White picket fence often evokes `home'

April 06, 2008|By Nzong Xiong | Nzong Xiong,McClatchy-Tribune

The image of a home surrounded by a white picket fence has always stayed with Lynne Gibbs of Clovis, Calif.

"To me, it represented the all-American dream," says Gibbs, 63, a retired paralegal. "It was why I wanted one. When I was growing up, the white picket fence meant harmony with your house, your family, your spouse. Everybody wanted the house with a picket fence."

The dream became a reality for Gibbs when she bought the last lot at the end of the street in a new subdivision. Before she and her husband moved in 2005, she went to Lowe's and bought some vinyl white picket fencing. She hired a handyman and his assistant to install the fencing.

"Being on a corner lot, first of all, it would look nice, but more importantly, keep people from walking across the lawn," she says.

For many, the American dream includes owning a home with a white picket fence. The classic image still can be found in many places, from older neighborhoods to new subdivisions. But the fencing materials and looks that many are using today don't always look like the classic style you may have seen growing up.

In older neighborhoods, finding at least one home on the block with a white picket fence isn't hard. One of those homes in the Fresno, Calif., area belongs to Wayne Huber. When he and his wife, Laurell, bought their colonial home 37 years ago, the wood picket fence surrounding the front yard already was there. Through the years, he has labored to keep it up. He's rebuilt the fence twice with new redwood pickets.

"When I was rebuilding it, [the house] looked so funny" standing by itself, says Huber, the performing arts division chairman at Fresno Pacific University. The house is tiny, at about 1,000 square feet. Without the fence, the home looked even smaller, he says. Every other year or so, he repaints the fence.

Despite all the work the wooden fence requires, he has no plans to remove it permanently.

"It just goes with the house," he says. Nor will he replace it with some of the newer white picket fences, most of which are made out of vinyl.

"I want to, but I wouldn't do it," he says. "You know the difference," even if the wood and vinyl ones look similar from a distance.

The new vinyl products usually include metal support beams in the bottom rails of the fence, says Jorge Lopez, owner of Dry Creek Fence Co. in Clovis, Calif. No painting is necessary, and maintenance is minimal. If the pickets get dirty, you can hose or wash them down.

"People who call me, they don't even want wood anymore," he says.

The pickets come in several styles, including dog-eared, where the two top corners are cut diagonally; and Gothic, where the top narrows to almost a point.

Picket fences often are 4 feet to 5 feet tall. They can be of equal lengths or form an arch or scalloped pattern.

The cost of vinyl picket fences depends on how much you need and the design you want, Lopez says. Generally, the cost will start at $28 to $30 a foot. Gibbs estimates she paid about $2,500 for her fence, including labor and materials.

For wood pickets, whether you want to build your own fence or replace individual pieces, they start at $2.95 for a cedar picket and $3.25 for a redwood one at White Pine Lumber in Fresno.

Americana aside, people like white picket fences for a couple of practical reasons. One reason is to keep their small dogs gated, Lopez says.

Many of the newer vinyl picket fences have 2-inch to 2 1/2 -inch gaps, Lopez says, adding that traditional wood ones are usually slightly wider at 3 inches.

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