Fence Etiquette: Who Gets the Good Side?

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When you get a new fence, you can’t just think about yourself—you have to consider your surrounding neighbors.  If the type of fence you want is permitted in your neighborhood, you may feel you have the green light to install it. However, your fence may be in your yard, but your neighbors are still going to see it every day from their yards or windows. There are a few rules of fence etiquette you should keep in mind before you go forward with the installation.

Make sure your property lines are defined

Do you know where your property begins and ends—and are you really sure about that? It’s a good idea to check your house’s plat, which is a drawing that maps out your land. If you’ve lost this document, you may be able to get it free from your county’s records office. You can also hire a land surveyor to clarify the borders of your property. Additionally, a surveyor can place stakes along the boundary, giving you a clearer idea of exactly where your fence can go.

Talk to your neighbor

Provided your fence is definitely within your property lines and complies with neighborhood regulations, you may not actually be required to talk to your neighbors about it. Still, it’s common courtesy to ask—and it could save you future legal trouble if it turns out your neighbor wants to dispute your fence. Besides, if it’s going to be a divider between your yards, that could actually be something your neighbor is considering, too! You might find that you and your neighbor can collaborate on the project—and split the cost.

Face the finished side of the fence toward your neighbor

Certain kinds of fences have a finished side or a “good” side that looks smoother and more polished than the side with the rails and posts showing. In particular, the solid panel fences often used for privacy are generally constructed like this. The finished side should face toward your neighbor. Not only is this more polite, but it’s the standard. Your property will look a lot nicer with the “good” side facing the outside world. Otherwise, your fence will look like it was installed backwards.

However, many other types of fences look identical on both sides, and they’re often called “good neighbor fences” for this reason. You can install a double-sided privacy fence if you don’t like the way the inside of a fence looks. Double-sided fences are created with “sandwich construction,” which also makes them stronger.

Here are a couple good neighbor fences you can buy online:

Continually maintain your fence

Of course you want your fence to look the best it can—you don’t want the paint to fade or chip, you want to keep your fence clean, and you don’t want your wood to rot. However, this really isn’t only for your own benefit—if your fence becomes an eyesore, your surrounding neighbors won’t be very happy. It could even affect their property value if they decide to sell. Only get a fence that you can keep looking great. If you can’t handle the maintenance for a wood fence, you should consider a lower-maintenance material like vinyl or aluminum. A darker colored fence will also show less dirt than a lighter one and not need to be cleaned as often.

If you follow these guidelines for fence etiquette, you’ll ultimately deal with a lot less stress and will find it easier to enjoy having a fence. Communicate with your immediate neighbors as you work on the project—don’t let it be an unpleasant surprise. You may discover that you’re surprised by how eager your neighbors are to cooperate and help you out.

Have any other neighborly advice for homeowners looking to install a new fence? Leave a comment below!

37 Comments

  • Andrea Holder says:

    I had neighbour come to me yesterday after he put his fences up and said legally you can not paint my fence touch my fence or put anything on it so don’t do it took us by surprise used to get on with them is this true please

  • Jeff says:

    Whoever pays for it gets the good side.

  • Dara says:

    If its my fence the good side should b in my yard then…..

    • Oscar says:

      I have the same problem with my neighbors Began to build my fence And my neighbor say She’s going to call the county because the good side is on her side I do not know what to do I’m going to stop doing my fence and wait what the county says.

      • Deb says:

        Do you live in an HOA community? If so, there may be rules pertaining to fencing. If not, call your county office and make your own inguiry. In our county, there is no such enforcement. Your neighbor wants the view of the pretty side.

    • Mark Stephens says:

      So is it alright for builders e.g to go in your Neighbours garden so you can have the nice side?

  • Charise says:

    They said the good side goes toward the outside or the neighbor. I’m trying to figure this out myself

  • Deb says:

    We decided on one neighbor side to install the fence six inches inside of our property line for maintenance purposes. We’ve had a renter throw his baseball against the fence, place his target on it to practice with his hunting bow and arrow, hang wet towels and garden hose. Even when we respectfully explain that the fence is owned by us and setback from the property line people choose to act as if the fence is on the property line, and ignore our requests to stay off the fencing. Unfortunately, there are now ugly and unfriendly No Tresspassing/Private Property signs posted. We’ve had the signs ripped out of the fence. Those renters, well, let’s say they were finally asked to leave. That house is now AirBnB.
    We decided to put the “good side” facing us for several reasons. First, the properties on either side of us are rental homes so we did not have established relationships. We decided our investment=our choice. Second, we preferred the look of the flat side. There is a downside to this though. There is a possibility that children and the nefarious wil climb the fence. Again, signs and Security cameras. Ridiculous, but necessary.

