NEWSLETTER #257 May 2007 House-Building Home Page

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

Home and Yard Fencing



  1. Introduction
  2. Planning your Fences
  3. Types of Fencing
  4. Construction Techniques
  5. You and Your Neighbors
  6. Summary and Other Considerations
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This month's newsletter is focused on the types of fences you may want to consider to surround the yard of your new home, styles, construction techniques and whether you should build your fence immediately or wait a year or two.

As is often the case, proper planning is important for any construction activity and decisions regarding building a fence around your property are no different. Basic decisions that most people want to consider are as follows: the type of fence; fence materials that you will need; do you need the fence for security; when should you build your fence; will you build your fence yourself; or have a contractor build it; will you share the cost of the fence with your neighbors or pay for the fence yourself; regular maintenance requirements; future plans for your yard may also be a consideration; aesthetic considerations; zoning or bylaw requirements; and construction techniques.

We will cover these issues in more detail under the broad category of planning your fence, types of fencing, and construction techniques. We also have a special section about you and your neighbors and how to avoid fence related problems in this area.

As usual with all of our newsletters we will provide useful links for our readers to find out more detailed information about each of these subjects throughout our newsletter.

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Planning your Fence

As we mentioned planning your fence can be very important to ensure that not only you obtain the kind of fence you prefer, it also meets your requirements over many years. There is no right answer to the many questions that we will review in the following, however they are considerations that you may want to take into account to ensure that your new fence around your new home and property meet your needs. The answers will also vary depending on whether you are planning an urban home or one in the country were the neighbors may be some distance away.

Security Considerations

Many people are concerned about security for themselves as well as their property and will add a fence to provide them with some protection. Anyone who really wants to get into your yard will find a way to get in, so the advantage of a fence is really having that psychological barrier that says this is my property and stay out. Some people will opt in extreme cases for motion detectors, alarms, electrified fencing etc, however we have not addressed these issues in this newsletter. Even if you live in an urban area and more so in the country, you may decide that you want to have a fence to keep animals out of your yard and away from your garden. Remember to extend your fence down to the ground and make it high enough that deer will not be tempted to leap over the fence. Your fence will not deter other animals, such as raccoons, groundhogs and squirrels. Finally you may decide that you need to have a fence to provide a safe area for your children to play in and avoid situations were they wander away from your property.

Build your fence now or later

Most people plan to build their fences once construction of their new home is completed; however there are a couple issues that will impact the timing which you may want to take into account. First of all your lot must be finished and final grade requirements met for drainage purposes. If you are planning sod to be installed, you will want to either complete your fencing prior to laying the sod or wait a few months to allow the sod to root and avoid damaging it with foot and machine traffic.

If you are planning a neighborhood fence-building project for your fence, waiting till all of the neighbors have moved in is another consideration. Pool installation, landscaping, deck construction etc may also impact your timing as well as have an impact on your fence requirements. More on these topics later.

Building your fence yourself

Many ambitious consumers will arrange for the materials to be delivered and will plan to build their fence themselves with the help of a few friends. This is a great way to save money, however good planning is key and having the time to complete the work is another issue for many people. Some consumers will have a contractor come in to dig the holes with a power auger and set the posts. This is the hardest work physically and can also save a lot of time without breaking the bank. Do it your-selfers require only basic tools such as a skill saw, hammer, level, measuring tape and someone to assist them to finish the job.

Sharing the cost of the fence with your neighbors or paying for the fence yourself can be a contentious issue. If your neighbors are far away or are not interested in a fence you are left to build your own fence. In urban settings, most homeowners will have at least 3 people to share the fence with and depending on the shape of your lot etc. you can have as many as 5 or 6 neighbors to negotiate and share the cost with. Agreeing on the type of fence, whether you will build it yourself or pay for a contractor, timing, cost sharing, venders that you will use are all issues that must be discussed and negotiated. Many people are happy for someone who will take the lead and do the work, while other neighbors may be more problematic. Poorly handled situations can even land in court. This is another reason for building your fence ass soon as possible yourself, however to protect your self from future legal issues, most legal experts will recommend that your fence be installed 6 inches inside your property from the property line.

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Maintenance requirements

Consumers looking for a low maintenance fence will often build a chain link fence or galvanized fence around their property. It can be constructed quickly at various heights and is virtually maintenance free. Wood fences on the other hand have a limited life span depending on environmental conditions and usually require staining on a regular basis to keep them looking fresh. You may find yourself replacing a post that has rotted once and awhile due to moisture or insect damage. Concrete or cement block fences are popular as well in some areas, need little maintenance other than touch up for aesthetic reasons. All of these fences can be hidden to some degree by selective landscaping as well.

Future plans for your yard may also be a consideration

If you have just moved into your new home and are not quite sure about your plans for the yard, such as landscaping, adding a pool or sauna and hot tub, perhaps a garden etc. consumers may decide to delay their fence construction until this work is completed. While a fence can be added anytime, if it is important to you to have everything come together in a pleasing manner then many consumers may want to wait until all of their plans are finalized. At the very minimum, fences should be constructed in such a manner that the required construction equipment can enter your property without having to destroy your fence. Many people will arrange for an extra gate or several posts will not be cemented in place to ensure ease of removal later on.

