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How to Plan the Perfect Fence

Expert advice and ideas for planning a fence that looks great and does exactly what you want it to do.

Though you may want a fence just to define your yard’s boundaries and keep your dog from digging up the neighbor’s garden, building a fence is a significant project that deserves serious attention. It’s important to think about:

elegant crosshatch wood fencing

[/media-credit] Heavy rails and crisscross slats form a striking two-sided fence along this property line.

1) The fence’s design style and purpose

2) It’s impact on the neighbors

3) The best materials for building it

4) Local zoning and building codes that may affect the design

Fence Style & Purpose

Fences can take many forms, from solid to open and everything in between. They may be built of wood, vinyl, metal, and/or other outdoor building materials. And their design may run from rough-hewn rails to formal pickets.[GARD align=”left”]

The best style of design to choose for your fence will hinge on what you want the fence to do. The form of the fence should depend on its function. In most cases, you’ll want it to add beauty to your yard, compliment your home’s style, and provide the right measure of security and privacy—but are there some other purposes you should be considering? Consider the most common ones:

board on board fencing

[/media-credit] Vertical board-on-board solid fencing is tall and difficult to climb, but its surface pattern gives it visual interest and makes it less imposing.

Security & Safety

Depending upon its construction, a fence may keep people in or out of a designated area. In other words, you may want a fence to keep the neighbor kids from chasing baseballs through your backyard. Or, maybe you want a higher degree of security to keep burglars or troublemakers away from your home. Obviously, such a fence should be hard to climb or penetrate. Tall, vertical-board fences and heavy-gauge chain link fences are examples.[GARD align=”left”]

To prevent children from accessing a swimming pool without supervision, you need a 5 to 6-foot fence with slats or uprights that are spaced no wider than 4 inches so kids can’t squeeze through it. The design must not be such that kids can climb it, and you’ll want to be sure to keep furniture and similar objects away from it.

For a pool area, a self-closing, self-latching gate is a must. The latch must be well out of a child’s reach. A lockable gate provides extra security. Fencing must also stand at least 3 feet from the pool’s edge to allow safe passage. Check with your local building department for other requirements. For more information, see Child-Safe Fences & Gates.

childproofing swimming pool

[/media-credit] Where toddlers are near, a swimming pool must block access. Here, a child safety fence surrounds the pool area.

If you want a fence that will keep your dog in the yard, remember that dogs like to chew, jump, and dig. Plan a height that your dog can’t jump over. Build it from a material that can’t chewed or ripped apart. And consider setting the panels in a ribbon of concrete so your dog can’t burrow under it.

Privacy

The ultimate privacy fence is one that people can’t see over or through, but a tall solid fence often falls short for other reasons. Such a fence can be quite imposing, and can eliminate the views you want as well as the ones you don’t.

The key to fencing for privacy is mapping exactly where you want privacy so that you can plan sections or portions that provide visual relief and allow desirable views—for example, louvered or see-through fencing. You can also  make a tall, solid fence less imposing by staggering panels back and forth or planting vines along it.

board and lattice fencing

[/media-credit] Combination of board and lattice provide privacy without seeming unfriendly.

Defining Space & Concealing

Fences can delineate areas of a yard, and divide work areas from entertaining or recreational spaces. Tall screens and fences can hide garden work centers, pool equipment, and trashcans. Low or open fences can direct foot traffic through the yard without creating visual barriers.

round picket fence with flowers

[/media-credit] Short picket fence offers stunning curb appeal with a display of colorful roses, flowers, and vines.

Controlling Sun, Wind & Noise

Solid fencing will cast a solid shadow, while latticework or open designs will provide filtered or partial shade. But be aware that the sun’s position in the middle of summer is much higher than in winter—understand the sun’s arc year-around before building a fence to deal with it.

fence to block wind

[/media-credit] A solid fence with a baffle angled into the wind (lower right) offers the best overall wind protection.

