What to Know About Fence Installation
Got a fence in your future? Whether you build it yourself or hire a pro, here are some important things to think about while you're planning.
People build fences for many reasons: Some want privacy, others want to keep animals in or out of their yards or gardens and still others are concerned with delineating their property boundaries. In the last case, it’s important to know where those boundaries are, and in some cases, existing vegetation on the property line may have to be removed to make way for the fence.
That doesn’t always turn out well. When I needed to remove a creeping bush on a rural property near my home to make way for a boundary fence, I went ahead and attacked it with a chainsaw and a battery-powered circular saw. It didn’t take long to realize that what I was cutting was poison oak, because by nightfall my arms had begun to swell and weep. It took a shot of cortisone to relieve the pain and itching.
The point is, in most cases, a fence is a simple structure to design and build, but as with any project, you have to be ready for the unpredictable. Rocky ground, uneven terrain and unruly vegetation can turn what seemed like a simple job into a complicated one. A resourceful DIYer can overcome unforeseen obstacles, but sometimes the extra money it costs to hire a pro is worth it.
What To Consider When Installing a Fence
The main thing to think about when considering a new fence is why you need it. If privacy is your main concern, you’ll be looking at a higher, more expensive structure than you need to protect your yard from animals or to demarcate your property lines. The purpose of the fence has a bearing on design, materials and cost. If you see a new fence in your future, here are some other important considerations:
Local rules and regulations
Fences are highly visible structures, and many communities impose constraints on design, height and placement. Consult with the local building department and research design and setback requirements. You may or may not need a building permit, depending on the community and type of fence.
Your decision to build a fence impacts the entire neighborhood, especially the properties adjacent to yours. You can build whatever you want within community limits as long as it’s entirely on your property, but it may deprive neighbors of their view or a handy access route. They could just as easily benefit from a new fence, though, so consider them, work with them and be a good neighbor.
Some fences are easier to erect on rocky and uneven terrain than others. In particular, a fence that has rackable panels mounted on pivots, allows you to adjust the angle relative to the ground. This is a sensible alternative to a stepped-panel design on sloping ground. The large openings underneath stepped panels don’t provide privacy or prevent animals from passing through unless you cover them, which can be a costly extra step.
Cost is a major consideration for any home improvement project. It is affected by design, choice of materials, terrain, length of the fence and whether you opt for professional installation or do the job yourself.
Type of Fences
Fences can be see-through or opaque, simple or complex, temporary or permanent. The main difference among them is the material from which they are made. Some materials lend themselves better to certain designs than others. Here are the main options:
Wood offers the most design flexibility of any material with options that include picket, panel, board-to-board, shadowbox and rustic boundary fences. With rising lumber prices, wood is an increasingly costly option, but it’s also the easiest to DIY and still the most common fence material. A wood fence needs maintenance and can last 20 years or more with the proper care.
The main vinyl fence designs are pickets, horizontal or vertical slats and panels. Vinyl fencing costs roughly the same as wood, but installation is easier because the posts, rails, slats and panels typically have easy-to-use connectors. Vinyl is a long-lasting material that doesn’t rot or rust, but colors are limited, and you need vinyl-safe paint if you want to change the color.
Metal fence materials include aluminum, steel and wrought-iron. Although avant-garde designs employing panels and slats are available, the most common option is pre-assembled panels with vertical balusters. Metal fencing is more expensive than other types of fencing, and steel and wrought-iron fencing can rust, but metal generally outlasts most other materials.
An increasingly popular material for privacy fencing, composite wood is manufactured from a combination of wood fibers and resin. It’s more expensive than wood, but it lasts longer, and because it’s made from recycled wood, it’s a green building product.
An inexpensive utility-grade fence material, chain link is a great choice if you want to keep animals in or out of your yard but don’t care about privacy. Made from galvanized steel, chain link fences are rust-resistant and long-lasting, but they are the most challenging for DIYers to install.
Although they may take years to grow, trees, bushes or hedges can provide privacy and limit access to your property. A row of giant arborvitae can demarcate a property line and provide a visual barrier for a large rural property, while boxwood hedges can provide classic borders for a smaller property in an urban setting.
Professional vs. DIY Fence Installation
As evidenced by multiple tutorials online, fence installation is generally DIYable, but the practicality of doing the job depends on several factors, including material, length of the fence, nature of the terrain and your timeline.
- Wood, vinyl and composite fences are generally the best DIY materials, while metal and chain link are usually best left to pros.
- Rocky, compacted ground may call for special digging equipment, and sloping ground may call for installation skills that DIYers may not have.
- Transporting materials for long or complex fences can be onerous if you don’t have a truck and a crew to carry things.
- A professional contractor with a crew can build a fence much faster than you can do it yourself.
Fence Installation Cost
Fencing installation costs vary by region, according to data from The Home Depot, with prices generally being highest in New England and the Pacific Northwest and lowest in the South. They also vary by material, design, number of gates, soil, property and terrain considerations, and permit requirements. On average, homeowners can expect to pay between $4,000 and $6,000 to install a 150-foot fence, but that’s just a ballpark figure.
Material costs per linear foot are roughly as follows:
- Wood: $15 – $35
- Vinyl: $20 – $45
- Metal: $35 – $60
- Composite: $11 – $45
- Chain Link: $15 – $30
Some contractors charge by the linear foot for installation, and $5 to $20 per linear foot is a typical range. Others charge by the hour, with typical rates being $30 to $75 per hour. Labor costs represent a significant percentage of professional installation costs, so you can save big by doing the job yourself.