Grren Scene

The Right Walls to Shut Out the World

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fences and walls add stability, enclosure and additional design elements to a property. They mark boundaries, keep children and pets safely inside, and provide comfort and privacy.

Barriers can be inviting or intimidating. Psychologically, low barriers (three to four feet) denote privacy, but are inviting. Tall fences or walls (six to 10 feet) tell people to keep out.

Fences and walls should flow with the landscape. Don't let them dominate your property. Plantings make barriers appear less conspicuous.

If you don't want an enclosed space, use short sections of fencing spaced intermittently. A section or two around a patio or other private space may be enough to add contrast and create interest. A wide range of fencing is available in wood, metal, plastic and recycled materials.

Most jurisdictions require a building permit before fences can be installed. Call your local government to find out rules on height and other requirements.

Here are some ways that I have built fences and walls:

-- Crushed gravel base: The best method for do-it-yourself fence installation because it is done dry, without concrete, and can hold fence posts firmly. Wooden fences are especially susceptible to rot at ground level. Concrete can hold moisture around a post and encourage decay.

To set a wooden post, place the pressure-treated four-by-four inch or six-by-six inch post two feet into the ground, digging a hole with a posthole digger or auger. Tamp three-quarter-inch to inch-and-a-half size crushed gravel firmly in the hole around the post to keep the area well drained. This will also hold the pole solidly in place and keep it from rotting. Use a level to keep the post plumb -- that is, perpendicular to the ground.

-- Concrete base: Sometimes it's not practical to use stone because it will not set the post securely enough. Concrete can be poured any thickness and depth depending on the sturdiness required. Metal poles must be anchored in concrete for chain-link fences. Tightly stretch the fence from one post to another, after the concrete has hardened, and only if it withstands the tension. Wrought-iron fencing also requires permanent nonmoveable concrete supports. Always use a level and set posts plumb.

In general, fences between a house and the front of the property must allow clear lines of sight -- crucial to see pedestrians and traffic -- and should be lower than 40 to 48 inches. If fence heights behind the front wall of a house are dictated by local government, the maximum allowable height typically ranges from six to seven feet. So, support posts should be eight feet long, so there's two feet or more in the ground.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company