Privacy fence

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.

Landscape Appeal

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.

Chain Link

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 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.

Picket Fence

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.

Split-rail Fence

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!


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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. After reviewing your fence material options, I really want a brick wall. It looks great and has low maintenance. It will be super expensive on the other hand. I’m going to have to save up for it. I have a couple young kids and I’m thinking of getting a dog. I’m going to need a fence to keep them safe and happy.

  2. I purchased a 200 year old historic home near Nashville, Tennessee and doing some major work on it prior to selling it so we are planning a white picket fence. I am painting outside of house a barn red with trim Of a cream color or tan. How does this sound? I plan to paint all interior a darker yellow with same color trim as outside. I will carry some red inside as well as some blue in the kitchen. Please reply. Thank you.

  3. My husband and I have lived on a ranch for a few years now and a storm destroyed our fence. We have been looking into getting a new one for some time now and we were thinking a 3 rail vinyl fence. We have a few horses so we just need something to keep them in the pasture. Hopefully we can get it all built soon, we will follow these tips in our search. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Fences can be both functional and attractive. But I didn’t realize there were so many different options to choose from. Your suggestion to consider height, security, and appearance before making a decision is a great one. If I were to build a fence, I would want it to be brick because it is so durable.

  5. After deciding, first of all, to have a fence installed around our home, my wife and I have been trying to decide on what exactly we want the function of it to be. So far from reading I can say that we are definitely going to want all of the listed functions: privacy, security, and landscape appeal. Taking it one step at a time is going to be very important, but we will soon move on to figuring out the material. This is a very in depth guide to choosing the perfect fence. Thanks for the thorough article.

  6. Thanks for sharing all of this huge guide on picking the right fence for your home! This will be really helpful when I start working on my backyard’s landscape design. It would be really nice to have a really durable fence, but I don’t like the look of metal. It sounds like the vinyl material might be a good choice since it doesn’t need as much maintenance as wood fences.

  7. It’s true that it’s good to know what your objective is when installing a fence. Someone who just wants added yard decor will install a different fence from someone who is going for added privacy. My family was tired of having the neighbors’ dogs poop on the lawn, so we installed a fence that a small dog couldn’t slip through. I appreciate the explanation of the different types of materials. Thanks for sharing!

  8. If you choose a wood fence, favor older woods if you can. Usually the older the wood you use, the better, assuming of course the wood is in good condition. Young wood could still have moisture inside, and, as it loses that moisture, it can warp and twist.

  9. I appreciate this article on how to choose the right fence. We have recently been making some changes to our home and have really been thinking about building a fence in the front yard. Like you said, it will give us more privacy and the kids will be able to play safely in the front. We have been thinking of a picket fence just because my wife likes the way they look and they are good for securing the children. Which ever one we choose, I hope it looks great! Thanks again.

  10. very interesting post i remember after moving into my new home in North Palm Beach, the last item on my list of projects was the fence. I got six different quotes and chose Fence Crafters not just because they were affordable but also I got a good vibe from them during the bids process. My gut feeling paid off. Their team completed my fence professionally, efficiently and affordably. I would highly recommend this company for any fence job, large or small.

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