Good fences make more than good neighbours, they make peace of mind. Calgary, Alberta, fencing contractor Sam Bradbury says he is in the business of delivering just that.
Fences are supposed to work for you when you're there, keeping stuff in or keeping stuff out and establishing your boundaries. When they look good, when they're built well for your purposes and last, it makes it look like you care, when actually you're carefree," says Bradbury.
He would know. Fencing is a tradition in his family. "My father was in fencing in England. My brother now operates that company. We moved to New Zealand and we fenced there a number of years and now we're in Canada," he says.
In New Zealand and England, fencing is a respected craft, he explains. In England, the Bradbury firm was invited to join the guild of master craftsmen. Tom Jones, the Welsh singer, hired Bradbury Fencing to install the post and rail fences that wind their way around his country estate.
When he first moved to Alberta, Bradbury was surprised by the generally poor quality of fencing, and the number of smaller acreage owners that have yet to install permanent fences around their properties. "In many parts of the world, that's what goes up first. Then they build the house," he says.
In addition, he noted the extensive use of chain-link fence in Canada. "There are so many attractive alternatives in wood, or wood and wire, that are cost-competitive and more attractive."
Bradbury takes his fencing seriously. From the Mercedes Unimog fencing truck and huge New Zealand-built, hydraulic fencing tool capable of breaking underground boulders, to the fine details of each post, his projects are professional.
Fencing smaller parcels of land and staying within a budget is challenging, says Bradbury. "You've invested in this land and expensive new home and you want it to look its best, but without high construction or maintenance costs. A beautiful acreage inside a bad fence would be like putting a Picasso in a Fibreboard frame."
He suggests "putting your best face on for the crowd." This involves choosing the most expensive materials for fencing public spaces, and using treated wooden posts and wire elsewhere, to keep costs down.
Bradbury prefers economical stained wood to plastic or steel because of its natural look and long-term durability. "If moss grows on the north side of that nice white plastic or steel fenceˇand in more humid parts of the country it will grow - you'll be hard pressed to make it look good again," he says.
"Natural, dark or even lighter toned stained wooden rail fences don't show the effect of the environment as much, and when they do, it just adds to their appeal."
Bradbury suggests using the newer fencing materials for gates or driveway entrances, where more formal design is called for and where maintenance is most easily performed. "You don't necessarily want your fence's best day to be the one on which it was built. With wood, it looks good day one and gets better with time."
Defining the need for the fence will help determine the materials, he says. "Many folks in the newer acreage developments of Canada are living in areas where cattle were grazed and that continues, with lots of folks buying a few animals for their 20 or 40 acres. For that, barbed wire is fine for fencing the less public areas. But if you ever think you might want horses or think that the next owner might, you need to plan for smooth wire systems, like solar electric.
"Horses will tear a steel fence to pieces once they realize it flexes," he adds. "Good wood will flex, but it doesn't break, and they learn that and stop trying it."
Bradbury says buyers shouldn't be afraid to pay a little more for slightly heavier posts 9 to 12.5 centimetres (3.5 to 5 inches) in diameter.
Any new fence construction or repair that results in posts being cut or the outer surface being marred should be treated and restained, and any end-grain that is exposed should be sealed with wax treatment, he says.
Contractors should ask to analyze the soil structure of your property and examine the site thoroughly before providing a quotation for a job, Bradbury cautions. "It's a dead giveaway that they're interested in your money and not your fence if they don't get a good look at the site before they bid the job. Half the job is knowing what those posts are going to be sitting in. Is it a hard crust over jelly, or is it hardpan? That affects materials choices, and design, and ultimately the price."