Monday, May 9, 2011

How To Deal With Grass Shaded By Fences

Meticulous gardeners and backyard hobbyists find that one of the most frustrating tasks is to maintain good quality lawns and gardens in areas where a fence blocks out sunlight.  There are a few solutions available that offer hope.
Solid fences, although attractive, pose a number of issues.  Because of the wind resistance that they present, solid fences are more vulnerable to sway and swing, and often become out of alignment.  Solid fences also draw considerable heat from the sun’s rays, and dry out the soil more quickly on their sunny side than on their back sides.  This creates significant temperature swing that is stressful for plants and grasses next to that fence line.  It is not uncommon to see burned grass in mid-summer right next to the solid fence.  Because of their design rainfall tends to pool as kit runs off the vertical fence side. 
The easiest solution to resolve problems created by solid fencing is to till the soil about six inches back from the fence.  This allows water to drain more freely and provides, like loose-fill insulation, a moderating effect on  temperature swings.  On the shaded side, hostas, ivies and other woodland floor types of ground cover are ideal.  The ground cover will wick up the excess moisture that the aerated soil is unable to absorb.
There are a number of shade-tolerant grasses that grow well along the sunlit-deprived fence lines.  By blending a mix of one part open-area grass seed to three parts shade grass seed, and overseeding in the first one to two feet near the fence, you will be able to maintain a good lawn, and very little variation in grass colour will be detected.
Because fences that are built low to the ground do not allow for proper air movement, moss and other shade-craving nuisance plants will develop.  Ideally, construct solid fences (not those made with brick or stone) with a four to six inch gap at the bottom.  This will allow for good air flow and a minimal amount of light to penetrate.
A less attractive, but viable option for solid fences that block sun to grassy areas is to apply a layer of decorative stone (river rock or crushed mica, feldspar or similar stone) along the six inch edge along the fence.  Do not use bark or other mulching types of material, as these will hold the moisture.  
A unique option for areas where the light is limited in only a small space is to use reflective design features, such as ponds, mirrors, or even aluminum barbeques and accessories, strategically placed so that the sunlight will reflect back against the fence or dark corner for a few hours each day.
The best option, though, is to avoid constructing a solid fence section  where lack of sunlight will cause problems with the grass or plant growth.  In the alternative, plan to eliminate vegetation in  those areas, and, instead, find more attractive non-plant solutions.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Integrating fence into deck or patio

Particularly in urban environments, decks that are bordered by a fence, or decks that integrate the fence component into the design are common.  There are a variety of advantages to coordinating fence enclosures with your deck that contribute to that appeal. 
A border that flows easily from one backyard structure to another provides an aesthetic advantage, which makes a standalone structure less intrusive. Landscaping that further amalgamates various elements of your back yard provides a smooth transition from the natural environment to the man-made modules.
Continuing the construction design of a deck with a fence constructed of similar materials provides cost and construction savings, as well. However, disparate materials and accents can provide a focal point for specific features that you wish to highlight.
When designing the layout, materials and visual impact of your fence and deck combination, you should view the package as an extension of your inside living space since, indeed, you are expanding your home by adding this seasonal outdoor living feature.  Consider, carefully, how you have utilized your outdoor space in the past, what your social entertainment needs for the space may be, and how you would like to use this space to greatest benefit.  Rather than attempting to emulate a design that you saw in a magazine or at an outdoor living show, adapt your plan to meet your individual wants, needs and preferences. Having a large deck with a host of accent pieces, fancy accessories and so on may look great in the showroom or in a magazine, but may not meet your personal needs.
By integrating the fence into your deck design, you will be able to isolate this outdoor living space more effectively, and develop features that blend well. For those of us that prefer to hold larger social gatherings in our back yards, consider a more Spartan design, with fewer adornments.  The open, Spartan feel will allow for greater freedom of movement by guests.  In that instance, a simply designed fence, with clean lines, will suit your needs.  But if you prefer more intimate gatherings, consider building alcoves or seating elements into the perimeter enclosure, turning the fence into seating and areas more amenable to one-on-one conversations.  If you prefer to use your backyard as a place of privacy and contemplation, consider deck swings and softer bench designs that blend into your fence and deck, and allow for the two of you to contemplate your surroundings peacefully.
Practical considerations are important in planning the layout of your fence and deck combination, as well.  For decks that are elevated 24 or more inches above ground, building codes in your region may well require a fence that meets minimum standards.  On a ground-level deck, a fence may act as an impediment rather than an attraction.  If children or pets are involved, you may need to provide a fence that offers security and a safe enclosure.
The design and integration of a fence into your deck and patio should not be a casual consideration, but undertaken only after considering the use to which the area will be put, and your specific needs or requirements.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Deck Gardening

