Before You Install a Fence
Installing a fence can be a great DIY project if you have time. Before you start, check all local codes or homeowners association regulations for proper fence style, size and placement. Also make sure you know your underground utility locations and property lines. Look for planning guides to help plot your project, determine how many posts you need and what type of hardware is required.
Component Fencing and Preassembled Panels
Component fences are sometimes called stick-built fences. You assemble the fence from individual pieces, such as boards and rails. These fences take longer to build but can follow the contours of the landscape with a technique called racking. Some types of wood fencing are also available in components. Components include the three main building blocks for a fence: the posts, pickets and backer rails.
Preassembled panel fences can be easier to assemble but may not be able to follow the landscape like a component fence, so they're a good choice for people who have an even surface for installation. You can rack some adjustable panels, but others have to be stair-stepped to accommodate slopes. Metal, vinyl and some wood fences are available as panels.
Fence Material Comparison Chart
There are several common fencing materials — chain link, wood, vinyl, metal and composite — that have distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Wood fences have a traditional look but require ongoing maintenance. You may need to paint or stain them every few years. There are several types you can choose based on your preferences.
- Wood panel fencing, sometimes called stockade fencing, improves privacy and security, and it's a good choice for setting boundaries for children and pets. Individual components (boards and rails) and prebuilt panels come in sections 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 or 8 feet long. There are two basic types of panel fence styles: a solid panel fence, which is good for concealing unattractive areas or hiding a roadway from view, or shadowbox panels that use alternating boards on each side of the fence rail to give the fence the same look on both sides. Shadowbox panels also allow air circulation and provide partial views.
- Picket fencing adds a decorative element and is best for large pets, since little ones could slip through the wide gaps. These fences have spaced boards or pickets running along one side of the fence rail and are generally a maximum of 4 feet tall. They're available in preassembled panels up to 8 feet in length and as individual components.
- Split-rail fencing, also known as post-and-rail fencing, adds a rustic look to a landscape. Use this type of fence to define specific areas in your yard or provide an easily visible separation along property lines. The horizontal rails are available either split or round in lengths from 8 to 11 feet.
Depending on the region and style, wood fencing is available in cedar, pine, redwood or spruce. Cedar and redwood are naturally resistant to decay and insects, while spruce and pine are typically pressure-treated to deter insects and decay.
Pressure-treated fence materials require hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners and hardware. Check the packaging for the fasteners and hardware to make sure they're labeled for use with pressure-treated materials.
Vinyl fencing is both attractive and low-maintenance. The materials require an occasional rinsing but typically don't rot, fade or suffer from other effects of weather and time.
Vinyl fencing is available in styles similar to wood panel, picket and rail fencing. Like wood fencing, vinyl fencing is also available in solid panels to create boundaries and privacy, or shadowbox panels that create visual interest and durability. Picket panels add a decorative look and work well for boundaries and containing pets. Vinyl rail fencing is made to mimic wooden boards and is a durable choice for defining boundaries and other areas of the landscape.
Typical panels can be 4 to 6 feet tall and 5 to 7 feet wide. Some panels allow limited racking, but others need to be stair-stepped. Vinyl rails range from 8 to 16 feet long. See How to Install a Vinyl Fence for instructions on creating a vinyl fence.
Chain Link Fencing
Chain link fencing is one of the most affordable, low-maintenance and durable fencing materials. These fences, sometimes called hurricane fences, can help keep children and pets in and keep nuisance animals — like raccoons, coyotes and foxes — out. Higher chain link fencing can also improve security. Made from galvanized steel wire, the weather-resistant material is referred to as fabric and is available from 3 to 12 feet in height and in 10- or 50-foot rolls. Chain link fabric comes in different mesh sizes and wire thicknesses or gauges. The smaller the gauge number, the heavier the wire.
