Putting in a new fence (or adding to an existing one) is a project you can tackle on your own, but making sure the installation is plumb, level and structurally sound can mean days spent in the yard measuring, cutting, and measuring again.
Many homeowners, therefore, turn to professional fence installers to make the job easier. But with a host of companies to chose from, how do you know if the cost of fence installation you’re quoted is reasonable, or if you’re paying too much for too little?
Start with an estimate
Reputable fencing companies should be happy to send out an estimator, free of charge, and any company that tells you an estimate is extra isn’t worth hiring. Set a time to meet the estimator when you’re home and follow that person around the property as he or she completes the evaluation.
The estimator should ask (and then measure) how long you need your fence to be, take into account any old fencing that needs to tie in with a new build and account for any rocks or obstacles. In addition, estimators should examine the grading of your yard. If it slopes, you’ll need a fence that is either stepped (leaving triangular open spaces near the posts), or contoured to the ground, which can add an extra cost.
You should ask several questions before the estimator leaves:
- Ask whether the company will pull city permits for the installation, or if that’s your responsibility.
- Ask about utility locators. No post holes should be drilled before making sure you won’t hit gas or power lines, so make you know who’s responsible for contacting a locator service.
- Ask about warranties and timelines. Your estimator should be able to tell you when you can expect the job to start and how long any guarantees on the work will last.
What you buy and where you put it
While fence length is the most critical element in price, you have three other key components. First is the type of fence you want, second is how the posts are installed and third is the cost of labor.
Wooden fences are typically the cheapest and include options like red cedar or pressure-treated lumber. You can accent these with decorative gates, post toppers or metal hardware. Vinyl fences are more expensive but can withstand serious weather conditions and won’t corrode or rot. If you’re looking for open sight lines, vinyl-coated chain-link fence is an economical choice. Expect to pay between $5 and $10 per linear foot for your fence product.
Installing posts can also affect costs. Setting posts using concrete is the most expensive option. It requires your fence company to auger post holes in the ground (at least 30 inches deep) and then fill them with a concrete mix. While this provides initial stability, it can also create a pocket for standing water at the base of the post, causing it to rot more quickly. Using a mixture of cement, sand and gravel is another method for post installation which provides comparable strength and improved durability.
Labor is your last large cost. Expect to pay between $30 and $50 per hour in total for several workers. For a 40-foot fence installation, total costs can run up to $1,000.
Pay attention to details
Finding reputable local contractors means paying attention to details. First, search well-known sites like Angie’s List for other homeowners who’ve hired companies in your area, and see which ones stand out for service and reliability. Next, get three estimates for work to be done on your fence.
Once you’re satisfied with the price, ask for an invoice. The company should be able to provide an itemized list including labor, materials, tools and fence board costs. While this may change as the job progresses, you should never have to “wait and see.” In addition, you should inspect any work done before paying the full amount. If you’ve chosen treated wooden fence board, for example, check to make sure the boards aren’t cracked or warped and make sure all the posts are straight.