Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Install a New Mailbox

There's an old saying that "necessity is the mother of invention." If this is true then, from my experience, one of necessity's other kids may be home improvement. As much as we'd like to do only the fun home projects that we plan out, oftentimes it's the unexpected projects which take priority--out of necessity. Such was the case with this year's mailbox replacement project at our place, a project borne unfortunately out of complete necessity last winter. I thought it might be worth sharing a little bit about our mailbox experience, just in case anyone reading this wakes up one morning to find yourself suddenly without a mailbox, as we did.

When we bought our home it was equipped with some really nice outdoor granite light posts and a matching granite mailbox post. These features were among the many outdoor landscaping and decor features the prior homeowners had incorporated which originally drew us to the home. So it was really disappointing to wake up one morning last winter, after one of the many heavy snowstorms we had, to find our nice granite mailbox post lying flat on its back in the snow.
It was pretty obvious (at least to me) that one of the town's highway plow trucks had hit the mailbox while plowing the night before, as the thick granite post was snapped cleanly in two at the very base and was lying exactly parallel to the direction of the road. My attempts, however, to convince our town's highway department of this (i.e., to convince them that they'd wrecked our mailbox) ended unfruitfully and ironically with a simple form letter received in our temporary replacement mailbox that read something to the effect of, "Sorry, despite all the facts and pictures your shared indicating otherwise, we took a look ourselves and concluded that whatever hit your mailbox was not one of our trucks."

So with an unwelcome new project now on my list, I set off on a two-step process to resolve: Step 1 would be to get us back to a functional mailbox in the frozen short term, and step 2 in the distant and warmer long term, would be to get us back to a permanent mailbox we like. The 2-step process was necessary because at the time the sub-zero temperatures and mountains of snow still on the ground required all plans for a permanent mailbox to wait until Spring. But it's worth noting here that if your mailbox gets wrecked in decent weather you could skip right to the permanent solution described below, which can be completed in 1-2 days.

Step One: The temporary mailbox. This was pretty quick and easy. To get us back up and running, I made a trip to Home Depot and got a bag of fast-setting Quickrete and a pressure-treated 4x4 post. I mixed the concrete in a plastic 5-gallon bucket, then set and leveled the post in the bucket and let it dry. A tip on this...make sure you read and follow the Quickrete mixing and proportion instructions which vary slightly depending on the outside temperature, and also allow extra time for the concrete to dry if it's cold out. (Also, if you don't have any 5-gallon buckets on-hand you can get them for $3 at Home Depot).

After the post was fully set in the bucket of concrete I unbolted our mailbox from the fallen granite post and used wood screws to bolt it onto the new homemade 4x4 bucket post. Finally (while fully acknowledging that there's no way to make a mailbox stuck inside a bucket of concrete look aesthetically good) I spray painted both the post and bucket black and then set it in the snow right next to our granite post. Voila! Temporary mailbox up and running!
Step two: (Finally - our real mailbox!). After the snow had melted and the ground was thawed enough to dig in, I set out to install a permanent mailbox. We decided against another granite post and after searching around a bit Colette instead found a really nice-looking stone post mailbox which we both really liked and thought would be perfect.
From looking at the picture, I imagined this sort of mailbox would require sinking a wooden post into the ground and then laying rock around it (something I wasn't exactly excited to do but was determined to make happen). But then, after getting frustrated at every investigatory turn by the high cost of stone, none of which seemed to be the right style and size for what we needed anyway, I somehow stumbled on this replica stone mailbox post from Home Depot, made from glass fiber reinforced concrete designed to have the look and feel of natural stone. I was shocked at how real it looked in the picture and we decided to order it and give it a shot.

After the new replica stone post arrived I was even more impressed with the quaility and how real it looks, and I quickly found myself very thankful I would not be trying to piece together hundreds of individual stones around a wooden post to make something that would essentially look the same as this.

The first task in installing our new mailbox was to get rid of the old fallen granite post, which by the way we found out was unimaginably heavy and took 4 of us (myself and all 3 of our big boys) to haul off.
 The next step was to dig a deep hole right next to the spot where the granite post snapped in two. We dug our hole about 3 feet deep and about 2 feet wide.
Then we stuck an extra-long pressure-treated 4x4 (longer version of the post used for the temporary mailbox) into the hole and the mixed up and poured 4 bags of Quickcrete in the hole all around the post. As we were pouring the concrete in around the post we used a level on all 4 sides to make sure the post was setting straight up and down. The Quickcrete sets pretty quickly so it's really important that you check and re-check the post over and over as you go to make sure it remains level as the concrete hardens.
With the concrete fully set, we then marked and cut the cemented 4x4 post to the proper height to fit inside the new replica stone mailbox post that would go over it. Detering the proper post height is best done by simply setting the replica stone mailbox post over the top of the 4x4 post, then have one person hold the replica stone post at the desired height above the ground (we settled on about an inch above the cement to allow for dirt fill to be spread under and around the bottom of the post). While one person is holding the stone post at the desired height, the other person can mark the wooden 4x4 post and then you can remove the stone mailbox post and cut off the top of the 4x4 where you marked it.
imagine someone marking it ;)
Next, we cut a 2x4 to the proper length and screwed that onto the back of the 4x4 post. This was just to provide more thickness to the underlying wooden post to better fit the width of the opening inside the new replica stone mailbox post.

With the underlying wood post now at the proper height and thickness to secure the new replica stone mailbox post, we then measured, marked, and drilled holes into the replica stone post at the proper places to secure the mailbox support arm, which is included with the replica stone mailbox post.
Finding the right place for the holes is done by measuring the desired height from the ground to the bottom of the mailbox (we used standard postal service height specifications, which were included in the directions that came with the replica stone mailbox post) and then this becomes the spot for top of your mailbox support arm.

We held the suport arm in place at this height then just marked the screw holes with a sharpie and drilled holes through the faux stone using a masonary drill bit. With these holes drilled we next held the mailbox post and support arm in place together on the 4x4/2x4 wooden post, then marked and drilled corresponding guide holes into the wood post underneath. With the guide holes drilled, we were then able to screw the support arm and mailbox post into place right into the 4x4/2x4 post using the screws provided in the mailbox post kit.

For extra support we drilled a few holes through the back of the faux stone post and into the back of the 2x4/4x4 post underneath, and then screwed a few masonary screws into the back.

With the whole mailbox post now in place and secured, we then secured the post topper using clear adhesive/caulk, and then finally screwed our brand new mailbox onto the support arm.

(Note: we just located and purchased the mailbox we wanted online- there are a million different styles and colors to choose from).
All done! We love our new mailbox, which we are praying survives this winter intact! (But just in case, we saved our temporary bucket mailbox in our basement!)
…and that's the happy ending to our mailbox woes.

Thanks for reading,

1 comment :

  1. Whew! What a job! And what a beautiful mailbox! Dad and I read this and we're still marveling at the effort you guys put forth. Kind of reminds us of the summer you and your brothers helped Dad build our house...truly a herculean effort, but oh, what a great result! I remember many things about that summer, and sometimes I sit inside, so comfortable, and just say, thank you :-). Teamwork accomplishes great things. Love, Mom