Sunday, April 13, 2008
The Art of Fence Building
If I were to guess which home project would win plaudits from neighbors and passers-by, a fence would languish at the bottom of the list. A fence, after all, keeps people out or blocks their view of a private yard, and as such it's unlikely to elicit comments such as "nice fence,'' "love your fence" and "great fence!" And yet these are precisely the comments we heard from dozens of passers-by and neighbors of every age, ethnicity and gender in the as we built a wooden fence around a corner property in central Berkeley.
Since entering the world of carpentry 30 years ago to work my way through college, I've never experienced such an outpouring of positive comments from complete strangers. There's nothing particularly fancy about the design -- it's just a simple lattice of 2-by-2 redwood -- so people must be reacting to something more than the design. Are they simply offering encouragement to a graying 50-year old and his petite Significant Other? Somehow I doubt it; residential work sites rarely garner more than a passing glance. So why has this fence elicited such spontaneous enthusiasm from passers-by and neighbors alike?
One possibility is that everyone walking by is, in their own way, already an expert. No matter what their age or origin, everybody has plenty of experience with fences; everyone has peeked through boards, struggled to close a dilapidated gate and noted the depressing effect of a sagging chain-link barrier on a neighborhood. No one needs a course in postmodern architecture to decide if they like a fence. But why do people like it? That's harder to pin down, as most of us have a hard time describing what we like about a structure, even one as simple as a fence.
So I turned to two sourcebooks -- "A Pattern Language,'' compiled by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues in 1977, and Edward Morse's "Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings,'' first published in 1886. The first describes timeless patterns that solve urban and residential design problems, and the second captures the mastery of Japanese carpentry in everyday structures: verandas, railings, gates, kitchens and doors.
After reviewing these classics, I'm guessing that we all respond intuitively to these qualities in a fence:
-- Establishes a boundary, not a visual barrier;
-- Employs pleasing patterns;
-- Appropriate scale, mass and style;
-- Handmade of natural materials;
-- Warm colors;
-- Enhances neighborhood/public space.
A boundary, not a barrier
Any design is a solution to a problem, and in the case of fences, the fundamental problem is establishing boundary and privacy. For backyards, a solid, high fence provides the complete privacy and security most want in a private space. But a front yard is visually joined to the house in a way a backyard is not; a front fence must provide access to the public sidewalk and enhance the "curb appeal" of the property.
Front yard security is problematic as well. A high, solid front fence blocks public access and eyes, but it also protects an intruder from "eyes on the street" once he's slipped inside. It's certainly possible to have both. The Japanese garden, for instance, is typically hidden from public view behind solid walls, but less substantial, more semi-private boundaries are often used by entryways and verandas.
Alexander considers a boundary such as a hedge or fence a solution that unites two spaces "but does so without breaking down the fact that each is a separate space." From the many specific ideas on how to accomplish this in "A Pattern Language'' -- "Building walls low enough to sit on but high enough to mark the boundaries," for example -- it's clear the key features of fence design are height and opacity. A fence that is too low may not delineate public from private quite enough, while a tall solid fence adds privacy at the expense of joining the house to the fence and yard.
The obvious way to unite the public with the private while still saying "this is private" is to let light and lines of sight through a fence. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this: white pickets, wrought-iron railings, widely spaced slats or a simple lattice. In our case, people stopped to say that they appreciated still being able to see the flowers in our decidedly ordinary yard. Their simple observation made me realize how much a visually accessible yard can add to a streetscape, and how much a barrier fence can take away from a neighborhood.
While repetitive patterns are employed in construction and decoration throughout the world, Japanese carpenters of old seem to have hit upon an effective way of breaking very simple patterns -- wood slats an inch or two apart, for instance -- into larger patterns, which are then segmented at well-considered points. In sum: pattern without variation -- boring. Pattern with thoughtful variation -- pleasing.
In confessing that we designed this fence, I hasten to disclose that we borrowed freely from others -- the unknown craftspeople who built the many fences we examined and even, on occasion, measured -- and people who work daily with aesthetics, proportion and design: our architect friend and our art professor brother-in-law. We also scoured our photos from trips to Japan, Thailand, China and Korea for clues on height, spacing and patterns.
