“Everyone pushes a falling fence” Chinese proverb.
So what do you do if your fence is falling down or even worse, what if it's happening much faster than you thought? Chances are you inherited someone else’s neglect, or maybe you let the first fence go without upkeep and now it's beyond repair. Or is it?
A lot of my neighbors are in that boat and we were too, that's why I want to share some great tips about replacing and modifying wooden fence designs, plus give you an idea of the costs involved. Further down this page, there's also a great example of how to use your fence in combination with an arbor to create more privacy in your small yard landscaping.
Before you leave, please visit the companion pages to this one: wooden fence gates and lattice fence design, to see how two neighbors recycled their old cedar fence and saved a fortune in the process.
Once you find out the cost to replace a wooden fence design, you're going to faint, that's why a "greener" option is to repair it first and keep the green in your wallet! First, we need to look at why wooden fences rot in the first place.
1. Wet dirt rots wooden fence designs and invites termites so keep dirt a couple inches below the fence line.
2. Too much water. Unsealed wood in humid damp places can mold and rot bringing with it carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and termites who'll thank you for the delectable meal. Also, if you use poorly designed irrigation in your yard, imagine what happens when your wooden fences get blasted several times a week ~ for years. Seal wooden fences every five years (or sooner) depending on local weather conditions. Fall is a good time to prune everything near the fence and seal it going into winter.
3. Years of sun damage with no maintenance dry's the wood. Think of what people's skin looks who spend a lot of time in sun without protection. Dry, cracked, maybe wrinkled? Just like the oils in your skin, when wood dries out it ages quickly, so moisturize and protect your wood periodically. (TWP is a great product I'll go into further down)
4. Invasive vines, trees and even some tropical foliage can quickly become overgrown and destroy wooden fence designs. Not only that, some have roots that can damage your home, sewer lines, and concrete, too.
Good thing you're sitting down already! Getting wooden fence designs installed can be anywhere from $25. to $32. per linear foot (PLF), excluding painting/staining. Clear cedar costs more as does running a redwood flat cap on top of the fence. (finished cost of fence below $42. PLF)
The back view of a wooden fence design that runs along the top terrace. Made of clear cedar, it's stained with TWP in a color also called cedar, while fence posts and caps are painted with an outdoor acrylic latex in the same brown as the house trim.
A back yard fence project usually ends up being two hundred linear feet or more, and with the above calculations in mind that would be $5,200. to $6,400., plus tax, and then you still have to paint or stain it! If you have handy family members that can install it, you'll save almost half that cost on labor.
Pre-made, unfinished, wooden fence designs typically come in 6 to 8 foot wide sections and varying heights up to 6 feet tall. The cheapest cedar panels I saw in 6' H x 8' W (without a cap) cost around $10. per linear foot (PLF), while lattice fence designs (12" lattice cap built in) run upwards of $16. PLF.
How tall do you want your fence to be?
Most cities have ordinances that dictate maximum fence heights for front and back yards. Before you replace your existing fence check to see how high it actually is.
We were shocked to find out wood fence was only 5’ tall, way too short for privacy fencing. What were the builders thinking? Were they cutting corners to save cash, thinking people wouldn't notice they were shorted a foot? I felt like that guy Wilson, from the 90’s sitcom “Tool Time” because my whole head could be seen above the fence. Not only that, everyone's windows were even more visible and with houses 15 feet apart, that's just creepy!
Since we wanted more privacy and so did our neighbors, we decided to go the 6 foot high max allowed for back yards by our local city ordinance, and then used strategically placed arbors and trellis covered in vines to get it even higher.
Privacy fence designs keep people from looking into your yard and lattice combined with non invasive vines is great for that. This yard was especially challenging because it backs an apartment building. Adding a pergola design that meets the fence and covering theo whole thing in vines created the perfect outdoor sanctuary. With a beautiful canopy of green, you feel safe from prying eyes, plus it's cooler and quieter.
You can buy sections of "framed" redwood lattice in 1' to 2' heights x 8' wide, and then mount them to the top of your fence. Planting non invasive, fast growing vines in front of a trellis will allow them to work up to the lattice and weave through.
Lattice was added to the top of this wooden fence design along with an arbor, both of which are covered in fast growing vines for privacy. Planting banana trees along the fence was a mistake because they multiply like crazy, and can grow 15 feet in one year!
If you only need small sections of fence to have more privacy, try mounting one or more lattice covered fence panels in front of your existing fence. One of my neighbors did this, installing it a couple feet off the ground so it raises that area to 8 feet. Technically it's not part of the fence, but an "arbor" so it doesn't violate the max 6' fence rule some cities have.
A great book to check out is “Trellises and Arbors” by Steve Cory and the editors of Sunset Books, chapter 4 in particular, choosing the right plants.
The following are examples of fast growing vines that can quickly cover an arbor, lattice, or trail a fence: Akebia, Honeysuckle, Passiflora, Trumpet vines, and slower growing Madagascar jasmine. Of course many fast growing vines are also invasive, so don't plant these if you aren't going to manage them properly. For fence tops without lattice, run a cable between two eye hooks for plant tendrils to attach.
Passiflora Frederick is what you see attached to the lattice in the photo above. Fence friendly, it clings with tendrils and has edible fruit. The pulp and juice of the fruit is quite tart but with a little sweetener added, it's the perfect sweet/tart. Use in sorbets, jellies, or tropical drinks. (zones 8-10) The fruits are slightly purple when ripe and will fall off, but they get even better if you put them together in a bowl until they start to crinkle.
Read your paint or stain manufacturers instructions, but my fence averaged around 10 gallons to do one side with two coats, with good products costing at least $40 per gallon. Double that if you have to do both sides.
Watch for sales on the brands you're interested in, and if you're hiring a painter, find out what stores they're signed up with for professional discounts. My painter offered to pass his 25% discount onto us right from the beginning, giving us all his receipts so we could save them for tax purposes.
The labor costs to paint or stain wood fences will vary by the style and method of application, (whether you using a roller vs. spray gun) and using more than one color will take extra time for "cutting in". Back to the 200 linear foot model with only one side coated twice: cost for paint/stain approximately $400. cost for labor, brushes, rollers, etc. around $400-$800.
The total cost to install, stain, and paint the fence in the above example was around $38. PLF or $7,800. for 210 feet of finished fence. If all this sounds expensive, it really is, so that's why you need to take care of your wooden fence designs and re-treat them every so often.
Adding a cap across the top of your fence and painting it and the foot rails a different color than the vertical boards adds architectural interest.
If you pick the same color as your house trim, not only will it be a more pulled together look, but leftover paint can be used to freshen up faded doors, gates, or other projects like arbors and pergolas.
Do you like warm or cool colors? I like browns for contrasting fence trim because it comes in both warm and cool shades and can complement just about any color from green to blue to orange tones. Another winning combination if you'd like a dark blue fence color is gray trim. Get hold of a paint fan and take it into your yard to experiment with shades.
One reason I like the cedar tone (honey color) is that green foliage shows up strikingly well against it. We tend to be attracted to certain color palettes and when you look through my family room and into the yard, you'll see the same dark orange color repeated in the furniture. This was not intentional but it worked out very well since our backyard is an extension of our indoor living space.
Curious about vinyl fence panels? They don't have the painting or maintenance costs, and can be a green option if made from recycled materials, but they can cost twice as much as wooden fence designs. Buy what works with your budget, your conscience, and with your backyard decor in mind.
I hope you got a better idea of the steps as well as costs involved in replacing wooden fence designs. There's more pages on fences and gates, as well as lots of other back yard projects you can access in the links below.