Are you considering adding a fence to your home? If so, there are at least five elements you'll want to consider: purpose and style, the materials, needed documentation and regulations, the installation itself, and maintenance afterwards. This tutorial focuses on residential fencing, not fencing for commercial or agricultural purposes.
Purpose of your new Fence: There are many reasons why homeowners add fencing to their property. Often, they want some level of added privacy, or intend to limit neighbors and passers by from walking on their property. Safety and security of children and pets is often the primary motivator to start a fencing project. There are a huge amount of styles and sizes of fencing in many materials and colors that can satisfy your specific needs and wants in fencing. Usually, the reasons why you want a fence in the first place will lead you to the style that best meets your specific purposes.
Fencing Materials are usually wood, metal, vinyl or some composite of vinyl and wood together. With most styles of fencing that you choose, you'll then have the option of the actual material that will be used in it's construction.
Two of the most popular woods used in residential fencing are pine and cedar. You'll hear the expression 'pressure treated pine' used often, but realize that process does not exempt the wood from potential damage from insects or weather. Pressure treating will help limit the breakdown of the wood, but additional sealers and periodic painting or staining are needed to extend the fence's lifespan and keep it's appearance from deteriorating. In almost any neighborhood, you can see fencing that has a driftwood gray hue. That's pressure treated pine that wasn't sealed and painter (or stained) after installation. Ideally, you'll seal your pine fencing and then paint or stain it every two years or as needed.
Cedar's a popular option because it's more durable than pine and it looks great. But even with a cedar fence, be sure to seal it after installation. You'll see a lot of pine and cedar used in residential fencing with the exception of split rail fencing, which uses harder woods like locust and hemlock. Woods are used in almost every style of fencing, from a small picket to a very tall privacy fence.
Usually, if a residential fence is made of metal, you can bet it's probably a Chain Link style. With chain link fencing, the posts, brackets and the actual chain links are all galvanized metal to retard rusting. Many people wouldn't consider chain link outside of an urban setting, but others find it to be an inexpensive option per foot. In the past decade, there's been a trend to coat the chain link and the posts with colored vinyl to weatherproof it. This not only extends it's already long life expectancy but it also can dramatically improve it's appearance. A Chain link fence requires little routine maintenance.
Synthetic materials have been gaining in popularity because they are fundamentally maintenance free. As technology has improved, so has their durability and resemblance to real wood products. Synthetic fencing comes in numerous styles, colors and textures, and is virtually maintenance free. Material costs are higher, so consider the longer life of the fence and the time saved in low to no maintenance versus the extra upfront cost. But also look at the thickness of the products which can vary greatly. Lower grade vinyl fencing can be more likely to crack or break if accidentally hit with an object. More premium grades are much more durable and should come with great warranties.
When the manufacturer combines synthetic materials with wood particles to create a hybrid between the two, it's called a Composite. Be sure that your Fence Builder is clear about the components of the proposed fence. Is it all vinyl or a composite? And is it premium or builder's grade? With synthetics and composites, it's best to see an actual sample rather than relying on a picture, so you can feel the texture and density yourself.
Documentation and Regulations Before beginning a project, you need to know what limitations are imposed by your local government or Home Owners Association. Usually, a developed community will have written standards as to what is and is not allowed. Your HOA or local city or county government will have these guidelines, and tell you if there is a formal permitting process for prior approval. It's common to gain written pre-approval after submitting a plan that details the location, layout, size and materials. If the permit application asks for a Property Plat of your property, that is often found in your settlement documents or at the municipalities tax or records departments. Many Fence Contractors include the Permitting in their cost estimates. And be sure they are the ones who are responsible to call the Utility company, because you'll need your property properly 'marked' prior to anyone digging a hole anywhere.
Quality Installation is the key to a successful fencing project. Do you know your Contractor? How long have they been in business? Are they licensed in your state? And are they bonded and insured and able to show you documentation? And does It matter to you if they have an actual business address versus working out of their truck? Check them out on Angie's List or with the Better Business Bureau. Ask about warranties, and always get a written estimate that spells out the materials, dimensions and installation methods. And any reputable Fence Builder will offer you a limited warranty on both labor and materials.
Preventive Maintenance of a Wood Fence after Installation is extremely important. Even though pine is 'pressure treated', it still needs to be sealed after installation, and we'd also recommend painting or staining on a two year cycle if you want to enjoy it for many years. The preventive maintenance needs for Chain Link and Synthetic fencing are nil. Just make a periodic inspection looking for damage or unusual wear and tear.
I hope this brief article helps set the stage for a successful planning and purchasing process. Good luck, and enjoy your home.
Mike's company, Best Value Remodeling, supplies basic information and resources to homeowners about many exterior remodeling projects. His motto is "Learn Before You Buy".