13 Things You Need to Know Before Building a Fence

white house wooden fence
Photo: Kim Cornelison

A fence can improve your home's curb appeal, provide security, increase privacy, and offer protection from the elements. But before you start building a fence, there are a few things you should know first. Here are our top tips for planning, designing, and building a fence for your home.

01 of 13

Know What You Want

gray house white fence
Brie Williams

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.

02 of 13

Face Your Fence the Right Way

white house wooden fence
Kim Cornelison

If you're building a privacy fence, make sure you know which way a wooden fence should face. The smooth, finished side of the fence should face the neighbor. The side with the rails and posts showing should be on the inside. This is the standard way to build a backyard fence. Not only will your property look nicer this way but your neighbor will appreciate your attention to detail.

03 of 13

Consider Fence Materials

orange and purple tulips against white picket fence
Lynn Karlin

A white picket fence is quintessential, but before you buy wood posts and whitewash, think about the commitment you're making. Wood fences might 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.

04 of 13

Mix Fencing Types

front door teal color fence house
Brie Williams

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. Not only will this combination fence potentially save installation costs, but it also will reduce the amount of fence that might require repainting. Mixing fencing materials and styles also adds interest to the landscape.

05 of 13

Do Your Research

white farmhouse exterior with black accents and palm trees in front yard
Kim Cornelison

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 back a fence needs to be set on your property. Typically, a fence has to be set back 2 to 8 inches from sidewalks and property lines. Additionally, find out if your fence project will require a building permit.

06 of 13

Think Green

'Pyramidalis' Arborvitae near purple fence
Jay Wilde

Landscaping can be used to protect your home from weather and views and to mark property lines. Layer plantings to form pockets where others can't see your house or another part of the yard. 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.

07 of 13

Know How Much It Costs to Build a Fence

fence, landscaping, hostas
Marty Baldwin

According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners pay between $1,727 and $4,335 to get a wooden fence installed. Wood fences cost $17 to $45 per linear foot. Lumber averages from $7 to $15 per foot while labor ranges from $10 to $30 per foot. The fence's length, height, and wood type are major factor's in the price of a new fence. Gates, hardware, and sealant are also costs that need to be budgeted into the project.

08 of 13

Research the Property Line

After photo Beltran backyard with gas fire pit
David Tsay

You need to know where to put a fence. To make sure that you accurately build your fence on your own property and not partially on your neighbor's land, get your property surveyed. A property survey is a document created by a surveyor that establishes a property's boundaries and rights of way. If you've lost your property survey, you may be able to get it from your county's records office.

09 of 13

Hire Professionals

Front yard with white picket fence and columns
Jon Jensen

Fence installation is harder than it looks, but the American Fence Association makes it easy to find a local fence contractor. If you decide to hire a pro, ask to see examples of fences they have installed. Choose to hire licensed companies and individuals since they're typically bonded and insured. Get three to six estimates from contractors to get a clear picture of how the companies stack up against each other.

10 of 13

Be a Good Neighbor

sustainable garden design fence greenery
Laurie Black Photography

Be open and upfront with neighbors about your fencing plans. Try not to unnecessarily block their views. 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. Installing a good neighbor fence—a wood privacy fence where the finished side (the more attractive, smooth side) faces the neighbor's property—is commonly considered good etiquette.

11 of 13

Consider Climate

backyard patio with bamboo and seating
Kim Cornelison

In cold northern climates that experience frost, concrete anchors are necessary for fence posts. The 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. In very cold climates, wood, bamboo, and metal fences are the most durable.

12 of 13

Create Entrances

fence opening garden
Erica George Dines

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 lawn mowers and large garbage cans. Stepping stones, pergolas, and other decorative elements can help indicate the locations of gates. A classic white picket fence paired with a matching arbor and gate makes a charming entrance to any yard.

13 of 13

Dress It Up

Plants and flowers next to white fence
Andrew Drake

Plan on giving your fence budget a little padding to incorporate your style into your fence project. 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. For a fresh look, attach plant hanger hooks to a wood fence and insert pots planted with annuals to create a wall of living color.

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