For wind control, studies show that solid fencing doesn’t do a very good job of protecting the area within 12 feet of the fence. Wind tends to tumble over the top of the fence, like a wave washing over a boulder. Spaced slats or louvers do a better job of breaking up wind into a series of softer breezes and eddies. The best wind-control designs have a 45-degree baffle at the top of the fence, angled into the wind.

For noise, the thicker and higher the barrier, the better. The best noise-blocking fences don’t have spaces between boards—they are solid board-on-board or board-and-batten styles. A solid masonry wall does a better job.

Good Neighbor Fences

Because a fence often runs along the property line or in front of your home, it can affect your neighbors as much as it does you. It sets a tone for both your property and your neighbors’, can impact your view and theirs, and can influence sunlight and breezes. With this in mind, being a good neighbor means designing and building a fence that meets your needs while also honoring the needs of the neighborhood.

Fence Materials

Weather, insects, and soil will decay most types of wood over the years. The most durable fences have concrete footings, metal posts, and metal rails. Pressure-treated posts and rails are also a lasting choice. The fencing panels may be metal, vinyl, or rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood heartwood. Or, the fencing panels may be made of less expensive wood if they are painted or treated with a hearty stain—but the finish must be maintained.

vinyl fencing

[/media-credit] Vinyl fencing has interesting detailing and is very low maintenance.

Codes & Restrictions

Before you actually build your fence, make a trip (or a phone call) to City Hall. You’ll want to be sure that there are no zoning restrictions or setback rules that would prevent you from building the fence you want. Most communities have strict height limitations and, depending upon where you live, you may also discover design limitations.

How to Build a Garden Trellis

A trellis is any structure made of pieces arranged in a crossing pattern, and is essentially a ladder for climbing plants.

Skill level: Beginner.[GARD align=”right”]

Estimated time: 1/2 day.

Materials: Two 8-foot 2x4s; six 8-foot 1x2s; 1 pound of 11/4-inch deck screws; small amount of gravel.

Tools: Circular saw or hand saw; drill; post-hole digger or narrow shovel; tape measure; framing square; level.

Overview

Design a trellis to accommodate the climbing plant you have in mind. Some vines will grab onto any surface with grasping tendrils; bushier plants often need to be tied to a trellis. In general, the more delicate the climbing plant, the smaller the open spaces in a trellis should be.

The design below may be followed to the letter, or you can use it as a springboard for your own ideas. We use 2×4 posts and 1×2 crosspieces, but you may want smaller pieces for a more delicate look. Use lumber that is rot-resistant, such as dark heartwood of cedar, redwood, or pressure-treated wood.

1
Attach the long horizontals to the 2x4s.

Cut three pieces of 1×2 to 4 feet. Lay the two 2x4s on a flat surface, positioned so they are parallel and 42 inches apart. Lay the three 1x2s on top of the 2x4s, positioned as shown (see Figure 2). Use the framing square to see that the structure is square, and double-check with a tape measure to make sure that the 1x2s are parallel to each other. Drill pilot holes and drive two deck screws into each joint.

2Attach the vertical 1x2s.

Flip the structure over, so the 1x2s are lying on the working surface. Cut the three vertical 1x2s: two at 72 inches and one at 84 inches. Position the long vertical in the exact middle of the structure, its bottom end 2 inches below the bottom horizontal 1×2. Position the other 1x2s centered between the middle vertical and the 2x4s. Drill pilot holes and drive one screw into each joint.

 

3Attach the short horizontals.

Flip the structure over again. Cut three 1x2s to 30 inches and one to 8 inches. Position them as shown in Figure 1 above, and attach them by drilling pilot holes and driving screws.[GARD align=”right”]

 

 

4Set the posts.

With a helper, position the structure where you want it to be, and mark the post holes. Dig them about 2 feet deep, and set the posts in the holes to test for the correct depth. Shovel 2 to 3 inches of gravel into the bottom of each hole, so rainwater can drain away from the post bottoms (see Figure 3).

