Whatever thing it is that doesn't love a wall, a part of human nature-some fundamental need-exists that does. That need is for boundaries-to mark, to seclude, to surround, to protect. Fences, by creating a boundary (be it a strong physical boundary or a gentler visual one), meet those needs. They mark limits-an edge where one world ends and another begins-secluding what remains within so that it stays safe, secure, nurtured, and refreshed.
Fences also communicate a functional message. They organize the environment, shape space in a more clearly defined way, and form or guide a pattern of use that supports your ideas of what home life can and should be. Thus, the boundaries you create can be as much a service to you and your household as they are to others who use the site or who simply enjoy passing by.
Though a fence is a simple structure, it has a lot of visual impact, which means that it can play a significant part in the impression your property creates and in the feeling it gives. When a fence is thoughtfully planned, carefully designed, and well crafted, that impression can be strikingly beautiful no matter how simple or complex a style it is. Your home and property afford more comfort and become a more pleasant place to live. And the expenditure of energy, time, and money yield a tremendous return for the effort. When you're through building your fence, perhaps you'll discover that good fences really do make good neighbors after all.
And every fence that was ever built, no matter what its style, had a purpose-a job to do . . . perhaps several jobs at the same time. The circumstances which prompted fence building in other times and other places may have differed from those we specifically face today, but at the heart of all these circumstances, some basic human needs continue to motivate us to build fences.
In order to build the right fence- one that serves your purpose-it's important to clarify what your needs are. For the moment, put the issue of style aside. The first questions to ask yourself are functional ones: What is the purpose of the fence? What prob¬lems do you want it to solve? What are the needs of your household? How can the new fence improve the site? In short, what are your practical goals? Do you want it to:
Depending on its design, a fence can serve several purposes at the same time.
Two important legal considerations go hand in hand with fence building: building codes and property lines.
Many communities have established building codes that define basic design and construction requirements for fencing. Their purpose is to ensure that individual actions don't infringe on the rights of others-rights to bodily safety, fresh air, sunlight, views, and other environmental factors that might affect the public good.
To find out what, if any, requirements or restrictions will pertain to your new fence, call the local building inspector, who will provide appropriate guidelines. If there are good reasons to relax the requirements in favor of your plans, the building department can tell you how to get a variance. The aim of the department is to be of service, and the advice, help, and guidance given are free.
It is important that you know the location of your property lines; if any part of the new fence should encroach on your neighbor's property, you will be the one responsible for moving it in case your neighbor objects. Unless you and your neighbor jointly own and share responsibility for the fence (outlined in writing), the new fence installation must be wholly within the bounds of your own property, concrete footings included.
Finding the property lines, the legal boundaries, can be tricky. Boundary markers might be as transient as a wooden stake, which rots out; or a stone or metal pipe, which can be knocked out of place, covered with earth, or otherwise concealed.
In many instances you will be able to locate the boundaries from a boundary map which might be on file with the lending institution that handles your mortgage, or at your local building department. Alternately, you may be able to locate the boundaries by following the written description of your property lines outlined in your deed. If you can't get a clear idea that way, your neighbors' understanding of where the boundaries are can also help you establish a work-able fence line. But be aware that this joint determination is more a "gentleman's agreement" than actual boundary facts; so it is best to get the shared understanding in writing for everyone's sake-including that of future owners.
If it is difficult to reach an understanding of the boundaries, and you'd like to ensure that no future disputes arise, you might opt to have your site resurveyed (for a fee) by a surveyor or civil engineer.