Gardening on decks  has made a comeback that rivals the comebacks of Brett Favre, George Foreman or Evander Holyfield.  The new “green” movement, combined with the 100-mile diet has stimulated backyarders and urban farmers to rejuvenate their green space into black and green (as in soil and veggies).
But the new gardening enthusiasm has opened myriad new prospects for petunias and venues for veggies.  Across urban North America, rooftops are blooming with flowers, glowing with grass and topped with trees, as green roof technologies offer an assortment of benefits.  Indoor gardens, hydroponics and soilless systems grace countertops and coffee tables.  Even patios, verandas and decks relinquish space to pots and planters of all sorts.
This gardening phenomenon (don’t call it a craze!) offers even more opportunity for avid green-spacers.  Built-in growing stations – larger than pots, and with watering or light-guiding systems – are found on deck edges and parapets of balconies.  One of the most novel approaches is to design eco-friendly fences with recesses and alcoves for favourite flowers or fruit bushes. 
More than decorative, these planting spots add a chance to include fresh fruits and vegetables to your city diet, fresh from your own city farm. 
Some of these planters have been incorporated into wooden fences, offering a break from the visual straight-line perspective that conventional walled fences present.  Others have been built into stone retaining walls, or dry-stack fencing.  Still more fit nicely into cinder-block or split rail fences.  Indeed, planters constructed into fence lines can be included in any material system, from wood to PVC. 
Planters that have been included in the integrity of a fence also may add stability, offering reinforcement against wind load, and a solid footing for longer lines of continuous-run fencing.
But garden fences offer the ability to combine a variety of fence styles and materials in one run.  Simply by including climbing vines, like clematis, grapes, hops or scarlet runner, the galvanized chain link fence, open horizontal board fence or even split rail fence is provided with a decorative façade that hides the plainness of these materials.
Constructing these fences, though, requires a professional touch and a personal flair for eye appeal.  For this reason, homeowners are urged to work with a quality fence builder, to ensure that their dreams and mental images are realized in the final design.
While the days of back lot vegetable gardens are not likely to return to the prominence that they had in the 1940s, the new gardener sees significantly more options and avenues to explore his own inner gardener.  And fences, no longer, are a barrier to garden growth!

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Use Deck Pads

The term “deck pad” actually is an inappropriate term for a construction product that most often is used inappropriately, largely because of its name.
Many of the cement blocks used as deck support blocks actually are nothing more than 15 by 15, 18 by 18 or 24 by 24 inch patio slabs.  These slabs are generally 1.5 to 2” thick, which is insufficient for most deck applications.  Rather, a thickness of 3 or more inches on a pad is needed to bear the weight of most deck posts.
In addition, because deck pads seem so simple to use, they are often installed incorrectly.  A deck pad for any sized deck needs to be installed only after a level area of the surface soil has been scraped away and a layer of one inch of sand per square foot laid down and packed in place, to allow for proper drainage.
By installing the pads in a manner that is not solid or level, excess weight bears down on a smaller area of the pad, and can contribute to the pad breaking.  If the pad and deck are installed on a sloped surface, the posts (generally 4 by 4 inch) rest unevenly on the surface, and may actually slip downward over time, resulting in partial or complete collapse of the deck.
One of the better deck pad designs “traps” the four by four post in a raised square of concrete, preventing it from slipping.  However, where the height of the deck exceeds two feet or more, those four by four supports become nothing more than free-standing stilts, relying on whatever anchor is used to hold them to the deck framework.  With repeated vibration, or even strong winds, those pillars may shift.
The most appropriate use for deck pads is where the deck is not elevated at too high a distance from the ground, and where the deck is not excessively large. In some situations, deck pads may be used to support small extensions, or in between piles that are secured in the ground.  In this manner, they act as supplementary supports.
Deck pads also can be used where the deck is securely anchored to the building, and where there is no angled pressure or weight on the pad.  Ideally, deck pads work best where the cupped square opening allows the deck beams to rest fully in the cradle, rather than on a short or long post.
In softer soils, deck pads will rise and fall with varying moisture content, resulting in uneven deck plates.  For this reason, they must be installed on packed porous surfaces.
Many cities specify, in their building codes, where pads may or may not be employed.  If you are in doubt, and if your region does not have its own building code, review that of a nearby city, to determine what they see as the minimum standard for the use of deck pads versus footings, piles or foundations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to reduce paint/stain fade on fences