If you don't like the silvery look of a bare fence, you can find fabric with a weather-resistant green or black vinyl coating. You can also weave special plastic slats into the fence fabric for privacy or to block unsightly areas of a landscape.
See Install a Chain Link Fence for installation steps and diagrams.
Decorative Metal Fencing
Decorative metal fencing draws attention to areas of your landscape. It gives you the formal appearance of wrought iron but is made from powder-coated steel or aluminum for durability and minimal maintenance. Available in a variety of styles and sizes ranging from 4 or 5 feet in height and lengths of 12 feet or more, the components are relatively easy to assemble. You can find fencing that doesn't require digging, so you don't have to worry about tearing up your yard during installation. Just drive an anchor into the ground and attach the fence post. Some metal panels allow for limited racking to follow landscape contours.
Garden fencing can contain pets and keep pests — like raccoons, deer and rabbits — out of gardens. The material is available in rolls 2 to 5 feet high and lengths up to 150 feet. Sometimes referred to as hardware cloth, it's also available with a green or brown vinyl coating. When used with rail fencing, welded wire functions as a pet containment fence for large areas.
Plastic/polyresin is a lighter-weight alternative for light duty or seasonal use. Hex netting or chicken wire is often used to fence in poultry, but can also work for small pets such as rabbits.
Decorative garden fencing is also available in a range of widths and heights, and can be used to establish boundaries or as landscape accents. Some types don't require digging for installation, while others include gates for easy access. Read Garden Fence Tips for more details on garden fencing and for installation tips and instructions.
Other Fencing Products
Other fencing options may be available in your local store or by Special Order:
Bamboo brings a distinctive look to a landscape when used for fencing and gates. It's also affordable, easy to install and eco-friendly.
Composite fencing is made from recycled wood and plastic, and it offers lower maintenance with the look of real wood. It resists insects, splitting and decay.
Electric fencing is normally used to contain livestock. With low-output chargers, electric fencing can work in residential settings to keep animals out of gardens. Chargers are powered by alternating current (AC) or solar energy.
Pet containment fencing provides pet containment without a visible fence. The systems include a transmitter and a collar. Some models have a wire that you bury to outline the area you want to contain, while others are wireless. If your pet gets close to the fence perimeter, they'll receive a warning signal through the collar.
Farm fencing is available in woven, barbed and barbless wire to contain large animals. You can also find welded wire to keep small animals in and plastic/polyresin fencing to help protect your garden from deer and other animals. Read our Farm Fencing Buying Guide to learn specifics.
Lattice fencing can provide privacy or screen unattractive views. Depending on your location, it's available in a variety of wood species, such as pine, spruce, redwood, cedar or different shades of vinyl. Pine and spruce lattice panels are usually treated to resist decay and insects.
Other Fence Elements and Components
Rails support fence panels or pickets for wood, vinyl and chain link fencing. If you use preassembled panels, the rails are already attached for easy installation.
Posts provide stability to the fence by supporting fence rails or wire mesh. End or terminal posts are used to indicate the starting and stopping points of your fence. Corner posts create angles so you can change the direction of the fencing, while line posts support straight runs. Some vinyl posts require a steel insert for stability.
Gates are available to match the style of your fence. Depending on your fence type, you can find single gates for foot traffic or double gates for vehicles. You can also purchase remote-controlled openers for some types of gates.
An automatic driveway gate provides safety for you, your family and your pets. These fences also provide extra privacy by preventing unwanted guests or cars from turning into your driveway.
Driveway gates come in a variety of materials and finishes, including aluminum and steel, to match the accompanying fence. They pair with a driveway gate opener that can be triggered from inside your car so you can conveniently open and close the gate during inclement weather. A gated driveway lends an estate feel to a home of any size and may even increase property value.
If your driveway is a straight shot to your home, a smaller electric driveway gate will be sufficient. However, if your driveway curves, or if you'll need to pass through with a boat, trailer or RV, it’s a good idea to choose a wider gate for more comfortable maneuvering.