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Building a fence: where to start?

Are you thinking about building a fence? Start by defining your needs, then choose the appropriate model, materials and location. Make sure your fencing project complies with municipal regulations and bylaws. Look into the possibility of sharing the costs with your neighbor.

Determine the needs

With the proper planning, a fencing project can be completed fairly quickly and easily. The function of your fence should be your first and prime consideration. Once that has been established, check if any municipal bylaws or regulations apply before you choose and install a foundation for your fence.

Establish the purpose of the fence

  • Privacy: When your backyard joins a neighbour's yard or faces a busy street, opt for a solid-panel or fine-trellis fence. This will ensure your privacy and block out an unwanted view.
  • Security: In areas with a lot of traffic or a neighborhood where safety is an issue, a high vertical fence is the preferred option. A high fence is recommended where children play outside.
  • Animals: Once you know how high your pet can jump, you can establish the height you require. Do not opt for fencing with any kind of pointed ornamentation on top.
  • Pool: In some provinces, such as Quebec, you must by law install pool fencing. Check with your municipality for the required height and other specifications.
  • Weather: In regions where heavy winds are common, a fence may provide protection. Choose a fence with a solid foundation (with sonotubes) and install posts closer together. Do avoid full panels 6' wide or more, and ensure the model allows for air to flow through freely.
  • Pollution barrier: A fence is useful where there is an excess of noise, dust and fumes from busy thoroughfares. Choose a high opaque fence model (ideally with wood on both sides).

Check existing municipal regulations

Be aware of bylaws and regulations governing minimum and maximum height, the distance between fences and residential buildings, and the types of fence models and materials that are allowed. Find out if you'll need to apply for a permit.

Determine the location

Check if there is any possibility of sharing the cost with a neighbour. If not, be sure you install the fence on your side of the property line.
Locate and measure the property line. Use stakes and string to mark the location of the proposed fence on the ground and determine the total length. Note that on sloped ground, the fence should be installed in stages; you must therefore measure horizontally to obtain the exact length. Allow for the location of doors and gates.

Models

Fence panels are divided into two categories: standard panels are straight with or without the traditional trellis on top, and elaborate panels can be ornamented with arches and curved tops and have openings in the design that let the light through while preserving your privacy.

Fence panels come in widths of 4', 6' and most commonly, 8'. The spacing between panels is determined by the type of terrain (flat or sloped) and typical weather conditions; place fence posts closer together in areas where strong winds are common. 

Standard height is 6'. However, a pool fence should not be as high or opaque (you should be able to monitor children at all times) and a security fence can be as high as 8'.

Prefab fence panels provide a ready-made solution to your fencing needs; assembled quickly and easily, they are high-quality and relatively inexpensive.

Certain ready-to-install wood fence models are available at your local store. Included are all the pieces of wood required as well as easy-to-follow instructions. Hardware is sold separately.

Colour and finish 

Colours vary a great deal according to the type of material used. Most popular: colours that combine well with the existing landscape design, such as green, brown, and natural wood.

A wood fence is versatile, in that it can be painted, stained or varnished. There is a wide range colours to choose from when building a treated wood fence.

Tips 

  • For a property with a steep slope, opt for more narrow panels to minimize the empty space on the bottom of the fence.
  • If children will be playing outside, do not install fencing with spikes that could be harmful.
  • If possible, do not install a fence without a foundation (anchor pile or metal posts) in loose soil; the fence could soon become unstable.
  • Choose a fence chiefly for functional reasons rather than aesthetic ones.

Installation

Depending on the length of the area to fence and the panel width of the selected model, calculate the materials you will need for one section of the fence (post, rails, boards, and trellis) then multiply that figure by the number of sections you need to install the entire fence. For each panel or section, you'll need one support post, 4 hangers per panel, plus hardware.

For each entrance (door and gate), you will need:
  • The door or gate
  • 2 hinges
  • 1 spring
  • 1 handle
  • 1 latch

The foundation

There are five different ways to put up a fence: posts sunk directly into the ground or into sonotubes, posts inserted into concrete footings, metal stakes driven into the ground, or posts secured to anchor piles. The method you choose should depend on climate conditions (i.e. frequency of strong winds) and the evenness of the ground where you plan to locate the fence. Get complete details by reading our article Choose and put in a foundation for your fence.

The steps to follow

Installing a fence is a fairly straightforward project. There are seven major steps to this project:
1. Determine the precise location of the proposed fence using stakes and string.
2. Dig post holes.
3. Insert posts according to the type of foundation chosen.
4. Measure the placement of the hangers on the posts, then install;
5. Install rails.
6. Screw boards to the rails.
7. Install accessories, if selected.

If you need help to install your fence, call on qualified professionals.

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