How to Build a DIY Privacy Fence

DIY Privacy Fence

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Yield: 24 linear feet of privacy fence
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $500 to $800

Everyone needs a little privacy, and living in close proximity to neighbors can be challenging. Partition fences installed directly on property lines mark the division between homes but don't always provide privacy. Privacy fences are discreet barriers that not only mark boundaries but protect privacy—without sacrificing aesthetics.

What is a Privacy Fence?

A privacy fence is a fence that is tall enough and has enough infill to protect the privacy of homeowners on both sides. Fence infill refers to the amount of space in a fence that is filled with solid material.

Best Materials for a DIY Privacy Fence

Wood has long been and continues to be a popular material for privacy fencing. Fence wood, usually cedar or pine, is plentiful, relatively inexpensive, and simple to work with.

Wood-composite and vinyl are good materials for privacy fences, too. Bamboo, chainlink, and wrought iron fences contain too many spaces to provide privacy.

A wood privacy fence can be built either from individual fence boards and stringers or from pre-fabricated wood panels.

Board-and-Stringer Privacy Fence

Constructed from scratch, a site-built DIY privacy fence is composed of three horizontal stringers between two vertical fence posts. Attached to the stringers are parallel vertical fence boards, sometimes called pickets.

A site-built fence is about one-third less expensive to build than one made from pre-fabricated panels. It easily adapts to ground contours. A variation, called a shadow box privacy fence, alternates fence pickets on both sides of the stringers.

Pre-Fabricated Panel Privacy Fence

A privacy fence can be built from large, 8-foot-long by 6-foot-high pre-fabricated wood panels, eliminating the need to add stringers or nail up individual fence boards. Tongue-and-groove fence boards fit snugly from side to side, closing all gaps between boards.

Pre-fab panel fences go up faster than site-built fences and can be less tedious to build. But they can only be installed on flat ground. Also, the fence boards can become gapped over time.

Tip

Vinyl and wood-composite fence materials are excellent choices for a privacy fence because neither material will shrink over time. Shrinkage leads to gaps between the boards. Vinyl fences are mostly limited to white or other light colors. Wood-composite fences feature a wider range of colors and greater realism. Wood-composite fences cost $350 to $600 for each 8-foot by 6-foot section. Vinyl fences are $130 to $150 for each section. Both estimates exclude the cost of gravel and concrete.

Codes and Permitting

Local fence and building code and zoning often cap the height of privacy fences at 6 or 8 feet. Some municipalities strictly limit the fence to 6 feet. Other places allow 6-foot fences with additional 2-foot architectural features like trellises that have minimal infill. Some areas allow solid fences up to 8 feet high.

How Much It Costs to Build a DIY Privacy Fence

On average, a board-and-stringer fence costs about $175 for each 8-foot-long by 6-foot-high section. To cover the same area, a panel fence will cost $230 (or about 30-percent more).

Board-and-Stringer Fence Panel Fence
Fence panel N/A $155 to $175
Fence boards $70 to $75 N/A
Four-by-fours $32 to $40 $32 to $40
Two-by-fours $27 to $36 N/A
Fence rail brackets $3 to $6 N/A
Concrete $15 to $18 $15 to $18
Gravel $10 to $15 $10 to $15
TOTAL $157 to $190 $212 to $248

When to Build a DIY Privacy Fence

A DIY privacy fence can be built in all seasons, as long as the ground is not frozen and can be penetrated by a hand clamshell-style digger or motorized auger.

Safety Considerations

Have the fence site marked by a locator service before you dig the post holes. If building a panel fence, have an assistant help you carry and fix the panels in place. Panels can weigh upwards of 100 pounds and are unwieldy to handle.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Post hole digger: manual or motorized auger
  • Fence level
  • Speed Square
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Hammer
  • Drill

Materials

Board-and-Stringer Privacy Fence

  • 51 fence pickets, 5/8-inch by 6-inch (nominal) by 6-foot
  • 9 pressure-treated two-by-fours
  • 4 pressure-treated four-by-fours
  • 18 galvanized metal fence rail brackets
  • Galvanized nails or deck screws
  • 6 bags of ready-mix concrete
  • 3 bags of landscape gravel

Pre-Fabricated Panel Privacy Fence

  • 3 fence panels
  • 4 pressure-treated four-by-fours
  • Galvanized nails or deck screws
  • 6 bags of ready-mix concrete
  • 3 bags of landscape gravel

Instructions

How to Set Fence Posts

Whether building a board-and-stringer fence or a pre-fabricated panel fence, the first step is to set the fence posts.

