Learn How to Build a Fence with A Complete Guide to Fencing Materials

Are you planning to build a new fence for your home? Then you want to be sure that you’re choosing the right type of fencing materials that will best suit your climate, budget, and needs.

Fencing Materials

Today we’ll be discussing the types of fences available as well as the fencing materials most often used. We’ll answer some of the most asked questions and we’ll even provide a short tutorial on how to install a basic board fence.

Types Of Fences for Yards

There are several fencing options for yards of all shapes and sizes. Here are a few of the most popular options.

Privacy Fence

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As their name suggests, the primary purpose of privacy fences is to shield your yard and provide privacy. But that isn’t their only benefit. Privacy fences also aid in keeping kids and pets safely within your yard while keeping other animals out and provide added security against would-be intruders.

  • Design

To be considered an actual “privacy” fence, they must be at least four to six feet tall and typically they are relatively solid – or at least they have a very little gap between their parts. The material that you use to construct your privacy fence will impact the potential spacing between components.

For example, vinyl does not expand or contract with different weather conditions, so the individual pickets can be tight together. Wood on the other hand does expand and contract so you would want to leave about an eighth of an inch on either side of the pickets to allow for that.

  • Materials

Privacy fences are constructed from a variety of materials with the most popular being wood and vinyl. Other materials include masonry, metal, and vegetation. They can also come in a variety of designs and colors, potentially making them a decorative element to your landscape as well.

  • Codes and property lines

Before determining which type of privacy fence is right for you, there are a few things you should do. First, you want to ensure that you know exactly where your property line is so that you don’t inadvertently cross over into your neighbors’ yard.

As a general courtesy, you should also speak with your neighbor to discuss your plans and let them know what to expect, especially if installing your fence means that you’ll need access to their yard.

You should also contact your local building inspector, homeowner’s association, and utility companies to ensure you have the proper paperwork in place and that you are safe to dig holes for your fence posts.

Garden Fence

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Garden fences are typically used to create a border between a vegetable or flower garden and other areas of the yard. Along with keeping pets and wildlife out of your garden, they also provide shelter from wind and, depending on their height, shelter from the sun as well.

Generally inexpensive to construct, garden fences come in an array of styles and are a charming way to add personality and style to your garden. They are also great for use in community gardens to keep your plants separate from your neighbors’.

  • Materials

Garden fences are made of various materials or combinations of materials, such as wood, wood with wire, metal, recycled pallets, railway tie ends, and bamboo, just to name a few. The options are limited only by your imagination.

Picket Fence

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White picket fences have long been a symbol of the American dream and their design dates back to colonial times. Their pointed tops were designed to keep chickens from perching on them and they were named for their resemblance to the pointed “picket” stakes that were used by colonial infantry and rebel cavalry.

  • Design

These decorative fences are typically three to four feet tall and are generally only used in front yards. They are perfect for keeping kids and pets in and other animals out and are an ideal solution to protect corner lots from pedestrian traffic.

  • Materials

Traditionally made of wood, picket fences are now available in PVC and aluminum options as well and can be left understated or adorned with finials and archway gates. Picket fences are usually painted white and make a beautiful background for any flower bed, but for a more rustic feel, cedar and redwood fences that are left to weather make an earthy, downhome statement.

Although wood is the traditional material used for picket fences, many homeowners are now opting for vinyl because of its low maintenance qualities and long life. Many vinyl products on the market today are even made to look like real wood picket fences.

Slatted Fence

Slatted Fence

Slatted fences are a combination of vertical posts and horizontal rails that are spaced just enough to allow some visibility. They provide a modern aesthetic and can be fabricated with wood, composite planks, vinyl, aluminum, and painted or galvanized metal slats. They don’t provide the privacy or security that other options do, but they are durable, generally low-maintenance, and provide a unique design alternative.

