Factors that Influence the Cost of Wood Privacy Fence Installation

The cost of a wood privacy fence can vary greatly depending on several factors:

  • The length and height of the fence
  • Do it yourself or hire a contractor?
  • Installing a new fence or replacing an existing fence?
  • Material costs at your location

Obviously, the size of the area to be fenced is the single biggest factor that determines the cost to install a fence (all other factors being equal).  Most wood fences are installed in 8 foot sections so measure the perimeter of the property using a reel tape measure or surveyor’s wheel and divide by 8.  Pace off the distance to get a rough estimate or for existing fences count the existing fence posts and measure the length of 1 panel. 

The height of the fence will also have a major impact on the cost – most suburban privacy fences are six foot tall picket fences in one of the many styles.  Eight foot and ten foot heights are also options for additional security, to obscure eyesores or for sound control purposes.

The second biggest factor on wood fence cost are the materials selected.  Homeowners typically use pressure treated 4×4 posts or galvanized steel posts, pressure treated 2x4s for the fence rails, and pine or cedar wood for the pickets.  Many options exist – usually at additional cost – to change the aesthetics of the fence appearance including upgrading the wood grade and application of stains or sealants to beautify and protect the wood for longer life.

When installing a new fence, don’t overlook the cost of site preparation and digging the fence post holes.  Existing growth or trees in the fence line may need to be removed to make room for the fence.  Rocky soil conditions may make it difficult to dig the fence post holes and sandy or marshy soil conditions may require additional groundwork to ensure the footings will hold the fence posts securely without leaning. 

Installation on a grade or other difficult terrain will also increase the cost.  Replacing an existing fence presents other challenges, in most cases it is advantageous to re-use the existing fence post holes which means the current posts must be removed. 

The Wood Post Puller makes it easier to remove fence posts with any lifting method – even broken, rotten posts set in concrete footings or in difficult clay soil. A general rule of thumb to estimate the cost of many home improvement projects is to calculate the materials cost and double it to determine the total project cost when using a contractor.  For most fence projects this method will overestimate the project cost by 10-20% so it can be used as a conservative approximation. 

Installing a wood privacy fence is a significant project due to the amount of work, but not too difficult for the typical homeowner and the cost savings can be substantial.  The American Fence Association estimates the average cost of privacy fence installation at approximately $17 to $24 per linear foot for a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor (2013 figures).  This estimate doesn’t include sales tax or permit/inspection fees that may apply in your locality. 

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As always when hiring a contractor, combine related projects to get better value, get multiple bids on any job, check the BBB and licensing department for complaint history, and be sure to verify references and inspect prior work before making your final selection – the lowest cost quote for the wood privacy fence installation may not save money in the long run if the job is done with poor workmanship, low-quality materials, or the contractor doesn’t stand behind their work.

Fence costs are calculated as a cost per linear foot.  The easiest way to estimate the cost is to determine the cost of a single fence panel and then multiply that cost times the number of panels required to achieve the total length of the fence.

First, measure the perimeter of the area to be enclosed – while doing this make note of any special situations that will influence to cost such as gate(s) or difficult terrain.  If a fence already exists that will be replaced with new materials then simply count the number of fence panels that are present.  Wood privacy fences are almost always spaced with posts 8 foot apart on center (this means the measurement from the center of one post to the center of an adjacent post is 8 feet) but always measure to confirm.

Lumber is available in standard 8 foot lengths and offers a balanced solution of cost and strength.

  • Spans longer than 8 feet will likely have problems with sagging unless the 2×4 cross beams are upgraded to 2×6 dimension – this also changes the appearance of the fence panel.
  • Spans shorter than 8 feet are usually not necessary, the fence will be stronger but materials cost increase substantially.
  • If there is a need to set the posts at some other length, be sure to choose an increment of 2 feet (i.e. 6 foot, 8 foot, 10 foot, 12 foot etc…) otherwise installation will require every cross beam to be cut to length.

What about the pre-made panels available at the local home improvement store?  These premade panels are often made from pressure treated pine with three cross beams that are 1.5×2.25 inches and frequently sag after installation.  The cheap fence panels can be suitable for urgent repair purposes but are not recommended for use when installing a new or replacement fence.

After the measurements are made, it is time to select the materials for your fence.  Wood fence posts must be pressure treated and rated for ground contact.  Galvanized steel fence posts offer longer life after a higher initial cost for the post and the post rail brackets that are required.  Many homeowners dislike the appearance of the steel posts but this can be overcome by a simple coat of paint or wrapping the steel post in a wood enclosure.

The fence rails should be 2×4 lumber from pressure treated pine or cedar wood.  The style of privacy fence and the choice of wood used on the pickets will have the biggest impact to the aesthetics of the wood privacy fence installation.  The basic privacy fence consists of 3.5 inch wide dog-eared pickets placed on one side of the rails; this style requires 24-25 pickets between each post.  Another option is to use the wider 5.5 inch pickets which requires 16-17 pickets between posts that 8 feet apart.

With this information, the total materials cost for wood privacy fence installation can be put into the fence cost calculator.  Using the typical selections that make up more than half of all privacy fences in the US:

  • 8 foot UC4A pressure treated pine 4×4 wood post (quantity: 1, approx. $8 ea.)
  • 8 foot UC3B pressure treated pine 2×4 wood fence rails (quantity: 2, approx. $4 ea.)
  • 6 foot 3.5 inch wide western red cedar pickets (quantity: 24, approx. $2 ea.)
  • 3 ½ inch 16d galvanized ring shank nails (quantity: 8, approx. $1)
  • 1 ¾ inch galvanized ring shank nails (quantity: 100, approx. $1)
  • 1.5 cubic feet of crushed gravel (quantity: 1, approx. $5)

This brings the cost of the typical wood privacy fence installation to approximately $71 per panel, or just below $9 per linear foot.  Other common fence designs will increase the cost from this baseline estimate of the privacy fence cost.  The good-neighbor fence (where the pickets alternate sides of the fence, either picket by picket or panel by panel), shadowbox fence, and board-on-board fence styles both increase the number of pickets.  Cap and trip fence style has the clean look of a uniform top edge between each post with the added cost of the top rail.  Lattice top privacy fences of course add the cost of the lattice. 

This estimate is for materials cost only, if you use a contractor to do the work the total cost of the privacy fence installation project will increase by at least double.  Constructing a wood privacy fence is within the capability of the typical homeowner, a solid three day weekend of work with two guys can finish a privacy fence around the typical backyard and use the money saved on refreshments to enjoy a job well done.

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