When it comes time to put up a fence around your rancher, there is probably one type of fence that springs to mind first. Ranchers are the homes of the archetypical white picket fence of the 1950’s, and that’s the style that many still associate with them. A white picket fence does remain an option, and I’ve had plenty of clients who’ve chosen to go that route, but others are looking for something less rooted in a specific time period–a fence style that can ‘modernize’ a rancher and give it a timeless look. These homeowners are looking for a fence style that will make the house truly their own while still complementing its style.
Ranchers do vary a lot in appearance. The style can include high-roofed homes with bonus space in the attic as well as more traditional shallow attic single story homes. This means that what looks “right” with each house in terms of fence style and height can vary. A good place to start when brainstorming fence ideas for a ranch style house is with the functions you need your fence to perform. Once you’ve figured out what type of fence serves your practical purposes, then you can consider aesthetics as well.
Practical Fence Ideas for a Ranch Style House
One issue with the white picket fences of yesteryear is that they were mostly ornamental, and today’s homeowners have considerations beyond a fence’s appearance. Privacy is a huge concern, and if your beloved pet is a Great Dane, a fence that he can’t step over is also top priority. Everyone’s needs are different, but in general, the biggest practical considerations for a fence are privacy, security, and durability. For these particular needs, the homeowners I work with most often choose one of the following:
- Chain link fences are good at keeping pets in (or out) of your yard. When they’re high, they also provide a measure of security. Other reasons people choose them are their cheapness and durability. They don’t provide much privacy however, and their looks are a weak point. Strips (usually made of polyethylene or vinyl) can be woven into the links to block views and add privacy, but chain link is purely practical to the point of being homely.
- Wood picket fences do a good job of blocking prying eyes when the pickets are close together, and are excellent at keeping pets and others on the right side of the fence. Maintenance is wood’s biggest issue. Wooden posts in the ground can rot without being noticed, and once this happens the entire fence can drop with the next strong breeze.
- Wrought iron-style fences are nowadays made of steel, are very durable, and most find them aesthetically pleasing, but their pickets are widely spaced and don’t really provide privacy. Some fences that have this look also have a gap above the ground, and so may not be the best choice if keeping a small dog in the yard is a concern. If you have a dog, look for styles that have a rail at the bottom of the fence, close to the ground. Systems like this make good fences for dogs that dig. There are also hybrid fences wood and steel fences of this type, in which the spaces between the steel pickets are filled with wood slats for added privacy.
When choosing a fence for your ranch-style home, it’s important to think about what style of fence meets your needs best while still complementing the look of your home. Synthetics and other materials are now being used to copy the look of other materials. The wood and wrought iron style fences above are simulated in fences made from synthetics and aluminum.
- PVC fencing can refer to two separate things: a DIY fence system made from PVC pipes, or plastic fence systems made to simulate picket fences, wooden privacy fences, and wrought iron. Either way, PVC fencing tends to be affordable, but not very durable.
- Vinyl fencing is made from PVC, which stands for polyvinyl chloride. The difference between vinyl and PVC fencing is that fences offered under the vinyl name tend to be—but are not always—thicker and sturdier. Vinyl fences are available in an array of colors and forms like PVC, and have the advantage of never needing to be repainted even if colors do fade over time. Its biggest drawback is that it isn’t very durable. A strong wind can blow it apart, and vandals can crack it without too much trouble.
- Aluminum is stronger than either of the synthetics listed above. Aluminum fencing almost always comes in a form simulating traditional wrought iron fences. It’s used because it is much lighter than steel and easier to transport and install. Depending on the grade of aluminum, though, these fences can be much weaker than their steel cousins. Even so, aluminum is the metal used to make aircraft, so it is certainly possible to have a sturdy aluminum fence. It is simply a question of the manufacturer’s engineering. If you choose an aluminum fence, only buy it from a manufacturer that you trust implicitly.
The common advantage of these three materials is that they’re lighter and (usually) cheaper than steel and wood. This can be a double-edged sword, as this inexpensiveness and lightness often translates to flimsiness in the final product. When choosing fencing for your rancher, also consider that it may be more affordable to spend a little extra on a more durable material rather than regularly replacing a weaker material when it breaks down.
Choosing a Fence That Looks Right with Your Rancher
The common wisdom for decorating a ranch-style home is that outdoor features need to match the low profile of the house. Following this logic, the ideal fence for the front yard of a rancher would be something in the three- to four-foot range that is easy to see over. But after a century of construction and adaptation, there is a lot of variability to the ranch house, and that low-to-the-ground advice may not hold true for every ranch-style home. A better rule of thumb to go by is visibility in the front yard, and privacy in the back. Think about how many homes—and not only ranchers—have a low chain link fence in the front, and a high wooden privacy fence in the back.
There are many options available for fencing that fit these criteria. Synthetics like PVC and vinyl come in different heights and can bring that white picket fence style to the modern ranch rambler front yard. However, this might not be the best choice for those with concerns about durability, and partly for that reason I don’t tend to recommend vinyl. A steel fence, on the other hand, can be found in a sleek style that modernizes the home, or can have added ornamentation for an old-fashioned look while being much stronger and more durable than synthetic options. Most companies will also offer steel fences in various heights, which is valuable if your one story rancher is in need of a low fence in front. For backyard privacy and security, a hybrid iron and wood security fence blocks prying eyes and meshes well with a steel front yard fence.
While it’s obviously a matter of personal preference, a steel fence meets my needs best in function, and I find the simple lines of a steel fence look good with almost any home. I think solid black steel lends a touch of grace that rebuts the ‘boring suburbia’ critique that’s commonly leveled at ranch houses. For me, that extra oomph is something that more than justifies the cost of steel.
When my clients are looking for something unique and sturdy that provides privacy for the backyard of their ranchers, I recommend the Estate Fence by Fortress Fencing Products. It combines the security and durability of steel with the privacy of a high wooden fence by using wooden slat infills between the steel pickets. It’s a look that reminds me of the gates of a castle, and it works surprisingly well with ranch homes. For front yards, Fortress’ Versai steel rail and picket fences have a “wrought iron” look and come in a variety of heights that allow you a clear view out of your single story split-level castle. For more ideas to update a ranch-style house exterior, take a look at the full line of products from Fortress.