We spend most of our time in our backyard right now since the weather is so divine. The problem though, is that there’s no privacy! You can see through all the neighbors yards and well, it kind of makes having a nice place to eat and swim and relax not as enjoyable. So we finally started fixing that! Here’s how to build a privacy fence.
how to build a privacy fence- before
Here’s the before. You can also see that the first thing my husband did was cut down trees on our fence line. We needed those down so that the new fence could go up. And you can also see why we’re building our fence. I’d rather not see in to my neighbor’s yard and all their stuff.
Side note, a reader sent me this saying and I couldn’t agree more- “Good fences make good neighbors.”
We decided to go with a 6′ fence for the most privacy as possible. In the front yard, we have a shorter picket fence.
- 4X4X8- 6 $5.57 each
- 2X4X8- 15 $10.77 each
- Cedar Fence Pickets- 90 $3.07 each
- Ultra Pure White Outdoor Paint-2 (satin finish) $36 each
- Concrete Mix-15 $5.48 each
- Thompson’s Waterseal $38.66
- Screws $70
Total Cost- $734.13 for a 40′ section of fence
step 1- regulations and placement
Start by checking if you need a permit from your county. Where we live, you only need a permit when building a fence if it’ll be over 7 feet. Since ours is 6′ tall, we were in the clear. I was able to Google that information quickly.
If you do end up needing a fence building permit, you can apply for one from the local city hall. The permit will show the exact rules for building a fence in the area (height, placement, color, and material selections).
Next, you’re going to want to make sure you know where your property line is. You can find that by looking at a house survey, plat, or line drawing. After you know where that is, you can then build the fence 1′-2′ in from the line so you don’t risk constructing the fence on or over the property line.
step 2-put in the posts
Next, dig the holes for the posts. Ours are 18″ deep. We spaced the posts 8′ away from each other. You’ll want to space the posts between 6′ and 8′ apart. Any further away, and you risk wind pushing the fence over. Our holes were tricky to dig (we have lots of rocks in the soil). My husband used a post hole digger to remove the dirt.
After the hole was dug, we put in the post and made sure it was level. At the top of the post you can see there’s a string that we used to make sure all the posts line up. Once the post was level and plumb, we added stakes to hold it in place. Next, we filled the hole with dry concrete and water. Make sure to follow the instructions on the concrete to get the right amounts of each.
Let the concrete cure and then remove the stakes. Note, the process of digging holes and concreting them in will probably take a few days. Especially if you have a lot of rocks or tree roots to dig around like we did.
step 3- install the rails
And now it’s time to install the rails. These are the horizontal pieces of wood that run between the posts. We went with three- one at the top, bottom, and middle for the most support possible.
To attach the rails, make sure they are level and use screws to connect them to the 4×4 posts.
Where the two rails meet on the post, they butt up together on the post. Since we started in the middle of the yard and haven’t gotten to the front of the yard, all of our rails are 8′ long. When we get to the back or front of the yard, we’ll trim the final rails to adjust to the available space.
step 4- paint the pickets
For our fence pickets, I wanted to make sure to treat both sides so that they’ll weather as well as possible for as long as possible. I decided to treat the back with a product called Thompson’s Waterseal. I had some on hand and it’s quick and easy to apply it. That went on the back of the pickets only.
For the front, I knew I wanted to paint the pickets. I struggled for days with which color to go. I was tempted to do another rainbow fence! But in the end, I decided that white is more practical. I’m still going to add a mural to the front, so stay tuned for that! I don’t love a lot of wood tones in my spaces plus painting the fence white really unifies the house and the fence!
I didn’t want to paint both sides of the posts because I know paint will require yearly maintenance to keep it looking nice. Which is fine and I’m committed to do. But I didn’t want the neighbors to have a peeling paint fence that they had to look at and/or maintain. The stained back should be able to stay as is, no maintenance required. And it matches the rest of their fence in their yard.
step 5- install the pickets
Next, it was FINALLY time to install the pickets! The key with this step is to keep the tops all level. To do this, we ran a string on the top of the 4×4 posts and lined all of the pickets up so they’re uniform.
Three screws were used to attach each picket to the rail. One on the right side of the picket and two on the left. Start on one side of the fence and work your way down. We started on the left of the fence and worked right.
We used a spacer to make sure that our pickets were spaced the same amount of space apart. For this, we just had a thin board that we placed between the pickets. Then we checked level on the top and sides before screwing the picket in place. Continue all the way down the rails.
