A fence establishes the relationship between the environment outside your home and the neighborhood where your home was built. A fence around the front yard can beckon, “C’mon in!” Or it can send a firm signal: “Privacy is our top priority—stay out.” If it’s time to refurbish your existing fence or install a new one, it’s important to consider what your message is.
The first order of business when considering a fence is generally to figure out why you need it. For most homeowners, a fence will create a boundary between neighboring properties and usually will provide some privacy. Fences can also block unsightly views, protect pets and children from harm and flatter the look of your home’s exterior. They can even be used to help control Mother Nature—blocking wind and providing shade from the setting sun.
If privacy is your number-one priority, fences with tightly spaced slats will hide your yard from the street. Height restrictions vary from city to city, but typically fences in front yards below 3½ feet tall and in back yards below 6 feet  tall won’t need a permit to install. Fences with trellising at the top provide a peek-a-boo view of adjoining property and can give a vine a place to climb in order to soften the look of the fence. If you like the idea of dividing your garden and yard space into outdoor rooms or sections, a fence made entirely of an open, trellis-type pattern of slats defines the space without closing it off completely.
Keep in mind that fences can work well to frame a view (or block it) in conjunction with plants that you put next to them. Scott Chatham, president of Chatham Landscape Services, explains, ”You can plant tall, tree-form shrubs, like Burford Hollies, next to a fence to screen the fence itself or the view of a neighboring structure.”
Stylish Concerns
If you want to enclose your property with a sturdy fence, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for security. As a matter of fact, most fence designers and contractors will tell you that today’s high-style fence materials are stronger and safer than ever before. Entire showrooms, like Chamblee Fence Company in Atlanta, are filled with samples of fence options so you can ask questions and formulate ideas. There are also online apps, like CertainTeed’s “CurbAppeal” app, that allows you to check out fence options and play with color, height and material choices virtually.
Consider the style of your home’s façade—a fence should blend with the home’s materials and design so it doesn’t clash and look like an afterthought. A classic, low-slung, white picket fence around the front yard of a Tudor-style brick house is too petite and does nothing to enhance the elegance of the architecture. Likewise, a country-cottage style house will look imprisoned by a chain-link or heavy, wrought-iron fence.
Take stock of the hardscape (or inanimate) design features of your house, such as any masonry or woodwork on doors, windows, the roof or walls. If your front door has features like plaster pilasters flanking it, consider using plaster columns as fence posts to mimic that classic design feature. If the architecture of your home has a modern vibe, check out “zen-like” options to complement that style—steel and bamboo are materials that are often used for that purpose. Keep the design of this type of fence clean (no fussy ornamentation like finials on top of posts) and minimalistic (stick to one or two materials or colors) to bring the contemporary feel of the house out into the yard.
Even fences that aren’t completely solid can provide a visual barrier around a property. If you aren’t worried about pets and kids escaping, try spacing posts of the fence in wider-than-normal intervals to provide interest. Or think about using organic materials, like boulders or reclaimed wood timbers, to use as posts. Some of the most interesting fences combine features from different materials altogether, like a fence with brick posts and decorative metal rails.
Pool Protectors
If you’ve got a pool or spa, keeping kids and pets safe is, of course, of the utmost importance. It’s critical to keep young children from falling in and it’s important to control access to older kids (teenagers and swimming pools sometimes go together when you don’t want them to). Georgia state law requires that the fence around a pool be at least four feet tall and it has to begin no more than four inches above the ground in order to prevent kids or animals from squeezing through. And all gates in the pool fence should push open to the outside and have child-proof latches that are placed at least four feet high. You can count your house as part of the fence surrounding a pool as long as you have an alarm on the door leading from the home’s interior to the pool, so you know who’s coming and going.
Go Green—The Problem with Wood
Back in the day, when timber resources were numerous, wood fences were typically built using top-grade wood and they lasted for decades with very little maintenance. But these days, says Doug Mucher, marketing manager for CertainTeed Outdoor Living, “The wood typically used in fence construction is of lower quality and is more prone to warp, fade and split after exposure to the elements. The repair work is costly over the life of a wood fence. Also, from an environmental perspective, the chemicals found in products used to wash, color and seal fences can be problematic, leaching into the ground and potentially exposing families to harmful side effects.” Vinyl fences offer an environmentally friendly option for homeowners who want to put the planet first. “It may seem counter-intuitive that vinyl is an environmentally responsible option for fences,” Mucher admits. “But the recycled PVC included in some vinyl fence products, like CertainTeed materials, has a much lower carbon footprint than virgin PVC.” Reduced usage of virgin PVC means reduced consumption of nonrenewable petroleum resources.
And, says Mucher, “Manufacturing fence materials made with vinyl lessens the number of trees that have to be harvested, as well as the related energy costs of processing and transporting raw lumber.” If you opt for vinyl fencing, it’s likely you won’t have to maintain or replace the fence for many years, unlike with the wood option.
Like a Good Neighbor
And remember, the expense of installing a fence can be shared by neighbors on both sides of it; so, in a perfect world, coming to a friendly agreement with the Joneses about how you want the fence to look, where it will be placed and how it will be made should be your goal. Look at the big picture when you think about fence materials and styles—surround your yard with security and style.
TYPES OF FENCES
Metal Fences
Pro: Long-lasting material; lends itself to modern or formal architectural design; is not combustible
Con: More expensive to install
Chain-link Fences
Pro: Cheapest to install; can be used as a support for vines; good for pets who need a view of the street; utilitarian look
Con: Can rust and warp over time. Might have sharp edges
Organic materials
Pro: Great for a DIY project involving found organic objects, like driftwood or stone; lends itself to eclectic architecture
Con: Hard to create uniform look; repairs can be difficult if materials are scarce
Wood   
Pro: Less expensive to install; easily available; lends itself to a more casual look
Con: Extensive maintenance—power washing, painting or staining and application of sealant is needed every few years; may have to be replaced in 7 to 10 years; combustible in a fire
Vinyl
Pro: Clean, modern look; always looks well-maintained; no splinters; no painting, staining or chemical treatments needed
Con: More expensive to install; looks man-made up close; can have mildew or mold build-up—must be cleaned (soap and water)
Composite
Pro: Eco-friendly—made from reclaimed wood and recycled plastic; fire retardant; long-lasting
Con: Can scratch—repairs require new plank; more expensive than wood
Glass
Pro: Provides adjacent views; great for modern architecture
Con: Keeping it clean is time-consuming; expensive to install
RESOURCES
CertainTeed
Chamblee Fence Co.
Chatham Landscape Services
Landscape Studio
Outside Landscape Group
Trex