On The Fence

Here’s a question people often ask me: How do you decide when to DIY versus hire a pro? (In fact, someone asked me that question last week during the live chat I did for Lifehacker, and trying to answer quickly in three sentences or less might have made my eye twitch.)

My own personal metrics whether or not to DIY pretty much depend on how crazy I’m feeling at the moment. Have I slept at all in the last month? Did I recently roll my car over and have to spend my “new project fund” on a new vehicle (or two)? Do the chickens want me to hang out and sing them songs all day? How many rabies shots have I had recently? Eight? Eight. And, most importantly, will it give me an excuse to buy more tools?

Time is by far my most precious resource, but if I’m going to be honest, my ego plays a big part in these decisions too. Paying someone to do work around the house is realclose to admitting I need help, and we all know I’ll go to ridiculous lengths to do things without help (as evidenced by possibly my favorite video on this website.) The Liberty House has presented a few unique challenges though, and, being a one-woman show, I’ve been more willing to hire out jobs on this house than on any of the others. Particularly on projects that might take me the rest of my natural life to complete. Like the miles of oak trim that needed seventeen coats of paint? Happy to outsource that one.

Recently I’ve been considering hiring out another lingering project on the farm…


The pasture fence.

Take the number of times I mentioned this project on the blog over the last seven months, multiply it by 324, and that’s how often I’ve been thinking about that damn fence. And yet, you’ll notice, my donkeys are still being contained by a combination clothesline and prayers.

I kind of feel like the first time I was dragged across a field by a three-foot tall donkey was a rite of passage, but because neither Parker nor I have any desire to repeat the experience, I feel like the fence situation needs to be remedied. Soon.


So. Here’s where I’m at. Back in early spring I spend a couple of weekends laying out the pasture boundaries and pounding dozens of T-posts around my property (half of which were still in the car when I flipped it. That was a fun way to almost decapitate myself. Don’t do that.)


My plan is for the fence to mimic the pasture at Memorial, with 2-rail split rail on the front and one side leading to the barn, and welded wire around the rest, like this…


Which means I have to sink about 30 posts in the ground.

But even though I’m no stranger to fence installation, this project has eluded me all Summer. Now that the leaves are changing color and my holy-shit-it’s-almost-winter panic mechanism has kicked in, I’ve started to consider swallowing my pride and calling for help.

Other than the bruise to my ego, here are the kinds of things I look at to see what DIYing vs hiring out will really cost me…

If I do it myself:

  • 200 LF of 2-rail, split rail = $600
  • 200 LF 30″ welded-wire = $220
  • 24 hour Bobcat rental with post-hole auger = $350
  • Quickrete= $100
  • 10 4×4 treated posts = $70

Total= $1340 + 10-12 hours of labor (if I don’t finish in 12 hours and need to rent the bobcat for another day, $1700)

If I hire it out:

  • Split rail materials plus labor, including welded wire installation = $2200
  • Labor for 10 additional 4×4 post installation = $400
  • 10 4×4 treated posts = $70

Total = $2670

I am so on the fence about this decision that I don’t even know if that was an intentional pun. Probably not.

On one hand, the soonest I could even start this project is the first weekend in October. If I was sure I could finish it in a weekend, I might just dive right in, but I’m not sure I can set thirty posts in a day (or even two) on my own. And if I don’t manage to set the posts in a reasonable time frame it may actually be more expensive for me to DIY than hire out, depending on how long I’ll need the bobcat.

On the other hand, if things go well, I could save $900 for the low, low cost of anywhere from 11 to 20 hours of my time and a ton of splinters. I could refinish at least half the master bath with that extra money, and I’m not sure I’ll survive another winter without a decent bathtub to take a soak in.

Also, just to make this more difficult, just about the time I decided it was going to be worth the extra money to hire this project out, I learned my family has an auger hiding somewhere that I might be able to hook up to the tractor and use, which would save me the cost of the bobcat rental, but may or may not be available until the end of October.

