Real Estate

How to be the best neighbor

The fence on this Southold property was installed by North Fork Fence,
whose owner, Pete Ponterio, urges homeowners to check local
restrictions and property lines before putting in a new fence.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the poet Robert Frost in the early 1900s. Although in this day and age, there is a veritable maze of local ordinances that regulate community relations, your neighbors will still appreciate it if you keep your dog contained and securely enclose your swimming pool.

What’s the first thing to consider if you’re in the market for fencing? “You need to check local height regulations,” said North Fork Fence proprietor Pete Ponterio of Mattituck. “Most of the time you’re restricted to between six or six and half feet to the rear of the property and four feet in front. And if you’re in a sensitive ecological area such as wetlands, there will be some Department of Environmental Conservation restrictions,” he said.

Mr. Ponterio also cautioned that property lines need to be verified before a fence is erected. “Some properties have property stakes or concrete monuments,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll use the owner’s survey to determine where a fence should be placed.”

With the heights and boundaries determined, what kind of fencing should you use? “It all depends on the purpose of the fencing,” observed Robert Canberg of Royal Fence and Deck in Riverhead. “We carry fencing in all sorts of materials, but for a look that’s both practical and pleasing, I personally love traditional wood fencing like the cedar spaced-picket fence. It harks back to our New England heritage. There’s also the two-by-two Victorian style that really matches the yards of our older homes in the most beautiful way.”

Mr. Canberg said these traditional styles look good on the face of the house and he also observed that, contrary to what many people think, modern-day wooden fencing has a substantial lifespan of between 14 and 23 years. “Most of them are bug- and decay-resistant, too,” he added.

Mr. Ponterio agreed aesthetics are critically important. “I like to guide people,” he said. He markets fencing in a wide variety of materials including wood, PVC and ornamental aluminum that looks like wrought-iron. He said that, because the North Fork climate is hard on fencing, he won’t install any product that has not been on the market for three years or more.

“Out here you need something that’s tried and true, not a fad product,” he said. “As far as wood fencing goes, spruce and cedar have the longest life, but they will eventually decay. Paint will help, but don’t paint too soon. You need to let wood dry out for six months,” he said. “You also need to keep dirt away from the bottom of a wood fence to deter decay.”

Mr. Canberg said that the PVC option, while not his personal favorite, has definitely evolved in terms of looks. “We have PVC with a very authentic wood look. It certainly doesn’t look like plastic and comes in a cedar color. It has a lifetime warranty and customers can’t believe how much it resembles wood.”

On the practical side, both Mr. Canberg and Mr. Ponterio said they have fence applications that will look good, keep pets inside the property line and children out of the swimming pool area. (Swimming pools are required by local codes to have a secure barrier and a self-closing gate.)

Of course, you’ll also want to keep other four-footed neighbors out.

“The deer issue is huge,” said Mr. Canberg. “And everybody’s needs are different. There are no cookie-cutter solutions to this problem.” The answer may not necessarily require traditional deer netting. “Deer are aware of the possibility of impalement so you may be able to use a traditional fence with pickets,” he said. “But having said that, each situation needs to be assessed. If we do need to use deer fencing, which isn’t aesthetically pleasing, we can often incorporate plantings to soften the effect.”

In Mr. Ponterio’s experience, plastic deer netting is ineffective, as the deer tend to run through it. “Metal deer fencing is better,” he said.

Finally, some homeowners may simply want a fence to delineate property lines. “If you’re just marking the boundary, a simple split-rail may work for you, plus it looks good in a rural setting,” remarked Mr. Canberg.

Whatever the homeowner’s needs, both men said that using quality materials and consulting with a professional pays off. “A lot of people out here will build a fence, but you should only deal with a company whose exclusive business is fencing,” said Mr. Ponterio. Mr. Canberg advised people to “make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Not all cedar is the same. Whoever does the installation should secure your fence by sinking concrete footings to withstand the winds out here. Be an educated consumer.”