Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Apr 29, 2019 | Home Maintenance

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Do you remember Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” from high school English? He spends some time contemplating whether or not “good fences make good neighbors” – today, this question seems easy enough to answer. A well-maintained fence can ease tension along a property line, as long as both parties are communicating openly and honestly.

Spring makes us think a lot about our yards, landscaping opportunities, and how nice a white picket fence would look beside the driveway. Here, we’ll review the kinds of fences out there, how a good fence benefits your home, and why it’s a good idea to talk (nicely) to those who share your property lines before erecting any barriers.

We’ll also answer a few common questions that often come up around fences and your homeowners insurance coverage, like “Does homeowners insurance cover fences?” and “Does my homeowners insurance cover my fence if a tree breaks it to smithereens?” to ease your mind.

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Fences 101: Why Install a Fence?

A fence won’t necessarily add value to your property, but there are many good reasons to install one. Maybe you want more privacy at your backyard barbeques. Maybe the neighborhood deer are too fond of your garden. A fence can be a great way to increase your own comfort by adding:

  • Privacy. Do you enjoy doing yoga outdoors in the morning light? Do you have a hot tub that you don’t want to share with the neighbors? Both are valid reasons to put up a fence.
  • Security / safety. A fence at its most basic keeps uninvited folks off your property. It creates an obstacle between your home and would-be burglars. Plus, if you have a swimming pool, it is a necessary boundary to protect the public.
  • Clear boundaries. Perhaps you’re concerned about a neighbor encroaching on your property line, or maybe it’s question of public use. If you live next to a school bus stop and the neighborhood kids have been tearing up the grass on your corner while they wait each morning, adding a fence can help enforce your property line.
  • Peace and quiet. If your house is located in a city where there’s heavy traffic or out in the suburbs near a major roadway, noise pollution can have a serious impact on your health and stress levels. The right fence can add soundproofing to make your outdoor and indoor spaces more comfortable.

What Kind of Fence Is Right for Your Property?

There are many kinds of fences – the right choice will depend on your motivations, your needs, and your budget.

If you’ve always dreamed of having a white picket fence, that’s probably available to you. If you’re looking for a simple chain-link fence to establish a barrier between your garage access and the alley behind it, you know what to buy! Before you go to the hardware store, consider these four factors:

  1. Location. Where do you want to place your fence? Are you using it to mark a property line, or do you want an ornamental length of fencing along your garden? Once you know where you’d like to place it, measure the space and map your design.
  2. Purpose. Are you trying to keep your dog safe in your backyard or are you trying to block noise from the adjacent freeway? Different goals will lead you to very different materials.
  3. Height. Is your fence meant to keep out strangers or is it a decoration meant to add that last touch of quaintness to your homestead? A low two-rail fence will not protect against intruders the way a five- or seven-foot fence will.
  4. Material. The intended function of your fence will do a lot of determine what materials you pick. If you’re struggling to decide between vinyl or wood, cost may be the primary factor, but you should also consider longevity, as well as the cost to repair over time.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to consider the cost of maintenance. Wood and vinyl require cleaning, while stone may require weeding. Wood also needs to be resealed, stained, or painted periodically.

Over time, all fences will degrade in some way. Knowing how much effort you’re willing to put in will help you determine what kind of fence is right for your home.

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When Is a Fence Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Your fence is likely included in your insurance under Coverage B, also known as other structures insurance. This means that as part of your homeowners insurance, your fence is protected against the same risks as your home, including protection in case of fire, theft, vandalism, and wind, among other things.

Of course, if your fence is vandalized or someone drives their car through it, you should first file a police report to make sure the incident and damage are documented there.

A Note on Other Structures Coverage

Other structures insurance is typically calculated as 10 percent of the value of the main structure. If your house is insured for $175,000, your fence and garage would be protected for up to $17,500.

This percentage can be adjusted to add extra protection. Make sure you compare the value of your other structures to your coverage.

When a Fence Isn’t Covered by Your Homeowners Insurance

Wear and tear on your fence isn’t covered by your homeowners insurance. It’s likely your responsibility to make repairs if your fence starts to lean over time, if the footings come out of the ground due to erosion, or if you start to see signs of mildew or rot.

As with any structure you own, it’s important to take care of your fence, whether that means removing debris from the chainlink after a long winter, spraying it down to cut on the possibility of rust, or whitewashing the wood slats, so make sure you weave your fence into your regular home maintenance plan.

Another note: In the event that your fence sustains major damage from a flood, it would likely not be covered your homeowners insurance or flood insurance. If you live in a place with a high flood risk, consider the cost of replacement before deciding to install a fence.

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How to Research Your Property Line and Any Restrictions

Before installing a fence, there are four things you can do to confirm your property line and restrictions:

  1. Check your deed. You’ll find a written description of your lot and its boundaries.
  2. Review the survey. This can be found in the town or city records if you’re having trouble digging up a copy of your sale documents. Some towns even have them available online.
  3. Hire a surveyor. If you have any doubts about where your property lines are and you’re planning on investing in a major structure, whether that be a shed, a new fence, or an addition to your house, consider the cost of hiring a surveyor a sound investment.
  4. Check your local regulations. Whether that’s within your city or in your homeowner’s association, make sure you know the height restrictions that apply to the place where you’re dreaming of putting up a fence. You can typically find this information online or at the town hall. Depending on where you live, you may need a permit or you may encounter height limits. It’s always better to be ahead of this process than to try to make corrections (and pay fines) after the fact.

Before you embark on any home improvement, you should know what’s yours and what belongs to someone else. It’s common for local jurisdictions to have explicit rules about how far a fence must be set back from the property line. If you don’t know those rules, you can’t design your fence.

Familiarize yourself with your yard and your local rulebook before you make any financial or material commitments.

How to Discuss the Property Line: Communication Tips

While you likely have the right to put a fence on your land if you’d like to, it’s a good idea to talk to your neighbors before making any major changes to your property that may impact their views. This isn’t to say that you should ask for their permission, but it’s wise to have a frank conversation in which you describe your plans.

If your new fence will obstruct their views, they may be upset. Your home is an investment; it’s the place you go back to at the end of each day, and it’s important that you feel comfortable there – and the same is true for your neighbors. With this in mind:

  • Be proactive. Let your neighbor know you’re considering adding a fence to your property as far in advance as possible. If your neighbor walks over to your property line to ask what you’re doing because they see your contractor starting to dig footings, you’ve waited too long to discuss your new fence calmly. In this case, if your neighbor has any doubts about the position of your fence, you could find yourself facing delays while you hire a surveyor. And in the meantime, you’re stuck with a neighbor whose trust you may have lost.
  • Be direct. We’re not kidding. Let your neighbor know as much as you can so they know what to expect. If one day a 10-foot green vinyl wall appears just across the property line beside their living room windows, they may feel distressed. Be clear and detailed when you share your plans: if you’re building a fortress for privacy, say so. It’s better to know in advance to set expectations and when appropriate, provide room for compromise.
  • Be kind. You plan to live in your home on your land for many happy years and so do your neighbors. Treat them with the same decency and respect you’d like to receive.

Neighborly disputes can have a huge impact on how you feel in your space. It’s in everyone’s best interest that things remain calm and considerate. If you can’t avoid blocking their view, which may impact their home’s value, you’ll need to carefully think through your plan before letting them know what changes are ahead.

A functional or decorative fence can reinforce the visual boundary between neighbors’ properties without interrupting anyone’s day. The key is to start with an honest conversation and make sure your intentions are clear. Of course, it can’t hurt to bring a plate of cookies when you go next door to chat.