  • Bill says:

    Jeez, at some point you guys are gonna reap what you sow with attitudes like that. You put the good looking side OUT because you have to live next door to your neighbours. You don’t want those people to feel like they have to “get you back” for something. Like, you know, sticking them with the inside of your fence…

    • Deb says:

      I am not taking your comment as being directed directly at my comment, but to all of the commenters that support the homeowner/investor right to choice. Please explain your meaning of “reap what we sow” and “people feel they have to get back at…”. Thanks.

  • Momma says:

    I told my daughter to put good side in……No other neighbors have a fence. If they were to put up their own fence that is the side they would be looking at and they should be thankful that that is one very long side of their yard they wouldn’t have to pay for!!!! I’m sorry but when you spend your $ and cheap neighbors complain…..Then tell them they can’t tie in on your fence that is saving them thousands of dollars

  • Ronnie says:

    Good side goes to the neighbors, some places(county and city) require good side out. Just remember safety is an issue too. What does that mean? Leaving the “bad” side out only makes it easier to climb the fence to get into your yard. I prefer the good towards the neighbors because I use the exposed 2×4 and 4×4’s to hang feeders on as well as yard utensils (rakes, hoes, shovels, etc.) I am a Building Contractor and have installed many fences and have always installed “Good” side to the neighbors.

  • Mertis Fidler says:

    If you build a dividing fence on your own property, the “good side” of the fence is the side of the fence that all maintenance will be preformed from. Fences are not “maintained” from the backside. The “good side” of the fence goes to where you have access to maintain it.

    If the fence is a dividing fence, that divides your backyard from your neighbors back yard, the “good side of the fence should be facing your yard. If the “good side” is not facing your yard, and you needed to maintain the fence at a later date, you would need to get the neighbors permission to enter their yard to maintain your fence.

    If you build a fence, anyone with good sense would put the “good side” facing to where it could be maintained without the permission of another.

    Of course some cities regulations may prohibit the choice when the fence divides your property from a street, park or “open” area. In which case you would have to follow the rule. But as far as a fence that is only a barrier from your neighbors yard,… by all means the smart choice is to put the “good side” or the side that maintenance is preformed from to where you have access to do the required future maintenance.

  • Janna says:

    My creepy neighbor has an acre of property but installed a swing set right next to my property line. They never spoke to me about it.. So up went my fence. You really think I am going to put the “good side” to them when they have their screaming brats on the swing set right near my deck? Screw them! They didn’t consider me, so why should I consider themselves?

  • brian says:

    “Not only is this more polite, but it’s the standard. Your property will look a lot nicer with the “good” side facing the outside world. Otherwise, your fence will look like it was installed backwards.”

    REALLY??? look at the poll. Majority says good side in. Good side out if facing the street, yes! Good side in in a divider between yards and not facing street. Unless one wants to pay for good side or you work out what you want (maybe you dont like good side), then that is better. The rule should be, the person saying gets the side they want. So Simple. If both paying, then figure it out.. have a person wanting good side pay more.

    • Fence Authority says:

      We were surprised to see the results of the poll, which we added recently! To us, good side out is the standard.

      We wonder if the results are skewed because this article is attracting people who are not on very good terms with their neighbors, as many of the comments reveal.

  • Laurie says:

    Wow, people. A fence should always be installed as a “good neighbor fence”, with the finished side facing out. This has been the standard for years and years, with one generation passing this info on to the next. Yes, it may be an ‘etiquette-thing’ as opposed to a legality, but people used to live by good-will and etiquette. It is evident from many of the above comments that our world is fast changing into an “It’s all about me!”-world.
    Plus, installing the finished side of a fence towards yourself shows a lack of common sense, and it will appear as though you unknowingly installed it backwards….

