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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Check your deed. You’ll find a written description of your lot and its boundaries.
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.
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.