Chain-link fences are a functional way to enclose an outdoor space, but this style of fence isn't known for its privacy or aesthetically pleasing properties. Other than being an inexpensive, effective method of penning in pets and children, chain-link is sometimes viewed as a blight on yards. In fact, some communities even ban chain-link fences in incorporated, residential areas.
If you try to remove this fencing, you might have a hard time—when installing chain-link, the posts are buried deeply and held tightly in place with concrete anchors, much like the roots of a sturdy tree. Difficult even to remove with a tractor, the metal posts are filled with concrete and can be hard to cut. Once you do remove the posts, the chain-link itself is unwieldy and often difficult to dispose of.
Rather than building a privacy fence or removing your home's chain-link fence, there are several different ways to upgrade the existing panels for a polished look with plenty of privacy. Options range from traditional chain-link fence slats and mesh to bamboo, reed, and wood fence panels.
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Chain-Link Fence Slats
Since chain-link fences allow for long, narrow pieces to be inserted vertically, why not do an entire fence of this? That's the idea behind this classic method of dressing up chain-link fences. These individual slats slide in from the top and stay in place without means of attachment. Slats are made of either high-density polyethylene or aluminum.
- Pros: Chain-link slats are extremely durable and can last for decades. Fences slatted over fifty years ago are still standing today and providing coverage. When slats are damaged, they can be changed out on a one-for-one basis.
- Cons: Slats are often viewed as unattractive. Privacy coverage is low, offering only about 75-percent visual blockage. The cost can be surprisingly high. Because slats must be slid in one at a time, installation is slow and tedious.
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Full Bamboo Screens
Rolled bamboo fencing is constructed from attached poles ranging in thickness from 3/4-inch to 2 inches. Full bamboo pole screens can be installed on a chain-link fence by tying it directly to the rails and poles with foot-long pieces of 16 gauge wire.
Choose poles that are cut on the bamboo nodes, as they do better than poles that have exposed ends. The nodes act as natural weather-resistant caps.
- Pros: Full bamboo screens are very attractive and look natural. Coverage is a decent 85-percent. If you want to give your home and yard a fun, tropical feeling, full bamboo screens are an excellent way to start.
- Cons: The durability of bamboo is moderate. Tough and insidious as a growing plant, bamboo left untreated quickly turns brown and silver, then starts to develop long vertical cracks. As far as organic coverings go, full bamboo is durable. But as with any organic material left outside, it will slowly deteriorate unless continually maintained. Full bamboo screens are a special order item, found mainly online or at specialized garden centers.
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Thin bamboo reeds about the thickness of a drinking straw are woven together into 8- to 16-foot long mats. These rolls are easy to carry and transport back from the home improvement store. Reed screens are usually installed vertically.
- Pros: Reed screens offer about 85-percent privacy when new. As the screen falls apart, privacy drops as well. Reed screens are very cheap and most home centers carry them on the shelves. If you need to cover up your chain-link fence in a day, reed screens may be the way to go.
- Cons: Reed screens stay attractive for about a year or two. After that, the reeds change from golden-brown to gray and start to fall out of the wire weaving material. Reed screens are a good quick fix but a poor choice for the long-term.
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Mesh Wind Screen/Privacy Screen
At first glance, mesh wind screen looks like a tarp. But tarp is a poor choice for fences because it catches the wind and acts like a sail. By contrast, a mesh privacy screen is made for fences.
Mesh privacy screen is water- and wind-permeable; it has a double-thick trim around the perimeter, and it has brass grommets on the trim so that you can attach it to the chain-link with zip-ties. Privacy ranges from 80- to 96-percent, depending on how much you are willing to spend.
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- Pros: Mesh screening is highly durable. As this is non-organic UV-rated polypropylene, it should last for many years, more so than with any organic products. But due to its woven construction and dark color, the elements will eventually take a toll on this material. Mesh screening is the lowest cost solution of any listed here. Lower privacy screens (85-percent blockage) are the least expensive. Screens with 96-percent blockage cost about 50-percent more.
- Cons: Mesh privacy screens are more about utility than beauty. Since they are often used in industrial areas, schools, tennis courts, and swimming pools, they don't work well for most homes, at least from an aesthetic standpoint.
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Wooden Fence Panels
Regular wooden fence panels can be screwed onto chain-link fences using U-brackets. Since these panels are been pre-constructed in a factory, there is no need to individually nail up boards. You will need access to the back side of the chain-link fence in order to attach the panels to the fence.
- Pros: Durability is usually excellent. If you use cedar, this wood is naturally weather-resistant, because it is very oily. Any species of wood can be sprayed down with sealer to extend its life. Privacy coverage is high (about 90-percent). This is one of the few options that will make your chain-link fence look completely different. With all other options, the chain-link is still visible in some places.
- Cons: You may need to obtain a fence permit to attach fence panels in front of chain-link fencing. There are no hardware kits or systems that help you make the conversion, so you need to be fairly handy and inventive to make this option work. Also, fence panels are very heavy and difficult to handle; two people are needed to deal with these panels.