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Fencing: Designing your landscape...
Fencing: Designing your landscape...
by Kathy Scott

Fencing can play a key role in the landscape of one's home. Its purpose can be as simple as keeping the family dog in or as important as keeping young children out, especially from hidden dangers like a pool. The U.S. fencing industry is a billion dollar market which continues to grow more than five percent a year. What once was limited to chain link and wood products has grown to include PVC and vinyl fencing.

Tim Carter, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and founder of AsktheBuilder.com, has been dispensing sage advice to homeowners for more than two decades. He firmly advises any fence purchase be made through a reputable dealer who will also come out and construct it. Most dealers will warranty their work and products. For those homeowners who think they can save money and do it themselves, Carter warns them to think twice. "If you've never installed [a fence], it is much harder than you think," says Carter. "You would be shocked to know how much work it is. You also need to have the proper tools."

Chain link fencing has consistently been a popular choice for homeowners interested in preserving their view while also wishing to define property lines and enclose pets. Chain link is both economical and strong with many manufacturers now adding color coating like green and brown so that it easily blends with surrounding vegetation and landscaping. Chain link fences come in various weights and gauges. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) recommends that the chain links be at least 11 gauge in order to maintain quality standards.

Wood fencing is many homeowners' product of choice. Designs can vary from split rail, solid board, spaced-picket, lattice top, basket weave and ranch rail, just to name a few. Wood can add natural beauty to the surrounding landscape of your home and its architecture. "Wood is gorgeous, but it can be expensive to buy and install," says Carter.

Wood can also be costly to maintain, as much as $.70 per foot per year, but many find its beauty worth the compromise. Wood should be treated to guard against rot, insect infestation and decay. Fences constructed of cedar or red wood have natural preservatives and tend to last longer.

PVC or vinyl fencing can provide a faux wood look without the maintenance. Originally introduced in the 1980s, sales for vinyl fencing have grown more than 20 percent each year. Fortunately for homeowners, manufacturers have continued to improve their product over time. "Vinyl fencing is pricey. Often it can cost up to twice as much as a similar wood fence. However, there is absolutely no maintenance once it is installed," says Carter. "When you figure you have to paint your fence every two or three years, a wood fence system can actually cost far more than a vinyl system."

The reason for vinyl fencing's high cost is titanium dioxide which is layered onto the PVC because of its ability to absorb and reflect UV rays, preventing the vinyl from chipping or cracking. Vinyl fence manufacturers have also designed lattice accents as well as picket, post and rail styles. "Let price be your guide," adds Carter. "Vinyl with lower amounts of titanium dioxide simply succumbs to the UV rays at a faster rate. The more titanium dioxide layered on the fence product, the higher the price."

Most importantly, before considering any fence, make sure your county and city zoning laws don't prohibit them. It is not uncommon for city planners to put a cap on the height of a residential fence or outlaw them all together, so do your homework before you invest.