Dear James: Now that I am living alone, I can finally install a neat mailbox instead of the old black one. What types of decorative mailboxes do you recommend, and will it be difficult for me to install it myself? — Cathy R.
Dear Cathy: The array of decorative mailboxes is nearly endless. You can find them at home centers, craft shops, craft fairs and many online sources. If you have the skills to get the old mailbox off the post or the entire post out of the ground, you will have no problems installing the new one.
Decorative mailboxes are attractive, and they give your home character, but one may also attract the attention of vandals. High school kids like to drive by and play "mailbox baseball" with a bat. In some areas, as many as 35 percent of the mailboxes are destroyed each year.
A fancy new mailbox may draw the kids' attention. Check with your local police to determine if it is a serious problem in your area. Some decorative mailboxes can be quite expensive, and you won't want to replace it several times each year.
If your area has problems with mailbox baseball, consider installing just a plain, strong steel mailbox. It will not draw their attention. And, should they attempt to whack it with a bat, they will damage the bat more than the mailbox. Protective steel covers are also available to fit over an existing mailbox.
Plastic mailboxes are a durable option, and they tend to resist dents. Plastic can easily be painted and is easy to drill holes through. This will allow you to let your creative juices flow and decorate it as you wish. In very cold climates, plastic may become brittle during the winter, so even a glancing blow from a bat or a thrown rock may crack it.
Some of the most attractive and unique mailboxes are made of a decorative hand-painted wood sculpture over a built-in steel mailbox. Woodendipity, 800-876-1928, offers these in various themes — wildlife, sports, pets, hobbies, etc. They are made of cedar or pine, signed and dated. Your craft shop may also offer inexpensive mailbox covers for various holidays or other special occasions.
Many mailboxes are installed on a 4- by 4-inch wooden post. Check with your post office, but generally, the bottom of the mailbox must be located 42 inches above the ground. It should be located approximately 2 feet from the side of the road, and your house numbers on the mailbox should be at least 1 inch high.
To install one, dig a hole in the ground with a posthole digger. Dig to a depth below the frost line in your area so that the post does not heave during winter. Make the hole big enough so there is plenty clearance around the post. Pour some gravel in the bottom, place the post and fill it to the top with gravel.
People used to use concrete instead of gravel, but check your local codes about the use of concrete to secure the post in the ground. Many local codes have changed to prohibit the use of concrete. If a car runs into the mailbox, an uncemented post will pull out, resulting in less injuries. Use the mounting brackets that came with the mailbox to attach it to the post.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.