Ever notice how close new homes have gotten to one another?
Production homes always have come with little lawn, in most cases to keep houses affordable and focus more on amenities. But because of the growing shortage of buildable land in most areas of the country, semi-custom and even custom homes are getting closer together.
One house that was built in Dallas in the late 1990s for an International Builders Show was a zero-lot affair -- meaning that if you weren't careful, neighbors could watch you taking a shower.
The solution was glass-block windows to capture the most light while maintaining decorum.
So as wide open spaces narrow, we need to find ways to provide guaranteed privacy and, at the same time, establish boundaries. Few buyers of new and old houses in the suburbs are willing to forgo the elbow room they didn't have in city neighborhoods.
The solution is, of course, a fence.
But not just any fence. For example, my house is on a 6,000 square foot lot. Compared with my first house, a rowhouse with no front yard and just a few feet of concrete in the back, it is spacious. Still, the house in between the two was on an eighth of an acre, with front, side and back yards.
The rowhouse back yard was separated from the next yard by a concrete block wall. The back yard of the second house was bordered by high hedges on one side, and wire and metal fences in various states of disrepair.
When a new owner removed the hedges, which blocked the sun from my garden, I was pleased until I realized that my yard was exposed on three sides, and I had absolutely no privacy.
I could have spent thousands on fences. I chose not to, relying on the good will of my neighbors. I was not disappointed.
Today, the fences surrounding the back of my property shield me from the parking lot of a medical building and flying basketballs from the kids next door. It also keeps the dog from wandering.
The front yard is not fenced in. That would be totally unwelcoming.
The fence is the standard stockade variety, and has weathered to a nice gray color. Although the medical building owns part of it and I the rest, I maintain my side of the fence, replacing rotting posts and keeping the fence straight and level.
But there are other styles of fences that might be appropriate to your needs and that enhance the beauty of your property while protecting it. One is the Williamsburg-style "convex" fence, in which the tops of the pickets are cut at angles which, when grouped together, form a hump-shaped pattern between posts.
The only way to find what you want is by checking out catalogs and websites.
Early fences were tree stumps that looked awful but served the purpose. Because the colonists were awash in lumber, they soon began making fences of chestnut posts and oak rails.
In the 17th century, when you cut the wood was important. The colonists cut the wood for their fences in August -- the second sap season -- because lumber cut at this time was found to last 50 years. Wood cut in the rest of the year lasted only 20.
Once we passed the survival stage, picket fences began to appear. People were now interested in the finer things. Most Williamsburg fences were made by cabinetmakers and wainscoters -- craftsmen with fine woodworking skills.
Early fence pickets were simply cut at an angle so that water would not freeze on the top and hasten deterioration. By the Victorian era, the fences were more ornamental and copied the detail of the houses.
Coming up to a house, the fence immediately catches your eye. If the fence isn't designed to complement the house, it looks just awful.
A cedar fence will lasts 15 to 20 years. Spruce has a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. Pressure-treated wood is typically used only for the posts, because most of the treated lumber tends to twist and warp badly.
Though historically the average fence height was 42 inches -- maybe to keep the cows out -- it is now usually four feet for a picket-and-post and six feet for a post-and-rail.
Many fence builders use aluminum, rather than galvanized, nails because they don't bleed on the fence and they don't react with the tannin in the cedar and hasten deterioration. Stain the fence rather than paint it because stain offers longer protection.