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Cover story: Fence types change, popularity stays

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Spending more time outside is a priority for most homeowners looking to take advantage of the warm summer months. While some prefer an open look for their yards, many homeowners choose to add a fence to increase privacy and security and help mark property boundaries.

There are a variety of types of fences, but experts say homeowners should choose a style that complements their home's architecture and blends in well with the landscape.

Evan Winston of Hercules Fence in Jessup, Md., and Northern Virginia says wood fences are still the most popular by far for homes and also are the most cost-effective. Wood fencing is flexible, allowing for fences of various sizes, and can come in almost any color, so the fence can blend in easily with the house and trim.

Mr. Winston says pressure-treated cedar fences are preferred by many homeowners because of their resistance to moisture. Many also say that a wood fence provides the most attractive option if the goal is to create a private backyard retreat. However, experts say homeowners should remember that some maintenance is required on a wood fence to keep it looking fresh.

When it comes to size, Mr. Winston says many homeowners opt for a 6-foot-tall privacy fence in the backyard. He says some choose to combine that fence with a 4-foot fence in the front.

"Although wood is still preferred in this market, we also do a fair amount of vinyl fences, and it is gaining popularity," Mr. Winston says.

The fact that vinyl is weather resistant and nearly maintenance-free has encouraged more homeowners to look into vinyl fencing options, he says.

Bruce Beauchump, president of Mid-Atlantic Deck and Fence in Anne Arundel County, says that over the past five years he's noticed more of a demand for vinyl fences.

"They require less maintenance, look great and come in four colors, including white, tan, gray and khaki," he says.

Mr. Beauchump adds that a new type of vinyl fencing that's made to look like wood grain is available for homeowners who prefer the look of a wood fence.

Vinyl fences, however, come with a bigger price tag. Mr. Beauchump points out that, depending on the style, a vinyl fence can cost 30 percent to 40 percent more than wood.

Edith Pulscak, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Fort Washington, Md., agrees that vinyl fences are becoming popular and says homeowners sometimes add lattice accents to the top to make them more attractive. She warns, however, that the colors can fade over time.

"When new, they look great," she says, but adds that she has noticed some white fences have turned shades of green in humid weather.

Mr. Winston says he recently has been installing a lot of ornamental fences. Most often found in black, these steel and aluminum fences have been around for hundreds of years.

"The price of steel has increased, but aluminum prices have been more stable and provide a good value," he says.

The wrought-iron fence is gaining in popularity in more upscale neighborhoods, according to Ms. Pulscak, who says, "It looks classy but is expensive."

Minimal maintenance is needed on these ornamental fences, and they also provide an open and airy look while still keeping the yard enclosed.

Sustainability is a buzzword these days, and it's no different when it comes to fences. Like elsewhere in housing, one of the biggest trends in fencing is that homeowners are looking for sustainable fencing solutions.

The American Fence Association (AFA) says contractors and manufacturers are working together to meet "green" demands without dramatically altering the material or construction costs, while at the same time retaining the aesthetics and longevity of fencing.

Contractors are turning to new materials, such as bamboo, that minimize the impact on the environment. The AFA says reclaimed lumber also can make for an attractive fence.

Although some homeowners would rather not fence in their yard and favor an open, no-boundary look, this does not appear to be a trend, according to industry experts, who say many homeowners still like the privacy and security of having a fenced-in yard.

Mr. Beauchump says he thinks that with people opting to travel less and stay home during the summer months, they are looking to create a private sanctuary in their backyard.

The smaller the lot, the greater the need for a privacy fence, according to Ms. Pulscak, who adds that it is especially true in summer with the popularity of outdoor cooking and entertaining.

"A fence is especially necessary when one has dogs; also, some families feel their younger children can play more safely with a fenced yard," Ms. Pulscak says. She also says some gardeners prefer to have a fence to keep out the neighborhood pets.

Experts warn homeowners to check with their homeowners association before deciding what kind of fence to buy. The HOA often mandates what types of fences are allowed.

Having a fence can attract buyers to a home, especially an attractive fence that lends itself nicely to the backyard, helping create a parklike setting.

"A fence in good condition is a good selling feature," Ms. Pulscak says.

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