Angies's List: Fences

Are you considering adding a fence to your home this year? Fences have both practical and aesthetic value.

But a badly conceived fence can be an eyesore and a source of conflict with neighbors. With pets in the family, a fence for Kim and Mark Ruskowsky's home was a must-have.

"We installed the fence because we wanted more privacy in our backyard and we have two dogs that like to run around and it's nice to have them not tied down," says Homeowner Kim Ruskowsky.

Some common fence materials today include vinyl, wrought iron, aluminum and wood.

"I believe today, most of our consumers, are very interested in a maintenance free fence that lasts without maintenance and also adds value to their property for an extended period of time versus some of the other products or older products,” says fencing contractor Rod Smith. “A wood product does require maintenance and do tend to break down and detract from the look of the property over the course of time."

"Maintenance on most fences relates more to the wood fencing versus the other products. With any wood fence it will just turn gray and rot without any kind of treatment. It is important, not only as a preservation of the fence, to do some kind of stain or clear coating, but it also will preserve the color, which does preserve your investment."

"Fences can make the best neighbors unless it's put on the wrong side of the property line,” explains founder of Angie’s List Angie Hicks. “The first thing you want to do is have a survey of your property and check with your neighbors. It's not required to do that but it's a nice courtesy. And don't forget to check out your homeowner's association by-laws because they might have regulations about the type of fence."

Angie's List recommends doing your research before you let a company dig into your yard. Are they full-service company? Do they also offer repairs and adjustments?

"A fencing project should stand the test of time so be sure that you are checking everything out on the company you are hiring,” says Angie. “Interesting enough a recent Angie's List poll found 46 percent of the respondents said they don't always ask for references and 43 percent said even if they do ask for references, they don't check them. Doing your homework is key, especially on an investment of this magnitude."

Interestingly, a fence can be installed any time of year as long as the ground is not frozen.

Angie's List says you may also score a deal if you consider doing this project in the winter, when most companies are not as busy.

Obviously, with spring here, you may not want to wait that long.

• Wood: One of the most common types of fencing, wood can give properties a traditional look. However, the lifetime of wood fencing varies. Many types have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years and require regular maintenance, ranging from cleaning and sealing to painting. It's important to understand the different types of wood and which are preferable for your purposes, tastes and climate. Bamboo is among the most recent newcomers to the range of fencing options. It is highly touted because it is considered environmentally friendly
• Vinyl/composite: Often a top choice among homeowner associations in newer neighborhoods, this type of fencing tends to have clean, uniform lines. It also is a cost-effective option because it is easy to maintain; no painting and sealing required. In most cases, vinyl/composite fencing has a longer warranty than other types of fencing.
• Metals: Materials in this category can include aluminum, steel and traditional wrought iron - an expensive but beautiful choice. These options are ideal if you want to establish boundaries on your property but would rather maintain your views. They also can be highly decorative and enhance the overall aesthetic of your property.
• Brick/masonry: Though an expensive option, brick as fencing is appropriate for historic neighborhoods and more stately properties. It also provides a high degree of privacy and security.

Angie's List Tips: What to consider when installing a fence
• What's the purpose of the fence? Is it for privacy? To keep your kids and dogs in or another reason?
• Are you allowed to have fence? If so, what type? Homeowners are responsible for checking with their homeowners association on types of fences allowed, verifying their property lines, having their yard checked for buried utility lines, etc.
• Be a good neighbor: While it's not legally required, communicate with your neighbors that you're thinking of putting up a fence so they don't learn of it only when they see it being installed.
• Factor in maintenance: Your fence will lose its appeal if you don't maintain it. Check your fence every few months for splintering, peeling, mold, breakage and insects. Be careful with the weed whacker near the fence. Over time, that causes splintering and scratches which breaks the seal and encourages damage.

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a fencing contractor
• A quality fencing company should provide you with written estimates, a warranty on the work, as well as a product warranty on the materials.
• Are they a full-service company? In addition to the installation, do they do repairs and adjustments?
• Ask for references and don't be afraid to do a little leg work to check up on the company's past projects.
• Get at least three written estimate and read the contract thoroughly.

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