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Almost wherever you go, there you are: facing a fence.
There are wrought iron, brick, wood, stone, electric, cinder block, wire, adobe, stucco, plastic and vegetation fences, just to name a few.

They keep you out or in. They afford privacy or start conversations. They form a statement of what you believe or can afford. Or even what you're stuck with. They make you feel safe, or they start arguments.

In "Fences, Gates and Bridges" (Lyons Press, $12.95), George A. Martin originally wrote in 1900 about Virginia rail fences. He described them as a "zigzag rail fence . . . almost universally adopted by the settlers." Properly built, he wrote, the rail fences will last 50 to 100 years. Most were held together by stakes and wires, and they were OK to look at but nothing to admire.

Today, screws are preferred to nails, and ornamental iron is preferred over wood for long-term durability.

The natural elements should play a key role in how you decide on what fence to build, said Robert Denman, president and owner of Taylor Fence Co. Inc. of Colorado Springs, which has been in business since 1942.

In the Colorado Springs area, winter and spring winds can build to 60 mph and roar like a freight train while reaching speeds near 100 mph, often taking pieces of wood fencing and strewing them about the landscape. The high alkaline soil accelerates rotting of wood.

"Because of those winds and the size of the post, you have to use concrete bases to spread out the bearing since the post won't hold the pressure of the wind," Denman said. "When you put the concrete in, you set up for dry rot."

Cedar wood fences are the most popular in Colorado Springs.

But spend a bit more money, and you can get a fence that lasts longer, Denman said.

Cedar wood fences with wood posts have an average life span of five to eight years. Replace those wood posts with steel posts, and the durability can extend to 40 or 50 years, he said.

Many of these techniques for good fence building can be lost, unless you do your homework.

For example, concrete foundations for posts should be at least 30 inches below ground and cylindrical, which prevents frost from pushing the posts out of the earth.

For do-it-yourselfers, other problems can arise, too.

Marsha Compt and her husband, Dan, decided to build their own fence, believing they would save up to $3,000. In the end, they spent much more.

"We both thought that it couldn't be that difficult," she said. "You dig a hole, stick in a post and nail some boards. Big deal.

"Well, we ended up doing an OK job, and doing an OK job is not good enough when you build a fence, as we learned.

"The fence began to lean to the point that it almost fell on the neighbor kids. We paid good money to have it rebuilt. I now know our limits."

One solution: Most area hardware supply stores have computer programs that help people design a fence, provide a list of materials needed and give instructions.

Still, if you hire a fence-building company, you still need to do your homework.

Be sure the firm carries workers' compensation and liability insurance and provides warranties, which generally cover a year. Know how long the company has been in business and whether the Better Business Bureau has complaints against it.

Denman also suggests visiting the company.

"If you are going to spend $5,000 to $6,000 on a fence, you better make sure they are paying their bills, have insurance on their people and are stable in their business," he said.

Homeowners also should be aware that the price of building a fence could go up depending on the landscape. If installers must deal with sprinkler systems and extensive vegetation, it takes longer.

While cedar fences are the most popular, you can find at least a dozen kinds of fences in the Colorado Springs area.

Peter VonPrittwitz owns a home in the historical Wood Avenue area north of downtown. His 90-year-old brick fence is topped with Fort Lyon sandstone.

"You have to keep it up," he said. "If you don't repair it, you'll regret it. It shows up. Or you can just get creative and plant ivy.

One fence growing in popularity since its inception about 10 years ago is the polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, fence. This style is low in maintenance, highly durable and won't fade in color.

Masonry fences are low in maintenance, don't change colors and, if built properly, should last indefinitely. But they are more expensive.

The chain-link fence remains the backbone of the industry. It requires zero maintenance but isn't considered as stylish as other fencing materials.

"Chain-link has come a long, long way," Denman said. "They're now vinyl coated, so you can get it in colors. There are attractive inserts to get privacy and are very aesthetic looking fences. They can even be adapted into wood posts and railings."

Ornamental iron -- different from the wrought iron fences seen in front of many Victorian homes -- are popular and require low maintenance. The ornamental iron differs from wrought iron in that it is hollow and machine-made.

"Wrought iron is an old material that is still being built, but it's expensive and it takes craftsmen to do that," Denman says.

"Their value is very high because they are beautiful and handcrafted."

Deciding on which fence to build comes down to how much you want to spend. But savvy consumers will learn that a well-thought-out plan, quality materials and good installation can mean a long-term investment.

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