  • T. vonKramer says:

    My understanding throughout my 8 million years of life: “Good side” out. It’s to be viewed from the street. Did you put the nice cedar shingle siding on the inside of your home? Also, as far as practicality goes, the main purpose of a fence is to keep others out. The finished side keeps people out, so it goes on the outside. It’s not about “bad side and good side” it’s “inside and outside”

  • steve says:

    I have woods in back of me so I will be putting the good side towards me. I can not see the trees enjoying the finished side and not complimenting me for it.

  • C. Daniels says:

    In the process of building my 6 ft privacy fence. I have no neighbors, but I am building “good side” out.

    Reasons:
    1. Harder for strangers to hop fence on flat side.
    2. My house is exposed to public eye since I do not have neighbors, so I prefer to have my house look “good” from the outside.
    3. I really don’t think the “bad side” looks that bad anyway.
    4. Being in a new subdivision, I don’t mind attracting new neighbors who might want to build next to a free “good side”.

  • Anonymous says:

    What about this scenario? We have Neighbors on both sides of us but neither has their own fence. The neighbor beside neighbor on the left side of us has a fence up, so essentially it is a barrier on the opposite side of our next door neighbor’s backyard from us. It is an ugly wood paneled six ft fence. We are going to install a nice scalloped five foot picket fence around our whole backyard at our expense. This will give our neighbor to the left side two different fences siding their yard in the back. But since we are paying for the fence and are doing our whole backyard, then we have say in what we put up correct?

  • Donald Pallo says:

    The good side of fence is on my side. Owner at the time did not want to contribute to fence, why good side is on our side. Was a rental for many years. New neighbor is not friendly. I tried to introduce myself as neighbor. He copped and attitude with me and asked about whose fence it was. I told him we had it built and it was my fence. This fence is stained on my side, no fence boards on his side. They have lived there a couple years. I just recently notice he painted the backs of fence boards white. Painting between boards and getting paints on my stained boards. Can he legally do this without consulting me? Looks great on his side, not so good on my side. You can see white in gaps of fence boards and he painted tops. This is the boards on my side of 2x4s. What can I do, he’s not nice or friendly or he would have spoken to me. Told him when he first moved in he could board his side. To remedy this the boards would have to be replaced or individually removed and the tops and edges sanded so I don’t see white. Very time consuming. I believe he would just paint it again. Can I take fence down on my side and leave rails and post in place and not put it back? Can I take boards down and paint the white whatever color I want since they are attached from my side and put them back? He didn’t ask me, do I have to ask him? Mad because I am seeing white on my stained fence. Need advice.

  • Reine says:

    Check your building codes. Mine clearly states that the finished side is toward the neighbor. My neighbor has the unfinished side facing me. I attached bamboo fencing to it. It’s not like they can complain about it.

  • KayeKaye says:

    I just recently had a new wooden fence put in and an old metal fence removed. The contractor asked if I wanted the attractive side facing out that faces the front side and the rest of the attractive side facing in? and I said, yes that sounds good. I don’t know that much about fences. On one side the neighbor has an old gray wooden fence that looks ugly because it’s old, but they have the good side facing me. I didn’t put a fence on that side since it was already covered by that neighbor. And after my fence was installed I saw that it has 3 boards that go across the fence on the not so attractive side, however, I thought that I’d rather have it on the inside because it looks like something someone could climb and I don’t want that, so now I will get security cameras on the back fence because an alleyway is by that side. Wish I had known beforehand about that side of the fence, because I don’t think the unattractive side is all that unattractive and wouldn’t have minded it being on the inside, but it all looks very nice and it replaced some very ugly fencing that I used to have, so I’m thankful for that. But also, I paid nearly $3,000 for all this new fence and I do believe that owners should be the ones to decide which way a fence faces, the neighbors should be grateful for the privacy the fence provides and that they didn’t have to pay for that nice privacy fence wall that we put up. Either side doesn’t look bad at all, they both look extremely nice and was very nicely put together. Let’s all be thankful for all things people do that is also a blessing for us as well. One neighbor had a tree removed that was shedding feather-like stuff all over everybody’s cars and yards all the way down the block, and I was very thankful when they had it removed.

  • Rob says:

    I’m paying for it, I should get the good side. Duh. If they don’t like it, they can take their screeching children and loud backyard parties and rent some other dump.

