Andrea Davis is the editor of HomeAdvisor, an online service that connects homeowners with home improvement professionals in their area for free, ensuring quick and reliable contractor services at reasonable prices.
Fence design and installation can be complicated, long and arduous if you haven’t made all the decisions ahead of time. Do you know what kind of fence you need for your backyard or front yard? You need to understand the function, height and material of your fence before you call in a fencing contractor, or you might end up installing a fence that doesn’t suit your needs. Here’s an overview to help you make well-informed decisions before investing in a fence for your landscape.
Determine Its Function
Fences have a wide variety of functions besides enclosing a front yard or a backyard. By knowing what the purpose of your fence is, a fencing professional can help you determine the best height and materials, which will all factor into the cost of the installation. So what do you want the function of the fence to be?
First, where is it going? If this is a fence for the front yard, perhaps you need to enclose the front yard for aesthetic value. A front yard fence often adds to the value of a home by increasing curb appeal and complementing the landscape. Maybe it’s a fence that wraps around the front yard from the back to protect children and pets from getting out into the street, in which case it’s for security and defense.
If this is a fence that’s going in the backyard, it can serve multiple purposes, some of which overlap with the front yard.
Just like the front yard, a fence can increase the appeal of the backyard. Adding a fence to the backyard will help keep the landscape under control and enclosed, which helps with tree and shrub growth. It keeps neighbors’ plants and lawns from affecting the look of your yard, and it saves the next homeowner the trouble of enclosing the yard.
Like enclosing the front yard to protect children and pets, adding a fence around the backyard achieves this same goal. If you want to keep children and pets from wandering out into the front yard or away from the home, a fence is a good way to set boundaries. It’s also a good way to keep wild animals or strangers from easily accessing the yard and the home from the back. There are certain types of fences – such as barbed wire or electric fences – that are especially good for security purposes.
Homeowners don’t often want to have people looking in on a family dinner on the porch or children playing in the yard. A fence lends a certain amount of privacy from neighbors, people walking down the street and cars driving by. If you want to have some privacy in your backyard, you should certainly have a fence installed around it.
Choose a Height
Once you figure out the fence’s function, this helps determine what your fence height needs to be. If you need a fence to add to the aesthetic appeal of your landscape, it only needs to be 1 to 2 feet tall. For those who want fences for privacy and security, they will need to be anywhere between 5 and 6 feet high.
When determining the height of your fence, you will also need to consult the city codes and homeowners association (HOA) if there is one for your neighborhood. Most cities cap off fence heights at around 6 feet, but HOA rules vary. There might also be regulations on the kinds of material and color you can use to construct your fence, so be sure to check with the HOA before your contractor purchases any materials.
Pick a Material
Now it’s time to choose the material that the fence will be constructed from. Fences that will function for aesthetics don’t need to be made from particularly strong material, but those that need to provide security and privacy will need to endure the elements and last a long time. These are some of the most common fencing materials homeowners can choose from.
Wood can be stained or painted to match your home and will last anywhere from 15–20 years. It can serve both as a fence for privacy if installed as boards and as an aesthetic fence when installed as pickets. There are various kinds of wood you can install like cedar, redwood and spruce. There is also composite wood, which is made from recycled materials but will need to be stained to endure against the elements. Wood fencing needs regular maintenance and staining or paint touch-ups to last a long time. Wood is not the optimal choice for security fences as the boards can be ripped off and will often split or break because of weather.
Vinyl is another fencing option that will last for a long time and can be for either aesthetics or privacy, depending on whether it’s installed as pickets or boards. Homeowners have fewer options to choose from in terms of colors with this material, as it only comes in neutral shades and cannot be painted or stained like wood. Vinyl has a high resistance to moisture, but an excessive and consistent amount of moisture over time can cause the development of mildew, so homeowners should check it regularly and avoid installing sprinklers close to it.
There are various metal fencing options available to homeowners, and the type you choose depends on the extent of privacy and security you require for the backyard or front yard.
- Aluminum: Aluminum fences are strong, durable and great for security. They are optimal for keeping children and pets in the back or front yard. The fence is made of two or three rails that are sturdy and will last for a long time, so they require little to no maintenance other than some washing every now and again and checking for any breaks that might need to be repaired.
- Steel: Steel fences are also strong rail fences that are great for security. The rails can handle four times the impact of aluminum rails. They can last against the erosion of the landscape because of climate changes and require little to no maintenance. They can also have ornamental decorations that act as additional security that prevents people from climbing into your yard.
- Wrought iron: Wrought iron is another fence that’s good for security and is very durable, lasting as much as 50 years or longer if cared for properly. For the best security, fence installers recommend that the fence be at least 6 feet high, though it will provide medium security at around 4 feet. These fences are usually installed far from the home on larger properties.
Brick is one of the most expensive fencing materials available to homeowners, but it is also one of the most secure and private options for a yard. Brick requires almost no maintenance and will provide the best security depending on how high it is. It will also soundproof the backyard so you can hold large parties or cookouts without disturbing the neighbors. It will also be very hard for someone to enter the backyard from the other side of the wall. The downside to installing a brick wall is that it requires a strong foundation, because the entire wall can break down and fall if the ground erodes underneath it.
Form a Design
The final step in designing your fence is determining how you want it to look. Once again, it comes down to whether it will serve the purpose of aesthetics, security or privacy.
A lattice fence design is diagonal spacing of about 2 inches between wood, vinyl or PVC panels that provides some privacy but still allows some sunlight and a view through the small holes. This kind of fence design is often used in gardens when trying to grow ivy walls.
A chain link fence design is a woven fence made from galvanized or coated steel wires that form a zigzag and diamond pattern. These are good for fences that need to enclose children or pets but not good for privacy or security unless you install barbs or electricity across the top of the fence.
Privacy fences are often installed as boards, which can be done with wood, vinyl or sheet metal. These are tall fences – about 5 to 6 feet in height – which completely cut off the backyard from neighbors or the street. This is also what a brick wall achieves when it is installed around a backyard at a tall enough height.
A picket fence design is used to decorate the front yard of a home and show where the boundaries of the property are. They are often evenly spaced with vertical boards made of wood, vinyl or sheet metal and attached to rails. These are good for aesthetics and sometimes for security, but they are not optimal for privacy in a backyard.
A split-rail fence design, often seen on farms or ranches, is the kind of fence constructed from timber logs or long fence boards and split into rails. They are used for decoration or to enclose animals and farmland. They are good for aesthetics but not often used for security or privacy.
Do you have a fence on your property? Are you thinking about installing one? Share your questions and comments below!