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How To Install, Repair or Replace A Damaged Mailbox Post
Rain... sleet... gloom of night... no matter what the time or weather, one
day your mailbox or post will require replacement. Thank you, snow plow... with an assist from the carpenter ants and
The hardest part of a mailbox installation can be
removing the old box or post!
So I'm going to make the assumption that you wish
to replace the box and the post. If I'm wrong, and you want to do just the box,
I will have even less to tell you, but, if you scan down past the sweaty,
smelly, earthwormy stuff, you may still pick up a few tips. I don't exactly know
where this tale is going, so follow along as best you can, and hopefully we'll
arrive at the end together!
Installing a new post and installing a replacement post are about the same,
Should you "call before you dig"??
Maybe... but always exercise caution!
I've received a few notes from readers that it is important to call your
local "Call Before You Dig" number to be sure there aren't any utilities beneath
your mailbox location. The fact is that the depth that a typical mailbox
or fence is dug (2 - 3 feet) is much shallower than the required depth of any
gas, telephone or electric utility. However, I won't discourage anyone
from making this call, especially if you're installing a new
You should be aware if there are any customer-installed wires or pipes (such
as light posts or underground sprinklers) in the area of the post and exercise
caution when digging. These would NOT appear in a "Call Before You Dig"
analysis of your yard!
Removing the old post... pray there's no cement!
Sorry... I can't make this easy! Wiggle it, pray it wasn't set in cement, and pull like
heck!! Then again, if you are pretty sure there is no cement, there is a
strategy that can work, especially if you have a broken post with only a few
inches exposed. Nail or screw a piece of 2x4 or larger lumber to the post at
or within a few inches of ground level. Then, using a big pry bar or the mason's
bar, pry the post straight up, using another board, toolbox,
or significant other as a fulcrum.
Caution: Seriously. Don't use a "significant other" as a fulcrum... if you expect your relationship to move to a higher level!!
I once saw a guy screw a piece of 2x4 to a mailbox post and lift it out of
the ground with a automotive tire jack! So let those creative juices flow!
A post set in concrete creates a whole new problem. If I found one of
those foundation-like clumps of rocks and gravel mix when the digging started,
my first choice was always to choose a new location for the box!
Occasionally, there just isn't an option and the cement must be removed or
moved. Yes... moved. Sometimes, it's easier to dig the hole a little
wider and muscle the ball of concrete aside. Install the new post next to
US Postal regulations regarding mailbox location and height
In order for the safe and efficient delivery of mail, the US Postal Service
has issued regulations regarding curbside deliveries. However, the local
post office has the final say in mailbox placement. The "old guidelines
Vertical height from road surface to bottom of mailbox: Between
41" and 45".
Distance from outside edge of curb or edge of road surface to front of mailbox :
This requirement dates back to February of 2001. However, the more recent requirements
(12/9/2004) are less specific and do not refer to specifics of height and
location. Instead, they require the post to be approved by the local post
office and 2) accessible from the vehicle for curbside delivery such that
letter carrier does not have to leave his vehicle. That means that any
obstruction, including parked cars, snow piles, etc. , give the carrier the
option of withholding delivery until the obstruction is removed. (Click
for the last known location of these newer requirements.)
If you are installing a post with an extending arm, figure the position based the
final position of the box, not just the arm! Note that the arm will need to be much higher up if
you plan to hang the box. (More on mounting the box below.)
If you feel your situation is unique or would like an exception
to the rules, talk to your postmaster or ask your friendly postal carrier for
suggestions. (This is when that little bag of Christmas cookies or envelope
makes all the difference!)
Creating your own mailbox? Be careful...
If you plan on making a mailbox yourself, you should check with
the postmaster or letter carrier to get approval before you spend time
and money on it! A poorly designed mailbox can halt your mail delivery!
Choosing your new mailbox post - wood or "other"?
There are a number of choices for mailbox posts. The most recent addition
is molded plastic. Some make no pretense about being plastic, using
flowing shapes, interesting colors and unique designs with integrated features
such as newspaper holders. Others are made to look like painted cedar
mailbox posts but for a fraction of the price and without the durability
problems. As a whole, plastic mailbox posts are extremely durable and will
outlast any wood or metal post.
Aluminum and galvanized steel
Metal posts are available in galvanized steel and aluminum. Both are
durable, but the nod goes to aluminum.
Because it doesn't rust like steel, the finish stays looking good longer.
However, aluminum posts
tend to be more expensive.
Wood mailbox posts are the traditional choice, especially for do-it-yourselfers
looking for economy. The cheapest and simplest
post is a simple 4x4 or 6x6 post of any wood variety. A
3/4" - 1" thick pine, plywood or cedar wood base is attached to the top of
the post and the mailbox is screwed onto it. The base should be sized to
fit into the recess under the mailbox. On many boxes, you will need to
leave some space at the door end of the base to prevent rubbing. Test the
operation of the door before making the final box installation.
