This article was crafted with the help of John Belli from Tru-Link Fence

A fence may seem like an uncomplicated structure, but building one comes with a unique list of concerns. According to John Belli, president of Tru-Link Fence in the Chicagoland area, many of these issues relate to the initial stages of fence construction projects, when homeowners are choosing a site for their fence and selecting materials.

Permission to Board

Many homeowners may be surprised to learn they need a building permit to construct a fence, but that requirement is normal in many parts of the country. “In the Chicagoland area,” says John, “most towns require them, and most towns require an applied survey to be submitted with the permit application as well.” Rather than presenting a bureaucratic hassle, John sees applying for a permit as an easy opportunity for homeowners to ensure their project is done properly. “Permits are fairly simple to get and allow you to check with your local municipality to make sure that you’re abiding by their codes,” says John. “And the required survey is very important to make sure the fence is being installed in the correct location—within the property lines of the homeowner.”

Municipal governments aren’t the only ones interested in fences. During the initial stages of a fence construction project, John also advises people to check with their homeowners’ association. “Almost anybody who lives in a planned community is going to have rules that might vary from the town at large,” he says.

Finally, for the do-it-yourselfers, John urges homeowners to call a utilities locator to mark their utility lines before breaking ground on a new fence. Marking utilities is a simple safety measure, but John notes that it is “one very big thing that a lot of people forget to do.” There are many utility locating services across the country as well as a federally mandated “Call Before You Dig” hotline, 811. “It’s free,” John points out. “It does not cost the homeowner anything. And you should call this service because the last thing you want to do is hit an electric line and get hurt.” John says that fence contractors are well aware of the need to be cautious around underground utility lines, and they will likely contact a utility locating service on the homeowner’s behalf before starting any work. “As contractors, we know that in some states it might even be a law to ‘call before you dig.’”

Material Concerns

Even after you survey your property, receive a building permit, and mark your utilities, the planning stage of fence building still isn’t quite over. According to John, the selection of fence-building materials is crucial, and not only to achieving the right look or making sure your fence provides privacy, contains animals, or fulfills some other purpose; the materials also determine the lifespan of the fence and influence the amount of maintenance you will have to perform. John explains the varying durability of different materials below:

  • Wood: “Maintenance really comes into play with wood fences. Weather and age affect wood the most out of any material used,” says John. Homeowners can cope with the effects by choosing the right type of wood for their regional climate. “Generally, you buy wood that grows and survives in the environment where you’re going to install the fence. If the wood can thrive in the area that you’re putting it, then it’s probably a good species to use.”
  • Vinyl: John notes that manufacturers tout vinyl as maintenance free. “You don’t have to paint it, and it maintains its color. Certain manufacturers even add elements to their vinyl fence products to make sure they won’t fade or yellow from the sun.” Although the initial investment may be higher than other materials, modular vinyl fences are also easily and cheaply repaired.
  • Iron: Iron is obviously very durable—according to John, it could last a hundred years. However, iron is also relatively expensive and vulnerable to the elements in humid climates, coastal regions, or places where salt is used to de-ice frozen surfaces. “Here in Chicago, one of the things we tell people is, ‘Expect some rust.’ Homeowners should go out every couple of years and spot-check their iron fence, use a wire brush and sandpaper on any rust spots, and then restore the spots with primer and new paint.”
  • Chain-link: John admits that chain-link fences aren’t always beautiful, but they’re resilient, effective, and low maintenance. “It may not look aesthetically pleasing,” he says, “but for the most part, a chain-link fence can be repaired in almost any circumstance.” Chain-link fences also withstand most climates, and they successfully contain smaller pets that can sometimes wriggle through picket or rail fences.

As far as finding a material to complement a fence’s particular purpose, John says homeowners often have to weigh many different priorities. “Are older kids kicking a soccer ball in your yard? Do you live in the city, in a downtown area where there’s a lot of foot traffic around your fence? What size animal are you trying to keep in?” Those questions, as well as cost, maintenance, and aesthetic issues, must all be answered. Ultimately, John says that having an expert’s help in developing a plan that accommodates all your concerns is one of the most important benefits of hiring a contractor to install your fence.

The Pros of a Contractor

Some of the other reasons for hiring a contractor may surprise homeowners. For one thing, contractors have access to materials unavailable to most homeowners. “A lot of people don’t realize that there are several grades of fence-building materials. If you compare the products at a big-box store with the ones that your local fence contractor would have, you’re going to find that the contractor’s posts, for example, will be thicker, and the method of installation and assembly will produce a sturdier fence.”

Contractors also know the right questions to ask about potential materials, says John. “Are you buying powder-coated materials? Are you buying a UV inhibitor? What’s the warranty on the coating? Contractors are familiar with all the warranties and industry standards.” Homeowners may not be able to attain a professional level of expertise, but professional contractors will be able to bring them up to speed on industry standards and solutions in order to choose the best possible option.

The List Goes On…

Obviously, there are a surprising number of details that must be addressed before you even begin digging post holes, from how to determine the size of your fence gate (make sure it can accommodate landscapers or a riding lawnmower, if need be) to what time of year you should install—John says that fence contractors may offer sales in the fall and winter, after their busier summer season. Homeowners should be aware of the many options available to them, and then collaborate with a trustworthy and knowledgeable professional to create a fence that fulfills all their needs.

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This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Tru-Link Fence, a Best Pick in Fences in Chicago. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.