What to Know Before Installing a New Fence

A fence can add value to your home, create an inviting outdoor living space for you and your family and give you a sense of security. Photo Courtesy of the American Fence Association. A building on a raised terrain. The wall is lined with pruned flowers and the sides slope into steps made of hollow bricks.

A fence can bring you security and add value to your home.

It wasn’t until I bought a new house in a nice, little new home community that I discovered life with a wooden privacy fence — and the upkeep that comes with it.

I love my little backyard with its hardy trees and pretty flowerbeds that invite lots of butterflies and birds to visit, but mowing the grass? Not so much. However, I do enjoy the sense of being in my own little world that comes from having a privacy fence.

The main purpose for any fence is a practical one: to designate the perimeter of your property. But a fence can also make your yard feel like an extension of your home. It can provide a safe place for children and pets to play, for family and friends to gather for special events and for showing off your landscaping and gardening efforts.

“The first issue consumers need to consider is the reason they want to install a fence,” said Santo Pernicano, president of the American Fence Association (AFA) and a Certified Fence Professional (CFP) and owner of SLP Development, Inc. in Tuttle, Okla. “Figuring out the reason for the fence leads to the next question: How much are you willing to spend on it? Costs to put up a fence can vary, depending on how much area needs to be enclosed and the materials to be used, among other things.”

Fortunately, homeowners can choose from a wide variety of materials that best fit their budget, property and lifestyle. (One caveat, though: If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, make sure to check with your HOA’s rules regarding installing, replacing or repairing a fence for any specific actions or requirements on your part.)

Fence Materials

Wood fences seem to be everywhere these days. They are relatively inexpensive to install (depending on the type of wood) and bring a warm and traditional esthetic to your home and neighborhood. Wooden privacy fences are a popular option, especially in newer neighborhoods, but other style options include the classic picket fence or, for larger properties, the post and rail fence.

One of the more popular types of wood is Southern yellow pine. It’s budget friendly, strong and, when pressure treated, has greater resistance to rot and pests. Another popular choice is Western red cedar, which has a greater natural resistance to insects and rot, but also comes pressure treated for increased durability. Other popular wood choices include redwood, spruce and fir. The availability and cost of the different types of wood may vary depending on where you live.

Ways you can maintain your investment include treating the wood with a moisture sealant to help prevent warping or rot. You can also add a stain to either highlight your fence’s natural finish or to give the finish a different look. Stains can add to the longevity of your fence, but you may need to reapply the stain after two or three years, depending on the product you choose and how your fence weathers. You can also find products that combine both a stain and sealant.

Fence post maintenance is also a key to the longevity of your fence. Wood rot can affect posts at the foot, causing them to warp, split or pull away from the fence. Strong posts, properly installed, can help keep your fence standing tall — especially during strong winds.

If you decide to go with an alternate fencing material, you have plenty of options. Vinyl or PVC fencing is a popular choice for its versatility and durability. Vinyl fencing comes in a variety of styles and colors, from the classic white picket fence to privacy fences that look just like the wood version.

Ornamental aluminum and steel fencing offer homeowners an elegant, classic look perfect for showcasing beautiful landscaping. Aluminum and steel fencing are extremely durable and rust resistant. And compared with traditional wrought-iron fencing, aluminum and steel are much more cost-effective while providing the same look as wrought iron.

Chain link fencing remains a popular option with many homeowners because it is affordable and long-lasting. While it might not have the same stylistic charm as a wooden, vinyl or ornamental fence, chain link fencing is making strides in the looks department. Home owners who might not be so keen on its usual gray color can now get chain link fence in color-coated finishes that can blend with a landscape or complement another existing fence material, such as ornamental aluminum.

To help homeowners determine the best type of fence for their needs and property, the AFA offers a comprehensive Consumer Fence Guide at www.AmericanFenceAssociation.com.

DIY or Contractor

If you have the know-how to tackle a fence installation on your own, then you’re probably ready to head to your favorite home improvement store for materials. But there are several things that you should think about before you head out the door. Be sure you know where your actual property line is, if you’re not replacing an existing fence, and make sure you contact your local utility departments to mark any underground lines, so you don't accidentally cut them when digging holes for your fence posts.

You should also check with your city for any zoning code restrictions or permits that need to be filed. And don’t forget to double check your property measurements and fence placement before ordering your materials.

For those of us who have no illusions about attempting a DIY installation, it's time to start looking for a contractor. As with any home improvement project, it’s important to do your homework when hiring a contractor. The AFA recommends that consumers ask contractors for product samples, a written contract, a certificate of insurance and references. The AFA offers “Find a Contractor” and “Request a Quote” tools to help locate AFA-member contractors in their area.

The AFA also offers certification programs for fence professionals, so home owners can also look for contractors that are Certified Fence Professionals (CFP), Certified Installers (CI) or Blue Ribbon Contractors.

Whether you do it yourself or hire a contractor, by installing a new fence, you're adding value to your new house and creating an inviting outdoor living space for family and friends to enjoy for years to come.


Judy L. Marchman is a freelance writer and editor, with 20 years of magazine and book publishing experience. She covers a variety of subjects, including home-related topics. Her work has appeared in Kentucky Monthly, Keeneland Magazine and the Official Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine, among other publications.

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