By Joseph Truini
Homeowners have many different reasons for installing fences. Some want to increase security or gain a little privacy. Others need a fence to corral pets, enclose a swimming pool, define the property line or enhance the curb appeal of their home. Fences are also used to complement gardens, walkways, hedgerows and other landscaping features. Regardless of the reason, fences are becoming more and more popular in neighborhoods all across the country.
If you’re considering a fence for your property, you might be wondering where to start. The best approach, as with any home improvement project, begins with careful planning and thorough research. Here, we’ll take a detailed look at the five most critical steps to acquiring the perfect fence for your home and family.
1. Check Local Ordinances
Most homeowners begin by choosing the fence style and material. Although that might seem logical, it’s not, and here’s why: Before deciding which fence to install, you must confirm that you can even put up a fence.
Today, many neighborhoods are governed by homeowners’ associations (HOA), which set strict limits on all sorts of things, such as house paint colors, planting of trees, where you can park, even the height of the grass on your lawn. Included in these are rules regarding fences.
If you live in a planned community, check with the HOA to see if you’re allowed to install a fence. If the answer is yes, then request a copy of any restrictions or style guidelines, which outline specific fence criteria, such as height, design, building material, placement and more.
Contact the local building department if there is no HOA in your neighborhood. It will be able to inform you of any restrictions or code requirements relating to residential fences.
2. Identify the Need
Although it may seem unnecessary, it’s important to identify the specific reason why you want a fence. Doing so will help you choose the exact right fence to satisfy your needs. For example, if you’d like backyard privacy, consider a solid-board fence that’s at least six feet high. However, if you want to highlight a flowerbed along the front of your house, then a 3-foot-high picket fence would be appropriate.
Keep in mind that fencing can serve more than one purpose. A tall fence running along the side yard can transition smoothly to a shorter fence in front, providing both privacy and curb appeal.
3. Choose the Fencing Material
Shopping for a new fence can be both fun and exhausting because there are so many different styles and types of fencing available. Wood is still the most popular fencing material, and it comes in dozens of styles and sizes, including split rail, stockade, vertical board, horizontal board, lattice panel and, of course, the traditional picket fence. The natural beauty and texture of wood blends well with outdoor surroundings. However, wood requires a fair amount of routine maintenance, including refinishing every two years or so.
Looking for a low-maintenance alternative to wood? Consider a fence made out of resilient vinyl, resin or composite. These weather-resistant materials don’t need painting or staining, and they won’t ever rot or crack. However, they do cost two to three times more than wood. Most vinyl, resin and composite fences are bright white, but newer designs resemble stained wood.
Metal fences are available made of chain link, aluminum, steel and wrought iron. They’re strong and weatherproof, but some are susceptible to rusting. Metal fences are usually chosen for security and decorative purposes as opposed to privacy.
4. Verify the Property Lines
Do you know where your property line is? Putting up a fence that turns out to be on your neighbors’ land is sure to cause problems. In fact, you’d most likely be forced to tear down the fence and move it back onto your property, which can turn into a very timely, costly solution.
To identify boundary lines, go to the town hall and request a plot plan (a.k.a. plat map) of your property. If one is not available, hire a surveyor to measure and mark the perimeter of your yard. Then, just to be safe, install the fence several inches inside the boundary.
Finally, be sure to discuss your plans to install a fence with your neighbors. It’s the considerate thing to do, since any fence you erect will affect them and their yard, as well.
5. Seek Professional Help
At first thought, installing a fence may seem like a relatively simple project: dig a few holes, put in the posts, attach the panels and voila! It’s a fence. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, especially on large, hilly yards with hard, rocky soil.
Professional installation is the best way to ensure your fence is installed properly and is in accordance with all local restrictions and building codes. When hiring a fence contractor, choose one with extensive experience installing residential fences, not just commercial fencing. Or, call your local home improvement store; most have fence installation services that include a free in-home consultation. The contractor will walk your property, help you choose the most appropriate fence and provide a written estimate of the final cost. Most home improvement stores also supply a warranty for their fences. When discussing the fence, don’t forget to ask about adding a gate or two.
Do-it-yourself expert Joe Truini has taught many homeowners the finer points of DIY repair and design. Joe’s work has appeared in several national magazines, including This Old House, Popular Mechanics, Woman’s Day and Today’s Homeowner. Joe writes his tips for The Home Depot, where you can find a number of fencing options for your home.