How to Avoid Hidden Fence Installation Costs

Written by Doug Bonderud
Updated September 20, 2013
fence opening to front door
Adding a fence to your landscaping plan can come with a few cost surprises. (Photo by Elizabeth Giorgi)

Installing a new fence can improve the appearance of your yard in addition to offering privacy. Homeowners, though, may be surprised by some unexpected costs.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Fence installation by a qualified, reputable professional can help ensure not only long life for your fence but an aesthetic improvement for your yard.

Most urban centers offer a host of contractors, giving you the ability to pick and choose the company or individual pro who best suits your needs. In many respects, this also gives you control over price, but you need to be alert for potential hidden costs.

Understand what's beneath your lawn

While the bulk of your fence is installed above ground, properly installed underground posts are critical for long-term viability. This means total cost is in large measure determined by the soil in your yard.

What it contains can make an installation straightforward or very complex.

Soft soil, for example, means your contractor will need to auger down deeper than average (typically 1/3 of the post's length for maximum stability) and pour more concrete, which means a higher labor cost.

Hard soil or clay poses the same problem. In this case, your contractor will need extra time to dig out post holes.

Large rocks can also increase costs. If your fence builder finds a massive stone buried along your fence line, you'll have two choices: Dig it up (sometimes requiring an excavator) or go around. Both come with an increased cost.

While it's possible to glean some information about your soil conditions before you hire a contractor, never take any estimate at face value. Always have a 10 percent contingency in your budget.

Fence depth a consideration

Another potential cost increase comes from the slope of your yard. All yards slope down from a home to some extent to ensure water drains away from basements and window wells.

If your home is built into the side of a hill, however, or if you've significantly changed the slope of your yard via landscaping, expect the price of your fence to increase.

Here's why. A fence line with no (or very little slope) doesn't require much in the way of preparation. Once the post holes are done, posts can be cemented in and string lines run to mark out the proper height for bottom and top fence stringers.

CHECK OUT: Angie's List Guide to Fences

If your yard slopes sharply up or down, however, much more work is required to measure, cut and trim stringers and boards that fit. The result is a longer, more complex job and greater total cost.

Any reputable fence estimator should be able to give a general estimate for the price of dealing with your slope. Be wary of any quotes that sound too low or if the estimator says anything along the lines of "don't worry about it."

Maintenance of fence posts and pickets

Once your fence is installed, it's easy to forget about long-term care and assume you'll get years of uninterrupted use. While treated wood and vinyl are inherently weather-resistant, you can end up paying for an early repair or replacement if you don't take steps to care for your fencing.

Using weather-resistant wood stain is a simple way to improve the durability of your fence, especially if your contractor used subpar fence boards. Products are now available at any retail hardware store that roll or brush on like paint but dry and protect like stain, providing superior weather protection.

RELATED: 4 Tips for Choosing the Best Fence

For vinyl or metal fencing, animal damage can be an issue. Chewed-up fence boards or dug-out post holes may not seem like a large concern until winter comes or a storm hits. You may wake up one morning to find a section of your fence has collapsed or your posts are sagging to one side.

To maintain their integrity, fences do not need daily (or even weekly) care, but it's critical you take the time to periodically restain surfaces or replace damaged boards.

The right fencing contractor can install a product which both looks great and will easily last a decade. Getting the right price, and avoiding an early replacement, means anticipating unexpected costs.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.