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On the Backyard Fence
Fences add privacy and security to your backyard, and can enhance the look of your property.
By Kimberlee Courtney
When choosing fence materials, it’s important to consider the functions you want the fence to serve. Will it add privacy from neighbors, create a boundary for pets and children, or visually improve your home’s curb appeal? Keeping those factors in mind, as well as your budget and style preferences, will ensure you pick the right fence for your home.
Budget & Materials
There are four basic materials used to build fences: wood, metal, vinyl (PVC), and composite. The costs and advantages of each vary, but all are available in a wide variety of styles.
Metal provides sturdy, long-lasting fences that come in three major types: chain link, aluminum, and wrought iron. Chain link is highly functional and a popular choice because it is a relatively inexpensive material—about $6 to $8 per foot—and maintenance-free. However, chain link tends to have more of an industrial look and is not the best option for those wanting a more decorative appearance. In addition, it can be easily climbed and is not recommended for homes with pools.
For ornamental applications, wrought iron and aluminum fences are ideal. A wrought iron or aluminum fence outlines your property in a classic manner while still allowing views of the surroundings. Although they cost about $20 to $30 per foot, they combine beauty and strength to fulfill a need for both function and style. Wrought iron fences consist of metal bars that are often shaped into unique designs with artistic embellishments. Wrought iron is extremely durable, but does require the application of a rust-resistant finish every few years to avoid corrosion.
Aluminum fences provide the same ornate look of wrought iron, but require less maintenance. Most aluminum fences have a thick, longer-lasting powder coat finish that’s resistant to fading and scratching. These lightweight fences also come in a wide variety of styles and colors, and are generally less expensive than wrought iron.
As the base behind the “white picket fence,” wood holds traditional appeal. Picket fences are comprised of several wooden posts assembled a few feet apart with gothic or French gothic style tops. A privacy fence consists of large wooden sheets supported by posts that stand right next to one another, securing ultimate privacy. Split rail fences are typically made with redwood or cedar and consist of vertical posts set 8 feet apart, with 2- to 4-foot-long rails running parallel to the ground. Their rustic look works well with ranch-style homes and country settings.
Wooden fences are reasonably priced at about $9 to $13 per foot, depending on the height. One of their downsides, however, is that they require regular maintenance and painting. A useful guideline is to waterproof and seal the wood after installation or cleaning.
Plastic or vinyl fences (composed of PVC) are the fastest growing and most popular choice in fence materials by homeowners. These fences are very durable and practically maintenance-free; a simple rinse with a hose will remove dirt. Further, vinyl fences won’t tarnish like wood and some metal fences because stabilizers and UV inhibitors are added during production, making them waterproof and resistant to stains and fading. It’s also a safe choice for children and pets because, unlike wood, it doesn’t contain nails or sharp edges and doesn’t splinter.
While color options are limited, vinyl fences are available in a wide range of styles including picket, lattice, privacy, and even split-rail. Vinyl fencing costs approximately $17 per foot and can last up to 50 years.
Composite fencing is a relatively new and environmentally-friendly option. These fences are a combination of wood fibers and recycled plastics, including milk jugs, water bottles, and shrink wrap. One of the benefits of composite fences is that they offer the look and feel of a wood fence but have the low maintenance of vinyl, and won’t fade, crack, or warp. They are weather- and insect-resistant, and easily cleaned with detergent and water or a high-power washer. These fences are strong and durable, and most have a warranty for 20 years or more.
Composite fences are available in different prefabricated heights and lengths, including 6- and 8-foot-high pickets for privacy, as well as earth tone or red cedar color options. As the popularity of these fences grows, an even wider selection of colors, sizes, and styles is expected to become available.
The average cost of a composite fence is around $35 per linear foot, but as a green alternative with little maintenance, it can be well worth the investment.
Photo courtesy of Jerith Manufacturing Co., Inc. Photography by Bruce Schwartz
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