Block Fences in Phoenix

Seriously, What's Up, Phoenix?

I receive many questions about living in the Valley of the Sun. When I notice recurring themes, I try to address those issues. Here's one that I get every few months: What's up with all the block fences?

What's a Block Fence?

Yes, many homes in the greater Phoenix area have solid fences around the backyard that are made of cinder block or masonry. There are many reasons that people build block fences:

  1. Privacy
    Many of the lots in the greater Phoenix area are very small, and a block fence adds privacy to the yard. Not many people want their neighbors to be watching them from 20 feet away while they are lounging in the pool, barbecuing burgers, or sitting on the patio in the evening. Not only might you not want them to see you, but you might not want to see your neighbor sunbathing nude either.
  2. Security
    Block fences of a reasonable height are more difficult to climb than chain link fences. From a general security standpoint, if people can't see what's in your yard, or watch you through the windows in your house, they are less likely to know what's in your yard or in your home. Additionally, people with swimming pools want to make sure that neighbor children won't become endangered by getting into the yard and falling into the swimming pool.
  3. Low Maintenance
    Block fences last a very long time and are easy to maintain. People will often paint the block walls to match the house, or add stucco and paint to match the house. In that case there is some maintenance, as the fence will probably need to repainted as often as the exterior of the house is repainted.
  1. Noise Abatement
    Homes and neighborhoods that are close to well-travelled streets use block walls to minimize the noise. Even if a home doesn't back up to a through street, a block fence can help reduce noise from neighborhood dogs, kids, fountains, and generally loud neighbors.
  2. Sturdiness
    Block fences don't blow down during monsoon storms, and they aren't impacted by Phoenix summer heat. Block walls don't rust or warp, and they don't rot.
  1. No bugs
    Block walls are not associated with bug problems or termites, as wood fences might be. Block fences don't attract mold.
  2. Critter Control
    A block fence can keep some desert critters out of your yard and will keep most dogs in your yard.
  3. Fireproof
    Not much more to say about this category. Blocks don't burn. Wooden fences or natural fences (hedges) do.
  4. Weed/Plant Barrier
    Block fences do a relatively good job of keeping the stuff that's growing on the other side of the wall from coming into your yard. Block fences will also keep the neighbor's sprinklers from watering your yard.

So, if block fences are so wonderful, why doesn't everyone love them? Well, there are several reasons.

  1. Block fences are expensive (but not as expensive as brick).
  2. Block fences are not necessarily attractive. You can add ornamental iron to them, but that will change the nature of the security, privacy, and maintenance issues. Some people have designs or murals painted on their side of the walls to make them more interesting or artistic.
  3. Block fences are difficult and costly to move after they have been built.

If you are considering a block fence for your home, there are some things you should do before you start pouring the foundation:

  • If you live in a home subject to HOA rules, you must get your fence plans approved before beginning construction.
  • If you have a next door neighbor, it might be wise to discuss it. First of all, letting your neighbor know about the fence beforehand might make it less threatening or insulting. Secondly, often neighbors will share the cost of a common wall, although there is no law that says they have to do it. If you share the cost, make sure there is an agreement about where on the property line the wall will be placed. If you don't have a neighbor, and you have HOA approval, make sure you place the fence on your side of the property line so you don't have to remove the block fence later.
  • Be careful about what you plant inside a block fence, especially if it is painted. The sun reflecting off that wall will create more heat and could burn flowers or shrubs planted next to it.