation and Layout

Setting Posts – Pre-installation Preparation

  • Project Kick-Off
  • Materials
  • Site Review
  • Site Layout

Objective:  By mastering this lesson, you will be able to successfully comprehend, prepare and layout a project in preparation to begin setting posts. 

Equipment:  Pen, pad, folder, copy of proposal, plans and specifications ( if available), hammer, stakes, string line, 25’ tape measure, 200’ tape measure.

Key Questions:

  1. What do I need to know about digging around utilities?
  2. What do I need to know about private utilities?
  3. How do I run string line in preparation to begin setting posts?

What do I need to know about digging around utilities? 


Unfortunately, many public utility companies place their respective utilities on or near the property line in an effort to cost effectively branch from one consumer to the next and avoid any building structures.  However, most business and home owners insist on placing their fence along their property lines to capture all their property within the boundaries of their fence. 

Every project where we will disturb the earth requires utility locates through the One-Call system.   You will want to contact this agency and notify them of your intent and location to dig.  In turn, they will locate within a 36” (18” either side of the edge of the marks) boundary of the actual buried utility.  Each utility is located with specific color paint and/or flags. 

            Red                 Electricity

            Yellow             Gas

            Orange            Telephone

            Blue                Water

            Green              Storm or sewer

            Pink                Survey


The One Call system will provide you with a locate number and time by which you can safely begin digging.  You should obtain this locate number from your contact person in preparation of the project.  The One-Call system will notify all utility providers in the area of your intentions.  In turn, these providers will locate their utilities within the area that you intend on digging in.  If you arrive on-site and see no utility marks, there is a good chance that the project was not properly located.  Again, contact the One Call system to assure the site was located. 

When laying out your fence line, you may encounter a utility locate mark(s).  Initially, you should make all attempts to install your fence without moving the fence line and infringing on the 36” boundary.  If this is not possible, you will have to gently probe for the utility, hand dig down a couple inches, then probe again.  Continue to repeat this process to the proper depth of the utility.  If digging around electrical or gas, it is strongly recommended to avoid these utilities all together and relocate the fence.


You should know that there is a considerable amount of risk digging around buried utilities.  People have lost their life while digging around electrical service lines with hand diggers.  Others have been permanently disabled and disfigured.   


Whit is a private utility? 

A private utility is a utility provided by a private contractor and may be installed both during the initial construction of the facility and at any time after as facility improvements are performed.  These utilities include electric, gas, cable, telephone, sewer and water.  As for electricity, the private utility begins at the facilities transformer and generally travels to the building at where it is roughed-in.  The transformer is the (big green box) that is usually placed on the street side or front of the property of commercial properties.  This only represents the initial private electrical utility.  As for the balance of utilities, it will not be evident where the private utility begins without further investigation.


What is an example of a private utility? 

The most common private utility is power for facility lighting, including parking lot lighting. Electricity, gas, cable, etc. may be run from a primary building to a second on-site building. Gas for outdoor grills, entry accent torches, etc. are also very common.  Phone and internet to remote buildings.

What is a private locate? 

A private locate is an act to locate private utilities.  It is never performed by the One Call System because they have no record of these utilities.  Only the owner of the facility and potentially the contractor who built the building would have the original as-builts, identifying the utilities.  Unlike public or One Call locates, there are no regulations or standards governing private locates.  Private locates may be noted by any means agreed to by the locator and the contractor performing the future work.  You should request the locates be painted and flagged to avoid confusion with other construction site communications such as survey stakes, post hole locations, etc.

Who performs private locates?  

Private locates may be performed by as-builts, memory, or by a electrician who has the means to tap on to the electrical service.   Again, these should be located by means agreed to by the locator and the individual installing the fence.

What is the accuracy of private locates?  

There is no standard governing accuracy so this may range from being dead-on top of the utility to being completely off. 

Who assures that private locates are completed? 

The contractor performing the future work should request in writing that all private utilities be located prior to the work being performed.  The contractor should request notification in writing that the locates are complete and review the locates prior to beginning the work. 

What is included in the request for private utility locates?  

The request should state when the contractor intends on beginning the work.  It should  include that the utilities be located a minimum of twenty-four hours prior to the work being performed or in adequate time to review the locates before beginning the work.  It should request the locates be painted and flagged in accordance with the One Call System standards, using a color-coded identification system and 18” variance from either side of the mark. The request should also state the contractor is not responsible for non-located or mis-located utilities damaged during construction.  The request should also demand that the owner or owner’s representative contact the contractor in writing to notify the contractor of the existence and location of private utilities.

What happens if a private utility is damaged? 

Follow the current One-Call Notification and for damaged utilities.  This will assure that the utility is not a public utility and will reduce future liabilities.


How do I run string line in preparation to begin setting posts? 

 Your string line should represent the outside of your fence and not the center of your fence.  In all actuality, the string line will most likely represent the location of your fabric installed on the outside of your posts. 

  1. project-preparation-layout-6.gifInstall your stakes.  Install stakes relative to all corner, end, changes in grade and at intervals not exceeding two hundred feet.  Your stakes should be installed true and no more than 6” above grade.  Make sure you are using stakes that are at least 18” long to assure proper burial so that these do not move throughout the installation.  If you do not install stakes at changes in grade you will find your string line several inches or feet above grade or being held tight to the ground (or caught on plants, curbs, etc.).  This can easily throw your fence line out of alignment.  Hammer your stakes in clear of your post holes so that the stakes are not disturbed during digging. 
  2. Using your string line, you will run the string on the outside of the soon to be installed fence.  In other words, the string will run where the fabric or wood pickets  will be located.  At corner locations, you will create a triangle with your string, continuing on to the next run without cutting the string. 
  3. Run your string through gate openings to assure proper alignment from one side to the other. 
  4. Keep your post a ¼” off the string to assure that you do not push the string out-of-alignment. 



© 2018 The American Fence Company. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial use, copying or distribution is prohibited without express written permission from The American Fence Company.

© 2024 The American Fence Company. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial use, copying or distribution is prohibited without express written permission from The American Fence Company.