Building a backyard fence

December 16, 2016

Good fences make good neighbours, as the old saying goes. But they can also make angry ones if you don’t play your cards right.

Maybe you’re looking for a bit of extra privacy, or maybe your dog is a master escape artist and the fence you’ve got just isn’t doing the job.

If your back fence has seen better days, or if you are planning to build a boundary or side fence for a new property, here are a few things to think about before you start digging.

  1. What do you need the fence to do?
  2. This might seem like a no-brainer, but what exactly do you need the fence to keep in, or out? Is it purely a matter of privacy, or is it also about keeping the family dog out of mischief? How high do you need the fence to be? How sturdy does it need to be? Is the fence likely to be battered by strong gusts of wind or wild weather? Are you looking to block out noise from a busy road? Do you need the fence to look pretty? All these questions will help you get a clearer picture of the kind of fence you’re after.

  3. Find a good tradesman
  4. Fence installation is harder than it looks. While it’s entirely possible to build a timber-paling fence on your own, you might want to look into hiring a professional to do it for you. If you do decide to hire a pro, ask to see examples of fences they have installed. This may even help generate ideas for your own fence.

  5. Have a tidy up
  6. Give yourself (and the tradies) some extra room to move by giving the yard a bit of a tidy up before the fencing work begins. If there are any branches that need pruning, or any bits and pieces lying around the yard that you’ve been meaning to get rid of for a while, hire yourself a skip bin and make a day of it.  You can also use the skip bin to haul the old fence away once work gets underway.

  7. Find out where your property boundaries are
  8. Make sure you know exactly where your property boundary lines are before you start building your fence. Boundaries have a sneaky way of shifting over the years, and you want to make sure your new fence is placed exactly where it should be. Check the blueprints and the deed for yourself, and hire a surveyor to ensure an accurate measure of your property boundaries.

    Don’t assume your lot is perfectly square or rectangular, either. Lots can be wedge shaped or have other unusual shapes, especially in newer developments.

  9. Talk to the neighbours
  10. This is an important step. Be open and up front with neighbours about your fencing plans, and make sure everyone is on the same page. A fence can be built and shared by two or more neighbours, but any agreements should be made in writing and only after the property boundaries have been professionally determined.

  11. Check in with your local council and relevant authorities
  12. The last thing you want to do is build a beautiful new fence, only to be told it’s in wrong place or too high and needs to be torn down.

    Get familiar with any fence building rules and regulations in your municipality. Will you need a permit? Are there any height restrictions that apply to fences in your area? Are there any required setbacks from property lines, footpaths or roads? If you live in a development that has its own private regulations, check with the association or planning committee too. Its rules may be even more stringent than the local council rules. Some regulations even include restrictions on what colour your fence can be, or what materials it can be made out of.

    You should also check with the relevant authorities to make sure there aren’t any underground gas, water or electrical pipelines in the area you are planning to dig up.

  13. Think about the materials you’d like to use

These days, there are plenty of traditional and modern fence-building materials to choose from. When making your decision, it is important to keep your budget and the intended function of your fence in mind.


The quintessential Aussie backyard fence would have to be the timber-paling fence – typically built using cypress posts with treated pine plinth, rails and paling. These fences are relatively easy and inexpensive to build, and are easy to replace and repair when the time comes.

Brick and stone:

Brick and stone fences will last forever. A stone fence will require occasional cleaning, but little maintenance other than that (as long as it is built by a qualified stonemason). Brick is also easy to maintain, but will require occasional repainting if it is rendered and painted.

Steel and wrought iron:

Steel and wrought iron fences can last for decades, but need to be professionally installed and maintained to prevent rust from ruining the fence.

Modern materials:

In addition to the old stalwarts, there are a number of modern fence-building materials that might suit. Colorbond, PVC, vinyl and aluminium, for example, are all quite easy to maintain and easy to keep clean. PVC, vinyl and aluminium are not as strong as steel or wrought iron, however, and are not ideal for security fencing or fences that are likely to take a battering.