Wooden fences are particularly vulnerable to fading and flaking of paint or stain, regardless of whether they are built in open sun, full shade, the arid southwest or the humid northwest.  However, there are a number of choices of materials that make that problem less of a concern.
Woods such as cedar contain lots of oils, that tend to repel moisture and insects,  Consequently, if cost is less of a factor in your choice of woods, cedar is more viable than spruce, pine or fir.  Be sure, though, that you are purchasing cedar, and not cedartone wood.  For wood posts, choose treated four by four or six by six posts, either in brown or green treatment.  This treatment delays the onset of wood rot.
 Even when you have selected treated wood, though, you will need to reapply preservative periodically.  For instance, on horizontal deck surfaces, you will need to recoat every few years.
Conditions that are too dry, too moist, too cold, or too hot all impact on the lifespan of your fence treatments.  That pretty well covers the entire continent! 
Perhaps the harshest weather element is direct sunlight, which dries the woods rapidly.  When applying a protective coating, it is critical that you do not apply paints or stains in direct, hot sunlight, as the temperature variations along the boards will cause the finish to penetrate and dry at uneven rates, or even to fail to penetrate at all.  Applying stain or paint to wood that is wet will, likewise, not allow the product to penetrate adequately, although water-based paints and stains will integrate better than oil-based ones.  Stains generally work better than paints on softwood materials, and last somewhat longer.  However, they, too, will dry and powder out of the wood eventually. Varnish or lacquer applied to a fence is definitely not recommended, particularly where that varnished area will be exposed to a hot sun.
There are a variety of ways to reduce the rate at which paints fade on fences exposed to sunlight.  Shade trees and bushes, grown at a distance away from the fence and blocking some of the hottest rays of the sun will increase the lifespan of the paint application.  Wood preservatives and moisture repellents are great on horizontal surfaces.  Be sure that you do not install reflective surfaces such as ponds or stainless steel barbeques so that light is reflected directly on the fence.  Similarly, consider exterior blinds for windows that reflect the harsh sun directly on a fence surface.
Of course, even better solutions are available, if you choose to use materials that are pre-painted, or where the colour is impregnated into the materials.  This includes aluminum products, resins and PVC fencing.
If wood is your only choice, however, recognize that, regardless of what surface application you use, eventually, you will be outdoors, sprayer, brush or roller in  hand!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Increasing the lifespan of your fence

Most of us assume that the best way to increase the lifespan of our fence is to apply a new coat of paint or stain each spring.  But this is only one small step in to the process of ensuring that your backyard enclosure lasts as long as possible.
The procedure of maintaining your fence and ensuring its longevity actually begins prior to building the structure.  Too often, we build inadequately and then attempt to compensate by repeated, desperate attempts at salvaging a project that is nearly beyond redemption!  That is the hallmark, too, of many disreputable fence contractors, who construct what is initially an attractive project, but that deteriorates rapidly in an environment for which it was ill-suited.
Before you even dig the first post hole or set the first support, consider all of the impacts and inputs that will affect your fence.  Such considerations as the amount of direct sunlight, exposure to winds, accessibility to foot traffic on sidewalks (and risk of graffiti, vandalism or inadvertent damage), contact with prolonged moisture, proximity to gardens and plants or soil and substrate conditions all will determine how successfully you will be able to extend the lifespan of your fence. Of course, underlying all of these factors is the choice of materials, the choice of design, and the integrity of the structure itself.
Each material has specific advantages and disadvantages, in various applications.  Many of the pvc products, for example, resist fading, can be set into high-moisture environments, and are structurally sound.  At the same time, the continuity of one colour is an open invitation to graffiti artists in urban settings.
While wood is eschewed by some homeowners because it may rot, degrade or deform in harsh environments, those problems are often the consequence of choosing the wrong wood for the particular situation.  Treated woods are much more appropriate for higher-humidity situations or for setting in soil that does not drain as well as other types.  Wood such as cedar has a natural resistance to rot due to high humidity, but is less friendly to a variety of paints in high-sunlight areas.
Fences in high wind zones need to be constructed in such a manner that they are able to withstand the blunt force of wind on their surfaces, or so that they deflect the wind or allow it to move more freely around and through the structure.
Fences exposed to sunlight need regular treatment with good, absorbing paints and stains, and need to be painted or stained when they are fully dried and cured.  Saving on materials by buying poorly dried woods will result in blistering and paint failure more rapidly than if you invest in well-dried woods.  Pre-treatment and sealing of many materials is critical to ensuring durability of finishes.
Many fences that are otherwise designed and constructed well will fail, because fasteners and supports at critical junctures are inadequate.  Particularly in areas to frost heave, such as near building walls exposed to sunlight in winter, poor anchors will cause the fence to shift.  Hinges and section fasteners that may be adequate, but are not installed at critical load or weight-bearing points will allow the fence components to move or distort.
Fences that are built so that plants and growth is allowed to encroach on them will deteriorate at those spots more rapidly than in areas where air flow is unrestricted.  By edging lawns and gardens a few inches away from the base of the fence, air movement allows for the ability of the fence to breathe as naturally as the rest of the structure.
Of course, even with all the proper precautions and prerequisites taken care of, any fence ill still require ongoing care, whether it be regular washing of PVC materials, readjustment of hinges and brackets, or periodic painting and tightening of screws.  A healthy fence, like a healthy body, needs care and consideration that is ongoing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Privacy Screen Fence Options