If you have more money to spend or want a
more interesting look, you can buy a fancy-schmancy wood posts with a horizontal
arm, complex supports and other ornamentation (or you can build one yourself). These are available in redwood,
cedar and various untreated and pressure-treated woods.
Each type of wood has its advantages and disadvantages:
Cedar and redwood are both very insect resistant, but are quite
expensive and will eventually rot if buried. For the maximum "bang for
the buck", they require an underground preservative (see next section for
details) applied right to ground level.
Untreated woods such as Douglas fir and pine can be used for
mailbox posts but require preservatives both above and below-grade. They
have the shortest lifespan of any post, regardless of the preservative used
since they have no inherent resistance to insects or rot.
Pressure-treated wood has high resistance to rot and insects due
to the infusion of a powerful preservative and will last longer underground than
any other wood product. However, pressure-treated wood does need to be coated with
a protectant above ground or may crack, twist and split rather
dramatically! If you would like to learn more, read our article on
Masonry mailbox posts or enclosure of granite, concrete,
stone and brick must conform to both local or state code as well as
postal requirements. Though the postal service is silent on the post's
material, "rigid structures" at the curbside of busy roads may be considered a
hazard" by your state or town, so check with them before building one.
of mine built a large brick mailbox enclosure on a main state road
without consulting anyone. In the end, she had to pay for construction and
destruction of that structure when the state ordered her to remove it. Let the builder beware!)
Prepare your mailbox post for burial with the correct underground preservative
There was a time when this was a no-brainer. My father used to put good
ol' creosote on everything, except for my mother's tulip bulbs. (Or did he?)
It rivaled his use of Mobil red and blue paint!
Anyway, it went without saying that the old timers expected the wood to rot,
so they prepared for it with creosote... the only available solution.
Today, most wooden fence and mailbox posts are
made from either pressure-treated wood or cedar. Somehow, in popular thought,
cedar has been compared to pressure-treated wood for rot
resistance. Nothing could be further from the truth. CEDAR WILL ROT!! I have replaced
untreated cedar mailbox posts
less than 5 years old, cedar lamp posts less than 3 years old that were totally
rotten, full of ants and all sorts of other awful creepy wormy things. In my
neck of the woods, a fine 6x6 cedar mailbox post costs well over $200.00
installed. Expensive ant food, if you ask me!
Pressure-treated mailbox posts do not rot under most circumstances.
(I've never seen it happen in 30 years of installations.) They are more likely to die from snow plow or garbage truck
injuries! However, I have heard rumors that,
under some unusual conditions of extreme moisture, they may rot after many years. So if you have some
underground rated preservative around, slap some on that pressure treated post.
Otherwise I wouldn't lose any sleep over it!
What type of preservative should be used underground on my post?
Good old creosote, a staple wood preservative for generations of do-it-yourselfers,
has become extinct... joining the dodo bird, 30 cent cigarettes and the $1.00 gallon of gas! However, there are still
quality underground preservatives available. A brand I have used for decades is
Woodlife Coppercoat from Rustoleum. Hopefully termites and carpenter ants don't
get on some idiot's endangered species list!
Another, somewhat newer product that works quite well and is
Creocoat from Wolman. It is black but unlike Coppercoat is not designed to be overcoated.
(Note: if the links don't work, it's because Rustoleum has taken over/
merged with Wolman so their internet links are somewhat in "flux". So do a
search if needed. Thanks and sorry!)
If you have the time, always soak your wood posts!!
Since the end of your post is most vulnerable to water damage, pour some of the preservative in a small pail and set the
post into it to soak as long as you can... overnight if possible.
Cut off a few inches from the end of the post immediately before to soaking it
for the best results. Of course, you should also coat the rest of the post
right up to ground level for the best results.
DO NOT install a mailbox post in cement unless absolutely necessary!
Or a fence post, for that matter! Think about it. 160 pounds of rock-hard concrete mix, buried 18" into
the ground, in the only place the mailman can reach from his truck. Tough
luck! So, using the secrets of the Pyramids, you manage to get this now
useless clump of lime, gravel, and sand up to ground level. As you marvel at
your improvisational skills, there is a lesson to be learned here, and it
doesn't only apply to mailbox posts.
If you think that you may have to redo a job again sometime in the near future, plan
your repair so that the next time it will be easier... not harder! After all, do you really think a couple of hundred pounds of cement means
as much to a moving vehicle (or the carpenter ants) than it does to your
poor overworked back? Hmmm?
NOTE: If you are installing one of those fancy ornamental iron posts, which
generally don't stand upright very well in soil despite what it says on the
box, you can use cement... but just enough to stabilize the post, not
enough to anchor the Queen Mary!
Digging the hole the easy way... but not too deep!
I was joking. There isn't an easy way. But we're not quitters,
right? Buy or rent a post hole digger so you
disturb the minimum amount of soil. The hole should be no more than 18-24"
deep. You do not have to bury the post down below the frost line!
We're talking mailbox post here, not a house's foundation!
