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Custom Cap and Shelf Top Wood Fences

A shelf top or capped custom fence is a beautiful way to dress up any Orlando home.   It is truly a fencing system that will complement the linear elements of a house and bring back a balanced to a property as a whole.   So the question is proposed, why do we see shelf top fences, in the Orlando area, that look great and others that look bad as the Florida climate and time takes its toll?    

According to the owner of Paramount Fencing, who redesigned and reintroduced the shelf-top wood fence to the central Florida market place in 2004, the key is to educate yourself. Simply put, the longevity of a shelf top wood fence is all about choices.  Those choices are often made by the fence company and will either prolong or shorten the life of the fence.   The question is how as a homeowner can they make sure the right decisions are being made.   Below are four things to consider before building a shelf top wood fence.


A strong shelf top wood fence system begins with the post supports, and by design, a shelf top fence system is top heavy.  Understand, the success or failure of the fence will always be dependent on the post depth and the manner it is set into the ground.   So make sure the company selected is making the right decision.  Below are a few guidelines about post depths that will assist you in making a well-informed decision. 

When it comes to the ASTM standard, the two key words to focus on here are "Standard" and "America."   Understand, shelf top wood fence is "Not a Standard" fencing system and this is "Florida."  As a result, the post depth should be a minimum of two-thirds the overall height of the fence system minus six inches.  For example, a six foot in height shelf top fence requires a minimum post depth of 42" inches, Ideally-48", ideally no concrete.  Here is why: 

Using the wrong post depth is what often lands fences on the Custom Fence Horror Story page.  Either the fence leans excessively, or the homeowner finds the fence laying on the ground after a typical Florida thunder storm.   More often than not, both reasons were preventable which leaves the homeowner even more frustrated and angry.   "How was I supposed to know," is often what we hear.  Our answer as always is simple, "The devil is always in the details."  We cannot express enough the importance of requesting a complete material list before making a decision.   From there, let common sense and a little math do the rest.   

Here is a classic example: A company implies they are following the "Standard" post depth on a six foot in height (72") shelf top wood fence.  By the ASTM standard, the post should be 30" inches in the ground; and as we have suggested a minimum of 42 inches.   Well, if the material list reflects the company is using 4" x 4" x 8' (96") in length posts, Ninety-six inches minus thirty inches equal sixty-six inches.   Translated the actual post is only going into the ground eighteen inches.   Not good.    Ideally, you want to see 4" x 4" x 10' in length posts and be careful of the 4" x 4" x 16' foot trap.  Half of sixteen is eight. 

When it comes to concrete, the use of concrete on wood posts has sparked a huge debate with fence companies in the state of Florida.  So why do we recommend no concrete? Bottom line, this is Florida.  It is not Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Nebraska, New Jersy, or California.   We receive about 53.19 inches of annual precipitation in Florida. The majority of that precipitation occurs in a six-month span, so the question becomes where does all that rain go?  The answer is it seeps downward towards the water table, which creates a normal ground water level, just below the land surface.   Depending on the geological composition of an individual's property such as sugar sand, Florida Pan Dirt, clay, or limestone--the normal underground water level can be found within 12 inches of the surface during the rainy season and 6 feet in the dry season.  

Understand, wood is no different than a sponge.  If one end of a sponge is placed in water, it will eventually suck up the water saturating the whole.  Unlike the sponge, water cannot be easily removed by simply squeezing or ringing the lumber out.  In order to dry, wood needs 30 days of complete and aired like conditions. Neither occurs when a post is buried in the ground.   Dirt is a natural absorbent and will become the post best hope.  All concrete does is trap the residual moister that was soaked up and creates a breeding ground for rot and fungal decay.  The only thing the use of concrete achieves in The State of Florida is premature post failure.    The only exception would be to use a post which is pressure treated with an. 30 percent retention ratios.  Chances are you would not find it on the shelf at the local lumber yards or home improvement store.

Bottom line, the use of concrete is used to provide leverage.  If you desire greater leverage, then use longer posts. 


By definition, a horizontal support is defined as a member that connects each installed vertical post with in a given stretch of fence and provides the framework where each individual slat or picket is then secured.  It's not an exciting definition, so fence companies may refer to the horizontal supports as runners, stringers, or rails.  Regardless, they are still called the horizontal supports and certain rules apply when building shelf top wood fence within the harsh Florida climate.

When it comes to the longevity of any wood fence, let alone a shelf top wood fence, three horizontal supports attached to the flat surface on one side of a vertical post is the formula for success.  The use of two horizontal supports or toenailing those supports between the posts is a no, no, no.  This is Florida.    Understand, the use of two horizontal supports and toenailing are approved installation methods for more aired climates and often proposed by companies who have transplanted from other states.   So listen closely to what is being proposed at that estimate and then compare it to the information below:  It's based on scientific study and experiments performed right here in Central Florida.

