It is said, “good fences make for good neighbors.” Which is true. However, good fences also provide a margin of safety and security as well.
While keeping your children and pets contained on your property – or to a specific area – a good fence also provides “reverse” safety by preventing other kids and pets from wandering into your yard where unsupervised activity can lead to injury and/or liability.
A fence also provides a good first line of defense “security-wise,” by discouraging would-be intruders visually (shielding valuables from sight) and physically (as a barrier against all but the most determined individuals).
Once you have decided to build a fence, for any or all of these reasons, it is imperative that you do some checking first – with regard to local building codes and zoning laws in your specific area.
Generally, constructing a fence will not require a building permit. However, as codes vary in different locations, do check with your local agency governing building codes for approval first. Also inquire as to any specific local rulings and/or requirements for choice of materials, posthole footings, picket spacing and setback distances from the street, curbs or property lines.
In addition to the above, zoning laws in many municipalities dictate the maximum acceptable height for fences. Often, for example, a front yard fence cannot exceed 42-inches in height. There may also be regional requirements you need to know about, such as the minimum and maximum depth of footings – based on the frost line in your region or to meet earthquake standards (for instance) – and safety issues for special hazards.
Fencing for special hazards includes cordoning off swimming pools, spas and wells to name but a few areas that certainly require taking extra precaution. Homeowner’s insurance coverage often dictates that certain requirements be met fencing-wise in such areas to keep your policy in full force. So be sure to check with your insurance agent too before getting underway.
Once you’ve cleared all potential obstacles, as far as rules and regulations are concerned, you need to walk the entire proposed fence line to ascertain precisely what you’ll be dealing with in the construction phase.
You may find that your planned fencing encounters a number of physical obstacles along the way too. These can include small hills and valleys, large boulders, trees and drainage ditches to name but a few. Solutions can involve either moving the fence line, removing the obstacle or building “around” the obstruction.
In most cases – assuming the fence line you’ve chosen is the most desirable for your property – building up to, over and/or through will be most practical and incorporating the obstruction into your design is the easy answer.
While your fence of choice can be virtually anything – from brick or cement to metal or chain link – we’ve used wood for our example, and trust you realize the solutions offered are basically the same for all other material types in principle.
If your fence must span a low area, extend additional boards down beneath the bottom rail – following the contour of the terrain while maintaining the top-rail straight and level. However, do not extend these added fence boards down further than 8- to 10-inches without additional cross-rail support, or they will be subject to warping. Adding any length of drop below the bottom-rail is okay, as long as you provide additional cross-rail support.
Going up and over hills and boulders uses the same basic principle, only in reverse. The primary thing to remember: any face boards extending more than 8- to 10-inches down from a top- or cross-rail need additional cross support to prevent warping.
If your fence crosses a small stream with running water or a drainage ditch that carries rain-water run-off, construct a grate from half-inch galvanized pipe or number 3 steel rebar. Drill the appropriate size holes in the bottom rail – spaced about 6-inches apart – and, after attaching it securely to the fence, insert the grate bars through each hole and drive them into the ground. You can either pre-measure the length of each bar or simply drive them in as far and deep as possible (or as you wish) – trimming off the excess with a hacksaw. For extra durability, imbed the bottoms of your grate bars in concrete, which can easily be done when setting the fence posts.
However, obstacles are the biggest challenge. If a tree stands in the chosen line of your fence, you can continue straight through – without “bumping” in or out – with a little ingenuity.
First, in addition to existing fence post spacing, place two extra fence posts as close to the tree as possible taking care not to damage any roots below grade. Then construct top-, cross- and bottom-rails spanning the desired distance from the tree trunk (usually about 4-inches on either side to allow for sway movement and future growth).
Then add face boards, starting from the two fence posts and working inward toward the tree – cutting final boards so they follow the trunk contour with consistent “buffer” spacing from top to bottom.
Additional support should be added, in the form of metal “L” brackets and diagonal braces to prevent sagging. If you wish, you can also “circle” the trunk as well with a wood frame box or metal hoop which will tie the two sides together (for strength) and keep them from easily being pushed in or out like a gate. Just be sure to again leave adequate clearance for sway movement and growth.
Finally, in addition to all the logical advisories about sealing, painting and on-gong maintenance – you must remember, the saying: “good fences make for good neighbors” actually has two meanings.
Your new fence must look good and pleasing on both sides. Choose its design with care and do be aware, some codes even specify that the “finished” side must face your neighbors – which is always a good idea in any case.