How to Design a Privacy Fence or Screen for Your Yard

Backyard with a privacy fence made with shrubs next to white shed and pathway in grass

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

There's no one-type-fits-all when it comes to creating a privacy screen or fence in your yard. Palatial mansion or pint-sized plot, every yard has a place needing a privacy fence or backyard retreat away from your neighbors' sight. Whether it's for the area near your pool, spa, outdoor kitchen, patio, or just a spot for enjoying some solitude, you'll need to figure out how to best create an outdoor landscape that includes a privacy barrier, such as a screen or fence.

There is a very subtle difference between a privacy fence and privacy screen. A privacy fence might be made from durable materials such as vinyl, wood, iron, or aluminum. A privacy screen is typically smaller and can be made of anything from hedging to trees to a brick wall or a couple of strategically placed fence panels. You may need to check with your town or homeowners association for approval and logistics of building with these materials.

Follow these nine important planning suggestions for sizing-up and finding the right type of privacy fence or screen for your outdoor space.

  • 01 of 09

    Look Before You Leap

    girl (4 yrs) peeking over fence
    MoMo Productions / Stone / Getty Images

    Obvious ways to create outdoor privacy screens include walls, fences, or hedges. But these structures aren't always necessary or smart solutions. You may not need a stacked-stone retaining wall for the terrace of your condo. And an 8-foot-high fortress of clipped boxwood might look odd surrounding a small spa. Play it smart and ponder what will look and feel best for your space. You don't need to go overboard even though you crave privacy.

  • 02 of 09

    Find Your Inspiration

    japanese maple tree

     VWB photos / Getty Images

    Open your eyes to your surroundings and you'll find a multitude of ideas. Visit a local botanical garden or garden show and take pictures of privacy settings that look appealing. Go on a local spring garden or home tour to discover privacy solutions that other residents in your area have created. Look through books, magazines, and online. Cruise your own or other neighborhoods for ideas.

  • 03 of 09

    Consider the Height of Your Privacy Fence or Screen

    low stone wall

    The Spruce / Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Analyze the size of the area you'd like to have screened. Most important is the height because you don't want something too tall to dwarf your space or too short to give prying eyes a direct line of sight. If you're considering floribunda roses, for example, remember that these plants will turn to canes and won't offer the privacy you need in the off season. You might consider tall ornamental grasses as an alternative for privacy.

  • 04 of 09

    Choose Appropriate Materials and Plants

    roses climbing on wall
    Ekely / Getty Images

    Materials and plants should be appropriate for the particular space and surrounding area. Just like roses, a delicate annual vine won't be an ideal covering for a chain-link fence. Consider bamboo as a noise barrier, instead. Plant something that grows throughout the year and is prolific if you want fast and ample coverage for privacy.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Stick to Your Budget

    garden gate
    Cathryn Gallacher / Getty Images

    When cost is a consideration, go for materials that are durable and effective. If your heart is set on a stone fence, then consider less expensive cinder or concrete block over brick and much pricier stacked stone. You can always turn a cement wall into a work of art by using many creative tricks.

  • 06 of 09

    Harmonize With the Neighborhood

    mural in Mexico

    The Spruce / Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Luckily, you can be artistically free with your privacy fencing in your rear yard. Why not paint a colorful mural but have it facing into your backyard? If your privacy screening or fencing can be spotted by neighbors, consider fitting in with the neighborhood norms while giving your yard its own authentic design. You may have to work within your homeowner's association or other neighborhood rules when designing your oasis.

  • 07 of 09

    Assess Your Level of DIY

    man building wood fence
    Corey Jenkins / Getty Images

    Don't bite off more than you can chew when it comes to DIY privacy projects. Think about whether your level of DIY talents fit the type of privacy project you're thinking about creating. If going DIY, keep the project easy and straightforward.

  • 08 of 09

    Blend In With Your Home's Architecture

    midcentury modern palm springs patio
    George Gutenberg / Getty Images

    While you're keeping in style with your neighborhood, a privacy screen should also blend in with the architecture and era of your home and your surrounding landscape. For example, a concrete block wall works well with a mid-century modern home. A wood fence or screen works perfectly with any number of styles, from farmhouse to colonial-style to contemporary homes.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Decide Whether to Hire a Professional

    landscape contractor

    Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    If privacy is important to you, but your DIY skills are not up to the task, it may be a good investment to hire a contractor or landscape architect to carry out your vision.