Zoning or bylaw requirements

As a rule, zoning bylaws generally do not impact the construction of a fence, however if you are planning on adding a pool, many municipalities require a fence of a minimum height, self closing and self locking gates, with no space between the bottom of the fence and the ground. Check with your local bylaw officer to confirm any requirements your municipality may require.

Some Useful Links:

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Types of Fencing

There are many different types of structures that qualify as fences that are used today to surround a person's property. These include the standard good-neighbor fence, decorative fences, chain link fences, ornamental iron or aluminum fencing, polyvinyl fencing, and even cement brick walls that serve as fences. Whatever you select, these fences all come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. We will review a few of these to assist you in deciding on the type of fence you may want to add to your new home.

Chain link fences are made from aluminum or galvanized wire and are built to last. They may not look great however they can be built quickly and will last many years with very little maintenance. These types of fences work well if you have a lot of fence to add and plan to add shrubbery of some type to hide the fence.

Good neighbor fences are identical on both sides so neighbors receive equal value on both sides. The posts often have caps; they provide privacy and can be built to various heights. Some fences will have latticework added to the top to increase the height as well as provide variety. These fences are often constructed with either pre-treated pine or from cedar. Both will last many years, however the cedar must be stained or it will turn gray in a few years, while the pressure treated wood will fade much more gradually. If you plan to stain the pressure treated wood, consumers must generally wait one year to allow sufficient weathering of the wood.

Wood fences can be constructed in a variety of designs, with the criteria of meeting your neighbors needs as well as your own and local bylaws if any.

Over the last few years, vinyl has begun to make an appearance as a fencing material. They are manufactured in a variety of colors, heights and designs.

Chain link fences will last much more than 20 years, while wood fences can show signs of rot after ten years or less especially in damp conditions. In dry conditions, wood fences can last much longer. Vinyl fences have not been around long enough to establish their longevity.

Some Useful Links:

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Construction techniques

Many homeowners will simply hire a contractor to construct their backyard fence. Homeowners can easily build their own fences; derive a sense of pride and save money at the same time. Regardless of whether you build your own or have someone do it for you, it is always a good idea to understand the basics of fence construction.

We have included a variety of web sites with useful tips and instructions. We will cover some of the basics here and refer you to the web sites below for more details.

The first step is to locate your corner posts either on the property line if sharing with your neighbor, or 6 inches inside the property line if not. Posts are generally located eight feet apart to match the standard 8 foot 2*4. Note that this is a center-to-center measurement. Most fence runs will require one section that will be shorter than the standard 8-foot section. Decide were you want this short section to be and plan your posts accordingly.

If you need access to the backyard in addition to the standard gate, include this in your planning. Use a laser or a simple string to line up your posts to ensure a straight line. Once you have the posts located, the holes must be excavated. A power auger can make short work of an otherwise physically demanding task.

The depth of the hole will depend on local conditions and also how deep the frost will penetrate. You may want to check with local experts, however generally the minimum depth is 30 inches allowing for 8 foot posts to be used which provide for a 5 and half foot tall fence. If you are concerned about drainage, place a flat stone at the bottom of the hole and then fill with concrete or stone dust around the post, which will harden sufficiently. Always ensure that the concrete is slightly above ground level to ensure that moisture does not sit around the post causing wet conditions.

Brace each post so that is perfectly straight vertically before filling with concrete or stone dust. Once all of the posts are in place the next step is to add the stringers and then the vertical slats, alternating on either side if you are building a good neighbor fence. By contrast placing the chain link on a fence is much quicker once the posts are installed and the stringers have been added.

There are many different designs so you may want to check with your local lumber store for design ideas. All wooden fences should be allowed to weather for at least 3 months before staining is applied.

Some Useful Links:

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You and Your Neighbours

Negotiating with your neighbors regarding the type of fence, who will build it, and were you will purchase the material can be problematic for some. Generally the good neighbor fence is the most popular since it looks the same on both sides, is relative inexpensive and many people find it easy to agree with.

Not everyone is able or willing to pitch in and help to construct the fence. Some will want to hire a contractor while others will build it themselves. If neighbors are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, the options you have include building your own fence on your own property i.e. inside the property line at your own expense; absorbing the cost of the contractor construction costs or fighting it out in court as a last resort.

Staying calm and always remaining fair and honest in all transactions usually will mean you can avoid any issues of this sort. Retain all documents for your records to ensure that you can demonstrate your costs if needed. If you feel that there may be difficult issues between neighbors, it is best to document all agreements or disagreements. Keep accurate records of all charges and time spent building the fence, since you may need this later if one of your neighbors decides to go to court. While this may seem far fetched, there are court cases every year over just this sort of thing.

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Summary and Other Considerations

Building a fence can be a fun project for all, a way to get to know your neighbors and your fence will provide you with both privacy as well as security for your family. The vast majority of consumers tend to select good neighbor fences, although consumers in more remote areas may decide to select a chain link fence for the ease of construction as well as cost. All fences will require maintenance from time to time, however both chain link fences and vinyl fences will have the least amount of maintenance, while wooden fences require staining and even replacement of portions of the fences even after a few years.

If you are planning a pool, most municipalities will require a security fence to be added immediately and it must meet local requirements for height as well as self closing and locking gates. No one wants an accident to happen in their back yard, and this requirement should be taken seriously.

Some Useful Links:

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