Even in this age of email and online billing, “snail mail” still plays a significant role in most people’s lives. And having it delivered to your home is convenient – and more economical than getting a post office box. But you still need a place for the letter carrier to put it!
But whether your mail is delivered to your door, curbside, or along the road, at some point you have to consider the type of mailbox you want. You may even be required by law to choose a certain kind! But that doesn’t mean you’re without options or that you can’t get something that looks great. Let’s talk about what your options – and obligations – are when it comes to receiving letters, packages, and more from the post office.
Postal Service Requirements
Since a mailbox is a receptacle for a government service, there are certain regulations you have to follow.
First, you have to know if mail is delivered to your door or the side of the road in your area. Usually, in urban areas, it’s left at the door. In areas where it’s not practical for a letter carrier to walk door to door, roadside mailboxes are necessary.
In many places, particularly at the entrances to developments, the post office erects its own multi-unit mailboxes. That leaves you without the need – or the option, depending on how you look at it – for adding one to your home. Of course, nothing is stopping you from putting one up just for decoration!
In any case, in the United States, federal law covers all kinds of points related to mailboxes. This includes the size and location. Roadside boxes even have to be approved by the postmaster to be sure they are suitable (of course, commercially-available mailboxes are already approved, and marked as such).
You can still build your personalized mailbox as long as it meets the guidelines of the post office.
And just so you know – it’s not legal to place other materials in the mailbox. This is supposed to make sure there is always enough room for each day’s mail. So there shouldn’t be any flyers placed there, and your neighbor shouldn’t use your mailbox to return the tool they borrowed or to drop off holiday cards or cookies! You can, however, add a newspaper box to the post for your mailbox.
Post, Wall, Or Slot?
Your choice of type of mailbox is somewhat limited based on where the post office delivers the mail at your home. So it may be necessary to have a post mailbox if the mail is delivered in one of those cute little old-fashioned postal jeeps.
You still have a lot of options as far as design and base, although there are requirements and recommendations which you can find in the links above.
If mail is delivered to your door, you can opt to have a box hanging on the wall or the door itself. Or you can have a slot in the door. There are many materials and designs for each. There are regulations about height and size, but the appearance is up to you!
There are a wide variety of materials that are suitable for mailboxes.
Rubber is popular, especially for roadside boxes. It’s durable and will withstand the weather and the inevitable damage from flying pebbles, dirt, and even a mild scrape with a rearview mirror. However, they’re not generally the most attractive option.
Metal mailboxes are another great choice. They’re relatively durable, although they may rust if not properly treated and maintained. They can also end up with a lot of dings and dents if they are near traffic. However, they are ideal for wall boxes as well as for the lining of mail slots.
Wood is also acceptable, but can present a lot of problems, particularly with a post mailbox. It doesn’t hold up as well as the alternatives and can rot, fall apart, and fade. However, if you maintain it well, it can offer a lot of design options. Remember, though, that the postal service asks that handles and flags be made of plastic.
Mailbox sizes are also regulated, although you have some leeway if you need a larger box mounted on the wall.
Mailboxes have to be large enough to fit most mail. That means the mouth has to accommodate letters, flyers, and catalogs. It should also hold an average day’s mail.
You don’t want a door slot that’s too large, of course, because it becomes a safety issue.
Of course, you want your mailbox to hold up to the weather and to damage that it can usually face outdoors. It has to be strong enough to protect the mail that it holds!
We’d like to point out, though, that if you have a box mounted on a post, it’s recommended that the post be flexible or break away in case a car hits it. It’s still strong enough to stand but this policy will help protect drivers in case of an accident.
Again, the location of your mailbox may be restricted by law. This is to make delivery as easy and safe as possible.
For instance, a curbside box has to be set back six to eight inches from the curb and should be 41” to 45” above the ground. Wall and slot boxes should be a certain height, depending on their location. Since the post office can update these restrictions, we won’t go into detail here.
At the same time, make sure they’re convenient for you. If the box needs to be at the curb, it’s best to have it close to the walkway or driveway. If it’s mounted on the wall, keep it near your front door; if possible, be sure it’s sheltered under a roof to keep your mail – and you – out of bad weather.
A door slot mailbox generally offers security for your mail but can offer dedicated burglars access to your house if they use a wire to reach your knob or deadbolt. A box to catch the mail – hung on the inside of your door – can help prevent this. Security cameras or doorbell cameras like the Ring can also discourage intruders.
Locks on mailboxes are permitted, but only under certain conditions. The main one is that the slot for the mail must be large enough to receive a regular day’s amount of mail.
Yes, there are a lot of conditions regarding the type of receptacle you use as a mailbox. However, there are still many great styles and colors available. Most stores – online and brick-and-mortar – only sell slot liners or mailboxes that fit the USPS requirements. So be sure to look around and find one that fits your taste!