If you have particularly rocky soil (I love New England), you may need a long
mason's bar, a rounded heavy steel bar from 4' to 6' long, flattened to a
wedge-shape on one end. This can be used to pry out rocks and the flattened
butt end can be used for tamping.
On the graphic of the post hole digger (left), notice the black lines on the handles. They
are improvised depth indicators... far better than dirtying up your tape
measure! If you rent one and it's not already marked, apply pieces of black
electrical tape at your desired depth.
Add gravel, level the mailbox post and fill the hole in steps...
It's recommended to put a 4-6 inches of gravel in the bottom of
the hole to improve drainage and to keep water from pooling at the bottom of the post.
My judgment is that it may not be a bad idea for cedar posts, but for
pressure-treated wood it is optional. If you don't have a bag of
gravel handy (or prefer not to steal it from elsewhere in your yard), a bunch of
small stones will do as a substitute.
To keep the mailbox post vertically level, I found a nifty little device that straps
right onto the mailbox post.
However, an ordinary level will do fine, too. Check the level every time you
tamp down the dirt. You don't want your mailbox to become another
"leaning" tourist attraction! Don't put the level on the top
of the post... the top might not be square! Always check the level
from the side.
Some people screw or clamp boards to the post to hold it upright. You
can also wedge a few rocks around the post in the hole for temporary support.
Or just hold the new post fairly level as you begin filling, making minor
corrections as you fill. (A helper wouldn't hurt, either, if one is
available to share the joy!)
Filling the hole around the post should be done in steps, packing or
"tamping" down the soil as you fill around the post, 6-12" at a time. If you wait until the hole is full
before packing, the post may always be loose. You can use most anything that
will fit into the hole to pack the soil... a shovel handle, the but end of your
masons bar, 2x4, etc. Keep
checking that level!!
Attaching your mail box on the post...
you wish to mount your box directly atop the pole or onto the top of an extended
arm, you will use method (1). If you want to hang the box beneath the
extended arm, use method (2).
Whichever way you choose, don't ever nail the mailbox to it's support...
use galvanized or stainless-steel screws. If your mailbox does not
outlive your post, you want it to be easy to remove. I have found
galvanized square-drive decking screws to be a great choice.
(1) Mount a board directly on the mailbox post or on the arm extending
from the post
If you don't have a board for the post, you must cut a piece of
3/4" plywood or
pine that will fit into the base of the mailbox. It should be a tight fit
widthwise so the box doesn't bend when you screw it on, and short enough in
length so the box door doesn't hit the board when the door opens. Position the
board as you like it on the post or arm and secure it with at least 4 wood
screws. I personally use #8 or #10 galvanized square drive screws, 2-1/2" -3" long.
If you are using a post with an arm, you may want to let the board overhang the
end of arm for clearance of the door.
(2) Hanging the mailbox under an arm extending from the post
You can purchase a
special set of bolts designed for hanging a mailbox at most hardware or home stores.
The hardware consists of
an eye bolt and an screw eye, interlocked and ready to use. The eye bolt is
screwed into the underside of the post arm and the bolt is attached to the top
of the mailbox. It may or may not come with a rubber washer to seal the
outside of the hole.
If your hardware
store doesn't carry these parts, you can either (1) use an eye bolt on the mailbox and
a hook on the post arm, or (2) use an eye bolt and screw eye of the same size
and bend either open to allow you to hook them together... then bend them closed.
For each eye bolt, you should get two nuts, one for inside and one for outside
the box, and a small rubber washer (a faucet washer will do) slightly larger
than the nut, for the outside to prevent leaks.
Determine the location of the eye bolts on the box first. Some mailboxes have
indentations or raised areas to indicate the suggested location for the eyebolts. Locate and drill the holes in the
mailbox. Hold the box up under the arm in the position you want it, and use a
pencil to transfer
the location of the front-most hole you just made to the underside of the arm, being
sure to center it along the width. Measure between the holes on the mailbox, and
use this measurement to locate the second hole on the arm. Predrill both holes
and install the screw eyes.
Put one nut on each eye bolt,
and then push on the rubber washers. Bore out the centers of the washers with a
drill if they are
too tight for the bolts. Then put the eye bolts through the holes in the mailbox and
secure them with the remaining nuts, tightening securely.
NOTE: You can use a dab of caulk instead of a rubber washer. The
washer, however, will probably last longer.
Last but not least... mailbox numbers and other interesting facts
- The post office requires your street address
number on the side of
the box or post facing your approaching mailman. This is required even if
you have your number on your home.
- If your box location is on another street (for example, if your home is
on a corner), regulations require that both the house number and
street name be on the box or post.
- You do not have to put your name on the mailbox unless you want to.
- Placing offensive graphics, caricatures or effigies intended to ridicule
or disparage an individual or group of people is prohibited. People,
huh. I guess the cats and cows haven't started complaining yet!
- Advertising on mailboxes is also prohibited.
Again, this regulation can be waived by your local postmaster for the
appropriate consideration. (Only kidding!) So it goes.
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