Fencing Part One: Planning and Function

April 05, 2022 (Reston, Virginia)

Fences can serve a lot of practical purposes, while complementing your home and landscaping. Here are some key considerations for picking the right fencing for your needs.

Practical Planning

Before you consider style, placement, and height, check out county or city zoning requirements. If your lot is on a corner, there may be greater restrictions on fence height and distance from the road. Pool enclosures have their own special zoning requirements. Also, verify where your property lines are and the locations of all underground utilities.

Think through all the ramifications of living with and maintaining your fence and the landscaping around it. For example, if your fence runs close to a neighbor’s fence, is there room to mow the “median strip” of grass between fences… and which of you is responsible? Make sure to leave enough space to comfortably re-stain, repaint, or repair your fencing when needed. Solid, tall fencing may restrict sunlight enough to require some landscaping changes.

Height is usually tied to function, but a fence that’s too tall can give a property an unfortunate vibe (think prison or fortress). However, if you have a lot with a steep slope, a high fence can be effective to accommodate the slope while maintaining a uniform height at the top or to keep pets on the inside

It’s typically best to fence the rear yard and some of the side yard, stopping the fence at the front of the house, so the fence doesn’t dominate the presentation to the street.

A gate can be decorative, but it must be easy to open, close, and secure. Make sure it’s wide enough to accommodate large trucks or commercial equipment that might be needed for future home improvements.

Installation Timing

It’s smart to live in the home for at least a year or two before installing a fence, particularly if you have a large lot. Once a fence is in, it restricts options and flexibility in siting gardens, a pool, play areas, or structures such as gazebos. It can also dictate which areas of the yard are more (and less) likely to be used, and how challenging it is to maintain them.

You want to install a fence after you add a pool or exterior structure, so you don’t have to rip fencing out to get the new feature in. You also don’t want to destroy a major landscaping investment to add a fence later.

Spring and summer are prime time for fencing contractors, and as with every home improvement, there are currently long lead times. Late fall or even early winter, so long as the ground hasn’t frozen, may be easier to book and avoids disrupting seasonal use of your yard.

Fence Functions

If the purpose is safety (such as enclosing a pool), the fence should be high, strong, and have a sturdy gate that can be securely fastened and locked.

Containment fencing is designed to keep people and/or pets in, or other people and animals out. Pets and wildlife can and will figure out how to dig under a fence and can be surprisingly athletic and ingenious in jumping or climbing over. In general, go taller than you think you need, and consider installing mesh below the fence, an L-footer, or concrete footer at the bottom to prevent tunneling. Keep any climbing aids (furniture, trees, shrubs, etc.) well away from the fence. Be realistic about keeping deer out: most can jump at least eight feet from a standing position, and some can jump significantly higher from a running start.

For privacy, many homeowners default to a tall solid wooden (or wood-look) fence with boards running vertically or horizontally. At Gulick Group we tend to use landscaping for privacy, providing a softer and less imposing effect.

Sometimes fencing is used decoratively, to visually carve out an outdoor living space or accent an area or feature. Think of an enclosed garden area with a moongate, a stone wall framing either side of an entrance, or a white picket fence setting off a cottage garden. Just be sure that the fence is not obtrusive, and the material and style are compatible with your home exterior.

Many owners hope to use fencing as a sound barrier. From a practical perspective, that function is limited for residential fencing. Heavy wooden fences made from thick tongue-and-groove board (with no gaps) and heavy posts will help dampen sound, and masonry fencing works even better, but at a typically prohibitive cost. It is possible to buy residential versions of the sound barriers used beside highways, if zoning allows, at high cost and with oppressive visual impact. Massive shrubs and trees also help reduce noise, but take years to grow, while a water feature can mask (but not reduce) less pleasant sounds far more affordably.

When it comes to materials, like any other application, each brings its own tradeoffs in terms of price, durability, and aesthetic appeal. Look for our article on Choosing Fencing Materials in next month’s Life | Style.

About Gulick Group, Inc.: Established in 1987, Reston-based Gulick Group has developed communities throughout Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, including One Cameron Place and Newport Shores in Reston, The Reserve in McLean, Autumn Wood, Grovemont, and the three Riverbend Communities in Great Falls, Red Cedar West in Leesburg, and Wild Meadow in Ashburn.