After studying these photos and others' fences, we ended up with a pattern of spaces about the width of an outstretched hand -- approximately 7 inches -- created by a lattice of 2-by-2s. This simple repetitive pattern was set into a larger grid of 8-foot sections, which was broken by gates and trellises.
(On a recent visit to a ramen shop, we were amused to find the wooden entry screen was a lattice of almost precisely the same dimension -- an outstretched palm.) Interestingly, there's a section in "A Pattern Language" on how multi-paned windows intensify the viewers' experience by creating more views than large openings do. Perhaps this effect helps explain why people seem to like this open lattice of window-pane size squares.
Many patterns -- of planks, lattices or balusters -- seem to work equally well, as long as they're set into a larger pattern that is interrupted occasionally by some feature such as a trellis, bench or gateway.
One oft-overlooked aspect of patterns to consider is the interplay of light and shadow that are cast on yards and sidewalks as the day progresses. Generous openings and differing widths of materials in a fence guarantee that its appearance is, at least in subtle ways, ever changing, depending not just on the time of day but on the angle of approach.
To delineate spaces and still unify house and yard, a fence needs to show some sensitivity to the style of the house it surrounds. Sad to say, there are no prescriptive guidelines to tell us exactly what kind of materials and fence design will work with a specific house; every guide, from "A Pattern Language'' to the latest glossy home improvement magazine, provides only principles and examples. Fortunately, all you have to do to get some ideas is drive around and look at what works and doesn't work on similar homes in your neighborhood.
A good place to start is choosing materials that complement the house. Craftsman-style bungalows, for instance, benefit from naturally finished heavy timbers in gates and trellises, while wrought iron railings on a low brick retaining wall reflect the historic era of a stately manse. In our case, the unadorned stucco walls of the building and narrow yards seemed to call for a fence of warm materials, neither too spindly nor too heavy, and a somewhat formal design that allowed public view of the yard's flowering plants.
"A Pattern Language'' considers gardens, flowers and climbing plants as integral to any unifying design, and a fence is an excellent armature for climbing plants, either on adjoining arbors or trellises or on the fence itself. Over time, such flora brings an unsurpassed unity to structure and garden.
Handcrafted and natural
While it's easy to sound highfalutin about natural materials -- the Modernists termed it "truth to materials" -- it's undeniable that people react warmly to the authenticity of wood and stone. In a world of fake French windows and white vinyl fencing, natural materials stand out. One of the New Urbanist credos is "no material should simulate another material," and the variations of grain and color give wood a charm lacking in materials machined to look like something they're not.
The distance between real materials and everyday experience can be measured by how many passers-by were unaware that our fence's fir posts and redwood 2-by-2s had been sealed with a semi-transparent stain. It also seems that people respond, perhaps almost subconsciously, to the honesty of on-site carpentry. In stopping to touch this fence, they're also looking at how it's put together, and perhaps noticing the imperfections that come of assembling dozens of pieces of wood. This is clearly a handmade structure, and people seem to respond to that handicraft in a way they don't with a factory- assembled fence panel or a white-vinyl picket.
People respond positively to natural finishes on wood fences -- sealers or semi-transparent stains that protect the wood's grains and color variations from the effects of weathering, which soon turns unsealed softwoods such as redwood, cedar and fir to a dull gray. Such sealants require more reapplications than paint -- maybe another coat every two or three years, as opposed to every five to seven for paint -- but the payoff is worth the extra effort, for no paint color can ever match the tones and hues of wood.
If fencing is painted, the "white picket fence" is a classic look; however, warm colors that complement the color of the house and trim can be more effective in unifying the design than a single-color paint job.
I found many lessons in all the feedback from pedestrians and neighbors, but perhaps the most important was the realization that a fence, even a simple one, can have an outsized effect on a street. It can shout "keep out!" or it can welcome participation in someone's garden -- and people will notice, and care about, the difference between the two. A fence is only one small part of a block, but it is a very visible one, coloring it from both near and afar, and as a result it is capable of sending a great many messages to residents and visitors alike. Is this a place that separates public from private but trusts everyone to respect the boundary without resorting to high walls? Is this a street where residents invite pedestrians to enjoy the color and warmth of arbors, trellises and flowering vines as they pass by? Is this a place that views home improvements as both a private and public investment?