No decision has been made as of yet, but I totally plan to work through this conundrum over the next week with at least one bottle of wine and lots and lots of sawdust.

35 Responses

  1. You should be able to auger the post holes with a skidsteer in just a couple hours (assuming your ground isn’t all rock). The only way I can see it taking 12+ hours is if you auger a hole, set the post, and then move onto the next. Just do all the holes at once, return the skidder, and then go back to setting all of the posts.

    1. Given some of the angles, etc. and the way the fence is manufactured I’m planning on augering, setting, and then measuring to the next hole. If I end up a little off, by the end of 200 feet I could be off enough to cause a problem.

      1. Why don’t you buy the materials, obtain the auger and hire a day laborer for $10-20 an hour to do the hard work. You can work on Halloween costumes for the donkeys!

  2. Could you buy all the materials and install the actual fences yourself, just have someone else do the post-digging labor? I am all for the savings going toward the master bath remodel….

  3. You could auger & set the first, measure to the wonky angles, set those couple, measure out to the last, set that one, then go back and auger out all of the middles, allowing you to save your back a bit in between times, and return that bobcat within a reasonable amount of time. That said…

    I’m all for the pizza & beer bribe. Even two extra hands (or 4, 6, 8, whatevs) will make the process that much faster, whether you drill/set or drill & drill & drill…

  4. I vote to hire out. Chris and I HARDLY EVER hire out , but sometimes the joy of having something done so quickly without lifting a finger gives a HUGE energy burst (not that you need one). But having a job done that one time always makes me feel rested, rejuvenated and ready to kick some serious ass.

  5. I was going to post the exact thing that Julie said.

    If nothing else, buy some flag markers and lay it out along the new fence line. That’ll take the majority of the guess work out of it.

  6. Have you considered hosting a HEY-BLOGLAND-COME-HELP-ME-BUILD-A-FENCE-PARTY? BYOA? (Bring Your Own Auger) I would totally travel to Michigan from Maryland to help you, and I’m not lying about that. The only compensation I would require would be some uninterrupted petting time with the donkeys.

  7. I think it’s a good idea to have someone else do the post digging and you build the fence, like GG said.
    So you are not paying for all of it to be done, just the hardest part!

  8. What if you bought the supplies and just hired the labor? Would it be the same? Would there be a nice family member who could help u?

  9. I HATE paying people to do things, especially if I think I can do them myself. And there is always the worry…will they do it correctly? Will they cut corners to keep more of my money in there pocket? Will I have to fix it in the end – thus having to DIY it myself AND pay someone else for nothing?

    Having said that though, I think that when we do project math we forget that not just supplies have value, but so does our time. So…I finished your math for you…

    If it takes you 12 hrs to complete the job, but you hired out, you’d be saying your time was worth 110 bucks an hour.

    If it takes you 24 hrs to complete the job, but you hired out, you’d be saying your time is worth 40 bucks an hour.

    I am no hypocrite to tell you to hire out….but what could you do with those 24hrs that aren’t a fence? Barn Chicken Coop run? Master Bath? Some other project in your head you haven’t yet shared with your adoring internet viewers?

    Just some thoughts for chewing.

  10. Do you have 10-20 hours to build it? What if you could come home and the fence be done? I third the idea to hire out the hole digging. We usually diy almost everything. I draw the line at digging holes for fences and decks. Save your back and then you get the satisfaction of assembling the fence.

  11. Who am I to offer you any advice on this? I don’t know. Hope you don’t mind. Maybe take the time and consider what other project could be completed. Then it’s like two projects for the cost of hired fence + cost of new DIY, but in the same amount of time. That’s sort of like a win, right?

    I hate “help” because of the implied admission of needing it. When the job is done, I’m glad. But I still hate help.

    Good luck! Hope you get your fence done.

  12. I feel like this post is because you want people to say it’s alright to hire out so I’m on team hire. 🙂 I for one hate building fence posts. It just seems like it is never a fast or easy job. I would say it’s worth the extra money to get the fence done quickly so the donkey’s can have a larger area.

