August 22, 2010 in Features

Building a fence for all occasions

From reasons why you’re building a fence to which materials you’ll use, there are many factors to consider
Susan Murphy Casey Kansas City Star
 
Tags:fences

A wood fence designed and built by interior designer Amy Funk, of Prairie Village, Kan. When choosing fencing, consider the age and style of your home.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Fence in the details

 An overlooked legal requirement or a wrongly placed fence can add significantly to an already pricey home project.

 “Fences are costly,” said Kate Hauber, a Kansas City real estate attorney. “Figure out whether there are any issues before you begin.”

 Hauber suggests starting with the covenants in the homeowners association and with city hall. Covenants should be in the title report when you buy a house, but if they are not, ask the title company for a declaration of restrictions.

 Some common covenants or municipal codes involve height restrictions, requirements that certain materials be used (or not used), set-back requirements (like distance from a curb) and obligations to keep the fence in good repair.

 Hauber also suggests hiring a surveyor to verify the property line. Fences set in the wrong place can lead to claims of adverse possession.

 Ownership of property that your neighbor cares for because you have fenced yourself out might become the crux of a legal battle. One way to solve that issue is by having the neighbor sign a license so there’s no claim by the neighbor or a successor, Hauber said.

 “The cost of litigation is so high,” she said. “But it happens. Cases do arise where there is a fight over a few feet because of a misplaced fence.”

 For that reason, surveyor John Renner suggests placing the fence as close to the property line as practical.

 Renner said too that many disputes arise after two neighbors have agreed informally where the property line is and split the cost of building a fence. When one or both sell, a new owner asserts the fence is in the wrong place and wants to replace it.

 And why does the pretty side of the fence face away from home that installed it?

 Three reasons: Sometimes a local code or covenant will require it. Sometimes it’s a safety issue: The smooth exterior is tougher to climb.

 And sometimes it’s a simple matter of courtesy to neighbors.

Good fences cut clean lines through tangled boundaries, protect privacy and adorn homes with designer touches.

When choosing fencing, consider the age and style of your home. While ornamental metal and wood fences match most homes, vinyl and composite fences often look nice with new construction, some experts say.

Also factor in the purposes of the fence: privacy, protection, beauty, functionality, even noise reduction.

And don’t forget cost.

“People set low-budget marks for fencing,” said Lea Bailes, president of Guier Fence in Blue Springs, Mo. “Often their budget is one-third of what’s realistic.”

Even do-it-yourself fencing requires careful attention to math, added Amy Funk, an interior designer who built her own fence in her Prairie Village, Kan., yard.

“Weigh the costs and get the best impact for the money,” Funk said.

Metal

Aluminum and steel fencing that recalls the black wrought iron of years past is one of today’s hottest sellers, said Jenna Schwarting of Tom Burge Fence & Iron in Overland Park, Kan.

A popular variation is “puppy fencing,” which is made of steel but maintains the wrought-iron look. Denser pickets along the bottom keeps small pets in and rabbits out.

Aluminum or steel fencing complements a century-old home as well as newly constructed ones. Maintenance is minimal on well-made ornamental fencing (check the warranty), but paint problems can result from lesser-grade products.

If needed, clean with water, use anti-mold or mildew products and periodically check for rust.

To add charm to the property, mix old and new.

Sue McCord-Belzer and Irv Belzer of Crestwood, Mo., moved the original wrought-iron front door from their early 1950s home and integrated it with black steel fencing from Guier around a garden in their backyard.

Chain-link fencing is familiar to us all, though today’s incarnations are available in green, brown and black and are powder-coated for rust protection.

“Chain-link fences can look great if they’re done right,” said Michael Davis of Ace Fence Co. in Kansas City, Mo.

They are the least expensive fencing option, are durable and require little maintenance (and replacement is relatively easy).

But some homeowners associations and local codes forbid them, and though they corral pets, most don’t offer security or privacy.

Artisan

Custom fences allow homeowners to match lampposts, gates and outdoor lighting. They also can be made to match the slope of the yard.

Homeowners seeking artistic fences or an outdoor scheme often use metal or wood materials.

In high-end forged iron or silicon bronze fences, each joint is welded to a post for a strong structure, said Steve Austin of Austin Ironworks. Maintenance is minimal because of the hand-made processes and epoxy paint, but the cost can be prohibitive.

There’s no need to rule out custom touches, however. Designer Funk, inspired by a trip to Portland, crafted cedar fencing with horizontal slats. She likes the “zen-like” mood it sets in her backyard.

Funk can remove individual planks when they weather; if there’s wood rot, it’s an easy fix. She cleans her fence yearly and seals it every two years.

Wood

Traditional, prefabricated wood fencing can be cost-efficient, especially if you install it yourself.

Avoid cedar posts because they rot quickly (cedar panels are fine). Split-rail or round-rail fences (common in rural areas) can add a decorative twist to a garden.

The lifetime of wood fences is only 10 to 15 years, and maintenance is high: Keep the wood clean, and plan to seal it every two or three years. You can extend the treatment time by using a stain with pigment.

Remove mold or moss with a power washer. If it re-grows, the wood needs to be cleaned – probably with a professional product – and resealed. To save time, apply products with a sprayer.

Contemporary bamboo fences are becoming more popular and are touted as an environmentally friendly option because bamboo easily regenerates.

Vinyl and composite

Far from “cheap plastic fences,” vinyl fencing is considerably costlier than prefabricated wood and most ornamental irons because of its low maintenance and long (sometimes lifetime) warranty, Bailes said.

A bonus: Vinyl can deflect noise.

Color choices in vinyl have expanded recently into neutral colors, and some include a variegated texture, too.

Some vinyl fencing can crack in severe freezing weather or warp in the summer, so evaluate the product and warranty carefully. Maintenance is fairly simple, though: Water alone or with a mild cleaner takes care of mold, Bailes said. Commercial products can prevent mold from re-forming.

Composite fencing – made of wood and plastic fibers – can absorb and deflect sound.

Composite materials also have the benefit of a wood look (without rotting or splintering) and can come in panels or be “stick built” to fit the grade of the ground. Maintenance is akin to vinyl fencing.

Like vinyl though, composite fencing is costly, and sometimes the color lightens beyond expectations.


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