  • Materials

It is important to note that the material used for slatted fences should be carefully thought out and your climate should be considered. Composite planks, vinyl, and metal options don’t have issues with warming, but wood does. If you want to go with a wood slat fence, consider harder species like cedar and redwood that naturally resist warping. Be sure to use thoroughly dry wood and stain or paint it right away to protect it from moisture that can cause it to warp.

Lattice Fence

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Lattice fences consist of strips of wood, metal, or vinyl that cross each other at 90 degrees leaving spaces between each strip. These panels are then left upright to form open squares or tilted to 45 degrees to resemble diamonds. Once formed, the panels are cut to size and enclosed in a frame of the same or different material to form vertical fence panels.

  • Design

The classic design of lattice fences lends itself well to any design aesthetic and can be used in various ways. Latticework can be used as full heigh fence paneling, as detail along the top of a solid privacy fence, or to enclose the bottom of a deck or raised platform house. Add some climbing plants to your lattice fence to accentuate its beauty.

Feather Edge Fence

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Feather edge fences are ultra-strong privacy fences made by overlapping feathered wood slats and securing them to horizontal rails and strong posts. They are often topped with a wood cap. Designed with durability in mind, they are a popular fence option in the U.K. where protection from harsh wind and rain is essential.

  • Materials

Feather edge fences are completely customizable and lend themselves well to sloped landscapes or yards with various terrain. They are generally made of pressure-treated lumber and are relatively low maintenance. Painting or staining can increase their longevity further and if a board does begin to deteriorate it can easily be removed and replaced with a new board.

Lap Fence

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Lap fences (also known as overlap fencing, lap panels, or waney edge fencing) are similar to feather edge fences but run horizontally rather than vertically. They are one of the most popular types of fencing used today.

  • Construction

Cost-effective yet stylish, lap fences are constructed of heavy lumber making them strong, durable, and able to last for years. They are a perfect option for boundary fencing, especially if added privacy and security are what you’re looking for.

  • Design

Lap fences are available in a variety of designs and panels typically range in size from three to six feet tall and six feet wide.

Farm Fence

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Farm fences, also known as agricultural fences, are designed primarily to protect livestock and crops from wildlife and other would-be trespassers. The most common materials used for farm fences are wood and wire, but vinyl is quickly becoming a popular option as well.

  • Design

Averaging about four feet tall, farm fences come in a variety of forms including post and rail; snake rail; and wire, hog, and deer fences. Although farm fences are quite strong by nature, they do require regular maintenance to remain effective.

  • Post and rail

Post and rail fences are the most common type used for farming and are an aesthetically appealing and cost-effective choice. Their strong and sturdy design is quite simple with hardy wood posts and horizontal wood slats. They are quick to install and easy to fix, making repair and maintenance simple and inexpensive.

  • Snake rail

Snake rail fences get their name from the way they “snake” along the boundary they protect. Although they look like they wouldn’t be that strong, they are remarkably sturdy and are a great option for enclosing cattle and horses.

Snake rail fences are constructed by a series of logs that lay diagonally on a base log and help to hold each other up. They are simple to install, easy to fix and stand up quite well to the elements.

  • Wire fences

Wire fences themselves come in a few different forms. Some use high-tensile wire that is woven together to form panels that replace the rails in a post and rail fence. These fences are ideal for small to medium-sized animals that don’t have the strength of cattle and horses.

Another option is to use barbed wire in place of wooden rails. This option dates back for decades and is a highly effective way of keeping livestock in and predators out. Caution should be used with bared wire, however, as it has the potential to cause serious injury. Chicken wire is an ideal material to enclose chickens and other small animals or to use as a garden fence solution.

  • Hog panels

Hog panels, as the name suggests, are specifically designed for hog pens, and are made from heavy-duty wire that is half an inch in diameter. The wire is “woven” in horizontal and vertical directions and welded together at each intersection. Rigid and self-supporting, hog panels come in lengths of eight to sixteen feet.

  • Deer fences

Deer fences are used by farmers and ranchers who want to keep wild deer and other game out and/or livestock game in. They are typically at least six feet high and are made of lightweight, woven wire. When a height of six feet or more is not achievable, a two-fence system is used.

