What's the best fence for you?

First, determine why you want or need a fence. Is it for privacy? To keep your kids and dogs contained, or to keep neighborhood kids and other dogs out? A well-constructed fence can boost property values, but a poor decision will detract from your home's value and make it harder to sell.

Yard fences for the backyard require different considerations than fence options for your front yard.

Installing a big privacy fence in front is generally frowned upon — and may even be a violation of city code or neighborhood covenant. In some subdivisions, fencing is strictly controlled by the neighborhood HOA. What kinds of fences do others in the neighborhood have already? If your idea is drastically different, you may want to reconsider that fence option.

The traditional picket fence works well in front yards and can increase the visual appeal of a house, especially if the front yard is small and undistinctive. Picket fences also provide a structural foundation for rose bushes and other flowering plants. Aluminum fencing is also an attractive option with less required maintenance. For a privacy fence, wood often works best.

It doesn't really matter what type of fence you buy to keep pets and kids in your yard, just be sure to consider your animal's propensity to jump or dig. You can always consider an electric fence or other types of animal fencing if pet containment is your only goal.

Talk to the neighbors

It's important to communicate with your neighbors when you're thinking of building a new fence.

You may be within your rights to put up a fence whether your neighbor agrees or not, as long as it's on your property, but if you talk about it with your neighbors beforehand, you can probably come to an understanding. You may even find that the neighbor is willing to help pay for the fence in order to get something he or she doesn't mind looking at every day.

Another question of "fence etiquette" is which side of the fence should face the neighbor? With some fences — chain link, for example — this doesn't matter. But if the fence includes posts and crossbars, like most wood fences, then there is an "inside" and an "outside" of the fence. The neighbor should see the outside of your fence, which is the more attractive side. This will also prevent intruders from climbing right over.

If you're the one putting up the fence, it is your responsibility to maintain it. If it needs painting or some slats need to be repaired, take care of it right away and don't make your neighbors look at an eyesore.

Also, be sure to contact your local neighborhood association, or HOA, to see if there are any restrictions on the type or height of fencing allowed or specific procedures you must follow to get approval.

Related: Neighbor’s Complaint Prompts Cherry Hill Homeowers to Replace Wood Fence

Finding the right fence

Fencing cost and materials

A new fence costs between $2,600 and $8,000 on average, depending on the size and type you buy.

Angie's List members recently reported spending an average price of $4,578 for standard privacy fence installation.

However, there are many fence options to choose from in different price ranges. Also, it's necessary to figure in long-term costs and return on investment, such as the required maintenance and security, when picking a fence material.

Here are some of the most common options in fencing:

Vinyl/composite: Often a top choice among homeowner associations in newer neighborhoods, this type of fencing tends to have clean, uniform lines. It also is a cost-effective option because it is easy to maintain — no painting, staining or sealing required. In most cases, vinyl fencing or composites have a longer warranty than other types of fencing.

Brick/masonry: Though an expensive option, brick fencing is appropriate for historic neighborhoods and more stately properties. It also provides a high degree of privacy and security.

Metals: Materials in this category can include aluminum, steel and traditional wrought iron — an expensive, but beautiful choice. These options are ideal if you want to establish boundaries on your property but would rather maintain your views. They also can be highly decorative and enhance the overall aesthetic of your property.

Wood: One of the most common types of fencing, wood can give homes a traditional look. However, the lifetime of wood fences varies. Many types have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years and require regular maintenance, ranging from cleaning and sealing to painting and staining. It’s important to understand the different types of wood and which are preferable for your purposes, tastes and climate. Bamboo is among the most recent newcomers to the range of fencing options. It is highly touted because it's considered environmentally friendly.

Other fencing factors that play into the overall cost include your yard's slope or grade, type of post installation and any obstacles in the way. Labor is also a big cost factor if you choose to hire a contractor to install the fence.

cedar fence

Cedar is a popular choice for fences and can be used in many types of designs. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Creek Fences)

How to build a privacy fence

Are you thinking about installing your own fence, or maybe you're just curious about how it's done? Check out this step-by-step guide to erecting a privacy fence.

