Unfortunately, encroachment or ignorance of property laws is no excuse for homeowners who build on someone else’s property. These lawsuits can cost thousands and create massive headaches for the average homeowner who was just trying to trim a tree, build a shed, or install fencing. Even when you’re being careful, most homeowners struggle to answer the question “How much fence do I need?”
Here’s what you need to consider before putting your money down on a fence.
Get Intimate with Your Property Lines
You can’t properly measure your yard or the fence you need unless you understand where your property lines are. You could end up in legal trouble if you go over the property line. More than that, you create animosity with your neighbors based on your disinterest in considering their property.
The area you’re surrounding has to be your property. It could belong to the city, another neighbor, or be in some state of legal limbo. Good fences make good neighbors but bad fences can make life a living hell.
Thankfully, there are county records covering every single property in your region. If going through their files and records seem like a drag or a task too challenging, don’t fret. You can hire a land surveyor to help you figure out where the lines are.
Map Out Utilities
One of the things that can destroy a homeowner’s best-laid plans is the presence of utilities or obstructions buried underground. In most cases, the utilities buried under your property don’t actually belong to you and you need to consult utility companies before doing anything.
Hammering into a line that contains clean water, sewage, or gas could ruin life for you and your neighbors. It could also be costly as you’d be liable for any damage done. This is another way to end up with a whole bunch of neighbors angry at you.
Cable and electrical lines could also be running under your property. Even if you’ve lived in the same place your whole life, there could be active or abandoned lines that you’re unaware of. Thankfully each one of these lines has to be registered with county offices.
They should be able to provide the information you need to avoid expensive and dangerous gaffe.
Get a Copy of Your Plat
If the term “plat” is brand new to you, it’s time to get acquainted with the concept. Your plat a plan that shows the features of the land that you’re on. This can help you figure out where your property line is to avoid mistakes upsetting your neighbors.
Looking at the plat with your neighbor is always a good plan. You can review the limits together to ensure that everyone agrees where lines are before anyone starts digging. Letting your neighbor know about your plans for a fence is good etiquette and also ensures there are no surprises on their part.
A plat is the best tool for avoiding any costly mistakes. Building on your neighbor’s property is one thing. Building on public property is another that could make for some serious legal headaches later on. You’ll have to remove the fence on your own dime and end up being embarrassed by not doing the research that you’re expected to do before building.
Get to Know Local Zoning Codes
States, cities, and neighborhoods all have their own guidelines when it comes to building and property modification. Building a fence can fall under these guidelines. This is the reason why you don’t see 20-foot steel fences with industrial gates in the average suburban neighborhood.
Laws might limit where fences are placed, the height they can be, or even the style. In a tightly controlled neighborhood, you might be restricted to building a fence that does little more than act as a decoration. Laws apply to both front yards and backyards.
Look into regulations before you start digging up places for your posts. It could be pretty costly to have to remove and rebuild your fence later on.
Consider Slopes and Obstructions
Along with the aforementioned underground lines, there could be massive stone settlements or tree roots that span your whole yard. Working around these requires you to adjust your measurements. Mark out any potential problems before you start ordering materials or head to a fencing specialist.
Lots of yards have contours and slopes that impact installation. You need to measure out these contours before ordering fencing. Take a string from the start of the fence line to the end. Measure both the length and the height. dividing the height by the length will give you the percentage.
When you have a sloped landscape, you have two choices, whether to “step” the fence or to “rack” the fence. Stepping means that you’ll have panels of fencing each stepping up but creating gaps underneath. If you rack your fence, the fence hugs the ground, and all of your posts and pickets are the same length.
In the end, you get two very different looking fences.
Be Careful in Measuring
Mark all of your corners by placing stakes where your fence will turn at a 90-degree angle. Measure the perimeter, using stakes as a guideline. If you’re using a tape measure, don’t leave it slack or you’ll end up with the wrong figure.
You may have to order fence panels as whole pieces. If the panels are eight feet each and you need to cover 100 feet, you’ll need 13 panels. Buying 12 panels will only cover 96 feet, so you’ll need an extra.
Partial sections are common for fences, but you have to ensure that they’re not less than two feet long. Otherwise, your fence could look strange or imbalanced. It’s better to tighten your fence by those extra two feet than to have two-foot partial sections.
Don’t forget to account for your main gate and where you’ll access your property from.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
When you’re investing in something like a fence, you should always measure more than once. This eliminates the risk of failing to account for a variable or the kinds of gaffes we’re all prone to making our first time building something.
Each time you re-measure, go as carefully as you did the first time. Don’t assume that your first measurement was correct. If you end up with a discrepancy, measure for a third time.
You’ll be happy that you took the time to settle problems before you invested your money on a fence that’s the wrong size.
Get In Touch with a Professional
Making your initial measurements can speed up the process of getting a fence. However, you might want to get a professional involved sooner rather than later. They often have much more precise tools than the average homeowner.
Even if you’re confident in your numbers, having a second opinion to back you up is a valuable endeavor. Some less flat or sloped yards can be tricky. Having a professional look at it can also help you decide between stepping or racking your fence.
It’s a small additional fee to get a professional to measure. If you’re having a professional install the fence, they’ll be more prepared if they’ve seen the site before. In fact, the best professionals out there will often offer you a no-pressure on-site estimate to ensure your peace of mind.
Visit a Showroom
Talking with a fencing professional can ensure that your measurements on paper make sense in the real world. They can also run you through all of the material considerations you should make. In fact, many types of fencing material require all kinds of maintenance over time and depending on your climate, the wrong material could be a costly mistake.
They can review your measurements and ensure you’re getting the right amount of all materials. Being able to ask final questions before ordering fencing and paying for installation will be useful to first-time fence buyers. There are all kinds of details that the average homeowner overlooks but that fence professionals know about.
Still Wondering “How Much Fence Do I Need?”
Figuring out “how much fence do I need?” is as much of an existential question as it is a literal number. Knowing how much fence you need could be a question of how much space you need from your neighbors versus how much land your fence has to cover. The answer is partially up to county record keepers and partially up to you.
Not yet decided on which fence is best for your home? Download this free guide: