I'm Megan, a freelance writer and mom of two little girls. I like to write about topics ranging from parenting to business to gardening.
Maybe you have kids or dogs that you want to make sure stay within a certain area when playing outside. Maybe you have critters like deer or coyotes around that you want to deter from the garden, or maybe you just want some privacy. There are lots of reasons for wanting to put up a fence around your yard, but not all fences are created equal. Find out the pros and cons of the different types of fencing materials out there.
What to Know Before Considering a Fence
The price factor for each of these will have a lot to do with whether or not you have to remove an existing fence. Depending on the type of the existing fence, removing it can be a one-man job that may take just a day or two, or it could involve multiple workers and bigger equipment. Doing it yourself will be cheaper, but you may need to call in the pros if things get complicated.
Also, note that before installing any fence, make sure you are allowed to do so and that you are putting it up only on your own property. You can check with a land surveyor to get the exact boundaries of your property in writing. If the space where you want to put the fence is actually on your neighbor’s property, you can talk to them and potentially come to an agreement that the fence is ok with them. Be sure to have them sign something proving that they agree to this, however.
Some municipalities require a permit to build a new fence. Check with City Hall to see whether or not you will need one to start building. Most permits to install a fence run a little under $1000, so you need to take this cost into account when figuring out your budget.
Why Install a Fence?
As noted above, fences can be good for keeping people in or keeping prying eyes out. They can add some beauty and charm to your house if done right. Having a fence also increases the resale value of your home, often by thousands of dollars.
If you are thinking about selling within the next couple of years, a fence is a good investment that will bring financial returns when you go to sell the house. If you are considering redoing the landscaping and putting in new shrubs or flowers, don’t do it before you have a nice fence put up. You may have the most beautiful hydrangeas or roses in the neighborhood, but if they are planted next to an old peeling fence, a lot of their appeal is lost. Also, if you do plan on installing a new fence, you likely will have to pull up some of those plants and do the landscaping all over again.
Should You Replace or Repair Your Fence?
If you have an old fence that is in poor condition, you may be wondering whether you are better off repairing the existing damage and repainting, or just tearing it down and installing a new fence. This decision is not an easy one, and depends on several factors:
The biggest factor is cost. You will probably gravitate toward what is the most cost-effective. The cost of repair will depend on the existing damage. Depending on the type of paint used on them, wood fences will show damage between 5-10 years since their last touch up—sooner if there have been a lot of storms, moisture, or insect infestations.
Sometimes repairing the old fence will be cheaper, but can take a long time. Repair for wooden fences usually involves hours of scraping chipped paint, cutting new boards, and replacing old ones. Especially if you don’t want this type of fence anymore, you may be better off taking it down and installing a new one, and saving time. A general rule of thumb is that you should probably replace the fence if you would have to do heavy repairs or replacement on more than 20% of it.
Desired Final Result
If you have a chain linked fence but want the cottage look of a wooden fence, you will need to replace the existing fence to get the look you want. Sometimes aesthetics and personal preference come into play, and they trump cost and time spent.
How Long You Want It to Last
It may be cheaper to repair the existing fence, but you may find yourself doing similar repairs in the next 5 years. Is it worth it to continue the maintenance of the older fence, or should you just go with a more durable material that requires less upkeep? If you have a wood fence and are tired of the constant repairs, you may decide to take it down and put up an aluminum or vinyl fence—both of which require much less ongoing work, and last longer.
For more information, consider reading the following:
How to Remove a Fence Post in Under 5 Minutes
Repairing Wooden Fences
Types of Fence Material
What are your options for fencing materials? Fencing has come a long way in the last few decades, and newer options are available that can give you the look you want without all of the extra work. There are pros and cons to any of these materials, however, and you should take them into account when making your final decision.
Chain link fences are a common choice among homeowners. They are cheap to install, and are good at keeping kids and dogs in. You can decorate them with vines like clematis, ivy, or even grape vines.
Wood has been a popular choice for fences for centuries. It adds charm and a cottage look to homes. There are many types of wood fencing available. Depending on the quality of the wood, and the work you put into maintaining it, wooden fences will last around 20 years before needing a significant overhaul. Maintenance will include staining annually during the first few years, and then painting and repairing damaged pieces as time goes on.
