Fencing a Home in a Historic District

July 16, 2018 ~ Posted By Jim Jenkins


Considering buying a home in the downtown Frederick area? Thinking of looking into other areas such as Emmitsburg, Thurmont, or New Market? Have a home in Hagerstown or Middletown? Before buying a home or installing a fence, one major factor you need to consider is that some of these have historic areas within them and each of these counties may limit the type of fence materials you can use to build a fence around your home.

Fencing in Frederick’s Historic District

Frederick County, in particular, has an entire set of guidelines for both home and fence construction in its historic area, resulting in some commercial retailers from locating in the downtown area. This is done to protect the historical architectural style within the city. In addition to fence materials, you are also limited to how tall the fence can be, the type of railings you can build in and around your front entrance and the types of materials you can use to treat your fence once it’s built.

Wrought iron railings in the historic district in Frederick help preserve the historical feel of the downtown area.

For example, the guidelines for wood fence in downtown Frederick clearly state that “Any species of untreated, non-composite wood can be used for wood elements in the Historic District, except as prohibited by building codes. Plywood may be approved, but only where the edges are not visible. All visible wood surfaces must be painted or stained with a solid, opaque stain that resembles a paint finish and conceals the wood grain.” So what does this mean for home owners (and commercial businesses)?

Frederick’s historic district requires that visible pressure-treated wood only can be used where wood is in direct contact with the ground, such as posts, lattice and some structural and trim elements. It also can be used for structural elements that are concealed. However, there are exceptions, so that means that your steps, porch posts, porch floors, trim and balustrades cannot be built of pressure-treated wood; nor can you use pressure treated wood for all street-facing gates and fences. You also cannot use board on board fences, stockade and split rail fences as well as vinyl fence.

Two of Frederick Fence’s finest installers adding a fence in the Historic District.

Walk around Frederick’s downtown area and you’ll see that many buildings make use of decorative metal such as cast iron, sheet metal, pressed metal and corrugated metal in front, while many backyard areas make use of wood fence, such as five or six-foot privacy fence (five is the norm and you must seek special permission from the Historic Preservation Commission for six-foot fences), picket fence or chain link.

What to Do When Building a Fence in a Historic Area

The most important thing to do when you build a fence in a historic area is obtain a fence permit and then check whether you need to contact a county or city’s historic district and read the guidelines before submitting a permit. Failure to do this will result in delays and—if you’re not paying attention—additional fees should you begin building a fence without prior approval. We’ve seen homeowners attempt to build a fence without contacting the county first and if you happen to live in a historic district, you can pay lofty fines and shell out additional costs to build a fence that meets city code. Bottom line: do your research on fence regulations before building a fence in a historic district or work with a professional fence vendor who already knows how to navigate through the permit and approval process.

Popular Fence Materials in Historic Districts

If you want to live in a historic area, there are many materials to choose from to ensure your fence upholds the natural charm that comes with living in a home with great architectural appeal. The most popular fence materials you’ll often see include:

Wood Fences

Wooden fences—especially picket fences—are popular in many historic areas. However, note that in many instances, you can use wood materials to fence in the backyard area as opposed to the front. Picket fences are popular in many historic areas as are solid board fences with cap boards or “dog ears,” which are rounded edges.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron remains a most popular fence material for homes situated in a historic district. These fences offer a classic look that go well with Victorian or Federalist style homes. The drawback to authentic wrought iron is that it can be among the most expensive of materials to fabricate and often require a lot of care to prevent them from rusting. A great alternative to wrought iron is aluminum; just make sure you can use ornamental aluminum in your area before ordering and installing your fence!

Brick, often combined with other types of fence materials, helps maintain the architectural legacy of historic areas.

Brick and Stone

Aside from wood and iron, historical districts often allow homeowners to build fences with bricks or stones, which were popular options as homes began to sprout up across America during its infancy. Many historical districts still feature brick fences around homes from when the homes were first built. You may also be able to combine brick with other elements such as wrought iron or aluminum or see brick fences that make use of negative space in their design to allow homeowners to peer through the fence from the privacy of their yards.

Ready for a Fence in a Historic District?

If you’re interested in purchasing a home in a historic district or have an existing home in one of these areas and need a new fence, we are more than happy to help you design an historic fencing solution that keeps you in compliance with all county and city codes. In fact, at Frederick Fence, we will handle the entire permit process for you!
Just let us know what your ideas are, and we’ll work with you to design a fence solution that complements your home and meets all city requirements! Click on our on-line chat icon, visit our Contact page or just give us a call at 1-800-49-FENCE to get started on your historic fence project! 

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