The first image that comes to mind when discussing privacy fences is that of a high-rising, solid wood or stone wall.  While that, in a very literal sense, is a definitive privacy fence, there are myriad options that should also be considered.
Materials that run the gamut from cloth to green-growing fencing, from lattice to bamboo, or from PVC to concrete provide viable privacy screen fence options. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and applications for which some are suited while others are not.  Many of the best privacy fence designs incorporate a combination of two or more options.
The first of these is the “green” screen fence.  That buzzword may intimate either a growing, shrub or plant-based divider or an eco-friendly concept.  In as many instances as possible, eco-friendly considerations should form a part of your decision-making.  However, pure green-growing fences have the advantage of being almost maintenance free, and generally more economical to plant.  However, long growing times may mean that your “fence” may not be truly private for a decade or so!  In winter, all but evergreens will shed their foliage and leave you exposed to the outside world.
Eco-green fences are a bit more nebulous, with some claiming that only a wood fence is “green,” while others insist that the materials used must be recycled and reclaimed, as well as requiring sustainable installation processes.  The reality is that even PVC fencing can claim to be “green,” due to its very low maintenance regimen, the dearth of painting required, and the low demand for equipment for installation.
Bamboo is one of the “green material” choices that has exploded in popularity recently.
Bamboo is used for dinnerware, window shades, flooring, walls, fences even clothing.  In the proper climate and environment, it is durable, and offers a distinctive natural look.  However, simple bamboo pole construction is not as sturdy as is needed in extreme environment conditions, and requires special care in design and installation.
Shade cloths and semi-transparent natural cloth or manufactured materials are excellent choices for patio dividers and for toppers on fence segments.  While great accent pieces, they are not generally recommended for exterior standalone fencing.
Commonly, homeowners are choosing lattice fencing, lattice fence toppers or lattice used as a net for climbing plants.  The choice of materials runs from softwoods to light low-grade wood to vinyl. Low-grade wood lattice is inexpensive, but very fragile.  While vinyl materials often are 400-500% more expensive than inexpensive wood, they are far more durable, low maintenance and equally easy to install.
Stone, manufactured stone, concrete or cement decorative block fences can be quite costly, labour-intensive to install, and sufficiently heavy to result in sag and shift over a period of time.  However, there is such a range of attractive materials and design that many homeowners prefer these types of privacy structures.
One of the considerations when contemplating a solid, transparent or semi-transparent “privacy” fence is the impact it will have on the surrounding vegetation, if sunlight is blocked.  The concept of “privacy” is, for the most part, a two-way street, and if the fence blocks out views from the outside looking in, it will similarly block views from the inside looking out.  When planning your fence, consider to what purpose it will be put, and what the ramifications of your chosen deign will be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ground Screws Versus Piles

