While we do not like to be isolated from our neighbours, it is always a good idea to have a fence bounding our property. There are various reasons why you might want to have a new fence erected or an existing one repaired or repainted. As with all items associated with your home and property, a good, well maintained fence can be regarded as an important investment. The various reasons for having a fence can be categorised as:
Fix a boundary. You need a legally enforceable boundary within which everything is your responsibility. Often front gardens either do not have a fence boundary or have one less than three feet high, whereas back gardens nearly always have a fence, usually six or eight feet high.
Stops kids and animals. A good fence will enclose an area for your children and pets to play in while keeping them safe and without fear of upsetting anyone else.
Security. Stop unwanted human or animal visitors coming on to your land.
Making a sight screen. You may have nosey neighbours and your property is overlooked by other properties. You may have a pool or like to sunbathe. If you erect a solid fence either around the whole garden or just around the pool area you can be sure that no one will be spying on you.
Safety. A good solid fence around the pool will prevent children and unwary wildlife from accidentally falling into the water.
Windbreak. If you live in a windswept area, not only will a fence allow you to be in your garden comfortably but also will protect your plants from cold and damaging winds.
Structural support. A fence can be useful to train climbing plants along. Fences can look hard and angular but careful choice of fencing style, materials and climbing plants can soften an otherwise unsightly fence.
What types of fencing materials are there?
Fencing is usually made from:
Vinyl. These come in standard lengths, widths and profiles. They can be almost any colour imaginable. Sometimes the vinyl sections are embossed to resemble wood.
Wood. This is probably the most secure, but will cost more in labour and materials than the others.
Galvanised metal chain link. Probably the cheapest type of fencing, but the most visually unappealing. They come in standard length rolls and are of a standard width.
PVC coated metal chain link. The same as the galvanised version but the metal is coated in PVC. The PVC can be one of many colours available.
Wrought iron (galvanised and painted). These can be bought in prefabricated sections or you can have them made by metalworkers such as blacksmiths. This is probably the most expensive to buy but the easiest to fit as each section will only require a couple of bolts at either end of each section.
Glass. This type of fence has seen a rise in popularity in recent years as safety barriers around pools and on balconies. It provides a safe boundary that is difficult to climb, while providing a windbreak and allowing the home owner uninterrupted visibility or enabling adults to see what the kids are getting up to in the pool. Glass is also unaffected by moisture. There is no maintenance needed apart from the occasional wash and obviously no painting is required. This is not the type of fence to install yourself and specialist glass companies will construct and install them using their own technicians.
Brick or stone wall. This will not be considered in this article.
Vegetation hedge. This will not be considered in this article.
Why do you need new fencing?
Do you actually need a new fence?
- If you have an existing fence then do you merely need it repaired?
- What kind of fence do you actually want?
- Have you done your research and decided on the style of fence you need?
- There are ready made fence panels available to buy or do you want one custom made?
Install new fence. If you have a new house or have never had a fence in the desired area you will want to install a brand new fence.
Replace existing fence. Depending on the condition of your old fence you may need to dismantle and remove the old one and erect a brand new replacement.
Repair existing fence. After inspecting your existing fence you may find all that is required is to repair a few places in an otherwise perfectly good fence. You will probably not be able to repair pre-built fence panels as these are designed to be made with the smallest amount of wood necessary, but it should be no problem to replace individual panels.
Install electronic animal fence. If all you require is something to restrict animals from either entering or leaving your property, or you want to protect your precious plants from herbivorous animals then you might consider installing an electronic fence. These are designed to give the intruding animal a mild electric shock as a warning encouraging them to stay away from the fence.
Do you need permits?
Some housing developments restrict the use of fencing to certain styles, heights or materials. Check with your local city planning department to see whether permits are required and if so, what are the restrictions? Sometimes the fencing contractor will handle this for you, at a price. Whoever is responsible for seeking permits it must be done at the planning stage before any purchases have been made or any work has started.
What about utility companies?
While any utility supplies such as water, drainage, electricity or gas should be buried at a depth where they will be safe from damage, there is always the chance that you will come across one when digging a post hole. It is always worthwhile contacting the utility companies who will visit and mark where their pipes and cables are buried. Once the utilities are clearly marked you can start digging. By the way, it is useful to draw a map complete with dimensions and distances showing where the utilities are. Keep the map with your deeds for future reference.
