So, you want to be alone - To get privacy, you may have to create it'
The best time to think about your privacy is long before you house is built.
But in an area where you’re more likely to purchase an existing him than have the opportunity to design from the ground up, that’s not necessarily possible.
“You may not even think about your privacy until your first day in the house. After your shower,” said Jan Degenshein, owner of a full service architectural firm in Nyack.
Degenshein said he recently toured a newly developed adult community where the homes were so closely spaced that privacy was virtually nonexistent. “The view from the bedroom window was the bedroom of the house next door. Unless someone is very friendly with his neighbors, this may not be the experience he’s looking for,” Degenshein said.
It probably isn’t. Most real estate agents in the tri-county area rate a sense of privacy as high on the wish list for most buyers. “Even if people are moving from Manhattan, they like a lot of space. Unfortunately in places like lower Westchester where the homes are fairly close together, it can be very difficult to come by,” explained Fran Gallinari, associate broker at Claire D. Leone Real Estate in Scarsdale.
Whether they’re looking at closely spaced homes in older cities and towns or more expansive properties in less developed areas, buyers seem to crave seclusion. “I work all day side-by-side with a dozen people, I squeeze onto a rush-hour train. I fight traffic to get home.
“All I want by then is a chance to be alone,” explained Louis Smith of Eastchester.
The challenge is getting it.
Throughout Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, there are sprawling, newly built homes on relatively small lots, antique properties closer to the road than the owners may like and many other residences that by design or chance are right on top of the property next door.
In Pelham Manor, a controversy has raged for more than a year over the rights of a homebuyer to even open his side door. The door straddles the boundary of the property of the house next door, which is literally located only a few inches away.
Both homes pre-date zoning regulations that would have prevented construction so close together.
But short of tearing a property down- and rebuilding farther away from the property line or the road- the only way to get privacy in many cases is to create it.
“Every lot is obviously different,’ explained landscape architect Charles Turofsky, owner of a company that services Westchester and surrounding areas. “But most of time the need for privacy relates to the houses and the way relate to each other.”
Most architects and landscapers agree with the theories advanced by Frank Lloyd Wright, who felt that buildings should blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape and topography. “It’s important to consider the house in relationship to the site, and the site in relationship to the community around it,” Degenshein said.
It’s also important to consider privacy screens in relationship to your neighbors. If you plan to put a fence or plants on the perimeter of a property, it’s a good idea to discuss options with your neighbors, so there are no disputes about he work after the job is complete.
Sometimes, a privacy fence is designed to prevent disputes with neighbors.
Alisa and Artemio Rivera wanted to enjoy midnight outings in their outdoor hot tub. “Really privately, under the stars,” Alisa Rivera said, but she added, “We didn’t want to bother anybody.”
The solution was building 100 feet of eight-foot tall fencing, some which is used to block the hot tub at their Mohegan Lake home. The Riveras suggested a solid wooden fence. But their contractor, Sylvain Côté, president of Absolute Remodeling in Yorktown Heights, thought it would block the light and air too much. Instead he designed a fence with a lattice border on the top and slates on a an angle to provide ventilation. “It hides the neighbors but not he scenery and the light,” Artmenio Rivera said.
Privacy fences, shrubs and tees can be used individually or in combination with one another to screen one property from the next and eliminate the “fishbowl!” effect.
“Many times we use evergreen screens. These are trees ranging in size from 6-20 feet,” Turofsky explained. “But in the case of a house near a busy road, we may go with a fence. The eye is drawn to movement, which can be seen even through the trees.
“A fence is and easier way to get rid of the traffic,” he said.
It’s harder to eliminate the noise it may create. Turofsky said many homeowners ask about sound barriers. “But for a sound barrier to be effective, it has to be at least 12 feet high. Most towns won’t permit anything like that.”
Municipalities generally limit fences to five to six feet in height in residential areas. However, some communities will allow higher fences, and other homeowners have successfully obtained zoning variances to build higher than the town ordinance allows.
The important thing is to check first: Don’t assume how high you can build your fence.
If you can’t achieve your goal with a fence because of zoning regulations, consider trees- in combination with a fence or by themselves.
Trees can obviously grow taller than even the highest fences. However, they can also be much more expensive. Turofsky said homeowners could expect o pay between $1,000 and $2,000 for each 20-foot evergreen planted on their properties.
“Depending on the site, we’ve actually planted 60 or 70 evergreens,” he said.
The more you plant, the more privacy you get. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as long as you have patience to wait for the plantings to grow. Gardener Rebecca Green, who runs a web-based business called My Deer Garden (www.mydeergarden.com), has created an illusion of privacy in her front yard with dense plantings.
While it’s not he same as a privacy fence, the plantings help top block the street and a stone wall that Green’s husband dislikes. It also makes her house somewhat more secluded, she said.
“It just feels nice,” she said, “even though some of the plantings are still small.”
Privacy Come In Many Forms
The best way to create privacy depends on your house, the site on which it’s located and your own preferences. Here are some suggestions.
· Shrubs and hedges are versatile choices. They come in a range of prices and shapes, some of which may be more appropriate than others for specific uses. It’s important to understand what you want, whether it’s a solid barrier or a light screen to give a sense of privacy. Also ask yourself how long you’re willing to wait for the plant to grow, and whether you have the time to maintain a plant that requires frequent trimming. IF you want year-round privacy, make sure you select evergreens rather than deciduous plants, which lose their leaves in the winter. Most gardeners opt for a combination of plants. Common evergreen shrubs include: Japanese aucuba, Bamboo grasses, yew, and boxwood. Common deciduous shrubs could include flowering quince, privet, honeysuckle, and lilac.
· Trees can block views from greater heights than shrubs. They can be planted in rows like a hedge, individually to block specific objects, or in groves to block larger areas. Before you plant any tree, find out whether it is likely to interfere with any underground utilities or the foundation of your house. You also want to consider the amount of shade it produces. You many want privacy but not want to lose all of the sun in your yard. Some trees grow quickly enough to provide quick screening. Others take years to reach their desired heights. Once again you may want to mix the two types.
· Vines and climbing plants can be used to cover a lattice, fence or other object, creating both privacy and a splash of color simultaneously if you include specimens like morning glories and sweet peas. Some vines wrap themselves around structures; others need to be trained and tied for support.
· Fences can create both privacy and style, especially if the design includes a gate, arbor, or trellis accented with flowering vines. Fences can be made from wood, vinyl or aluminum. Although many homeowners favor wood, vinyl fencing never needs painting or regular maintenance, a plus for some. But before you install any fence, check you local building codes. Many towns have maximum height limits for fences in residential areas and won’t hesitate to make you tear down one that exceeds the limit. -
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