Where to Start on a Backyard Fence Project

Where to Start on a Backyard Fence Project

Taking on a project as a homeowner can sometimes feel confusing and overwhelming, regardless of how small or large the job may be.  It can also be tough getting clear answers to what seem like simple questions. Whether it is a custom new build, or a 110-year-old heritage home, homeowners have many questions about repairing, replacing and building a new fence. I’ll answer some of the most common questions here to give you a better understanding of the options available to you based on my experience helping homeowners make the right choices for their properties.

Can I build a fence myself?

Yes…and no.

Unless you are a professional builder, I wouldn’t recommend taking on an entire fencing project from start-to-finish. If you’re already comfortable with a mitre saw and a nail gun, then it’s likely you’ll feel comfortable getting started building a new fence. But even in that scenario, I recommend that you bring in a company to dig and set the posts for you. Nothing is going to ruin three Sundays in a row more than having to dig four-foot-deep holes with a pair of clamshell shovels in 30-degree heat. It’s best to outsource this task to fencing professionals who can finish the job efficiently and effectively. I also wouldn’t recommend using pre-fab panels purchased from your hardware store. They can seem like a good idea at the time of purchase because it feels like all you have left to do is install them. However, these panels are large and unwieldy, making them difficult to fit between posts. It’s better to take the time to frame it up properly with 2x4s and fence boards.

Should I consult my neighbour on my fencing project?

Yes. I always recommend having a conversation with the neighbour of any adjoining property. In my experience, there are three scenarios that typically unfold with neighbours when fences are proposed, which ultimately impacts how and when a project will progress.

Scenario 1: Your neighbour is interested in being involved in the project. They want to split the cost and agree that the fence should be built on the exact same line as before. This is obviously the most ideal situation and, in my experience, happens about 50% of the time. In order to increase the odds of this scenario occurring, you should approach your neighbours as early in the process as possible and ask what their thoughts are on the job. A little compromising at this stage can go a long way.

Scenario 2: Your neighbour doesn’t want to be involved in the project but doesn’t mind if you get a new fence. This neighbour won’t be contributing anything financially, but is willing to let you tear down an old fence and use the same property line to build a new one. This happens about 40% of the time.

Scenario 3: The final scenario is the uncooperative neighbour, which seems to occur about 10% of the time. This is when a neighbour dislikes the idea of a new fence and wants to keep the existing one (even if it’s a 50-year-old green chain link fence). In this scenario, unfortunately, you’re going to have to build the fence entirely on your property. I generally don’t recommend arguing or taking legal action against someone you’re going to continue to live next door to in order to gain four inches of yard. My personal opinion is that it is best to keep the peace. Good fences make good neighbours, but good neighbours don’t necessarily split the cost on fences.

Do I need a permit to build a fence?

A building permit isn’t usually required for fence builds. As long as you keep within the height permitted by your community’s bylaws (often just over six feet in a backyard and four feet in the front yard), then you’re free to get started. Although a building permit isn’t required, you will need a dig permit. This is just to make sure you’re not going to hit any gas lines or utilities while digging four-foot holes in the ground. This is usually a free service and it typically takes a week or two to obtain.

My fence has blown over in a storm, the wood looks to be in okay condition but the posts broke at the ground. Can I repair and reuse the old fence or should invest in new material?

This is an issue that only happens with older fences. A 15-20 year old fence can appear to be worth salvaging, but when the posts break, the options aren’t great for repair. In order to reuse the existing material, you would need to set the posts in the exact same spot they were in before. This isn’t a great option considering how much work it would take to dig the new holes — just imagine pulling four feet of concrete out of the ground! A better plan would be to install new posts in between the existing posts on one side of the fence to hold the fence in place and provide stability. These posts should support the fence for the remaining lifespan of the original wood, but it’s still going to be about a quarter of the cost of a brand new fence and it often doesn’t look very good. I find a new fence is worth the added cost and you won’t be stuck with old material that likely won’t last much more then 5-8 years longer. It looks a lot nicer too.

If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to contact a local fencing company. Resources such as Homestars.com are always a good way to research reputable companies that work in your area. Outdoor home projects aren’t always cheap, but as long as you consider the issues you might face in advance, you should  end up with a good fence that you won’t have to think about for another 20 years.