Choosing a Privacy Fence for an Apartment Patio That Keeps Residents Happy

Steel fence with wooden infills

A steel fence with wooden infills is an unusual configuration but one that’s durable and attractive–perfect for providing privacy for apartment residents.

In my career I’ve had the chance to work on quite a few big multi-unit apartment buildings, and, having done a lot of outdoor work, I’ve often been given jobs out on the patios. If you have seen the dividing walls and screens that separate the patios or small backyards of units, then perhaps you’ve been around some of my work. Over the years I’ve discovered all sorts of flimsy and ugly ways to create privacy structureswobbly vinyl fencing with rusted-out screws in the wall; wooden dividers rotted at the bottom; solid masonry and concrete walls that sometimes diminish the flexibility of the spatial arrangements. Yet multiplex units with adjacent backyard patios still require a divider of some kind to give residents their own space. Very often, these end up being simple wooden privacy fences, but a privacy fence for an apartment patio can be built in a way that’s much more interesting, stylish, and durable. Even a small upgrade like this one can help keep property value high and units filled.

Features of an Ideal Privacy Fence for an Apartment Patio

So what are current and potential residents looking for in a privacy fence between patios, and what should you be looking for? You and your residents’ needs should be pretty closely aligned in this case, because the more durable and long-lasting the privacy fencing you choose is, the less maintenance and replacement will fall to you, and the longer the fence will stay beautiful.

  • Privacy: This is the most obvious of them all! When sitting on the back deck or patio, most people enjoy having as few sightlines with their neighbors as possible, so the more solid the wall, the better.
  • Durability: On most of the projects that I work on, the client is looking to install something that doesn’t require constant inspection and upkeep. This is especially true when the costs of maintenance work are mostly coming out of the pockets of the building owners. Choosing a material that might cost a bit more upfront but will last and look great for years is an excellent pathway to ensuring the long-term value of a property.
  • Aesthetics: One of the most important results of improving the aesthetics of a property is an increase in the overall value, as well as the perception by current and potential residents. In my mind, aesthetics is closely tied to durability, because high-quality materials usually don’t need much more than the base material to look good. If I have to slather layers of paint or sealer onto a barrier, I generally opt for something else, because that results in a less attractive structure as well as one that will require regular maintenance.

Choosing the Materials for a Privacy Fence

Different fencing materials are going to produce different aesthetic results and will also have varying maintenance requirements. One rule of thumb is that cheaper options, like wood, tend to need more frequent tending and replacement of parts, whereas more expensive options, like steel, will usually have a much longer maintenance-free lifespan.

  • Wood: Wood is an attractive natural material, at least when it’s new, and has the potential to take on many different styles and shapes. However, it’s also one of the most susceptible to weathering, and care has to be taken to keep the wood from rotting, drying, and breaking down before its time. While the vertical slats of a wooden fence are fairly easy to replace, the most common issue with these structures is the rotting and deterioration of the posts and horizontal rails. With the posts, the damage is most frequently near or beneath the ground where they most often come into contact with moisture. With the rails, the damage is usually most pronounced where they are screwed into the posts. Damage here either requires a new rail to be added below the old one or sometimes a new section to be put in. Preventing these issuesand the worn, scruffy appearance that they producerequires regular cleaning, typically with a pressure washer, as well as sealing or staining. Nails or screws may also need to be replaced if they pop or become loose. If none of this work is an issue, however, wood may be an easy, inexpensive option to consider.
  • Concrete and Masonry: Concrete, cinder block, and masonry walls are certainly sturdy and built to last. They have the benefit of providing complete privacy while rarely requiring repairs or maintenance besides initial sealing. The biggest drawback of masonry walls is that they aren’t particularly easy to alter once they are put in place. In addition, in some contexts, they may simply take up too much space. Finally, they have a boxy, industrial aesthetic which may or may not be a draw for residents, depending on the style of your building.
  • Steel: Like concrete, steel is a very sturdy, tough material. Its biggest drawback has always been its tendency to rust, which for many years negated its practical and aesthetic benefits. However, times have changed and there are now a few lines of steel fencing on the market that are sufficiently well-coated that they are able to remain rust-free for years on end. The other drawback of steel fencing for use as a privacy divider is that the most common type of steel fencingrail and picketisn’t solid. However, one steel fencing system deals with this problem by attaching wooden or composite vertical slats between the steel pickets, creating an iron and wood security fence that also acts as a privacy fence. These tall, sturdy, and attractive combination fences also make excellent fencing for gated communities.

I don’t have any one material that I use all of the time, because different situations, different buildings, and different needs call for different materials. That said, when my clients desire an effortlessly beautiful, low-maintenance wall that doesn’t have a huge footprint, then I suggest a galvanized steel fence with a wooden or composite infill. When this is the clear choice, the first place I send my clients is Fortress Fence. Not only are they one of the few companies that manufactures a steel fencing system with a wooden infill (their Estate Ornamental Privacy Fence), but their fencing is also some of the most durable, tough fencing on the market, as it’s protected by an e-coating, a zinc layer, and a premium powder coating. In addition to their fencing products, I also recommend going through their full catalog of building materials for products like decking and porch railings.