The neighbor in Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" says, "Good fences make good neighbors," and I would say it's true -- not just in the sense of dividing property but in inviting neighbors to share the small pleasures of one's private garden from the public space beyond.
Tips for building a fence
When planning a fence, consider these points:
-- Build for the long term. Fences that are built cheaply and quickly will look saggy and dilapidated in a few years.
-- Avoid small-dimension wood pieces such as 1-by-2s, as these tend to warp more over time than larger dimension lumber such as 2-by-4s.
-- Avoid designs with channels that catch and hold rainwater; this retained moisture will speed dry rot.
-- Sink posts deep, and use sufficient concrete to firmly secure the posts. Use pressure-treated posts to stave off rot, and select treatments that do not use arsenic. If you're not sure, ask your lumber supplier.
-- Avoid using 2-by-4s laid flat supported only by thin softwood planks, as these fences will sag with time.
-- Simplify staining or painting. Pre-stain or paint all lumber before installation. Seal all wood to be left natural, as unsealed wood will weather to a uniform gray in a few years.
-- Research height and other limitations. Most local building codes allow fences up to 6 feet high, but other restrictions may apply in your city or neighborhood. Residents of planned developments may also have to comply with restrictions on materials and colors.
-- Use recycled materials where possible. While it's very difficult to find enough recycled redwood to construct an entire fence (I couldn't), you might find some posts or pieces that could be used in trellises or integral benches, especially if you're planning to paint rather than stain. (Recycled wood often has nail holes and other surface defects, which can be filled and then covered by paint.)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Surfing for a reputable fence company
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Claiming A Home Improvement Tax Deduction
The approach of spring often encourages homeowners to start considering home improvements and repairs. However, before you start getting out the hammer and nails or hiring a contractor consider if your home improvements may be eligible for a home improvement tax deduction.
The first thing the homeowner must understand is the difference between a home improvement and a home repair. Simply put, a home repair is classified as fixing a problem. For example, repairing a hole in the roof, fixing a leak or repainting a room would be considered repairs. On the other hand, remodeling a kitchen, adding a couple of rooms, building a garage or installing a swimming pool would be classed as improvements. These improvements add to the living amenity of the home’s owners and usually add value to the home.
The Internal Revenue Service sets out strict guidelines on how a homeowner can claim a home improvement tax deduction. It is strongly recommended that before you hire a contractor or start any home improvement works that you obtain advice from you tax consultant or from the local office of the IRS
Tax deductions for home improvements can fall into any of several different categories. A medical condition that required providing disabled access to home would normally be classed as a home improvement.
There is a special home improvement tax deduction for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Consult with the IRS regarding the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act as it increases the permitted qualifying home improvement loans.
If you are planning a home improvement to an area of your home that is in need of repair you may be able to include the repair as an improvement. The Tax Act states that where a repair is carried out in the same area of the home that is being remodeled then the repair can be included as part of the improvement project. So, if you are planning on remodeling your kitchen don’t forget to take care of the leaking pipes at the same time and claim the entire project as a deduction.
Tax Credits vs Tax Deduction
Tax credits can also provide significant savings to the homeowner. Whilst a tax deduction for home improvement can reduce the amount of income on which tax is payable, a tax credit directly reduces the tax itself. Tax credits are available for many types of home improvements. For example, installing insulation, adding energy-efficient windows, and some types of highly efficient equipment for cooling and heating, and solar water heating may all qualify for tax credits.
The IRS has many helpful publications to assist homeowners who are about to embark on home improvements so a visit to their website or calling into a branch office will usually provide the homeowner with a wealth of information.
And when you begin your home improvements remember to maintain accurate records of spending and save all receipts … this will assist you enormously when the time comes to claim your home improvement tax deduction.
Alison Stevens is an online author and maintains The Home Improvement Website to assist homeowners with home improvement tips and information
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Alison_Stevens
Saturday, February 17, 2007
When deciding between wood and a vinyl fence cost seems to be a major consideration. And it should be, but it also should not be the deciding factor. As a long time fence saleman, I have gained a wealth of experience in assisting you so that you can make an informed decision. So let's take a look at the two choices and the factors you need to know.