This system consists of one fence that is approximately five feet in height placed within one meter of a shorter fence (about three feet). The shorter fence is placed on the side the deer are on. The short, one-meter space between the fences is too long for deer to clear both and close enough that deer can’t get a good jump to clear the taller fence.

Fencing Materials to Choose From

Aluminum and Metal

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Aluminum and metal have gained a lot of popularity as fencing materials in recent years and have become much more affordable options. Typically popular in modern design, they can be made to look like most other fencing materials making them great options for any design style.

Widely available and structurally sound, aluminum and metal are relatively maintenance-free making them ideal choices for just about any climate.

  • Powder coating

Part of the reason why aluminum and metal have gained such popularity is the use of powder coating. Powder coating is a process in which paint dust is electrostatically applied to the metal and then cured under intense heat to create a barrier that is stronger than regular paint. This barrier seals the metal making it resilient to corrosion and rust. And like paint, there is no limit to the color options available with powder coating.

  • Keep it straight

When considering aluminum or metal as options for your fence, keep in mind that they are best for straight fences and do not lend themselves well to curvilinear designs. Prefabricated panels can be factory curved, but this would mean a custom fabrication and a much higher-end cost.

Wood

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Wood has long been the standard fencing material and remains one of the most popular in North America. It provides a warm, natural aesthetic and can be used in a variety of design options. Wood is affordable and easy to install and repair, making it one of the better options for DIYers.

  • Maintenance

Although wood requires more maintenance than some other fencing materials, if it is cared for properly, it can last time lifetime of your home. Wood species such as cedar, redwood, and cypress weather very well and are ideal for use as fencing. Another great option could be pressure-treated pine. Wood can also be stained or painted to protect it from moisture, mold, mildew, and the damaging effect of UV rays.

  • Quality of Quantity

If you want to build a wood fence yourself, most home hardware stores carry prebuilt fence panels or all the material you would need for a stick-built option. Make sure to look carefully at prebuilt panels as they are often fabricated with lesser quality wood and ungalvanized metal fasteners. You always want to invest in quality products to ensure the longevity of your new fence.

PVC Fencing

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Polyvinyl, or PVC, is the cheapest fence material available and is very resistant to various weather conditions. You can purchase PVC fencing in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes so it will easily match any décor.

PVC isn’t as sturdy as most of the other fencing material options, but it is extremely low maintenance and will last for years. Good quality PVC posts will be a PVC sleeve over a pressure-treated wooden post. The pressure-treated wood adds stability to the otherwise light PVC.

Electric Fence

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Residential electric fences are typically used to aid in keeping pets in the yard, or within a certain boundary in the yard. Also known as invisible fences, electric fences consist of a wire that is buried in a trench around the area you want to fence off.

The wire is connected to a wireless transmitter that receives a signal from a battery-powered collar worn by your pet. When your pet gets too close to the electrical fence it receives a small shock to let it know not to be there and not to go further.

Bamboo Fence

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Bamboo has been used as fencing material in Japan for many years and it is now becoming increasingly popular in North America. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly fencing options available and provides organic beauty to any design. Bamboo is also a great option for accent details and decorative screens.

Bamboo is used in one of three ways, rolled bamboo, bamboo cane, and live bamboo. Rolled bamboo and bamboo cane fences use the hollow bamboo poles and fasten them together with various fastening options. They are stronger than live bamboo fencing and can be used in more places including colder climates. Live bamboo, as the name suggests, grows in place and it does not do well in cold climates.

Vegetation

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Natural vegetation is another popular option for fencing, but it requires the most maintenance. Hedges, shrubs, and small trees such as columnar evergreens are beautiful additions to any yard and are great options for a living fence. These fences do tend to be less secure than other options, however, and hedges and shrubs require regular trimming.

Masonry

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Stone, brick, concrete, and other masonry products provide the most privacy and security to your yard but are also some of the most expensive options. Of the masonry categories, concrete is the most affordable choice but is best suited to more modern and contemporary design aesthetics. Stone and brick, on the other hand, provide a more classic and natural look but are considerably more expensive than concrete.

