10 Things to Know Before You Build a Fence

A fence can improve your home's curb appeal, provide security, increase your privacy, and offer protection from the elements.

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    Know What You Want

    Before you install a fence, ask yourself what your reason is for installing it. If it's strictly utilitarian -- keeping the dog in the yard -- you can probably get by with a basic chain-link fence. If you're looking to block noise or add privacy, you will want something tall and solid. Chances are your wishes are complex: You want to protect pets, but you also want to add a decorative element to your home's exterior. Whatever its purpose, a fence can function in many ways, but the first step is deciding what you're looking for to choose one that works for you.

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    Choose Your Materials

    A white picket fence is quintessential, but before you buy wood posts and whitewash, think about the commitment you're making. Wood fences may require occasional staining or sealing and can warp and rot over time. Consider a low-maintenance material, such as vinyl, that offers the look of wood without the elbow grease. Other material options include aluminum, steel, wrought iron, and bamboo.

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    Mix It Up

    If cost is an issue, mix different types of fences. Wood picket fencing could be placed at the front of the home, for example, connecting to chain link fencing in the back. No only will this combination fence potentially save installation costs, but it also will reduce the amount of fence that might require repainting.

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    Do Your Research

    Inquire with homeowners or neighborhood associations and municipal building code officials regarding covenants that dictate fencing look, height, and material. City and neighborhood rules may specify the better-looking side of a fence (the side that doesn't show posts and rails) be placed toward the public face of the property. Ask how far a fence has to be set back from sidewalks and property lines, and find out if your fence project will require a building permit.

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    Think Green

    Landscaping can be used to protect your home from weather and views and to mark property lines. Remember, local building codes and neighborhood fence rules may cover such living walls. Additionally, you'll need to ensure that planted materials don't overgrow such restrictions in the future.

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    Hire Professionals

    Fence installation is harder than it looks, but the American Fence Association makes it easy to find a local fence contractor.
    Visit americanfenceassociation.com. If you decide to hire a pro, ask to see examples of fences they have installed. This may even generate ideas for your own fence.

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    Be a Good Neighbor

    Be open and up front with neighbors about your fencing plans, and try not to block their views unnecessarily. A party fence can be built and shared by two or more neighbors, but such agreements should be made in writing and only after the property boundaries have been professionally determined.

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    Consider Climate

    In cold northern climates that experience frost, concrete anchors are necessary for fence posts. Post should be secured 36 inches deep to avoid cracking in a cold snap. For warmer, damper climates, vinyl is your best material choice, as wood is susceptible to water damage.

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    Create Entrances

    For safety and convenience, plan at least two paths into a fenced area. Ensure that one of these is large enough to accommodate bulky outdoor equipment such as a lawn mower, large garbage cans, and the like. Stepping stones and pergolas can help indicate the locations of gates, as can finials or other decorative elements.

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    Dress It Up

    Once your fence is in place, customize it with decorative posts or finials. Depending on your home's style, you may want to paint the fence a contemporary color. Consider planting a row of flowers in front of it for a truly welcoming facade.

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