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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Border Control: Seven Steps to Picking the Perfect Fence

“You have no idea what a big day this is for you.” I am talking to Peapod and Pippin, my dogs, breaking the big news. “Freedom awaits!” I say. Well, relative freedom.

Four brown eyes are trained on me. Ears are up. Heads cock. Peapod, the big sister, looks at Pippin, the pup, and in dog speak says, “I think we’re getting liver treats!”

“Better than liver treats!” I say. “Today, you’re getting a FENCE! And you know what that means? A yard to run around in! A border to patrol!”

They start barking and chasing their tails. They are pretty sure it’s liver treats.

High on the list of amenities DC and I sought when looking for our new home was a yard for the dogs. Our last home had a charming, but small enclosed courtyard, so the dogs’ entire experience of the outside-world took place at the end of a leash.

The new house has a yard, but no fence. The lawn opens straight onto a greenbelt so inviting that any dog with half a serving of instincts could be lured into oblivion and absorbed by the great green universe beyond -- or a busy street. So, once the sale was official in late October, a fence topped our lengthy home-to-do list.

We figured a fence would take three weeks tops. Only then did we confront the many hurdles that stood between us and border control: design decisions, approvals, contractor selection, estimates, permits, ordering of materials, the wait for an available installation crew, our first-born son. Three weeks became three months.

We knew we wanted an aluminum fence because it would blend in with our neighborhood, would keep our dogs in and intruders out, and wouldn’t block our view to the open space. We got three estimates and learned more about fence materials than I ever wanted to know.

Here’s what else I did need to know:

1. Focus on function. When choosing a fence, first decide the purpose. Do you want privacy (slats must touch) security, a border to protect your dogs or kids, a defined yard, pool safety, or all of the above? In our case we wanted to see out and keep our dogs in.

2. Pick your look. Look at your home and those around you to determine what fence style fits aesthetically. As a general rule, think Cape Cod and Georgian with picket; Tudor and craftsman with brick or stone; Spanish Mediterranean and urban traditional with metal. Ranch and farmhouse with wood.

3. Consider cost and care. Today according to the American Fence Association, the most popular residential fences are chain link, wood, vinyl and aluminum. Chain link is the most popular fencing system in the world. Though low on style, it’s also low cost and low maintenance. Wood is pretty and today many types are treated to resist insects and weather, but it will still need maintenance. Vinyl is becoming a popular alternative to wood because it requires virtually no-maintenance, but sometimes it can look a bit too synthetic. Aluminum fencing costs a bit more, but is stylish, unobtrusive and doesn’t rust. It’s a good option where privacy is not the goal, and seeing the surrounding landscape is.

4. Set your boundaries. Just like a story, every fence has two sides. Before your fence goes up, check with those who’ll be affected. You don’t want to cross any lines literally or figuratively. You will need to have a survey of your property to be sure you don’t overstep.

5. Get permission. If you live in a community with a homes’ association, as we do, find out what the restrictions are. We needed a letter from our HOA to get a permit from the city, which was also required. The fencing contractor arranged for the city utility company to come out and flag the water, electric and gas lines, so they wouldn’t get disrupted.

6. Dial in details. Walk the job with your fence contractor to be sure you agree on exactly where the fence will run, where gates will go, which way they will swing, and to determine whether you need to clear any shrubbery before the installation.

7. Wait. Once all systems are go, get in the queue. Because our area still needed a lot of fence repair post Hurricane Irma, most fence companies were scheduling five to seven weeks out.

The day the fence went up, I could hardly wait to come home from work to show Peapod and Pippin. Once home, I opened the back door wide. “Go out!” I commanded. They looked at me twice to make sure I meant it. “Yes! Go! Run!” They tip-pawed out, tentatively at first, unused to having no strings attached. Peapod made the first dash to the fence line. Pippin followed, and together they traced the new border. Pippin wasted no time lifting his leg on a fencepost to claim it. Then he made a race track around a planter bed, while Peapod rolled on her back twisting and turning trying to become one with the grass, and they both took in the feel of freedom only a fence can provide.

CAPTION: Vinyl fencing is rising in popularity as an affordable, maintenance-free alternative to wood. Photo courtesy American Fence Association.

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