  • What to expect

Brick and stone fences are typically left in their natural state, simply being finished with a clear sealer for protection from the elements. Although concrete fences can also be left in their natural state, they are often covered in stucco or paint to compliment the home’s interior. The main issue with masonry fences is chipping, which may result in a need to repaint or refinish periodically.

  • Low maintenance

Regardless of the type, privacy fences constructed out of masonry materials are relatively low-maintenance and extremely durable making their higher cost balance out when compared to their longevity.

Wrought Iron

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Wrought Iron has been used for fencing material since the Industrial Revolution but has changed somewhat over the years. Thanks to today’s manufacturing processes there is now an affordable solution that has the look, feel, and strength of traditional wrought iron, but for a fraction of the price.

  • Things to consider

Today’s wrought iron is manufactured with a steel core that rivals traditional iron’s strength but weighs far less and is easier to work with and install. These steel cores are also resistant to rust which is an important feature if the coating is scratched or worn off.

  • Maintenance

Wrought iron does require a considerable amount of maintenance and should be sanded and repainted every two to three years. Although black is the traditional color, modern wrought iron can be painted in a variety of colors including custom.

  • Get a professional

While wrought iron fences can be installed by homeowners, they require very precise installation, and it is recommended that a professional contractor who specializes in this material be hired for the job.

Vinyl

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Vinyl is one of the most popular materials for privacy fences. Made from polyvinyl (PVC) it is strong, flexible, resistant to mold and decay, and extremely low maintenance. Vinyl never needs painting and is resistant to cracking, splitting, and chipping. Occasional cleaning with a hose and soft brush or cloth is generally all that is needed.

  • Costly

Due to their lightweight, vinyl privacy fences can be taller than wood or stone fences but not quite as secure. Vinyl is initially a more expensive option, but with little to no maintenance and a long life span, it is more cost-effective over the long term.

  • Availability

Vinyl fences are available in kits from most home hardware stores and come in a wide range of styles and colors. There are many options available that mimic the look of wood and other materials, but the color is limited to white and light or dark tan.

  • Read the specs

When considering vinyl for your fence be cautious of low-cost and low-grade varieties. These often have very little protection from UV light and extreme temperatures and will warp or crack over time. High-quality vinyl products are pretreated to resist UV damage and most weather conditions. It is important to note however that even treated vinyl can warp in extreme heat conditions.

  • Hard to install

Strictly speaking, vinyl fences can be installed by homeowners and DIYers, but it is recommended that you hire a professional contractor for your project.

Chain Link Fence

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Chain link has been used as a fencing material for many years and is most often seen in applications related to home security, tennis courts and other sporting fields, and pool safety. Chain link is cheap, strong, durable, and needs almost no maintenance.

  • Coatings

Traditional chain link was made from galvanized steel, but most is now a heavy, woven wire fabric that is vinyl coated to help reduce rust and corrosion. Vinyl coating is however only available in limited colors, so powder coating has also been gaining popularity as a way of providing an unlimited color range. A completely powder-coated fence costs approximately 25 percent more than regular galvanized material, but a colored mesh with galvanized posts and rails costs about the same.

  • Design

The standard chain link for residential applications is typically 11 gauge and comes in standard heights of forty-two, forty-eight, sixty, and seventy-two inches. The mesh opening is one and a half to two inches.

  • Mix with landscaping

To create a bit more privacy with a chain-link fence, privacy slats can be woven into the mesh or shrubbery and climbing vines can be planted on either side. These options not only increase privacy but also help to block wind and increase the security of the fence.

How To Install a Board Fence

How To Install a Board FenceView in gallery

Although installing a fence can be quite labor intensive, it is a simple process that most homeowners and DIYers can take on themselves. To give you an idea of how easy fence installation can be, here is a step-by-step guide to installing a basic wood board fence.