  • Tammy Thomas says:

    “Good side” facing out! Etiquette. It’s your fence, but neighbor shares in benefit.

  • Jessie says:

    My husband wants to put up a fence to “shield” out our mean ol drunken neighbour. I am kinda “on the fence” about this as it makes me bitter that we have to shell out the cash to block him out. I see both sides to this argument. I believe the person paying for the fence should be able to decide which side they want. However, after reading some of the comments here, it makes sense to give the “good” side to your neighbour (even if they are aresholes). It will be easier for you to maintain it if you ever need to fix it due to a windstorm for example. Also, imagine the dread in asking your neighbour’s permission if you had to go on their property to fix YOUR fence. In my case, this would be a nightmare as our neighbour is the biggest A-hole I’ve ever met!

  • Patty says:

    Thanks for all the comments! I WAS going to install my fence pretty side facing in. But as I read the comments I began to realize how rude and unneighborly I would be seen and that’s the last thing I want! Really it’s just a fence! How we treat others is more important! Thanks for a lesson in neighborly love!

  • Laura Berney says:

    Nice article. I think I agree that the good side on the outside (towards the neighbours) is a better option, as your house would definitely look better that way. Also, as -Ronnie said, it would be safer.

  • Fran says:

    Well, maybe you all will get a kick out of our quirky situation! Our neighbor installed a nice fence, good side toward us, adjacent to our driveway. It intersects with a very old, sagging, poorly connected and rusting cyclone fence, which we share with a different neighbor! We would like not to be seeing that old fence every day as we come and go, and so we proposed to the adjoining a neighbor, who is a nice guy, that we replace the failing fence with a nice new cedar fence matching the new one just erected by our front neighbor, all at our expense. The good side would face us to match the new cedar fence it ties into. Oh no, says the neighbor, I need the good side facing me because otherwise it won’t match the fence that same neighbor put up on their shared property line! Well, I hadn’t thought about that because I can’t see it, but after hearing about it, I see his point. Ironically, he is offering to contribute nothing at all to this project. This area is behind his garage, an area he never sees unless he is mowing his lawn. He says several things: 1) I don’t care for fences and would just as soon this fence (the old one) weren’t here. 2) But if there is a fence here I want it to match the good side I see from the new fence my other neighbor put up, and which I didn’t pay for. 3) It’s awful what these fences cost. In the old days if I wanted a fence, a couple buddies and I would put it up ourselves! (And your point is?) 4) Is the fence isn’t good side to me, it will possibly hurt my property value if I decide to sell. If these fences faced the street, it would definitely be good side out. I have gotten a new quote for a double-sided fence, asking the neighbor to pay only for the insreace over the original proposal as the gesture of a good neighbor who, as he says, will enjoy an increase in his property value as a result. His share would be about one quarter of the total cost of the project. No reply, no answer, no decision yet.

  • Katie Dunn says:

    I think that it’s interesting that you mention putting the finished side of a fence towards the neighbor. I can understand having the part of the fence that is facing the road have the finished side up. Yet, what about the part that is in between our yards? I understand that that would be polite, but they could paint that side if they really wanted to, right?

  • Tom says:

    Can the neighbour replace a thicker post 4 by 6 instead of 4 by 4 and the extra two more inches is all to my side?

  • Diane Crocker says:

    Our neighbour asked if he could remove our old fence and put up a new one as he has two dogs our fence is fine really so we said we had no plans to do this work ourselves but he could go ahead if he wished,now fence has been erected but we now have the so called bad side facing in our garden is this correct or should we have the good side this also means we have two bad sides as other side fence is the bad side doesn’t look right to me,where do we stand as he wanted the fence in the first place.

  • Tom says:

    I want to see where the property line is. What should we do?

  • Sunshine says:

    Our local city ordinances required that all post and stringers on the lot line be placed on the inside of the fenced area…. meaning “good side out”. It’s also the code for all the neighboring communities.

    Maintenance of the fence is a non-issue. If you place the fence right along the property line, it is not acceptable to access the neighbors property to maintain it. You should be smarter than that and place it inset on your property enough to be able to maintenance both sides.

    Honestly – shame on you for placing the ugly side out!

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