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Picking the Right Kind of Fence

February 20, 1992|DAVID SHAUGHNESSY

Americans have always loved their fences.

Robert Frost was merely stating popular opinion when he said that "good fences make good neighbors," and Tom Sawyer showed us the virtue of a little American ingenuity when he enlisted a few friends to help him whitewash his wood fence.

Early settlers built fences to keep the livestock in and the hostile elements out, and the concept hasn't changed much since.

Today in North County, folks still exhibit a yearning to fence out the rest of the world and to close in their own space.

Fences can be decorative borders that attractively define our boundaries, or they can be built as walls of privacy that insulate us from the hubbub of the neighborhood.

A few feet of creative fencing can spruce up a front or back yard or secure an area for children or pets to play in.


"Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly says, 'I think I'll go out and get a fence today.' Something usually drives them to do it--sparks the need," said Andy Orta of American Fence Co. in San Marcos. "A dog got in (the yard), a dog got out. A kid got out, or a bunch of kids got in. I'd say 80% of the people buy a fence for security or safety reasons."

The ever-present chain-link fence is still the No. 1 choice in fencing, since it is both secure and cost effective. "Chain link is the most popular by far, probably because of the lower cost," Larry Turpin of Vista Fence Co. said. It also provides a feeling of openness because of its see-through nature. Vinyl-covered chain link also comes in green or brown.

If a closed-in effect is desired and wood is to be used, cedar or redwood is often preferred. A 4-foot redwood fence with a 2-foot lattice top is popular because it's considered neighbor-friendly.

"Chain link is about the most popular, wood is a close second because of the privacy, and third is ornamental iron, which is aesthetically pleasing," said Orta.

Split-rail fences are popular because of their rustic look, but they provide minimal security. Most fence companies will build custom fences and gates.


There are dozens of fence companies in North County that install fence as well as sell materials for the do-it-yourselfer. Building supply outlets, lawn and garden supply stores and lumberyards also offer a fencing materials in a range of prices and styles.

Many homeowners decide to save money by installing their own fences. "When the economy is bad, we sell a lot of materials over the counter to the do-it-yourselfers," Robert Mora of American Fence Company said. "That way you don't pay for installation."

American Fence generally charges a minimum of $400 to install a fence; most companies charge at least $250 for labor. Materials only for a 5-foot-high chain-link fence (including posts and hardware) run $2.18 per foot for American Fence's lowest-grade and $3.45 per foot for a higher gauge recommended for residential use.

Materials only for a 5-foot-high cedar fence with redwood posts run $4.25 per foot at American Fence.

Other companies, such as Vista Fence, charge a job or materials price that is not necessarily broken down per foot. They give free estimates for whatever materials or labor is needed for the job.

It's important to get a written estimate before work begins if you are having a fence installed.

For the do-it-yourselfer, instructional brochures are available to go along with just about every type of fencing material.


Before you begin fencing your property, get in touch with your local planning department to see what building codes you must comply with.

"We have specific requirements for fences in the zoning code," said Craig Olson, an assistant planner for the city of Encinitas. "You should give the city a call before you install a fence to make sure you're aware of the requirements."

Most cities, for example, have height limitations for fences fronting a street. Shorter fences give drivers a better view when entering the street from driveways. An easement area for utilities or city landscaping might also be required between a person's property line and the street.

"You should always call the city before putting up a fence," agreed Kristina Suszko, a land-use aide with the city of Escondido, which generally allows building a fence up to 6 feet high without a building permit.

"Sometimes (homeowners') association approval of design and materials is required before we can issue a permit," Suszko added.


Obviously, you must know the boundary points of your property. "We tell the customers they're responsible for finding the property line, it says it in our contract," Marilyn Perrin of Safeguard Fence Co. in Escondido said. "We can look for the property markers, but it's up to them to hire a surveyor if they have to."

"It's very important to know where your property ends," said Orta of American Fence, which caters largely to the do-it-yourselfer. "That way you stay out of hot water."

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