Q • With the recent ice on the streets, a car knocked over my mailbox post. Is this something easy to fix? — D.S., St. Louis
Replacing a mailbox post does require some effort, but other than the manual labor, it is easy to do. For myself, I hate digging holes, whether it is in the garden, planting a tree or replacing a post. The only good part about it is when the job is finished.
There are several types of material for mailbox posts, but the two most common are wood or metal. Within these two categories, you can get some intricate designs, but for the basics, you will be able to purchase them at the hardware stores. For the wood, you'll have to decide between cedar or treated wood. I usually prefer cedar, as it takes a stain or paint better than a treated post, although cedar does cost slightly more. Either post will come with the "arm" that the mailbox sits on. If you're choosing a metal post, pay attention to the design, as some require installing the post onto a cement pad vs. the metal pole being cemented into the ground.
For the installation of a new pole, let's assume you have a wood pole or a metal pole that does not require a cement pad. Begin by removing the mailbox from the old post. Next, measure the height of the "arm" of the existing post from the ground. You will want to have the new post at the same height. Then, remove the existing pole. Most likely, the existing pole was installed with cement, which means you'll have to dig the cement out as well. A note of caution: If you have a sprinkler system or an invisible fence for a pet, be aware of where the wire or pipes are so that you don't run into any surprises. You can always call 1-800-344-7483 (DIG-RITE) for a free, utility- or state-sponsored company to come out and mark any utilities that might be nearby. It is better to be safe.
The next part is where the labor comes in. Using a shovel, dig around the pole as close as you can. If there is cement, you'll soon find out, as the shovel just won't go in. Moving out from the pole, find the closest area where the shovel contacts dirt. Dig as much as you can closest to the cement. To go deeper, you'll have to move slightly away from the cement. Basically, if the cement surrounding the post is 12 inches wide, you're going to end up with a hole that could easily be 3 feet wide. As you dig deeper and wider, gently try rocking the old post, as this can let you know how close you are to having the old cement up.
A word of caution here: Cement is heavy, and you might need another person to help lift the cement and pole out of the ground. Once the cement is out of the hole, installation of the new post is easy. Getting rid of the ball of old cement is another matter!
Place the new post into the hole, straighten it and measure to see where the new "arm" of the post is relative to the old post. If you need to add dirt to make the new post higher, shovel the dirt in.
When you get it to about the same height, try to tamp down the top of the dirt somewhat so that when the post is installed, it won't sink down into loose dirt. When you're ready for the cement, begin by pouring about a third of a bag of post cement (post cement dries quicker than normal cement, although it costs a few dollars more) into the hole, with the post in the hole. Add about one gallon of water. You're then going to need to mix the water and cement slightly. A broom handle will work well. Once mixed, add the rest of the bag of cement, then more water. Mix as needed. Holding a level against the post, move the post as needed, then place the level on the next side and adjust accordingly.
Let the cement dry slightly, then fill up the rest of the hole with dirt. Remount the old mail box onto the arm, and with a beaming smile, wait for the mail carrier to come by. The two of you can then both admire your job.
Steve Cloninger is the owner of Get It Done Home Repairs & Maintenance. Visit his website at getitdoneinc.com.