Choose Your Design

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

February 15, 2008 5 min read


Homeowners find best defense is a good yard fence

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

Choosing the type of fence you want around your house isn't as easy as it sounds. But if you do your homework, you should be able to get the look you want at a price you can afford, fence pros say.

Before heading to the lumberyard to tackle what may seem like a simple do-it-yourself project - or calling in a contractor to handle the job - decide your main reason for adding or replacing a fence. If you're typical, it's because you want to:

- Make your home's exterior more attractive, improving its curb appeal.

- Feel safer or more secure.

- Create a barrier that prevents young children from wandering in or out of your yard.

- Keep Fido off the neighbor's property.

- Limit access to a backyard pool.

Projects that go awry do so because homeowners choose the wrong type of fencing for their needs, a very common mistake, says Lynn Hayworth, president-elect of the American Fence Association and a partner in Wisconsin-based Hayworth Fence Co. Before you plunk down money for a fence, you need to know what you are buying, she points out.

"Like most things, not all fencing is created equal. Whether you are buying chain-link, wood, vinyl, ornamental aluminum or steel, or composite fencing, or any other type on the market, there is a difference in the quality and durability of the product," Hayworth says, adding that it pays to spend a little more upfront for quality materials to avoid having to redo the fence later.

Choosing what to use is no easy task in a rapidly expanding market of natural and man-made fence materials like color-clad chain link, coated aluminum, ornamental steel, pressure-treated and water-repellent wood, bamboo, maintenance-free wood-like composites and vinyl, even new polymers that mimic stone. Thousands of styles, dozens of colors, and numerous grades and finishes - as well as price - add to the difficulty of deciding what to use. Topography, climate, and location can also affect your decision.

On the low end is inexpensive, industrial-looking chain link, which, while cheaper than most other fencing materials, often comes up short on aesthetics. A chain link fence can give you the security you seek, even shielding from the street with the addition of plastic slats, but it is no match for its pricier natural and man-made cousins that tend to accent landscaping or architecture, experts say.

Setting time aside to research fence materials and designs can help you avoid a costly mistake, they add. Also talk to fence contractors and their customers and drive around the neighborhood to get an idea of what you like. One online source, the AFA's on-line "Consumer Fence Guide" ( provides an unbiased, in-depth look at virtually every type of fence product now on the market, including composition, manufacturing process, durability and best use for each material. Publications like expert Jeff Beneke's popular paperback, "The Fence Bible" (Storey Publishing) and similar guides are widely available in bookstores and libraries.

Even if you can pinpoint your needs, unless you are a do-it-yourselfer, don't expect the fence to go up immediately, Hayworth adds. "Contractors' backlogs can vary depending upon the time of the year."

If homeowners want a fence in place by the time spring rolls around, they need to start looking very early in the year, she says, since in peak construction months, installation can vary anywhere from several weeks to several months.

Putting up a fence by yourself is not a simple task, Hayworth notes. "Installing a fence is labor intensive and does require physical strength and knowledge of the manufacturer's recommended installation procedures," she says. "You'll also need to understand differences not only from one type of fence to another but also the weights and measurements of the same type of fencing."

How do you choose a contractor if you don't want to do-it-yourself? Start by checking the company's references and years in business, says Hayworth. Also, before you sign on the dotted line:

- Make sure the contractor carries enough insurance to cover damages or accidents on your property.

- Find out if the contractor is licensed, if required.

- Learn about zoning requirements and covenants that could affect the height and style of fence you want and if a permit is needed.

- Find out about the warranties, both on the materials and installation since they can vary widely.

You also may need a professional property survey and arrange a "call before you dig" survey to prevent installers from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines.

? Copley News Service

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