Have a helper hold a level against one of the posts. When it is plumb, shovel dirt back into the hole, firmly tamping it around the post with a piece of 1×2. You will have to fill, tamp, and refill several times to get it firm enough. Mound the dirt up a bit, so rainwater can run away from the posts. Repeat for the other post.

How to Build a Trellis, Arbor, or Pergola

 

How to build a garden arbor or pergola, with illustrated step-by-step instructions and building plans.

Arbors and pergolas, which are designed to provide relief from the sun’s heat, can be just large enough to shelter a table for two, spacious enough to cover a large deck, or any size in between.

Regardless of size or style, an arbor or pergola not only gives you a shady place to relax or party but can also solve the nagging problem of how to screen your site from above—for instance, to block the view from the windows of your neighbors’ houses or a nearby apartment building.

Building an Arbor or Pergola

The terms arbor and pergola are often used interchangeably, but there is a minor distinction between the two. Although both consist of posts supporting an open roof of beams or lattice, an arbor is broader and may be connected to a building on one side. A pergola, on the other hand, is always freestanding and narrow.[GARD align=”right”]

Regardless which of these shade-giving structures you choose to build, the technique is the same. This project is best done with two people. As with any permanent structure, consult your local building department first to determine if you will need any variances or permits.

Materials List

  • 6-by-6 posts
  • One post base and anchor bolt for each post (if you are affixing to concrete) or one precast concrete pier with post base, plus concrete mix (if building on soil)
  • Galvanized nails
  • One 1/2-by-10″ lag bolt with washer per post
  • Two 1/2-by-7″ lag bolt with washers per beam
  • Braces and wooden stakes
  • Two 6-by-6 beams
  • 4-by-4 rafters

1. Use an anchor bolt to fasten post to base.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1Fasten each post base to the concrete with an anchor bolt (if building on the ground, dig a post hole, fill the hole with concrete, and position the top of the precast pier 3 to 4 inches above grade level). Cut the posts to length if necessary. Nail the posts to the post bases.

2. Level & secure posts

 

2Use a level on two adjacent sides to check that each post is vertical. Secure each post in position with temporary braces nailed to wooden stakes driven into the ground.

3. Bolt beams onto posts.

 

3With a helper, position a beam on top of each post. Check that the posts are still vertical and the beam is level. Use a 7/16-inch bit to drill a 9-inch-deep hole down through the beam into each post. With a wrench, install a 10-inch lag bolt into the hole. Repeat for the other beams.

4. Fasten rafters to beams; use bracing if necessary.

 

4Set and space the rafters on top of the beams. With a 7/16-inch bit, drill 6-inch-deep holes through the rafters and into the beams. Install a 7-inch lag bolt into each hole. For more strength, you can install diagonal bracing between the posts and the beams.

5. Add vines or lath to provide shade.

 

5For shade, cover the rafters with vines or lath, either 1 by 2s or 2 by 2s.

Get a Pre-Screened Arbor, Pergola, or Trellis Construction Pro

 

 

Fences, Gates, Trellises & Arbors Buying Guide

How to buy the best garden arbors, trellises, gates and fences, with buying guides of types and materials.

Fencing can be made of wood or metal, both of which are commonly available at home improvement centers. Or they can be built from less traditional materials, such as bamboo or fiberglass paneling, or by combining materials such as wood and wire. They may be either solid or open.

Rustic wood pole and post fence

Buying Fences & Gates

You can build a simple gate from the same materials as your fence, have one custom made, or buy an easy-to-assemble gate kit through a home improvement center, online shop, or catalog. If your budget is somewhat limited, consider using inexpensive fencing materials and focusing your funds on an eye-catching gate.

To prevent an entry gate from appearing overbearing, allow for at least a peek at the property beyond—either the front entryway or an intriguing landscape feature.[GARD align=”left”]

Wood, the most popular fence and gate material, comes in many forms, from basic dimension lumber to rustic split rails. Common and widely available choices are classic pickets, precut fence boards, and preassembled (and often pre-primed) fence sections that include rails.

For posts or any part that will touch the ground, be sure to choose wood that has been pressure-treated with preservative, or choose a decay-resistant species such as cedar or redwood heartwood.

