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Building a fence? Here’s the 411.

Have you been watching that old backyard fence sag more and more every year? Or, do you need to define the property around your newly built house? No matter why you’re looking into erecting a new fence, you’ve likely discovered that there are a lot of details to consider before you get started.


What is the purpose of your new fence? Is it primarily for privacy, security, looks, or animal containment? Is it going to be a brand new structure, or will it replace an older fence? Keeping these questions in mind will help you decide on fence materials, the style, and also the height of your fence.

Your budget

As with any home improvement project, getting your budget straightened out up front will go a long way toward helping you make other important decisions along the way. Whether it’s a matter of choosing a lower cost option like chain-link over a more expensive vinyl fence, or if your budget plays a major role in whether you build your own fence versus hiring a professional, you’ll want to get a solid handle on how much you can afford.

How much maintenance you’re willing to do

Maintenance is another major factor that you’ill want to keep in mind. Some fence materials are practically maintenance free, while other will need staining, cleaning, and more.

Hire a Professional or DIY?

Before you start thinking about fencing materials or discussing the matter with your neighbours (more on that to come), the first thing you need to decide is whether you want to build the fence yourself or if you’ll hire a professional to do it for you.

Fence building requires a particular  skill set and tools that many  homeowner’s do not possess. This is particularly true of homeowners living in urban and  even some suburban neighbourhoods.

While more skilled DIYers can certainly find all of the tools and supplies they need (for purchase and rent) at their local home improvement centre, it is also perfectly acceptable to check your local listings for the fence building pro nearest you. Whatever you believe will provide the best results.

Fence Style and Materials

Whether you choose to build your own fence, or hire a contractor to do it for you, you will still need to think about the style of fence you want and what you would like it to be made of.  Here is a look at the different options:

Chain Link Fencing


Chain link is the most affordable residential fencing option available in Canada. It also requires very little maintenance and lasts for a long time.

“Chain Link Fence is the most popular, versatile and widely accepted fence system for residential, commercial and industrial applications.” (Phoenix Fence Corp)

The majority of chain link fences are made of galvanized steel and consist of the frame, mesh, and fittings.

In addition to the plain galvanized steel, residential chain link fences are often available in a few different colours, such as green, black, and white.  This colour comes from a vinyl or powder coating.

Note – if you’re trying to get reluctant neighbours to pay for their share of a new fence, most city by-laws only require them to pay the cost of the basic chain link option.

Wood Fencing

There are several different wood species used for fence building throughout North America, such as pine, cedar, and redwood. In Canada, there are two types of wood most commonly used.

Western Red Cedar

This popular, aromatic wood species is more than just beautiful, it’s also insect and rot-resistant. It is also an ideal choice to stand up to the extremes of this country’s weather.

When selecting cedar for your fence, you will notice that there are different grades of wood available. This grading systems considers several factors such as knots and colour, and assigns a grade of Clear, #1, or #2 –with Clear being most desireable and #2 being the least.

Oftentimes, #2 is not recommended by fence installation professionals. However, there are others who offer it as a bargain option. You need to be aware that grade #2 cedar may contain some knot holes and /or a series of unperforated knots. It may also be prone to warping.

Pressure Treated Pine

Pressure treated wood is typically spruce/pine/fir wood that has been specially preserved. Preservation is essential to prevent insect damage, decay, and weathering. Pressure treated pine is the most popular option for residential fences due to its widespread availability and lower cost.

Staining, sealing, moistening, stripping, and cleaning are all maintenance techniques that are commonly used and recommended for pressure treated pine fences. Be sure to maintain it regularly to stave off warping and cracking.

Wood Fence Styles

Wood fences can be erected in three basic styles: privacy, ranch, and gothic picket. Five of the most common privacy fence styles are 3-rail estate, dog ear, shadow box, board on board, and basketweave. This type of fencing can be erected either vertically or horizontally.

Adding lattice to the top of the fence is another way to add more privacy.

Composite Fencing


Source: Fiberon

The latest fencing material option on the Canadian marketplace is composite fencing. Composite fencing is made from a mixture of wood fibers and plastic, which is often sustainably produced from recycled sources.

Composite fence boards have the look of traditional wood fencing, but never need to be painted, stained, or sealed. They are also resistant to cracking and splitting. In fact, many manufacturers offer warranties to this nature.

This innovative new option features realistic wood grain textures and comes in colours that look true to nature. It can be installed in the same arrangements as wood, in the styles of privacy, ranch, and gothic picket.

Ornamental Metal

Ornamental fencing can be made of a few different types of metal –  aluminum, wrought iron, or steel. Regardless of the material, this style of fencing is attractive and strong. If privacy is your primary objective, it may not be the ideal choice.

Vinyl and PVC Fencing

Vinyl fencing is an attractive, no maintenance option that offers maximum privacy and protection. This style of fencing allows homeowners to enjoy the same accents, privacy screens, pickets, and other options commonly available with wood fencing, but without the maintenance. It requires no painting and is splinter-free.

Vinyl is typically one of the more expensive fencing options, at times costing as much as 70% more than a basic wood fence.

Working with your neighbours and municipality

Fence building is a unique home improvement project, due the proximity of this structure to your property and your neighbours. This means that the responsibility for maintaining an existing fence and paying for a new or replacement fence should be shared.

Most local fence cost sharing by-laws state that adjoining property owners much share the basic cost of repairing or replacing a fence. Here is an example of what the by-law may state:

“Neighbours must share the “basic cost” of constructing a new division fence. This basic cost is defined as the cost of erecting a 4 foot chain link fence to minimum construction standards. The cost to repair, maintain or reconstruct existing division fences must be shared equally by both property owners, based upon the type of fence in place.” (Town of Whitby)

In order to have the by-law enforced, there are specific steps that must be taken prior to erecting or repairing the fence.  This typically begins with formally informing your neighbour(s) of your intent to repair or replace the fence at least 14 days in advance.

Check your local by-laws for the most accurate fence cost sharing information.

*Special Note – if you plan to install the fence yourself, be sure to call a pipes and utilities locator, such as Ontario One Call, prior to digging!

Find Fence Contractors

Visit the fence contractor listings here on to find local professionals in your area.

Featured Image Source: Big Red Cedar

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