  1. Obtain a Fence Permit

    Your area may require a permit for fences over a certain height, such as 6-foot, or it may require a permit for all fences. Due to the complexity of local fence regulations—not just fence heights but materials, setbacks, and fence types—it's often worth speaking to the local permitting and zoning office even if you don't think that a permit is required.

  2. Mark Services at Fence Location

    Critical services such as electrical cables, gas, or water may run through the intended privacy fence site. Call 811 to have a locating service sent to your property to mark the lines.

  3. Stake the Fence Run

    Hammer two wood stakes in the ground 26 feet apart. Run twine or mason's line tightly between the two stakes. Keep the line level.

  4. Mark the Fence Post Locations

    Use the tape measure and a plumb bob to measure and mark the locations of the four fence posts.

    • Board-and-stringer fence: Mark the center of each fence post at 96 inches (8 feet) apart. Stringers are 8 feet long, so the thickness of the four-by-four will allow for some excess.
    • Panel fence: Mark the center of each fence post at 92-1/2 inches apart. This measurement must be precise since the fence panel is exactly 96 inches long.
  5. Dig Fence Posts

    With the fence hole digger or rented auger, dig fence post holes to 30 inches deep or below the frost line for your area.

  6. Rest Fence Posts in Holes

    Move the stakes and string line 1-3/4 inches to the side and restake as a guide for the posts. Pour 6 inches of gravel in each hole. Set the four-by-fours in the post holes. Attach the post level to the side of one of the four-by-fours.

  7. Set Fence Posts in Concrete

    • Board-and-stringer fence: Fill the hole with two bags of ready-mix concrete. Adjust the post so it is plumb. Fill the hole with water. Brace the post on two sides with scrap two-by-fours. Check once again for plumb before moving on to the rest of the posts. Make sure that subsequent posts are plumb. Maintaining distance between the posts is less critical with board-and-stringer fences since stringers can be cut to size.
    • Panel fence: Since the posts need to be exactly 96 inches apart, there isn't much room for error. So, it's best to wait on the concrete for now and instead add concrete in conjunction with installing the panels.
  8. Cut Tops of Fence Posts

    Measure end fence posts to 6 feet high. Run a chalk snap line across all posts. Cut all posts with the circular saw.

How to Build a Board-and-Stringer DIY Privacy Fence

  1. Mark Stringer Positions

    On the two end fence posts, mark vertical positions at 1-foot, 3-foot, and 5-foot, measuring from the bottom upward. Run a chalk snap line from end to end at each of the three vertical positions. Snap the line to create a consistent mark across all four posts.

  2. Install Stringer Brackets

    Center the metal stringer brackets on each post and screw into place at each marked point.

  3. Add Stringers to Brackets

    Measure the distance between two brackets. Transfer that distance to a two-by-four and cut accordingly. Place the two-by-four stringer in the brackets and screw it into place. Continue for the rest of the stringers.

  4. Install Fence Boards

    Install one fence board at the end of the stringer so it is plumb and the bottom edge is 2 inches above ground level. Continue installing the remaining 16 boards along the stringer, spacing the boards by 1/8-inch. Use two galvanized nails or deck screws per stringer (or, six fasteners per fence board).

How to Build a Panel DIY Privacy Fence

  1. Add Ground Spacers

    Lay two scrap two-by-fours flat, one on top of the other, between two of the posts.

  2. Fit Panel Between Two Posts

    With an assistant, move the fence panel into position between the two posts with the panel resting on the ground spacers. Let the panel help determine the width of the posts. Center the panel on the posts.

  3. Screw Panel Into Place

    Drive four screws per side to secure the panel to the posts. Remove the ground spacers.

  4. Add Concrete to Post Holes

    Fill each hole with two bags of ready-mix concrete, then fill the hole with water. Force water further down into the mix with a shovel.

When to Call a Professional

If you need to build an extensive privacy fence (for example, around most of the property), a fence on highly uneven ground, or if you need to build the fence in a short amount of time, it's best to call a professional fence-building company.