When building a fence, avoid wood with defects such as splitting, warping, or open knots that might compromise the fence’s structure. The idea is to select the best quality and grade for the job without spending unnecessarily for top grades.

Exposed elements of your fence or gate should be coated with a paint, stain, or wood preservative to protect them from weathering—and this coating will often hide a multitude of sins.

A wood gate can make a nice architectural element and provide safety and security.

Metal can be an attractive, durable option for fencing. If you choose metal, apply both an appropriate primer and a rust-resistant topcoat. Of course, metal isn’t generally a do-it-yourself option; you will need to hire a professional metal worker who can shape and weld individual metal parts or prefabricated fence sections.

Though traditional lumber and metal are the most popular materials for fences and gates, you do have other options. If low maintenance is a high priority, consider vinyl or composite fencing, sold in preassembled panels that mimic wood fencing.

These materials are rust-proof and come in neutral colors that never need to be touched up with a coat of paint. Chain-link fencing is another option; it might seem stark at first, but when dressed up with climbing roses or other dense vines, it can look quite becoming. Shingles, lattice, and plywood panels are also viable alternatives.

A hasp is a lockable gate clasp.

A hasp is a handy piece of hardware used for locking a gate. It’s built similar to a metal hinge, but has one long, slotted leaf and one leaf that is screwed to the door or surface. The slot passes over a heavy staple that can be padlocked.

Plain or decorative, hasps come in a variety of sizes, from 1 to 2 inches wide and up to about 6 inches long. One type has a staple or ring that can be turned to secure it without a lock. Another type, the safety hasp is made so it can’t be taken off with a screwdriver unless the padlock is removed.

Buying Trellises & Arbors

The light, slender latticework of a trellis elegantly supports tall plants and vines on facades or fences. Trelliswork, which comes in prefabricated redwood or high-density polyethylene panels, can add instant visual appeal to a basic garage-door frame or obscure an unattractive wall.

Arbors are structures made of metal or wood that support tall-growing plants. One classic cottage element is a traditional vine-covered arbor framing the front door. An arbor featuring a gate creates a soft floral- or foliage-entwined entry. Or consider using a multitude of arbors; a series of arbors covered by climbing roses can accent a pathway, or a pair on either side of the house can serve as graceful transition points to the side yards.

Buying Pergolas

Pergolas usually frame walkways, stretching from one point to another. They support plantings and can provide shade and greenery from the driveway to the front door, from the street to the entryway, or from the door to the front-yard terrace, among other options.[GARD align=”left”]

A pergola attached to the inside wall of your property’s perimeter can feature a built-in bench, affording a quiet place to relax or enjoy conversation.

All pergola structures have strong support posts, heavy beams, and rafters topped with narrow bars, or “purlins.” The two most common styles are classical, with round columns and pedestals, and Craftsman, with square posts and notched angle-cut rafters.

Classical pergolas, harking back to ancient Rome, are most often painted white; Craftsman styles are usually stained or left bare to weather naturally.

 

Fences, Gates, Trellises & Arbors Buying Guide

How to buy the best garden arbors, trellises, gates and fences, with buying guides of types and materials.

Fencing can be made of wood or metal, both of which are commonly available at home improvement centers. Or they can be built from less traditional materials, such as bamboo or fiberglass paneling, or by combining materials such as wood and wire. They may be either solid or open.

Rustic wood pole and post fence

Buying Fences & Gates

You can build a simple gate from the same materials as your fence, have one custom made, or buy an easy-to-assemble gate kit through a home improvement center, online shop, or catalog. If your budget is somewhat limited, consider using inexpensive fencing materials and focusing your funds on an eye-catching gate.

To prevent an entry gate from appearing overbearing, allow for at least a peek at the property beyond—either the front entryway or an intriguing landscape feature.[GARD align=”left”]

Wood, the most popular fence and gate material, comes in many forms, from basic dimension lumber to rustic split rails. Common and widely available choices are classic pickets, precut fence boards, and preassembled (and often pre-primed) fence sections that include rails.