Where is your boundary line?
If you are either installing a new fence or replacing an existing fence it is imperative that you get your property line established. Look on the deeds to your house and have a chat with your neighbour before you start work. You do not want to make a next door enemy and risk a law suit just because you erected your fence six inches onto next door’s land. Get an agreement with your neighbour that what is on your deeds is the same as what is on his deeds! Mistakes happen! If in doubt, employ a lawyer specialising in property law or a surveyor to do the job for you.
Once the boundary line has been agreed it might be worth taking photographs and drawing up in writing an agreement with your neighbour as to the position of the boundary.
What is involved in erecting new fences?
This depends on what type of fence is being erected. When deciding on the materials for a new fence you should always consider its main function. If the purpose is privacy or a windbreak then you don’t want a chain link fence. If the purpose is security then you will need one of sturdy construction and of a suitable height to deter uninvited guests. If the purpose is to keep children and pets contained then you do not want one with gaps. If in doubt, have a chat with a contractor or supplier and get their advice as to the most suitable style and material.
Most fences require posts, wooden or metal, fixed into the ground using concrete or by using metal spikes. Once again have a chat with your contractor and discuss what will be the best type of fixing for your ground conditions and fence material. He will know what problems are likely to occur and will be able to advise you with the choice of style and material. Maybe the job can be broken down into smaller sections so not all the fence is removed at the same time. This may mean less upheaval in the garden and also may allow you to spread the cost over a longer period. Be honest with your contractor if you cannot afford the whole job to be done, he might be willing to fit your work in around his other jobs.
Remember that if you have prevailing winds and your fence is a solid windbreak, you will need deeper holes and more concrete for the fence posts.
If your property is not level, you will have to cope with dips and rises when you erect your fence. If you aren’t sure what to do, get expert help. There is no reason why a contractor cannot install the posts and leave you to erect the fence.
Make use of straight edges and string lines to ensure the fence leads where it is meant to. Make sure everything is level, vertical and in a straight line before you add permanent concrete. It is very difficult to move fence post when the concrete has already set.
What is involved in repairing existing fences?
The type of fencing material and accessibility are the main factors involved with fence repair. The simplest repair will be with chain link fencing. Because this is sold in rolls of over 10ft long, it is relatively easy to cut out the damaged section between posts and replace with a new section.
Repairing vinyl fencing is also very easy as these are sold in prefabricated sections which can be spliced into the place where the damaged piece has been removed.
Wrought iron fencing is probably the easiest to fit but the most difficult and expensive to make. They usually come in prefabricated sections which are simply bolted together, but unless the style you originally fitted is still available you may require a blacksmith to make you a new section based on the existing pattern.
Wooden fencing can be the most expensive type to repair. There are many factors to consider when repairing a wood fence:
If the fence is old or extensively damaged then it might be more cost effective to completely replace with another wooden fence or maintenance free vinyl fence or one of the other styles.
If the original fence has been stained or painted then what is the cost of repainting? Would it be cheaper in the long term to replace with a maintenance free type? If the original paint or stain finish has faded over time, it might be better to repaint the whole of the fence rather than just the repair.
Repairing a wooden fence is probably the most difficult to repair as no two pieces of wood are the same so it is difficult to match colour and size and is more difficult to fix than vinyl.
Wooden fences gradually deteriorate over time, no matter how well you look after them, making it almost impossible to disguise new repairs.
Will the contractor make a mess of my garden?
A certain amount of mess and upheaval will always be expected with a job such as this. If an existing fence needs to be removed prior to the erecting of a new one, then access to the fence will be required which may mean cutting back or removing shrubs and foliage. The ground will need to be dug up to remove the lumps of concrete holding the posts in position and a work area needs to be established where the contractor can store new fencing materials, mix concrete, cut new fencing to length and store the old fencing prior to removal from site.
A good contractor will always be considerate of your property. Maybe you can offer to dig up and replant shrubs yourself before the work starts. Either replant the shrubs in other parts of the garden or use pots as a temporary home for your greenery while work is going on.
