Nearly everyone has experienced them at one point or another — neighbors who cannot resist the urge to snoop, whether discreetly from their own windows or through outright trespassing. One way to prevent this is through construction of a privacy fence.
According to Dave Yoquelet, general manager at Polyvinyl Sales, Inc., Bremen, some characteristics of a good privacy fence include height, thickness and materials. “A lot of times, some of the materials on a privacy fence are what we call thin-walled,” Yoquelet says. “They won’t hold up against the wind.”
He recommends a thickness of at least seven-eighths inch on the vertical portion of the fence. As far as height, most privacy fences are 6 feet tall, though some can be 7 or even 8 feet high. However, Yoquelet says, the taller the fence, the more reinforcement it requires. “When you get to that height, then you need to add something as far as support within the post itself to carry the weight of the wind resistance,” he says. For taller fences, Polyvinyl adds an aluminum post stiffener for strength.
While material is important, the installation process is also crucial. “Everyone’s seen a fence that’s not level — where one post is higher than the others,” Yoquelet says. “That has to do with how it was initially installed. We always recommend going down below the frost line and we always recommend using two bags of concrete per hole. That concrete is not poured to where it goes all the way to the ground surface. You need to leave a good 9 to 13 inches. That way it acts as an insulator during the winter months and holds the post in position.”
Not everyone likes the look of a solid privacy fence. For those who prefer something a little more aesthetic, there are options. “There’s a semi-privacy fence where you can have, maybe the bottom two-thirds of it as a solid panel, and the top one-third has a lattice appearance to it or square spindles,” Yoquelet says.
Fencing is not the only choice for backyard privacy. There are also a number of live options to choose from. Judy DePue, FAPLD certified designer, New Vistas Landscaping, Goshen, notes that upright arborvitae is the most common form of live privacy fencing. However, there are drawbacks.
“The deer love them in the winter,” she said. “So I do not normally use those because we have a lot of deer pressure in our area.”
Instead, DePue uses a green variety of upright juniper. “The blue varieties tend to have too many fungal problems,” she says. “My favorites are Spartan and Fairview. Spartan is more narrow than Fairview, but they both make a nice privacy hedge if you do not want to take up a lot of room in your yard.”
DePue recommends different types of evergreens in the same hedge, which makes for more visual appeal. “I try to use plants that have burgundy leaves, green and white variegated leaves, gold leaves. Some of them turn in the fall, so that adds interest. You have taller ones in the background and you have shorter ones in the foreground. Stagger evergreens in the back, leaving them room to grow so your cover is not completely gone in the winter.”
Space is crucial DePue says. Trees and shrubs, by their very nature, grow. “I’ve seen beautiful ones done with blue spruces and white pines, but you have to have a lot of room because they’re going to get anywhere from 20 to 30 feet wide,” she says. “White pines cannot be near the road because they cannot survive salt, so if your privacy area sticks out toward the street, you would want to go with a blue spruce.”
PROS AND CONS
There are advantages and disadvantages to either privacy option. “The advantage of the fence is, it takes up less room,” she says. “But you usually put plants in front of the fence anyway.”
Living hedges require a measure of care, like trimming, watering and weeding around the bottom. “You don’t have to do those things with a fence, but if the plants bring you enjoyment from looking at them when they’re blooming or when their leaves are beautiful, then that’s important.”
For others, she adds, it simply comes down to preference. “They may see a beautiful plant and it just makes them smile,” she says. “There are other people who don’t even see plants. Their world is full of other things they’re born to notice.”
Live hedges also require a measure of patience as they are smaller when first planted and are typically spaced farther apart to allow for growth, so complete privacy is not necessarily achieved right away.
STOP RIGHT THERE
Before starting a project, it is important for the homeowner to take into account any rules or ordinances their town or city may have. Some places require a permit. Others may have height restrictions, such as prohibiting privacy fencing in front yards.
Privacy fences and hedges require some form of digging, whether it is to drive posts or plant a tree or shrub. Indiana and Michigan residents must call 811 at least two business days prior to digging to find out where electric, gas and other utility lines may be buried.
Polyvinyl Sales, Inc.
Vinyl By Design Inc.
New Vistas Landscaping
Dogwood Hills Tree Farm