    I think it’s great to do what you can or want on your own but there’s nothing wrong with hiring out.

  13. DIY or hire? Usually has to do with “hate factor” aka how much I don’t like doing a certain thing. One such thing would be large plumbing projects that require things like working with…. sewage. Freshwater plumbing… okay. Poo? Umm… no.

    The other deciding factor is the cost of the materials. If, for example, I need a stone counter top, I’ll hire that out because the thought of fubarring a $1,500 piece of goods isn’t that attractive.

    I always do a “time vs. money” analysis – similar to yours. However, I consider the gross necessary to generate sufficient income to spend $X. If you make $50 an hour…. then paying $200 for a job is not 4 hours of your labor, but in fact 8 due to taxes (I live in CA so almost 50% is “voluntarily surrendered” to taxes).

    I rarely hire out too. The last job I “paid” for was a stone counter for a vanity (February). Prior to that it was some second story runs of fascia board (sorry – don’t really want to be 20+ feet in the air over concrete and block walls – January 11). Prior to that, it was frameless shower doors (can’t single handedly swing big sheets of glass by myself without risk of great bodily harm – Aug 2008).

    On my daughter’s house, I’ve done everything there – including replacing ducts in the crawl space, blowing in insulation, wiring, plumbing, built cabinets to match the kitchen, fireplace vanity, blah blah blah. My labor was probably worth $40,000 to her as she lives in the Bay Area and a bottle of beer costs double anywhere else in the free world. As an example, her gardener busted out a window in a slider. I had replaced that panel two weeks earlier in 30 minutes. The guy who came out to replace it charged $200 for labor alone. THAT’S the kind of job you do yourself.

  14. Well, seems like you had this debate about refinishing the hardwood floors and then it took about 3 times as long as you anticipated. So consider that…

    I actually hired out a fence at one of my rentals last year and it was just totally awesome to drive away one day and come back a few days later and have the whole yard fenced. And they did an excellent job! It would have taken me and my partner at least a couple weeks in between other projects. And with that time we were able to paint the whole outside of the house!

  15. Oh my gosh I think I love you! You are wicked funny! Cool… Another girl who would be as happy as me over a new compressor, nail gun and paint! Just googled ‘DIY girl building stuff’ and found my new BFF!

  16. I would hire it out and have your donkeys enjoying their new pasture while there’s still grass growing in it, and save your effort for other things. I am not sure what your feeding situation is, but would you be able to save any feed money by getting them onto fresh grass now as opposed to later in the season? Or is there more than enough grass to go around?

    I think you make a strong case for hiring it out when you say: “And if I don’t manage to set the posts in a reasonable time frame it may actually be more expensive for me to DIY than hire out, depending on how long I’ll need the bobcat.” Given this uncertainty, I’d save myself the stress and pay someone else to do it. When I am on an excavator, or tractor, or skid steer, or any number of the big machines I use here, especially when working with trees or heavy materials (like your fence posts), the last thing I want to think about is racing against a clock to save money. That’s a setup for mistakes, and accidents.

    Finally, as another young single gal with a big homestead project, I vote for conserving your energy whenever possible, especially on projects high on the manual labor scale. I absolutely burned myself out working on my place in the span of a couple of years, to the point that my health started to suffer. So now I am much more willing to write a check to have certain tasks done fast, well, and without breaking a sweat (or foot, or finger!) Choose your battles–no shame in paying for help.

    Whatever you decide, I am sure it will be great. I am really looking forward to seeing the new fence–it will really help pull your farm together!

  17. Usually you can find someone to dig the holes for you. They have an auger, and will charge $20 a hole or whatever. This seems like a good compromise and it’s what many contractors do if they’re not primarily fence and deck builders. Farm out the worst aspect of the job for a small fee so they can do the rest and get to making money. Seems like the same logic should apply here.

  18. great topic which seems to be inspiring some great convo and while I wouldn’t say that actually formally do any sort of calculation on it (as that may be too geeky ;~) ) our labor or time is worth something but I am not quite sure if can expression solely monetarily. Time to DIY is often taken from any “extra time” we may be lucky enough as grown adults to get. The thing that gets me is the time that it takes to shop materials (+1 hire out) and the time it takes to shop a contractor that probably won’t do much matter of a job than I would do myself (+1 diy). In other words – I am often confront this question and try to tackle it the best I can on a case by case sometimes diying and sometimes not, but usually not figured from the bottom line of a spreadsheet. Like the look thanks for posting and happy fencing.

  19. I have to ask a question.

    Why do you plan on using welded wire? I know you have used it in the past. But actually welded wire is NOT recommended for livestock. I’ve put up a LOT of fence. I’ve had mini donkeys, horses, goats, a pet pig…

    We started with welded wire. But the first time it gets kicked, or leaned on, or whatever it’s permanently damaged. I’d look into WOVEN WIRE. It’s the same stuff but it can be stretched, and kicked, and it just goes back into shape.

    It’s only a little more expensive, and it’s 100% safer, lasts 100% longer.

    About being on the fence, about paying for fence.

    I have to tell you after years of putting up my own fence, I paid someone to put in some this year because I was too busy, and it was the best money I’ve ever spent!

    We hand dug all the post holes, and only paid for them to stretch it and attach it. It only cost me $250 for labor for a pretty big area. They are really willing to work with you, if you will do some of it.

    I will paying someone from now one. It was done in 1 day, it looks better than I could have ever done, and it saved me sooo much time and frustration!

    If you can swing the money issue, I’d totally go for it.

    I know quite a bit about livestock, and fencing. So if you have any questions, please feel free to email me. I LOVE YOUR WEBSITE. So funny! I’m a one woman show, who bought and am remodeling a farm also exactly like yours. 🙂

  20. I think we all know that you COULD build this fence all by yourself…you’ve built one before… but I agree with everyone else – is the time worth it. You are definitely up against a deadline! So, I say go for the in-between route.

    Obviously, it would be awesome if you could lure people in with bribes, but that is some hard work so they better be really good bribes!

    Otherwise, I think that if you hired some high school (or if there is a local college) kids to come out to help you, you could do some work (to sooth your ego), hone your project management skills, and share your knowledge with the next generation. FYI, if there is an ag department or FFA group, I’d try those first because they might already have some experience with fence building and you might even find some future animal sitters who you could trust.

  21. I’d either hire out or make sure you have have one whopper of a DIY party and all the tools and appropriate able people you can find to do the fence and maybe a couple other outdoor chores…..

  22. Save the DIY hours for something you haven’t done yet and hire someone to do this one. Fence building sucks on a good day and for me this would be quality of life decision – my quality of life would be much better by letting someone else do it – ha! If it was a couple grand difference in money I might be more inclined to DIY it. But you need the fence – WINTER IS COMING (GoT reference in the house) and if you haven’t done it by now, seems to me you don’t wanna do it. You’ll figure it out 🙂

  23. This has nothing to do with post holes. I was getting ready to paint the kitchen and realized my husband didn’t take the air vent down. I couldn’t get it off with the right wrench thingy and I was just going to leave painting till he got home. Then I thought if YOU can build chicken coops/fences/giant chalk boards and get drug around by donkeys (I have had several similar experiences btw…. Horses not donkeys) and still keep doing it, then I would be pretty pathetic if I didnt go get pliers take that thing down and paint the damn kitchen. So thank you for motivating my lazy self to get things done.

  24. The difference in price is really huge. Of course, it is always better to do some things by yourself to be sure that the work is done on the high level. Unfortunately my husband doesn`t have such a talent so we always hire people to repair our house or some other things.

  25. Having done a fence, I would say for you it comes down to how many helpers are you going to have. If it’s zero, then pay someone to help or pay someone to do it. Think about when was the last time you saw a one man fence installer? Kind of like a one armed paper hanger. If you have a semi skilled helps or even better two, then DIY it.

  26. If it’s me, I’d hire out this job. I’d prefer to do other projects (and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of it) that I know. The fence thing is just not for me.

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