At all times the contractor should try to keep the work area as clean as possible. Hire a waste dumpster (A waste skip in UK) or load the back of the truck or trailer with old fencing before removing from site. You may be able to re-use parts of the old fencing in other areas of the garden for different purposes. Maybe use the wood to make compost bins, or construct shelters for mower and other garden tools.
How long will the job take?
The length of time needed to complete the job will of course depend on the amount of fencing required, what the fence is made of and whether there is an existing fence to remove first. A reasonable estimate to repair an average garden fence would be anything from one day to one week. To remove an existing and erect a new fence of an average sized garden could be anything up to two weeks. Before committing yourself to a specific contractor always get an estimate of the job’s duration.
Erecting or repairing a fence is a job suitable for most general contractors and amateurs as well as specialist fencing contractors. The main difference will be once of speed. A specialist will be experienced in erecting and repairing many different types of fence and will have specialist tools to make the tasks easier. It will usually be un-economic for the general contractor or the amateur to purchase and own these and they will have to make do with general tools such as saws, hammers and shovels.
The general contractor will have carpentry skills and a general knowledge of the use of appropriate tools. The DIY amateur will have the confidence to have a go and can be assumed to be almost as good as a general contractor.
How to choose a contractor offering good service at a fair price
The key to finding a good fencing contractor is to be communicative and honest at all times. Whether you want a security, privacy or pool fence or in fact any fence at all, you should simplify the process with your contractor by having an open dialogue right from the start.
Do not be afraid to ask the prospective contractor questions about his work history and how he would do the job. A selection of things to consider could be:
Choose depending on price. You will always get what you pay for. Always consider the attraction of low price against the poor quality that usually comes with it. Once the job has been done, you will be stuck with it for many years to come. It is usually a fact that poor quality means more maintenance costs in the future and a good quality job will increase the value of your property.
You are paying for experience. When hiring a contractor, make sure that the person doing the job has the expertise and experience needed to do a good job that you will be proud to show off. Don’t only look at how long the company has been in business but also find out what other similar jobs they have done in the past. And don’t just ask about the company either; always find out how experienced the company employees are.
Do your homework. Ensure the company and the materials they use are reputable and fit for purpose. Watch out for companies who change their name often, that is usually a sign of financial instability or quality problems, either with materials or workmanship. Find out the company address and visit their offices, workshop and showrooms. See how well the company is run and how happy the workforce are, that is usually a reflection on company management practices.
Guarantees and Warrantees. What guarantee are available if the quality of material or workmanship is not up to scratch? All guarantees should be issued by not only the materials supplier and manufacturer but also the company installing the product.
Read the small print and see if it is reasonable. If in doubt then get advice from a legal advisor. Will the company give you your money back if there is a problem with installation or product quality? You don’t want to have to pay twice for installation, do you?
Negligence. Who will be looking out for your interests during the work? We hope your property will not be damaged during the installation, but sometimes this is unavoidable. In that case you should be pre-warned and assured that everything will be returned to its original condition afterwards. Will your neighbour’s property suffer damage and will the contractor fix that as well? Will the contractor need access onto your neighbour’s land and will they give you permission? You need a contractor who will be considering the wellbeing of your lawn and flowers, your family and pets and those of your neighbour. Lastly make sure they are insured, not only for damage caused to your property and person, but also hold adequate insurance to cover injury to their workforce on your land and on your neighbour’s land.
Quality of the concrete. Good concrete of a consistent quality is an essential for having strong, upright fence posts. Make sure the contractor is going to use properly mixed concrete rather than bags or pre-mix. Usually bags of dry premixed concrete are only used at the base of the post hole to hold the posts in place temporarily or at the top to provide a smooth finished surface.
Finish the job in a timely manner. When you hire the fencing company make sure they have a strong work ethic and are prepared to get the job finished as soon as possible. You don’t want guys turning up to do half a day’s work and then disappearing. You want the experience to be as stress free as possible for you and your neighbours.
Don’t buy from a photo. Although seeing photographs of previous work is useful, it does not compare with seeing and feeling the actual object and how it blends in with its surroundings and how it looks as an overall experience. If at all possible get names and addresses of previous customers. They will probably be more than happy to tell you about their overall experience and they will be only too glad to show off their marvellous new fence.