Even though wood fences are a lot of work, many homeowners still opt for these over other types of fencing.
Sometimes referred to as “plastic lumber,” vinyl fences have only been around since the 1980s. Many are made to look just like wooden fences. Most come with a white finish, and they can be found in all sorts of models from picket fences, to privacy fences, to others. They stand up to the elements quite a bit better than wood and require almost no maintenance. The only real upkeep with vinyl will be wiping it down if dirt builds up, or repairing it in case of an accident.
Aluminum fences are also pretty maintenance-free. They are very attractive on certain properties and can be painted to whatever color you want. They resist rust and are easy to clean. Aluminum fences don’t usually hold up well in places with extreme weather. Other materials like iron or steel have been used in place of aluminum to add durability, but are quite a bit pricier.
Some property owners chose to have a combination brick and aluminum or iron fence. Brick usually will form the base and the posts, and aluminum or iron posts will fill in the spaces between. Installation can be costly, and they tend to only look nice if you also have a brick house. They are a good option for privacy and security.
A living fence is not a “fence” at all, but rather a property barrier made up of hedges, shrubs, or other plants. They are a more sustainable option—old fence posts can sometimes end up in landfills, and ones like vinyl that aren’t biodegradable can really take up space. They can also add charm and beauty to your home if done properly.
Some of the best plants for living fences include:
- Evergreens: Provide a sound barrier, privacy year-round. Good choices include arborvitae or juniper.
- Deciduous Trees: Provide beautiful flowers and foliage in spring and summer, but no privacy in winter.
- Flowering Shrubs: Hydrangeas or peonies make a great hedge, but may need to be pruned in winter and provide less privacy.
- Privacy Hedges: Consider reading about "How to Plant a Privacy Hedge"
Factors to Consider When Installing a Fence
When installing a fence, unless doing it yourself, you will likely be paying for the materials plus labor. In order or cost, fence materials usually run:
- Wood: $5-$10 per square foot
- Chain Link: $10-$15 per square foot
- Vinyl: $20 per square foot
- Aluminum: $20-$30+ per square foot
- Wrought Iron: $20-$100 per square foot
- Price averages from HomeAdvisor
Living fences can end up costing less than $1 per square foot, depending on the plants you chose, and the work done on the surrounding landscape.
Keep in mind that while wood appears cheapest, the ongoing cost of stain and paint will add up and quickly cause it to be a greater expense than the other fence types.
With wooden fences, you have the risk of paint chipping or splinters scattering around the yard. This can be a hazard to kids and pets. Chain link fences can also sometimes have sharp wires that stick out. Taller vinyl fences that are high enough to deter little climbers may be the best bet for safety.
Wood or vinyl fencing are more versatile when it comes to privacy. Both can be constructed with few gaps. Chain link or aluminum fences offer little privacy, unless vines or other greenery has grown to fill in the gaps. The same goes for living fences—they will not offer much privacy until they have had a few years to become established.
If you are not so excited about spending hours painting and staining your fence, wood is not the right choice for you. Go with any of the other types of fencing, all of which are basically maintenance-free.
If your goal is to keep unwanted visitors out, going with a metal fence like chain link or aluminum may be the best bet. They often are higher, more difficult to cross, and more durable.
Are you considering installing or replacing a fence?
29 Gorgeous Fence Design Ideas
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Kimberly L Alaniz on April 14, 2020:
This is a very informative article. There is a lot that goes into building a fence such as what type, what kind of materials are needed and how much. This article informs others on all of that. Thank you for taking your time to do the research and writing it.
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on September 08, 2019:
Louise89 on September 08, 2019:
Thanks for the tips!
glasspoolfencing on August 27, 2017:
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Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 19, 2017:
This is an informative article. It should be very useful for anyone thinking of building a fence. We have a chain link fence around our garden to protect our dogs. There are plants beside the fence so it looks quite attractive. The plants also increase privacy, though as you say, a plant barrier takes a while to grow.