Fencing Buying Guide

  • Getting Started

  • Fences are used to separate spaces and may be functional only, or they also can be an aesthetic enhancement to the space.

  • What to Consider

  • Purpose: Is the fence for privacy, or to separate areas of the property, or to restrict occupants or passers-by, such as pets or neighbors, to specific areas?

    Lifestyle: Pools and spas will require safety fences in many areas. 

    Visual Impact: Is the fence seen from neighbors or the street? Will it enhance or detract from the curb appeal of the home?

    Building Codes: Municipalities may have restrictions on fence height, location on the property and materials used.

  • Types

  • Privacy panels:  Pre-fabricated fence panels are created in a variety of materials for ease of installation. Vertical boards or strips may form a solid surface for privacy, or be offset to allow air and visual transfer from the enclosed space, such as for pets so they do not feel closed in. Panels come in a variety of materials, styles, heights and colors, and are attached to a structural post that is secured in the ground.  

    Pickets: Created as a system, or constructed on-site, picket fences consist of a structural post, two horizontal rails to which are attached the pickets — vertical strips often with a pointed tip. Frequently 4-foot tall wood designed for use around gardens and front yards. May be painted or stained.

    Posts and Rails:  Wood posts accept two, three, or four horizontal rails to create a fence for separating areas of property.

    Lattice:  Panels consist of criss-crossed strips of lath between two posts. Used around pools, in gardens, along decks or patios. Usually wood and may be stained for painted.

    Crossbuck:  Post and rail fence with an X feature from the post at the top rails to the post at the bottom rails.  Usually wood, the crossbuck is a decorative feature for use separating property areas where the fence may impact the ambiance of the landscape.

    Basketweave:  Thin boards are “woven” horizontally through vertical elements or vertically through horizontal rails providing privacy plus a geometric aspect to the fence and airflow between the spaces.  May be constructed on site of wood, or assembled from basketweave panels of vinyl or composite.

    Ornamental:  Metals such as iron, aluminum, steel or even fiberglass form open air fences to define spaces on a property.

  • Materials

  • Wood:

          Whitewood refers to the lower quality spruce, pine or fir provided for fences. May include knots or knot holes. Inexpensive and does not have a long life span. May warp and split; must be maintained regularly

        •  Pressure-treated Pine or Fir is most frequently used for posts and pre-fabricated into panels for fences. The preservative Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) is no longer permitted for residential use by the Environmental Protection Agency. Micronized Copper Azole (MCA) contains micronized copper and biocides, providing less copper leaching from the material. Now used in outdoor and landscaping projects. Pressure-treated wood fences will need retreating periodically and will last up to 20 years if well maintained. The posts may not last as long due to contact with soil.

        •  Spruce is used in pre-fabricated panels and will require maintenance such as painting or staining. It does not have the lifetime of Cedar or Redwood, but it takes paint well if that is the look desired.

        •  Cedar has a natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. Eastern White Cedar does not have the same lifespan as Western Red Cedar. The former will last about 5 to 15 years while the later will be around for 30 years or more. Cedar offers a beauty to fences and it will not warp, splinter or shrink.

        •  Cypress contains a chemical that makes it naturally resistant to insects, and it is moisture resistant so it will not warp or twist. By periodically applying a clear finish, Cypress will retain its color and won’t gray.

        •  Redwood has natural oils that make it resistant to insects and rot so it will not be treated with chemicals and it will have a 20 to 25 year lifespan. Redwood also is lighter than other woods making it easy to use when constructing or installing fencing. Redwood is the most expensive wood used in fencing so creating long spans can be extremely expensive. The lifespan of high grade redwood is 30 or more years; it may gray, but a light sanding will bring back its natural beauty.

    Vinyl fences are created from polyvinyl chloride. Fences may be reinforced with metal or wood and will last 20 years or more; some are warranted for a lifetime. Vinyl comes in a variety of colors, with white the most popular. Other than a light cleaning periodically, vinyl fences do not require maintenance.

    Composite wood/recycled plastic is extruded into fencing that will last 20 years to 25 years and require little or no maintenance. Composites are created in woodtones with graining to mimic natural wood. Due to the plastic component, composite fences require post supports every 6-feet instead of every 8-feet so they are more time consuming and expensive to install.

    Glass panels are available as fences around pools and spas for safety purposes. The glass is tempered at low temperatures to deter cracking or shattering. With glass panels, the view into and out of the space is uninterrupted. While they require no maintenance other than cleaning, the supports for the glass panels will need to be checked periodically so the system does not fail.

    Fiberglass composite fences require no maintenance as they are weatherproof, insect proof, and rust proof. Pultruded in a variety of profiles, fiberglass can look like metal or like wood.  Fiberglass fences have a lifetime guarantee.

    Metal used for fences includes aluminum, fiberglass, steel and iron. Mostly ornamental, aluminum should last for 50 years or more; stainless steel 10 years to 20 years. Iron ornamental fences a lifetime. The metal may be powder coated or even PVC coated to resist the elements and provide a longer lifespan.

    Chainlink fences with privacy tape are a less expensive option where codes permit and neighbors are not negatively impacted. Used functionally to separate spaces especially for pet or utility spaces. Tapes woven through the chain link can be created with interesting designs for interest.

  • Cost Considerations

  • Material is the most significant portion of the considerations. Pressure-treated wood and white woods are the least expensive, with Redwood the most expensive of the natural wood products. Vinyl and Composites are on the higher end of the spectrum, but considering their life expectancy, this may factor well into the budget.

    Size and style will impact the cost. Designs with cut profiles or ornamental factors will increase the price. Six-foot high fence panels are more expensive than 4-foot high. Add a lattice top to the 4-foot high panel and the price goes up.

    Installation costs can be saved by doing it yourself, but the weight of fence panels, energy to dig the post holes, and assemble the fences may be a deterent. If time is a constraint, hiring a professional team will be quicker.

    Maintenance factors should be assessed as the cost of painting or treating fences may cost more over the lifetime of the fence.