For posts or any part that will touch the ground, be sure to choose wood that has been pressure-treated with preservative, or choose a decay-resistant species such as cedar or redwood heartwood.

When building a fence, avoid wood with defects such as splitting, warping, or open knots that might compromise the fence’s structure. The idea is to select the best quality and grade for the job without spending unnecessarily for top grades.

Exposed elements of your fence or gate should be coated with a paint, stain, or wood preservative to protect them from weathering—and this coating will often hide a multitude of sins.

A wood gate can make a nice architectural element and provide safety and security.

Metal can be an attractive, durable option for fencing. If you choose metal, apply both an appropriate primer and a rust-resistant topcoat. Of course, metal isn’t generally a do-it-yourself option; you will need to hire a professional metal worker who can shape and weld individual metal parts or prefabricated fence sections.

Though traditional lumber and metal are the most popular materials for fences and gates, you do have other options. If low maintenance is a high priority, consider vinyl or composite fencing, sold in preassembled panels that mimic wood fencing.

These materials are rust-proof and come in neutral colors that never need to be touched up with a coat of paint. Chain-link fencing is another option; it might seem stark at first, but when dressed up with climbing roses or other dense vines, it can look quite becoming. Shingles, lattice, and plywood panels are also viable alternatives.

A hasp is a lockable gate clasp.

A hasp is a handy piece of hardware used for locking a gate. It’s built similar to a metal hinge, but has one long, slotted leaf and one leaf that is screwed to the door or surface. The slot passes over a heavy staple that can be padlocked.

Plain or decorative, hasps come in a variety of sizes, from 1 to 2 inches wide and up to about 6 inches long. One type has a staple or ring that can be turned to secure it without a lock. Another type, the safety hasp is made so it can’t be taken off with a screwdriver unless the padlock is removed.

Buying Trellises & Arbors

The light, slender latticework of a trellis elegantly supports tall plants and vines on facades or fences. Trelliswork, which comes in prefabricated redwood or high-density polyethylene panels, can add instant visual appeal to a basic garage-door frame or obscure an unattractive wall.

Arbors are structures made of metal or wood that support tall-growing plants. One classic cottage element is a traditional vine-covered arbor framing the front door. An arbor featuring a gate creates a soft floral- or foliage-entwined entry. Or consider using a multitude of arbors; a series of arbors covered by climbing roses can accent a pathway, or a pair on either side of the house can serve as graceful transition points to the side yards.

Buying Pergolas

Pergolas usually frame walkways, stretching from one point to another. They support plantings and can provide shade and greenery from the driveway to the front door, from the street to the entryway, or from the door to the front-yard terrace, among other options.[GARD align=”left”]

A pergola attached to the inside wall of your property’s perimeter can feature a built-in bench, affording a quiet place to relax or enjoy conversation.

All pergola structures have strong support posts, heavy beams, and rafters topped with narrow bars, or “purlins.” The two most common styles are classical, with round columns and pedestals, and Craftsman, with square posts and notched angle-cut rafters.

Classical pergolas, harking back to ancient Rome, are most often painted white; Craftsman styles are usually stained or left bare to weather naturally.

 

Fences, Arbors & Gates

Expert advice on garden arbors, fences, trellises and gates, with materials buying guides and illustrated DIY installation tips.

wooden fence rails and posts

Rustic wood pole and post fence

Fences, gates, and walls can secure your yard, provide privacy, and visually define and beautify your home’s outdoor areas.

Many choices of materials and styles are available for building fences, gates, and walls. Some are manageable projects for experienced do-it-yourselfers; others are best left to professional masons, metalworkers, or installers.

This section of HomeTips will help you determine the best fencing, gates, and walls for your yard and give you information on installation and care.[GARD align=”left”]

NEXT SEE:

• Fences, Gates, Trellises & Arbors Buying Guide

• How to Build a Trellis, Arbor, or Pergola

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Wood Fence or Gate Installation Pro

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