We’ll be going over a few key considerations when getting a fence:
Material – Will it be wood? Considering composite? How about aluminum?
Use – Are you out for privacy or keeping kids contained in the yard?
Who’s Doing the Work? – Finding a crew you can trust can be tricky, but going it alone can be even trickier.
After weighing all your options, you’ll know what kind of fence you’ll need, which material is right and what to ask when having it installed.
One big caveat, though. The first step in any fencing project is to check your local statues and guidelines to make sure whatever you’re installing is compliant. You don’t want to get six post holes in and a stack of panels in your driveway before you learn the homeowners association doesn’t allow iron spiked pickets.
What You’re Made of
Outside of most big box home improvement stores, right behind the seasonal trees and next to the sheds, is the fencing display. Usually up on the wall, you’ll see a few different options that run the gamut of steel, to chain link, to wood.
Each kind of fencing material has its own advantages.
When you’re looking for a versatile material that can be used in pretty much any way you want, you can’t go wrong with wood.
Wood fencing comes in all shapes and sizes, and when you can’t find a configuration you want, you can build your own. Wood fencing can come pre-manufactured in panels, typically in six- or eight-foot sections that come in sizes to either serve as containment for kids and pets or privacy from nosy neighbors.
The true beauty of wood fencing is that it can be painted to create any look you want. Paint plays much nicer with wood, when compared to aluminum or vinyl.
The downside of wood, however, is the maintenance. Unlike aluminum or vinyl, wood is an organic material that breaks down over time. And despite the fact that the wood used is treated for outdoor use, lumber can and will rot eventually. Another consideration is that wood expands and contracts with changes in the weather. Fasteners can become loose over time, requiring inexpensive spot fixes. Additional treatments such as stain or sealant can prolong the life of a wood fence and its parts.
Lightweight and durable, vinyl fencing is a great option for a high-end look at an affordable price. A relatively low-maintenance option, vinyl fencing is available in designs that mimic high-end wooden panels.
Vinyl fencing typically comes in white, lending a nice contrast when black hardware is used. Versatility of design isn’t an issue, either. Whether you’re partial to pickets or you clamor for a more closed-slat design, vinyl fencing comes in several options that are aesthetically pleasing no matter your preference.
And while it’s a durable option, vinyl can become brittle over time. String trimmers and lawn mower bumps can take their toll after a while. The great news about vinyl is that because it’s prefabricated and fairly modular, finding replacement parts and making repairs is a snap.
When it comes to durability and containment, you can’t beat good, old fashioned chain link fencing. Relatively inexpensive and incredibly durable, chain link fences are a practical idea when you need a fence, but your budget doesn’t allow for some of the more expensive options.
If privacy is what you’re after, however, chain link fencing is not your best option. There are ways to shut out the outside world with the use of plastic inserts and fabric coverings, but they’re not the ideal route if you’re also concerned about appearance.
Aluminum or steel fencing is a durable option that offers the look of wrought iron without all that pesky hammering of metal on an anvil. Aluminum or steel fencing is made of metal, so it’s sturdy, durable and long-lasting. It’s powder coated, which is a method of painting, and coats the metal for a nice, clean and even look.
Aluminum or steel fencing is made by rolling long tubes of metal through a preset die that gives each piece its shape. The thickness of the metal determines the strength of each piece, so the thicker the metal, the harder it’ll be to bend or damage.
Like vinyl fencing, aluminum fencing is largely modular, so upgrading and customizing it’s a breeze. And with so many options for post caps, rail styles and ornamental choices, you can make your fence as modest or outlandish as you please.
How Will You Use Your Yard?
There’s no shortage of reasons why someone might need a fence. Whether it’s to keep kids in or neighbors out, each kind of fencing has benefits for each need.
Fencing is more than just a way to keep kids penned in, it’s a way to keep them safe. Take pool fencing for example. In our area, fencing around a pool isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law. And for that fence to be compliant, it has to have a minimum height, a minimum length between top and bottom rails and a minimum distance between pickets.
That said, metal fencing works well to keep kids safe around pools. You can even get pool-compliant aluminum or steel fencing made to help you stay within the law and keep the kids out of the water.
If you’re considering a fence for backyard shenanigans, nearly every fence will do. Wooden fencing, however, can open you up to splinters and wood-related injuries. Consider buying finished, sanded wood or doing it yourself to avoid slivers of wood under the skin.
When you’re looking to keep your pets penned in, consider a few key things. The first is height. If you’ve got a six-year-old basset hound, chances are, he won’t be hopping any four-foot fences any time soon. But, he might try to dig his way underneath anything you put up. The right depth at which the fence is set and the best height of the fence over all will keep Rover right where he needs to be.
Another thing to consider is distance between slats. Dogs lose their minds for squirrels. Mine does, anyway. And if there were a squirrel in our yard, she’d follow that thing at full speed, into a wall if possible. If the pickets between a fence were big enough for my dog to get her head through, but not big enough for her to get her head out, we’d have to do some serious thinking about the damage to our fence.
When it’s your modesty you’re out to preserve, you’ve got options. Plenty of options. Wood and vinyl are the most traditional choices. Metal, although great for protection and decorative functions, isn’t the first option that comes to mind when privacy is the goal.
The biggest things to remember when shopping for a privacy fence are height and an obstructive view. Slats can be staggered, giving your fence some depth, or the slats can butt right up against each other to give you a fortified feel to your privacy.
Staggered slats tend to allow for more airflow, but at the right angle, don’t totally stop prying eyes. As with all fencing, it’s a matter of personal preference.
Go it Alone or Get Some Help
The age-old question of any home improvement project is whether you hire out the help for installation and construction, or go it alone. If you’re anything like me, I’m handy up to a point. I know my way around a drill and a saw, but when straight lines are on the line, I don’t trust my craftsmanship. Sure, hanging pictures is one thing, but when we’re talking fences, we’ve got to consider pitch, grade, level, post distance, closures, post holes, and countless other things that go into a solid fencing job. My vote is to get help to get it done right.
If you’re the ambitious, adventurous type and the thought of learning a new skill gets you going, fencing is a great project to knock out. Not only will you be able to say, “Yeah, I put that in myself,” but you’ll have a host of new skills that apply to all kinds of other projects.
If you do go it alone, however, before you start on your own home, lend a hand to a friend. If they know what they’re doing, they can show you the ropes. If neither one of you have a clue, their yard can be the guinea pig. If you pull it off, great! You can start on your yard. If you fail miserably and it makes you wish you were never born, maybe it’s time to start calling fencing companies.
A Couple Reminders
Before you make the first call or sink the first shovel, be sure that you can have a fence in your neighborhood and that you call to have any buried lines flagged before you dig. There’s nothing worse than cutting the cable line to your house. Okay, the gas line would be really bad, worse even, but if you know what you’re getting into in more ways than one, you’ll know what to avoid.
Also, get several estimates and ask around for a reliable contractor. The cheapest price isn’t always the best. On the flip side, the most expensive estimate may not be the best, either. The best contractor is one who is open, honest and willing to work with your needs. And the best way to find that contractor is to see their work and to ask some folks who used the same company.
So who’s got a fence out there? How did you shop for it? How much did you love it when you had it put in? Let us know in the comments below.
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