Fences: Surrounding Your Surroundings

White picket fence

One of the most visible additions you can make to the exterior of your home is fencing. There are a number of fencing options available in a wide range of materials, designs, and costs.

Before you start on a fencing project, make sure you know the building codes and neighborhood regulations for your area, and identify your property lines. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a homeowner tell me about all the hard work they put into erecting a fence only to have to tear it down because it was built on someone else’s property!

Also, keep in mind that you are going to have to dig several holes for the fence posts. Now, unless you just enjoy wearing callouses into your hands, I would strongly suggest renting a gas-powered auger. You’ll be able to dig all the holes you need in a matter of a couple of hours.

Chain Link Fences

Chain link is certainly a durable option, but if you really want your fence to make a statement, my advice is to use some other material. As much as I travel this country, chain link screams out to me as industrial and impersonal. I see miles of it stretched out along the interstate to enclose the roadway, so for a home, I say use something with a tad more character.

Wood Fence

Wood Fences

Wood is one of the most popular choices for fencing. The natural “flaws” in wood are what really gives it character. You can install a wood fence yourself, though it takes some time and patience. If you’ve never put up a fence before, I wouldn’t particularly think you could do this in a single weekend, but it’s possible.

There are several things you’ll want to decide on when putting up a wood fence. First, the material the fence will be made from has to be chosen. Because of the exposure to the elements, many people decide on using pressure treated lumber, but you could also use a naturally rot resistant wood like cypress, redwood, or cedar. Another advantage of these woods is that they stain or paint better than treated lumber.

Next, the design of the fence should be taken into consideration. You can make it really simple with placing the boards directly next to each other for full privacy, or you can stagger the boards on each side of the stringers to create what is called a “Good Neighbor” or “Shadowbox” design fence. In essence, you get a fence that looks identical on either side.

The type of fence board also goes into the design decision. You can use square edge boards, dog ear boards, or gothic style. The easiest ones to find, though, are going to be the square edge and dog ear boards.

The wood fence boards are nailed in place by creating a frame using a 4×4 posts set in the ground and three 2×4 rails placed horizontally between the posts, which should be no more than 8 feet apart. To make sure the posts are lining up just right, you can use some nylon string stretched tightly from one corner to the other to create the path you want the fence to follow.

The cost of a wood fence really depends on your particular area of the country. You can plan on spending anywhere from $5-$7 per linear foot for a 6′ high, dog-ear fence. Of course, plan on spending a little more for additional materials for any gates you install.

One of the main drawbacks of building your fence from wood is the maintenance it will require. Between harsh sun, freezing rain and snow and other weather-related issues, you will need to seal, stain, or paint your fence regularly. One way to avoid that is to use vinyl fencing.

Vinyl Fence

Vinyl Fences

Vinyl fences cost more, but there is very little maintenance involved. Just as you do for wood fences, you need to carefully consider your design. You can get a full-privacy design, just like wood, or for a more aesthetical appeal, try a simple picket fence.

You can install a very simple picket fence that is only 3′ tall for about $5-$6 a linear foot. Of course, you can go with something a little more elaborate like a 6′ privacy panel with a lattice design on the top, but you’ll be spending about $16-$18 per linear foot for something along those lines.

Of course, the really great thing about going with vinyl is that you can purchase it in premade sections. Usually the sections will be anywhere from 6′-8′ long, which means it shouldn’t take anywhere near as long to install as it would for a wood fence.

The downside of using vinyl is that it simply isn’t as strong as wood. That’s not to say that it will always be that way. In fact, some companies out there are designing more durable systems, but there aren’t that many of them out there just yet.

Composite fence with fountain

Composite Fences

Another option is composite fencing material. You’ll pay more for the initial cost, but with composites, you get a fence that is virtually maintenance free and as durable as wood. It won’t fade, crack, or warp; which means it will look new year after year. Unlike many vinyl products, composite materials resemble real wood, so you can still have the character you’re searching for that you might not get with vinyl.

Composite costs about $35 per linear foot, but it will be one of those extra costs you won’t mind paying when you weigh the benefit of near-zero maintenance.

If you simply aren’t someone who feels comfortable wielding a power saw and auger, don’t worry. Many of the large home centers also offer installation services for fences. In many cases, you can even take advantage of the complimentary design service to see what the fence would look like before it’s ever installed.

Finally, just a word of caution. While many people feel the need to use a fence as a way to create privacy and keep prying eyes away from their property, it also provides a private place for would-be intruders. So, if you install a full privacy fence, make sure to include motion detecting flood lights to keep the bad guys at bay!

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Backed by his 40-year remodeling career, Danny served as the home improvement expert for CBS’s The Early Show and The Weather Channel for more than a decade. His extensive hands-on experience and understanding of the industry make him the go-to source for all things having to do with the home – from advice on simple repairs, to complete remodels, to helping homeowners prepare their homes for extreme weather and seasons.


  1. Outstanding show,providing extra lieniency to the wallet and expierence to the average guy like me.
    thanks for your proffesionalism.
    Mike Quinones…brooklyn new york

  2. Danny,
    Great article! After 20 years in the Fence Industry I must stress the need to use steel posts for wood fencing. Wood Posts do not last and will cost you in the future. I recommend “Postmaster Steel Posts” manufactured by Master Halco. I have information on this product and much more over at our Fence Industry Blog Site: http://www.fencewizard.blogspot.com

    The Fence Wizard


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