13 Things You Need to Know Before Building a Fence

Make sure you understand all these details before building a fence in your yard—our guide covers everything from materials to considering your neighbors.

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. 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 building a fence, ask yourself what your reason is for installing one. 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'll want something tall and solid.

Chances are you have a few reasons: 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.

02 of 13

Building a Fence Facing the Right Way

white house wooden fence
Kim Cornelison

If you're building a privacy fence, the standard way is for the smooth, finished side to face neighbors or the street. The side with the rails and posts showing should face the inside. 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 buying wood posts and whitewash, think about your commitment. Wood fences might require occasional staining or sealing and can warp and rot over time. Instead, 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 material when building a fence. 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 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

Ask homeowners, neighborhood associations, or municipal building code officials about covenants that dictate fencing look, height, and material. For example, city and neighborhood rules may specify the better-looking side of a fence—the side that doesn't show posts and rails—faces the public. 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 building a fence 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 the Costs of Building a Fence

fence, landscaping, hostas
Marty Baldwin

HomeAdvisor reports that homeowners pay between $1,764 and $4,442 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 $17 to $45 per foot. The fence's length, height, and wood type are major factors in the price of a new fence. Gates, hardware, and sealant are additional 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're accurately building a 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 may be a bigger project than you want to take on. 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. 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 upfront with neighbors about your fencing plans. 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. 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 the right thing to do.

11 of 13

Consider Climate

backyard patio with bamboo and seating
Kim Cornelison

Concrete anchors are necessary for fence posts when building a fence in cold northern climates that experience frost. 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 temperatures, wood, bamboo, and metal fences are the most durable.

12 of 13

Create Entrances

fence opening garden
Erica George Dines

Plan at least two paths into a fenced area for safety and convenience. Ensure one is large enough to accommodate bulky outdoor equipment such as lawnmowers and garbage bins. 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 genuinely 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the most affordable material to build a fence out of?

    The price of your fence depends largely on the square footage needed and the material you choose. On the lower end of the spectrum, chain link fences are often considered the most budget-friendly, followed closely by more inexpensive woods like treated pine. The most expensive fencing materials include vinyl and wrought iron.

  • Where do I go to find out if I need a permit for my fence?

    If you plan on installing a fence on your property, it's a good idea to figure out if you'll need to pull a permit with your town to make the work legal. To find out if you need to obtain a building permit, get in touch with your town's building inspector (this information can also occasionally be found on your city's website). You'll want to do this before any installation or work begins on your fence.

  • What type of upkeep does a fence require?

    The exact care your fence requires depends on the type of material it's made from. In general though, you should expect to clean your fence periodically and repair any damage it may sustain, such as broken posts or holes in the chain link.

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