The Tools You’ll Need

  • Post hole digger or auger
  • A level
  • A hammer
  • Wood steaks

Materials You’ll Need

  • Wood posts, rails, and slats
  • Gravel
  • Wood stain, paint, sealer, or other preservatives
  • Galvanized metal fasteners

Step 1: Determine your property line

This step is vital to ensure you are placing your fence on your legal property and are not inadvertently encroaching on your neighbors.

In this step, it is also important to remember the width of the slats you will be using to ensure that they fit equally along the fence and that none will need to be narrowed in width to fit.

Step 2: Determine fence post spacing

Corner posts are always set first and from there you can determine and mark how far apart each additional post should be. For a balanced and aesthetically pleasing fence, you want to make sure that your support posts are set at equal increments between corner posts measuring center to center.

Fence posts typically range between six and eight feet apart but can vary to suit the project. Most wood rails don’t come longer than eight feet, so be sure to keep that in mind when planning out your posts.

Step 3: Dig the holes for posts

It is easiest to use a post hole digger or auger to dig the holes for your fence posts. Ensure that the holes are deep enough to accommodate approximately one-third of the post plus six to twelve inches of gravel. This will ensure that the finished fence is sturdy enough to withstand its own weight and the force of strong winds.

Step 4: Treat the posts

It’s always advised to apply a sealer or wood treatment to the posts. But more importantly, the parts that will be buried. This will prolong the post’s life by protecting it from moisture and rot.

Step 5: Place the posts

Pour six to twelve inches of gravel into the bottom of each post hole and then place the post on top. Using a level, make sure the posts are straight and then brace them with diagonal streaks. Pack the hole around the post with dirt and tamp it down to get it as packed as possible. Check periodically through this process to ensure that the post stays plumb.

Step 6: Attach the rails

Measure the placement of the top and bottom rails so they are at equal distances from the ground and the top of the posts. For example, if the bottom rail is six inches off the ground, the top rail should be six inches down from the top of the posts. Attached the rails to the posts, ensuring they are level as you go.

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Step 7: Attach the fence slats

Attach a wood slat to the rails at each corner post and use a level to ensure they are plumb. Fasten a string to the top of the first slat and run it tightly across to the second. Attach the string to the second slat. Use this string as your guide, placing the top of each slat just below the string and in line with the slat before it.

Place another slat beside the first corner slat, ensuring that you leave a space of about one-eighth of an inch. Attach it to the rails. Continue adding slats like this until you reach the second corner. Be sure to check every four or five slats to ensure they are staying level and adjust them if not.

Step 8: Protect your fence

Either paint or stain and seal your new fence to protect it from moisture, mildew, rot, and damaging UV rays.

FAQ

Is it hard to install a fence?

Installing a fence is generally not that difficult in terms of skill. It is, however, very hard physical work. Most DIYers should be able to accomplish a fence install, but they should recruit help for the task.

How much does it cost to put up a fence?

The cost to install a fence typically ranges from $13.00 – $25.00 per linear foot including material. Some factors that will affect the price include material type, design complexity, and terrain.

Should fence posts be set in concrete?

Fence posts made of metal, vinyl, and PVC can be set in concrete, but fence posts made of wood should never be. Wood posts will inevitably rot at some point in their life. If buried in concrete, they will be considerably more work to replace when the time comes.

How much does it cost to install a fence yourself?

Installing a fence yourself would eliminate a contractor’s install price which will leave you with only material costs and equipment rentals. This may knock several dollars off the linear footage price of $13.00 to $25.00. Having said that, you should keep in mind how physically demanding a fence install can be and decide if the extra savings is worth the sore muscles and aching back.

The Final Verdict on Fencing Materials

With so many fencing options available in terms of material and design, choosing one can seem like an overwhelming task. But with a bit of research and the proper knowledge of what each fence option has to offer, you are bound to find one that meets your needs, wants, climate, and budget.

We’d love to hear from you. Let us know if you found this article helpful and if you have any questions about the topic discussed. And for more home and garden tips check out our website!