Do they know their stuff? Know that hiring an expert is the best thing to do. Being an expert doesn’t only mean knowing how to erect a fence; it also means having knowledge of rules, regulations, requirements and safety practices. Even if the company doesn’t know these things (and they should), you will be expected to know because the job is taking place on your land.
Ignorance of the law is not a defense. If the rules are not followed it could cost you a lot of money in fines and legal fees, especially if people or properties are affected. You will also have to pay to get the job put right as well.
Contracts. Make sure you have a written contract before any work starts. This must include:
- A full description of all work to be performed, listing the material specifications.
- The accepted payment method.
- Expected duration of the project.
- What happens if anything unforeseen occurs and how is it to be expedited?
- What guarantees and warrantees are offered and by whom?
- Any required safety procedures.
- Who is going to clean up afterwards?
Who should you NOT choose?
Basically the answer to this question is to avoid anyone who doesn’t know what they are doing and is liable to try a scam.
Every now and again a stranger will knock on your door and mention that he noticed your fence could do with some work. It just so happens that he has just finished a job nearby and has some materials left over. He can let you have them cheap. What do you do? First of all, this is probably a scam, but it may not be. Ask the guy for the address where he was working so you can see the job. Also ask to see the original invoices for the materials so you can check the specifications. If the guy is legitimate then these requests should not be a problem. If they are a problem, just close the door in their face and call the police.
When looking around for a suitable fencing contractor, ask neighbours for recommendations. Don’t forget to ask in your local building suppliers or retailers for names. If anyone knows, they will. Most successful contractors will have a trading credit account with the store and they will be known to the staff.
- Avoid using a contractor who has no history in the local area.
- Avoid using a contractor who has a beaten up vehicle and generally looks unkempt.
- Avoid anyone who asks for more than 10% of the total cost of the job up front.
A small advance is acceptable at the start of the job to ensure your commitment. When the materials arrive on site it is acceptable for the contractor to ask for a proportion of the cost. Agree what proportion before the work starts. Any more than this might mean the contractor will never be seen again.
Do not use anyone who disregards basic safety considerations or does not wear personal protective equipment such as stout work boots, gloves and protective clothing.
Look at the condition of the contractor’s tools. If they are not clean and well looked after then he or she will probably do a messy job as well.
Avoid anyone who uses inappropriate language or behaviour. You, your family and neighbours are entitled to feel safe and not be intimidated. Bad language is a definite no-no. If the contractor likes to play music on the radio while he works, then ensure he asks permission first and stays within the boundaries you have set.
What other services will a fencing company offer?
Sometimes there just isn’t enough fencing work to keep a person occupied, all week, every week. In this case the contractor will do other work. The skills needed for fencing can often be transferred to other trades.
A fencing contractor will sometimes incorporate this work as part of a general garden maintenance or landscape gardening business. If so then they will most likely be more considerate towards your plants and lawn than others may be.
A general building or carpentry contractor may incorporate fencing work as part of his skill-set. The ability to construct a good fence is a skill required by most farm workers.
If the contractors offering fencing services do not do it full time, then look and see what kind of work they usually do. If the work seems like it needs the same skills then usually everything will be ok. If in doubt, ask the contractor what makes him think he will be good at fencing, and ask to see some of his other work.
Fencing cost breakdown
The cost to have any work done around the home, and that includes installing or repairing fencing will vary depending on location, material, size, accessibility and types of finishing.
Without a doubt, the largest cost associated with installing a new fence is materials. But do not underestimate the cost of hiring a professional. Remember that to install a fence properly and safely takes time and every professional will charge what they consider to be a fair price.
Other factors that will affect the price will be whether you expect the contractor to apply for a permit or contact the utility companies. Will they also be preparing the site, or is this something you can do?
