Thursday, January 26, 2012

What is a privacy screen? What are the rules for building privacy screens?

Privacy Screens

What exactly is a privacy screen. What is the difference between a trellis-work and a decorative screen and a privacy screen?

In the eyes of a local building department--nothing. In the eyes of a committee of adjustment or a tribunal... there is a world of difference.

When what you build ends up being an eyesore, you will always lose your case. When a well built and obviously architecturally inspired privacy screen is in place, they nearly always side with you. 

A privacy screen is typically "A visual barrier to provide privacy". It can be an 8' solid fence, an intricate trelliage, a semi private fence or even fishing line that trains vines skyward. If you call it a privacy screen--generally a building department or bylaw enforcement agency will see it as such.

Rules for building privacy screens vary from town to town, borough to borough. Your first step should be Google and second should be visiting your local city hall.

If you are reading this you have likely landed in this situation where a neighbour has complained, or you are planning to build a privacy screen and you want to know if you can legally build a privacy screen on your property.

This is another case where building departments are flying by the seats of their pants to paint something they really don't understand as "This" or "That".

Can you dig half a hole? Not unless you define the hole.

Leaving judgements up to low level managers leads to stress among homeowners. In one area we can build anything we want if it it contains 3" spaces, and 3 miles away they could make you tear the same thing down because it has been deemed to not fit within specifications by a single clerk's interpretation of a more or less identical bylaw.

When it comes down to it most areas bylaws were created to address a certain situation that occurred that resulted in 2 neighbors arguing.

When you are dealing with the building department or municipal bylaw office or even the zoning department you need to take copious notes. It is always best to take a sketch of what you want to build and get their opinion there. The plans examiners and bylaw enforcement officers know the commonly enforced rules and should be able to give you  enough information that you can plan a privacy screen with confidence.

You need to get a business card or write down the names of everyone you speak to. While you go through this process you will discover something magical. If you ask someone at the building department for their card or name they may immedietly call someone else over. This means that you were speaking with someone less experienced at first contact and you may have been wasting your time or about to get inaccurate information.

If they tell you that you cannot legally build the privacy screen you want--you need to ask questions. What can I legally build. Ask for interpretations and definitions so that you can design something that fits your requirements and yours. There is always a large grey area within bylaws.

If you live in Ontario you can speak to Dave Macilius (289) 339-9600 (Hamilton-Burlington) , Mark Schwarz (519) 669-2972 (Kitchener Waterloo), Paul Corsetti (416) 455-5515 (Toronto + GTA). These guys are talented designers that can help you interpret the rules in your favour.

Across Canada and in the US you will want to speak to me, Lawrence Winterburn. (888) 293-8938. I can help you design suitable privacy screens that will meet local code requirements.

To see more Privacy Screens check out our Gallery of Privacy Screens and our Decks Gallery

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