Also, we cut the posts on an angle once the pickets were installed. This way they’re not seen above the fence line. Also, cutting them on an angle means less snow and rain will settle on the top which can cause rot.
Here is our new privacy fence in all her glory! I will admit, we need to give the front one more coat of paint. Turns out that building a fence takes a full week’s worth of work and lots of paint. But that’s ok because I LOVE it soooo much!
Since I’ve been working hard on this project for many, many hours this week, I thought I’d treat myself with a before and after gif as one does ;). Also, I wanted to answer some questions I got on the fence!
did you talk to your neighbors about the fence?
Yes, we sure did! We had a nice chat with them on Father’s Day about the fence. They’re really happy about it and were really kind about all the improvements we’ve been doing to the backyard. But one thing to note, our neighbors rent the house (one of the renters has actually been there for 35 years!).
We’ve lived here for 2 years and have never met the owners and we didn’t have a way to contact them. Since the fence is inside our property line, we weren’t too worried about it since it adds privacy for them too.
But yes, if you build a fence, the etiquette is that you should contact the neighbors before putting it up. It’s the polite thing to do, plus erecting a fence is pretty noisy so giving them a heads up about that is good to do.
would the neighbors pay for 50% of the fence?
Maybe some neighbors would, but I don’t think ours would be interested. Just knowing how they maintain the house (they don’t water or mow the backyard, for example), we didn’t believe our neighbors would want to go in on the fence.
Especially since we noted above that we don’t have contact information for the actual owners (we’ve only spoken to the renters), so we didn’t bother to ask.
Having said all that, it still isn’t something we’d normally do. Plus, what would happen if there was damage to the fence? Who would pay for that? It seemed too complicated and not something we even considered. But if that’s of interest to you, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
are you removing the chainlink fence?
I believe the chainlink fence is our neighbors. I got questions if we were taking it down, but no, we’re not. First of all, we’re only doing sections of the fence at one time (we started with 40′). Since we live on a busy street, having up that chainlink fence up keeps our dogs safe in the yard. And since I believe it’s our neighbor’s fence, they are in charge of if it’s up or down.
I also got a question from an Australian reader about why there’s so many chainlink fences in the United States. And honestly, I don’t really know why, but my guess is that they’re durable, affordable, and work to keep kids and dogs in the yard. I do agree that they’re not very pretty though.
why is the finished side in your yard?
Here’s something I didn’t know- evidently, the “standard” with fences is that finished side of the fence should face the neighbor. I guess that’s because it’s the nice thing to do and the good side of the fence should face the outside world so as people approach your yard, they see a pretty fence.
I have lots of thoughts on this- ha! First off, doing this would have been impossible since we built the fence on the side of a chainlink fence. Attaching the fence to the rails on the neighbors side wouldn’t work since that other fence is still there. If there was no fence, it would not have been no problem.
In our front yard, where we have our picket fence, this is how we did it- as you approach the house, you see the good side of the fence. In the back yard though, when it’s a choice between your family and one other family seeing the good side, I 100% believe you should have the best view since you’re paying to install it.
The only downside I see is that if the flat side is in your yard, the back side will have the rails and be easier to climb.
Again, it was only possibly to install our fence as we did because of the chainlink fence situation. But even if it hadn’t been there, this is how I would have done it. What do you think? Who gets the “good” side of the fence? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And check back next week for the mural! I think it’ll really add a lot to the fence!
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We built a privacy fence around our entire back yard. We put the “pretty” side on the inside. We figured if we are paying for it…we get the nice side!! Our builder did not like that plan but we hired him to build it not design it!!
Ashley Wilson says
That makes sense to me, thanks Julie!💕
Local regulations here require you to put the “pretty” side of the fence facing out (so toward the neighbors)
Ashley Wilson says
Ok interesting, thanks Karen! I guess it’s different everywhere 🤷🏻♀️
We have lots of regulations where I live in Illinois about fences, including the pretty side has to face out towards the neighbors.
Ashley Wilson says
Wow, good to know. Hopefully not too many regulations 😬
I’ve never heard of someone putting the ugly side out. Pretty sure it’s against code in my state.
Ashley Wilson says
So interesting! I throughly checked the codes in my county before building our fence and that wasn’t listed. But I do live in a rural area so regulations are pretty lax. I’m glad because I love how the fence looks!