For a general idea of how much this type of job will cost please see the average cost table as follows:
|To repair a fence||$55||$450||$1200
|Install a fence||$60||$2400||$5200
|Installing a pet electric fence||$100||$1100||$1700
|Repairing an electric fence||$75||$250||$700
|DIY Pet fence||$100||$400
|Installing barbed wire fence||$500||$3000||$11000
A comparison of typical prices for different fencing materials are as follows:
|Type of fencing||Minimum||Maximum
|Bamboo (per linear foot)||$3||$5
|Chain link 4 ft tall ( per linear foot)||$5||$20
|Chain link 6 ft tall ( per square foot)||$15||$45
|Electric (per linear foot)||$20||$60
|Farm (per linear foot)||$10||$20
|Glass (per linear foot)||$90||$150
|PVC (per linear foot)||$10||$20
|Picket (per linear foot)||$10||$20
|Vinyl (per panel)||$60||$100
|Wood (per panel)||$30||$50
|Wrought iron (per linear foot)||$25||$30
DIY or professional. Which is best?
Installing or repairing a fence is one of the few jobs where is it quite safe for an amateur to do the job as a DIY project as long as you take into account boundary lines, and positions of utilities. But getting the correct material or appearance will probably need the experienced eye of a specialist contractor. They know what is available and they know the pros and cons of each type. If however you decide to have a go yourself, the work can be very satisfying.
Doing the job yourself will be far cheaper than hiring a contractor but remember that you will probably take longer to complete the job and you will not have any warrantee for workmanship. You will have, however guarantees for the materials as long as you install them in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Take photographs of the job at every stage as proof of compliance.
Doing the job yourself also means that you can install the fence in sections if you are short of cash or time.
Thirteen questions to ask the contractor when getting a quotation
1. Will the posts be set in concrete and will it be properly mixed?
One of the most important things is to have strong foundations supporting the fence posts.
2. Is the wood treated against rot and pest attack?
This is vitally important as the wood will be in contact with damp ground and may be subject to fungi or insect attack. Try to allow wood to have minimal contact with the ground.
3. Are the materials guaranteed against poor quality, and by whom?
Ask for proof of quality and go to the retailer yourself for confirmation.
4. How wide are the gaps in the fence? Is it private enough?
Gaps are usually needed in a fence to allow the wind to slow down as it blows through the spaces. This shouldn’t compromise your privacy or security.
5. Will nails or screws be used?
Screws or flooring nails are preferable as they won’t come loose.
6. Is a first coat of stain or wood paint primer included in the price?
This is not always essential as you may want to wait until the job is finished before you commit to a colour. As long as the wood has been adequately treated before purchase then further coats of paint or stain are purely cosmetic. In fact a disadvantage of having a paint primer coat applied is that you will not be able to remove this if a stain finish is required.
7. How long is the quote good for?
You want to have enough time to look around for other contractors if necessary. You also want to have enough time to get the finances sorted out. Do not be pressured into having the job done before you are ready.
8. Does the contractor hold insurance for property and personal damage?
Is the insurance adequate? Not only must the contractor be insured for damage to your and your neighbour’s property but must also be insured against injury and death to you, your family and neighbours and his own employees while engaged on the job.
9. What about the payment plan? When will payments be due?
Will you be paying at specified stages throughout the job or is payment due on completion?
10. Will the job need a permit, and who applies for it?
You must get this settled before any work starts.
11. Will there be any major problems? Can the contractor foresee any problems and how will that affect the schedule and price?
12. What safety procedures do you have? Will protective clothing be required by anyone nearby? Will your family and pets be excluded from the area? And how?
13. What will he expect of me? Will you be expected to provide water, electricity, a wash down area for concrete with drainage and somewhere to dispose of the original fencing?
Fencing around your house or property is an essential not only to confirm your legal boundaries but also to provide sight screens, supporting structures for plants, safety barriers and to provide a contained area for pets and children. It is a relatively easy job to provide a strong fence as long as the fence’s purpose, the choice of materials and quality of foundations are carefully considered.
Never skimp on good quality concrete around the posts as a fence is only as strong as its weakest part, winds can be excessively strong and some soils can be very weak.
Always choose a contractor who knows what they are doing and cleans up as he goes along. Good quality fencing contractors exist in other trades as well, including general builders, landscape gardeners and gardening contractors. Do not neglect these people; they often will have more of an empathy with your garden and house than the full-time fencing contractor.
Always remember to agree the boundary lines with your neighbours and consult your property deeds. Find out if you need a permit to erect a fence and make sure you have permission before any work starts. Ask the utility companies to arrange a visit to mark where their cables and pipes run so you don’t have any problems when digging holes.