The long-term stability and aesthetics of any fence structure are determined by the post leverage ratio and the overall length of the horizontal support being used.   Shelf top wood fence is no different.   The rule of thumb for Florida is the length of any wood horizontal support should be twice the length of the on center spacing of each vertical support posts being installed.     Simply put, if the posts are set eight feet apart, the horizontal support should be a minimum of sixteen feet in length. It should then be secured onto each post with a series of stainless steel ring shank nails.   They should also be installed in a staggard-like manner so that only two open seams occur on each post.  Following this rule creates the framework for a solid wall.  The use of eight foot in length horizontal board creates three open seams on every post and the fence will be more susceptible to wind damage and the framework will not stay registered in the original installed position as it ages.   Bottom line, once the framework and posts become unregistered,  there is an exponential component at play and problems such as warping, cupping, and seam separation will get worse with each passing season.

As a quick reference guide, the table below will provide a tool which will assist in quickly determining what length of horizontal support works and which ones do not.

Asking For Trouble At A Minimum Ideal For Florida
1" x 4" x Any Length 2" x 4" x 8' #2 Prime 2" x 4" x 12' #2 PRIME S4S
1" x  6" x Any Length 2" x 6" x 8' #2 Prime 2" x 4" x 16' #2 PRIME S4S
2" x 3" x Any Length  X X
2" x 4" x Any Length # 2 Common or Standard X X
4" x 4" x 8' X X


There are many things to consider when capping a fence with a shelf, but here are three of the most important decision necessary for longevity:  (1) The Length of Shelf Top Board, (2) Lumber Type,  and ( 3) Seam-work and Securing Method.  

The first thing to consider is the length of the board which can be easily determined by the on center spacing of the support posts.  Simply put, if the posts are six feet apart, the correct decision would be to use a board that is twelve feet in length.  Here is why: The less place a shelf has to be joined the better.  It also allows the shelf boards to meet in the center and on the top of each post.   Understand,  boards that meet in between the support post will only result in cupping and warping.   

The Second thing to consider is lumber type which includes species of wood and grade.   Ideally, cedar is the best species of wood for the capping a fence, but it is cost prohibitive in most case.  As a result, most fences are capped with pressure treated pine in the state of Florida.   What is important is the grade of lumber is #2 prime, not a standard #2.   The standard is more likely to warp and cup over time... Do not incorporate composite material as a cap, it does not function well with pressure treated lumber...  

Last thing, but most important things are the seam work and the manner in which the fence is secured to the self.    There are many different methods joining the shelf top board together, but ideally, they should be joined using a lap joint.   This method allows the would to expand and contrast but provides downward pressure at each seam.  Joining each self with a forty-five-degree angle will result in the curling of the shelf.  just placing them next to one another will only spell disaster.    When it comes how the fence is secured, it must be secured with 3" screws meant for pressure treated lumber or outdoor applications.  Ideally, stainless steel is the ideal choice.   Never use nails...... 


Understand, the decision that is about to be made involves a business.  Don't be foolish.  An individual does not start a fence company with the intent of installing that fence for free.  There is a reason.   It may be because the individual is truly passionate about what they do, or it may be because of financial gain.    Do not overlook this aspect.   After all, how does the company actually view you?   Are you just a number or a means to an End?    Well, there is a simple way or test to find out.     It's called the five "W" and "H:"  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.  

We have been taught to ask these questions all our lives.  At times, We ignore all five and fail miserably at projects.  Other times, we get further because we ask at least the who, when, where, and how.   Regardless, by the time the project is finished, there is something absent.   We find ourselves saying, "I like it but."   The reason is we forget the two most important ones, What, and Why.  These two little words may seem small but they determine the outcome of any project before it even begins. So we at Custom Fence Orlando, encourage you to look at each estimate, reflect back, and examine the why and the what of each estimate.   The reason is simple.    The "Why" show a companies willingness to get it right and the "What" shows the companies willingness to deliver what was promised.  

As you attempt to unravel the two, the most important thing to understand is there is a difference between the estimate and the returned proposal.  The estimate is the appoint and proposal the document. 

 At the estimate, either you found the estimator likable or you did not.   You felt informed or confused you, and the estimator addressed your concerns or ignored them.   As a result, the estimates that fell short are easily ruled out.  Narrowing down the estimates and proposal you like can become a daunting task.   Understand, it does not have to be.  Below are Four things to think about. 

  1. The Clarity of Each Proposal.   Proposals are returned either handwritten or computerized.   It's important to understand the nature of both, what can go right, and what can go wrong.
    Handwritten or carbon copy proposal often results in misunderstandings.  They are often associated with the phrases:  "I thought it was included," and "But the sales person said."   Proceed with caution.   Make sure what is being promised is written out in clear and legible manner, because if it's not written down it's not included.  Next, realize carbon copy proposals are generally associated with companies playing a numbers game.  It's called Laws of Average.  Translated, if ten estimates are run a day and ten proposals placed in a customer's hands two will bite.    Bottom line, the estimator is in and out in 15 minutes or less.   Try to avoid what we refer to as ten-minute Steves.  These type of companies invest little to obtain a consumer's business and place little emphasis on customer happiness.