You've heard that old adage a fence is a fence is a fence. In a realtors eyes this could not be more true. Most realtors will tell you that when appraising a home for sale it does not matter what type or style of fence you have on your property. Whether it is a chain link or a vinyl or wood fence, the fence only adds x amount to the resale value irregardless of which material is used. This means if you are planning on living in the home for less than ten years you are likely paying the additional money for vinyl for the next owner to reap the benefits of vinyl.
So the next thing you should consider is how long will be living in this house? If you plan on living in the house for a long time then vinyl can be a cost effective choice. It is almost a no maintenance product, all that is normally required is a good pressure washing when needed. It will look the same ten, twenty, or more years from the day you install it. The decision to go with vinyl or wood should at least consider how long you will be there. Some want the vinyl for its beauty and for the color. In that case your choice will weigh that factor as well.
As a rule of thumb Vinyl fencing (6' high) privacy style is more than double the cost of a comparable height wood fence. For example if you are looking at a 100 foot vinyl fence you can expect to pay between 34 and 44 dollars a linear foot. Of course it may be different in your area of the country, but that is a genral price range for installed vinyl. Wood on the other hand can range from 13 to 24 dollars a foot. Plus the gates for wood are much less than vinyl gates are.
In vinyl there are two grades of material generally sold one is a commercial grade and one is a retail grade. The general differences between the two are retail grade panels are usually glued. This means they are rigid, so if you do not have a perfectly flat area to be fenced you will need to stair step the panels. Retail vinyl is also genrally less thick than a commercial grade as well. Commercial grade vinyl on the other hand is normally precision routed so that you can rack the panel up to eight inches from one end ot the other end of each panel. This means less stair stepping. Glued panels also can become loose as the years go by and the glue breaks down.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Five Major Considerations When Installing A Vinyl Fence
Are you interested in installing a vinyl fence? If so, there are many considerations that you will have to think about before you actually move forward with the installation process. After all, installing a fence is a major addition to any home. With that being said, this job can be taken care of easily enough if you take your time.
Here are 5 major considerations that you should keep in mind when installing a fence. They may not all apply to you, but chances are that they will make you think a bit.
1. Before you install any fence you need to decide what type is best for you, your family, and your home. Are you going to install a traditional wood or aluminum fence? Or are you going to consider a more modern look such as vinyl fencing? This choice is very important, and one that you must make on your own. You should look at the benefits of each type of fencing, and then make a decision as to what option is best for your situation.
2. You need to decide who is going to install your fence. For instance, vinyl fencing is not difficult to install if you have all of the proper tools. With that being said, you may not want to do this on your own. If this is the case you will need to find somebody who can help you out.
3. Shop around for the best price when buying fencing. After you know what type of fence you want to install, the next step is to determine where you are going to buy the supplies. In today's day and age there are many hardware superstores that can sell you fencing at a low cost.
4. Have an exact idea as to where your property ends. This way you will know where to install your fence. There is nothing worse than undertaking a project like this just to find out that your fence is on your neighbor's property. To avoid this you should simply get a survey from your borough.
5. Do you really want a fence? Many people think that they want to fence their yard in just to find out that they do not like the way that the job turned out. Before you decide on any type of fence you will want to be 100 percent sure of yourself.
These five considerations should help you before, during, and after installing a fence. Regardless of if you want to install a wood, aluminum, or vinyl fence you will need to think the entire process through before you get started.
About the Author: Sally Hart is a contributing author for USA Vinyl. USA Vinyl only uses top quality 100% Virgin materials in everything you see and touch. USAVinyl utilizes high quality acrylic and vinyl materials (not from secondary markets) in the substrate. Visit USA Vinyl.com today!
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Note to All
This is a blog for homeowners who have questions regarding fences and fencing. Have a question about fences ask our experts and we will do our best to provide the answers. You may also choose to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please click on comments link below to make a comment or to ask a question. Have a question about fence types? Home Owners Association requirement questions? Ask us about gates and what we do to insure less problems.?
If you stop a think about it the gates are the only thing you really use on a fence. So if your gates are built well and do not sag or have other issues then you will love your new fence. If your gates have sagging or warping issues you won't like your fence. Make sure whoever installs your fence uses 6x6 wood posts on a 5 or 6 foot wood fence for more stability. Also make sure if you have a double gate or drive through gate that they install a 4' can bolt and not a shorter 2 foot one which you have to stay bent over while opening the gate