Most privacy fences are built 6 feet tall. While slats can be purchased individually, it's more common to buy fencing panels in prefabricated 8-foot sections. Individual slats are normally used for fence repair and installation adjustments.

• Begin by laying out the locations for corner and end posts. Mark these spots with a piece of rebar or some other type of flag to allow you to adjust the locations as necessary. Fences are easiest to build on relatively level surfaces; however, adjustments can easily be made for slight grades. Set these corner and end posts carefully, because their placement will affect the look of the fence. For a 6-foot fence, use a post that is between 8 and 10 feet tall. A square 4-by-4-inch post can be used; however, a 6-by-6-inch post is recommended for added strength.

• Dig a hole at least 24 inches deep, with a diameter that is approximately three times larger than the post width. If your fence location is unprotected and subject to high wind shear and vibration, it might be necessary to dig the hole deeper than 24 inches. Tamp the bottom of the hole to increase its density. In very soft soil, you may need to pour a small concrete footer first and allow it to cure before going further. Add the depth of the footer to the depth of your hole.

• Next, place the post and secure it. While fill dirt can be used, it is not very stable against wind shear. Two other methods used to secure the post are filling the hole with a concrete mix or packing it with gravel. Using gravel to fill the hole does not require any curing; furthermore, it is much easier to pull out the post should that become necessary. Gravel will allow water to drain, preventing wood rot and will also make the fence somewhat flexible, allowing it to give slightly in the wind. 

• String a line between the corner posts at approximately 12 inches from the top. Do the same at the bottom. These lines will be used to set your mid-posts. Dig your holes in the same manner as the corner posts, setting the first post 8 feet on center, measuring from the outer edge of the corner post. This will ensure that the 8-foot panel section will fit properly. Successive mid-posts will all be set on 8-foot centers. Keep in mind that posts on 4-foot centers add stability and strength.

• Once all fence posts have been set and allowed to cure, it's time to install the panels. Starting at the corner post, begin installing the panels by either nailing or screwing them to the posts. Spacers can be placed under the panels to assist in holding them, keeping them the proper distance from the ground.

vinyl fence

Vinyl fencing has become a popular choice in recent years. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Susan H. of Holbrook, New York)

Hire a fence company or DIY?

Building a fence can be a good do-it-yourself project, but it's hard work and requires special tools. Unfortunately, if you do a poor job, everyone will notice.

If DIY projects are your thing, you can use a manual post hole digger (beware: it's a strenous and time-consuming task) or a gasoline-powered auger, which is a more efficient tool if your soil is hard-packed clay or riddled with tree roots. You can rent an auger from a tool supply company. It's still hard work, but will go faster than digging by hand.

Although you will save money building a fence yourself, you may not save as much as you'd expect. Local fence installers can buy materials at less cost and they employ more efficient digging equipment. You'll pay retail prices for fencing materials bought at the local hardware store, and you'll need to pay to rent the auger.

To decide whether the actual cost savings is significant enough for the time you'll spend doing it yourself, contact a couple of fencing companies and ask them to give you a free, on-site estimate. You'll also be able to learn what options they offer that you may not have considered, as well as talk about any challenges your particular fencing project may include.

If you're a member of Angie's List, you can search for fencing installation companies in your local area and read reviews submitted by other members in your area. You can also sort the list to find which fencing companies are offering discounts or deals to Angie's List members at the time you are planning your project. 

Properly vet local fence companies before you hire. Request several references and check them — maybe even drive by and check out their work. Also check the service provider's state or local license, insurance and bonding. When interviewing prospective contractors, ask about pulling permits, warranties, and proposed timeline for the job.

Regardless of whether you hire a fence company or do it yourself, always call 811 before you dig to make sure you avoid any buried utilities. It's also a good idea to check with your local planning and zoning office or hire a licensed land surveyor to make sure your fencing is entirely on your property and that there aren't any local fence construction requirements.

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