The use of ground screws in fence construction has been a widely accepted practice for more than a decade, yet the use of ground screws for decks has not been as well embraced.  However, these innovative products offer significant advantages over conventional piles & posts or pad and post systems.  They have evolved considerably in recent years, with a wider array of types and widths.
Consumers are well advised, however, to either consult with a knowledgeable supplier or research the best type of screw to use with each specific application, to avoid the risks associated with employing a screw, pile or post that is inadequate for the task.  Many do-it-yourself decks are supported, in large measure, on good faith and not good foundation!
Simple, one-level smaller decks may well be adequately supported by a 4 by 4 post on a concrete deck pad.  Even then, though, improper levelling can lead to unbalanced load distribution and shifting.
One step beyond pad and post supports is pile or pile and post supports.  Piles offer the advantage over pads of distributing the weight into the soil below the deck, and providing an underpinning that is less likely to shift with varying soil moisture content and heavy deck traffic.  In most cases for larger or multi-level decks, pile systems are the minimum standard to ensure stability, durability and strength.
But ground screws go beyond pile or pile-and-post construction, particularly for the home handyman.  Simple ground screws can be easily removed and repositioned, unlike piles. With no digging, significant manual labour is eliminated.
Ground screws act in a similar manner to wood or metal screws.  Their spiral allows for less force to be needed to insert the screw into the soil, while the increased surface area of the screw face provides more stable contact with the binding soil.  This results in decreased frost heave and shifting due to dry or wet soil conditions.  On the other hand, the screw is not suitable for some soils, such as those with lots of rubble, loose compact such as gravel or sand, shale, sandstone, dense or frozen soils.
In spite of these drawbacks, though, screws are more adaptable, and casnn be inserted in close proximity to overhangs, where piles could not be driven.  Screws can be easily installed on slopes, and the light-weight equipment used for most applications is less disruptive than heavy pile-driving machinery.
Less digging and soil disruption means less waste left over and less cleanup and less noise during construction.  Both screws and pre-cast pilings can be subjected to structural load immediately after installation, whereas poured-in-place piles require drying time.
In spite of the numerous advantage of screws, though, factors such as cost, building code requirements and aesthetic considerations need to be factored into decision-making.  To ensure that your deck supports are properly designed, we advise that you consult with a building professional, to determine the application that is most appropriate.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Proper Planning of Your Back Yard Project

The enthusiasm for a new project often overcomes the logic of planning that project properly.  Nowhere in the realm of the home handyman is this more true than in back yard upgrades and, in particular, decks and fences.  Yet, it is with proper planning that you will get the greatest enjoyment out of your project in the long run.
One of the common pitfalls of a homeowner installing a fence is the failure to check property lines accurately.  Past mistakes and mis-measurements often are compounded by assuming that the original fence line was accurate. If you do indeed build in a manner that encroaches on a neighbour’s property, he may end up owning the fence, or, worse, could remove the fence or claim damages from you!  A second failing is to properly assess the soil, the sunlight, the need for gate strength or the lines and geometry of the fence, resulting in shifting fences, frost heave, access restrictions and lawn or gardens that are killed by poor lighting.
The problems resulting from proper planning are more severe where a deck is involved.  The first concern is to know and adhere to your local building code.  For example, in the City of Winnipeg, homeowners need a permit if they build a deck that exceeds twenty-four inches above grade.  Even a modestly-sloping wheelchair ramp requires a permit.  There re restrictions on how far back from a property line a structure must be, and those distance vary, depending upon whether they are located in the front, back or side yard.  Similarly, fences on each perimeter have maximum height restrictions.
For piles and footings, it is vital that you check to see that there are no power lines or gas or water mains running across your property.  Cutting into one of those vital utilities could result in severe injury, extensive damage and even death!
But, beyond the need to conform to building code, a properly constructed deck is essential to avoid damage, failure or injury.  Anchoring a deck is critical, for example, but if done incorrectly can result in extensive damage to surrounding areas or structures.  Anchoring to a building requires ensuring that   you are anchoring to a solid component, rather than just into a façade or weakened piece of lumber.  Poorly planned deck supports can result in the deck shifting or collapsing, while posts and piles that are not properly set can cause warping, shifting and rot.
Even the location of a structure requires careful planning to get maximum enjoyment from it.  Consider how it will be used today, as well as how it may be used in the future.  Consider how it will impact on nearby structures.  Look at how and when it will receive light, and how sheltered or exposed it will be to the elements.  Look overhead, to see if it will impede with power lines.
Instead of rushing ahead with a project, hoping to enjoy it before that first warm weather of summer expires, take the time to plan carefully, consult with professionals, understand your requirements and explore all options.  Then, dive in! Carefully.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Retaining Walls

