Fences: Function and Design

By Chris Jones Published: August 14, 2008
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Before fencing themselves in, homeowners need to know a few things.

Fences define boundaries, provide privacy, add property value, keep pets in and keep people out. Homeowners thinking about having a fence installed need to do their homework before the first fence post goes in the ground.

The old adage "Good fences make for good neighbors,” from the "Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, holds some truth. Neighbors and fences can be a volatile combination.

"Putting up a fence isn't like buying a loaf of bread,” said Diana Morrison of Morrison Fence Co. "The construction of a fence can be emotional, and some people are offended when a fence goes up. Neighbors have called the police and reported a fence going in. People want fences for many different reasons, and it's not always pets and pools, although those are the main reasons. Some people don't want to see their neighbors, and I've had customers who are the opposite — they want a see-through fence so they can see their neighbors.”

Morrison and her brother Sam grew up in the fence business their parents started in 1949 in Oklahoma City. Fence contractors sometimes see the best and the worst of neighborly relations when installing a fence, but it is usually an uneventful home improvement. It helps when people try to get along and many neighbors share the cost of a fence, though they are not required to split the cost.

The first aspect of fence installation is for homeowners to know the location of their property line, Morrison said. It is not up to the contractor to establish the property line.

Walk the line
"If there is an existing fence or a clear boundary, that's usually OK,” Morrison said. "If it is a new house, the homeowner can find out from their builder. If it is an old house and there has never been a fence and no established lines, the property may need surveying.”

David Swando, owner of Cook's Fence and Iron in Oklahoma City, said there aren't many happy stories about property line disputes.

"People want to save money, and they don't want to add survey costs,” Swando said. "And most of the time, it is OK. But when it isn't, it is generally an ugly thing and will cost much more.

"We had one customer who had a tennis court, and the corner of the tennis court was 3 inches over the property line. When a new neighbor moved next door, they didn't want their property encroached on, and the corner post had to be cut off and moved 3 inches. It was a huge annoyance and expense.”

Once the fence line is determined, the next step is to determine the type of fencing material. The choices include vinyl, chain link, wood, decorative iron, brick and rock.

Before selecting fencing, homeowners who live in housing additions should check on covenants regarding the type of fence allowed in their neighborhood. This precaution can prevent wasted time and money.

Morrison said, "One time, we were installing a vinyl fence in a new housing addition, and the homeowners' association president tried to stop us. Our customer was adamant about installing a vinyl fence and, in order to meet the restrictions, the outside of the fence had to be wood. We combined the two. The fence was vinyl, but people driving down the street saw a wood fence.”

The good and the ugly
And who gets the so-called ugly side of the fence? There is the post side and the finished side with many wood fences. Mark Ballard with Cook's Fence and Iron said neighbors often split the cost at a 60/40 split. The neighbor who pays more gets the finished side. Vines and other landscaping often cover a fence, and the unfinished side often isn't noticeable.

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