Why Build a Fence?
Besides their visual character, fences have a number of practical benefits. A well-constructed fence will keep pets and children in the yard as well as keep unwanted animals and people out. Fences can also enhance the landscape, increase the home’s property value, clearly delineate the property line, and offer privacy.
Types of Fences
Rail fences. Rail fences are the simplest design type and are often used as a decorative landscape component. They consist of wooden posts connected by two or three horizontal rails. They are most commonly used on horse farms and large country properties.
Picket fences. These classic fences consist of posts, horizontal rails, and vertical pickets spaced so that they do not touch. Picket fences come in many sizes and styles, including straight-top, arch-top, and scalloped-top designs.
Stockade fences. This design is similar to the picket fence design except that the vertical boards are placed close together so that it is difficult to see through the fence. Stockade fences are often much taller than picket fences and are commonly used as privacy fences. They are a practical option for containing large dogs that may jump over smaller fences.
Good-neighbor fences. Also referred to as a board-on-board fence, this popular style of fence offers the same privacy and protection as the standard privacy fence but has the pickets on alternating sides of the fence for visual appeal on both sides.
Chain-link fences. A chain-link fence can be a cost-effective option and is a great way to control pets and provide added security. A standard chain-link fence consists of round tubular posts, a top round tubular rail, and chain-link mesh connected to the rails and posts. Chain-link fences are usually either galvanized or vinyl coated. Vinyl coatings are available in many colors. If the color is carefully selected, a vinyl chain-link fence can blend into the environment nicely. The top rail can also be replaced with a tension wire to further reduce the fence’s visibility.
Wrought iron is the traditional material for metal fence construction. Wrought iron fences are custom-made from solid pickets, rails, and posts, and they are extremely strong and durable. Wrought iron fence posts are typically made of steel and are set in concrete 28 to 36 inches deep. However, wrought iron is heavy and relatively expensive. It also requires regular paint applications to prevent rust.
Tubular steel fences can closely resemble wrought iron fences and are usually less costly. To offer extended warranties that cover maintenance and corrosion, fence manufacturers often apply treatments such as galvanizing, powder coating, or painting.
Tubular aluminum fences can resemble ornamental iron fences and gates. For a comparable number and thickness of pickets, railings, and braces, tubular aluminum fences are generally lighter than tubular steel fences and are much lighter than wrought iron fences. Additionally, due to aluminum’s corrosion resistance, many manufacturers offer limited lifetime warranties on tubular aluminum fences.
Wood is a versatile fencing material because it can be stained, painted, or left natural to weather to a gray color. Pressure-treated pine and cedar are two common types of wood used in fence construction. Depending on the grade and treatment of the wood, pressure-treated pine will typically last about 20 years, while cedar will generally last between 8 and 10. To reduce the chances of rot and insect infestation, wood fence posts are typically set in concrete-filled holes.
Because pressure-treated wood resists rot and insect infestation, it is commonly used for fence construction. Historically, most wood was pressure treated with chromate copper arsenate (CCA), which has an arsenic component. The lumber industry has voluntarily stopped using CCA for residential applications, and most wood for fences is now treated with micronized copper azole (MCA), which is safe for people, animals, and the environment. The EPA suggests that existing CCA-treated structures should be properly maintained and sealed. More information on CCA is available from the EPA at www.epa.gov or from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s consumer hotline, 800-638-2772.
Vinyl & PVC Fences
Vinyl and PVC fences use materials that are relatively new to the fencing industry. This type of fencing is used to replicate many types of wooden fences and can be reinforced with aluminum for extra strength. Fences made from these materials do not require painting. They are rigid enough to be functional and durable but flexible enough to resist cracking. Vinyl and PVC fences come in many styles and colors and are a decorative, low-maintenance option.
Installing on a Grade
Fences constructed on sloped land are typically installed using one of two methods: raking or stepping. Raked fences follow the shape of the slope. The rails are set parallel to the sloping ground, like the banister of a staircase, while the pickets remain upright, like the posts supporting the banister. This orientation puts the rails and pickets out of square and minimizes empty spaces between the ground and the bottom of the fence. The fence can be further customized to eliminate all spacing between the bottom of the fence and the ground.
Another installation technique when working with a slope is to step the fence. In a stepped fence, the rails and pickets remain square, with each section of the fence jutting straight out from the sloping ground like a step in a staircase. As each fence section is set at a higher point along the slope, the top of the fence as a whole looks like a series of steps. One possible drawback to a stepped fence is that each section leaves a gap underneath it where the land slopes away from the bottom edge of the section, which still remains horizontal. Depending on the size of the gap, a stepped fence may not keep pets contained in the yard. Use rocks or hardscaping to fill these gaps.
Permits and Regulations
Many counties have specific zoning regulations or require special building permits for fences. Homeowners’ associations may also regulate fences. Before signing a contract with a fence company, make sure you have all required permits and approvals, or verify that your fence company will obtain them for you.
Before any work can begin, a utility company must locate and mark underground utility lines. This process can usually be completed within 72 hours of your call, excluding weekends and holidays. A reputable fencing contractor will not start digging until this is done and will usually include this step in a detailed quote for the entire job.