Retaining walls serve to retain the lateral pressure of soil. Basement walls, for example, are retaining walls, but the term is most commonly used to describe the decorative or structural build-up of material to hold back soil on a sloped surface.  Most commonly, these are seen on shore lines of creeks, or on hilly slopes.  
As a landscape feature, retaining walls provide an eye catching focal point in a yard layout.  They must be designed to resist the pressure of soil, but also often are required to resist hydraulic pressure. Because these pressures are the least at the top of the wall, most designs allow for a tapered construction, thicker at the base than at the top.
Gravity walls are constructed in such a manner that they rely on their mass to hold back the soil, while cantilevered walls often have a footing that helps to distribute lateral pressure into vertical pressure on the ground below.  They generally are reinforced internally with steel.  Anchored walls are more commonly used in rocky terrain, with the wall anchored into the solid rock behind the wall.
For the typical homeowner, though, most retaining walls are designed with both practical and aesthetic uses in mind.  While a piled wall, consisting of precast heets of concrete, slabs of steel or thick timbers pounded into the ground may serve the practical purpose well, they may be quite unsightly.  Sometimes such designs are augmented by dry-stacking stone or brick in front of the sheet, to provide the illusion of a retaining wall constructed solely of that decorative material.
The most common landscaped decorative retaining wall is the cantilevered structure, using poured concrete, decorative imitation stone, or real rock and bricks.  These allow for a continuation of the lawn or garden surface right to the lip of the wall, without unattractive gaps.
A design option that is gaining in popularity is the use of interlocking bricks, that work much like a Leggo block system.  These bricks come in a plethora of styles, sizes, shapes and colours, and are easily installed by most dedicated handymen, in one or two days.
When installing a retaining wall that will also act to resist hydraulic pressure, it is important to install proper drainage systems, as well.  This is where the home handyman most often fails, and where consulting with a professional fence installer or landscaper becomes critical.
Professional installers also are able to provide the guidance that will turn a functional retaining wall into a work of art, deserving of attention and praise.  While the cost may be substantial, the benefits, in the log term, will readily exceed the investment.

Wind Breaks

Contrary to myth, solid fencing does not provide the best wind break.  The force of the wind on the solid flat surface creates both pressure on the windward side and pressure differences on the leeward side, somewhat similar to the way an airfoil works.
To illustrate this, note that snow fences are designed with porosity, allowing some of the wind to work its way through, yet decreasing and deflecting the air flow. As a consequence of the design, snow will tend to accumulate a few feet in front of the fence, as the vortices of wind redirect.
When designing a wood fence as a windbreak, stagger the boards 2 inches apart for every six inches of width.  The ideal porosity for windbreak fences is 25-33%, and such a gap will give a 25% porosity.  This provides a protection that will extend eight to ten times the height of the fence.  Another option is to slope the fencing material, if you are intending to use the fence as a shelter for livestock.
For home and farmyard applications, consider building the fence in staggered sections, with each panel offset from adjacent ones by a foot or so.  This gapping increases airflow redirection, while also reducing wind load on the panels.  Varying the height of the panels also will aide in this redirection.  The intent, of course, is not to stop the wind, but to reduce and redirect.
When installing a wind barrier that is intended to act as a snow fence, do not install the fence right at the point where the snow is to be stopped.  Rather, set the fence back several yards, at least, so that the snow that is impeded will drop and accumulate prior to the road way or clear area that you require.  Remember that, since the wind break (if properly installed) will create a protection area that is eight to ten times the height of the fence, a four-foot fence will provide a dead zone that is up to 40 feet in front of the fence.
Some permanent wind breaks are nothing more than a good tree or brush line.  However, solid rows of trees provide less protection than porous rows, so do not plant so that an impenetrable barrier is created.  Instead, use staggered plantings, offset against each other.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, mesh fences can provide good wind barriers, as well.  Materials such as the mesh seen along the perimeter of golf driving ranges, plastic and resin meshes and even chain link fencing provide a nominal measure of protection.  To illustrate the effectiveness of a simple screen, open your house window on a cold, relatively calm winter day, and feel the coolness of the air coming in against the screen.  Then stick your hand outside and feel the difference.  That screen has partially blocked the transfer of heat due to convection.  It works similarly for wind.
Wind breaks, then, are not so much wind barriers as they are wind speed bumps.  Holding back the wind, to paraphrase Jim Croce’s song about spitting in the wind or tearing the mask off the old Lone Ranger, should not be foolishly attempted!