    Computerize proposals are normally associated with happy customers.  These type of proposal possesses the most potential of clarity.  More often than not, they spell out the scope of the work.   They address the project as a whole, and they clearly define the challenges.  Great ones contain diagrams and schematic.   Bottom Line, companies that computerize proposal are investing to obtain a consumer's business and placing a lot of emphasis on creating happy customers.  

  2. Accept Explanation and Avoid Generalizations.    At a minimum, both handwritten and computerize proposal contain general information.  That information usually addresses the project details such as location, height, type of material, and estimated cost.  Do not proceed or consider a proposal unless that proposal clearly addressed all the project details.   These details are important.    Case in point, anyone estimator can hand write 4" x 4" post or 2" x 4" runners.  At a glance, it seems to answer the question; but does it.  Remember, post and horizontal runner length matters.  If a six-foot height fence is being built, the post should be buried in the ground 2/3rds the height minus 6" and the horizontal runner should be twice the length of the on center spacing of the installed post.   So 4" x 4" x what is important.  

    Next does the proposal contain a written scope of work.   The material list written on the left-hand side is only the general details, the highlights.  A written scope of work is the summary that fuses the general information project specific details together.   The written scope of the work generally starts with We here by are propose followed by the installation of approximately "x" amount of feet of fence, the height, and Style of Fence and other items promised.   The materials are specified in detail and normally contain length and grade and type.    Most importantly, it contains details about craftsmanship warranties and manufacturers warranties.   Understand, the devil is away in the details or lack of them.   

  3. Know Who You Are Dealing With.   More likely than not before a homeowner calls any fence company, some level of research on that company was conducted.  May be it was a Yelp, Google, Facebook, Angie's List, or  BBB review.  May be it was a referral from a friend our HOA bulletin board.   Don't make the mistake and assume the company is on the up and up.  Take what was said, but make sure what is being said matches.  Here is why:  With the economy on the mend, new fence companies are popping up. Previous fence companies who were forced out of the market by the recession are resurfacing, and big companies are back to their old tricks.   Regardless, the homeowner's of Central Florida are getting ripped off or forced to accept sub standard craftsmanship or product.   So the question is how can a homeowner avoid becoming a statistic.  The answer simply, research.    Below are some tools and industry insider information that will help you avoid the traps.   We recommend that use the information in order.    
    1. Verify the fence company is a legitimate business.    Understand every fence companies are required to register as a corporation in the State of Florida.   As a result, it is easy to verify if a fence company is legitimate.   Simply go to and look up the business name.  The corporation status will be listed as "Active" or "Inactive".   The following link will take you directly the search look up page: Click Here.  In additions, most municipalities require that the business registers or have a tax receipt.      
    2. Examine The Source of All Online Reviews and Rating sites:  Reputation is every thing, especially on the world wide web.   So much so, companies spend large sums of money to keep their honor clean.   Companies now existed for the solo purpose of managing and defending a companies reputation. These companies know the secret to managing a companies reputation is to bury the bad stuff and manage the flow of information.   Some large Reputation based companies solicit customers for reviews and created a process which makes the consumer feel as if their reviews are being submitted to a major site Ylep, Facebook, and Google reviews.   In actually, those reviews are then routed to a dash board where the company can select which reviews are posted.   The best way to spot a company using these type of tools is an abnormal number of excessively positive rating in comparison other competitors.   Obviously, an excessive number of the negative rating is not good.

      When it comes to online reviews, know the difference between a website referral website and a lead generation website.    Web based referral site such as Angie's List and the Better Business Bearuo (BBB) are organizations that collect information about a company and usually involves a sign-up process from members.   In the case of the BBB, they function more as consumer advocates should something go wrong.  Anyone can file a complaint, regardless of the organization, both charge companies who have a greate reputation a monthly advertising fee for access to their members.  A lead generation based web site solo purpose is to generate a lead and turn around and sell that lead to as many fence company as possible.  The best way lead generation websites are revealed is the location in which the pull during an internet search.   They are often listed in the ads or sponsor sections of an internet search, generally the listing at the top of the page.

    3. Don't Be Afraid To Ask Those Companies Question.  One of the common mistakes a homeowner makes is signing a proposal and fax it back.   Don't.   Pick up the phone and call the company.  Talk to the estimator or owner.    Discuss the estimate and take notes.   Ask questions about the product, the process, and what to expect.   If can't a clear response or explanation, it probably best to move on.   Should the companies additional information or it is discover something was not annotated was included, ask the company to revise the estimate and send it back.