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Building a Picket Fence: Designing Your Neighborhood Icon

cedar picket fence

Cedar Picket Fence

The picket fence is a classic piece of Americana, representing what many people strive for: stability, comfort, family and peace of mind. A picket fence provides a safe enclosure for children and pets while still allowing you to socialize with the neighbors.

If you’re considering adding this iconic fence style to your outdoor home décor, following is a checklist of things to consider as you design your picket fence.

Before You Build Your Picket Fence

Picket fences are especially popular for front yards—they’re decorative but don’t block the view of your home. If you plan on outlining your front lawn with a picket fence, it’s important to be aware of the pitfalls homeowners often face with front yard fences:

  • Public right-of-way. Don’t assume your property line extends all the way to the sidewalk or curb. Check your property line to make sure you don’t build your fence on a public right-of-way by mistake.
  • Heights and sight distances. Most city building codes have different height and placement restrictions for front yard fences than for backyard fences. This is because front fences have more potential to block line of sight for nearby traffic, particularly if you live on a corner. Check the city’s building code as well as your neighborhood regulations before you build.
  • Backyard access. If your picket fence will restrict access to your backyard, you may be required to build a gate.

    vinyl picket fence

    Vinyl Picket Fence

As always, before embarking on any fence-building project, inform your neighbors ahead of time and check for underground utilities.

Cedar vs. Vinyl Picket Fences

The next step in designing your picket fence is to decide what type of fencing material to use. Cedar and vinyl are the most common choices.

  • Cedar. If you’re aiming for a more natural-looking picket fence, cedar is the standard with its nostalgic look, smell and feel. On the downside, the wood will eventually rot, pickets will need to be replaced, and you’ll be stuck painting or sealing your fence every few years.
  • Vinyl. If you’re looking for the classic white picket fence style, vinyl is the superior choice. While a painted wood fence will chip, peel and become shabby, a white vinyl picket fence will always stay white. You’ll need to wash it regularly, but you’ll save yourself hours of painting. Plus, the posts and pickets are easy to replace.

Picket Fence Design

vinyl picket fence

Vinyl Picket Fences

There’s plenty of room for customization with a picket fence. Here are a few of the decisions you’ll need to make:

  • Height. Picket fences are typically shorter than other fences, standing three or four feet tall.
  • Fence style. Picket fence styles can vary. You can choose pickets with a uniform height for a level top, or you can alternate picket heights for a concave, scalloped or ornamental look. The boards themselves can also be cut in different shapes, ranging from the standard pointed (Gothic) pickets to a dog-eared style.
  • Picket widths. Picket widths can also vary, from two inches to more than five inches. A width of three to four inches is fairly standard. Thinner pickets give a more intricate, detailed look, while wider pickets have an air of simplicity.
  • Picket spacing. Many picket fences are self-spaced, meaning the distance between pickets equals the width of the pickets. You can decrease the spacing to enclose small pets or increase it for an open, airy feel that works well for garden fences.
  • Embellishments. The final touch in designing your fence is to decide on embellishments, such as decorative post caps. Combining some of these options can transform an ordinary picket fence into an eye-catching, personalized work of yard art.

If you are unsure about the best direction to take, talk to a professional. Fencing experts can help you navigate the options and feel more confident about your decisions.

Building a picket fence is exciting, but approaching it without the right information and resources can lead to trouble. Find a reputable company and plan everything out ahead of time, and your new picket fence could become the envy of the neighborhood.

~Ben Nystrom, 2010

One Response to “Building a Picket Fence: Designing Your Neighborhood Icon”

  1. Helen says:

    Thank you such brilliant information we are about to start our American picket fence in England, we are in a open garden show for charity. Thanks

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