Improve your boundary walls


There’s no reason your boundary walls shouldn’t be a focal point...

By Maryke Roberts • Photographs: Ed O’Riley • Styling: Simone Borcherding

For most homeowners, boundary walls or fences are a security requisite we cannot do without. But that doesn’t mean we have to make do with unsightly walls or lopsided fences. In fact, the trend is to use a combination of materials – including wood, metal and brick – to turn boundary walls into focal points, rather than just security barriers. As Pretoria architect Jacques Orten points out, architecture doesn’t end with a beautifully designed dwelling. ‘Good architecture flows through to boundary walls and other elements of the landscape – so subtly repeat the colours and textures of your house in its boundary walls.’

Before planning your boundary wall, take note of whether any trees will obstruct it and should be removed. Consult an arborist to check how aggressive the root system is and whether it will damage your wall. Where roots are a problem, instead of casting a foundation you can construct a lintel or transom between wall columns to bridge the roots.

A hardy climber such as bougainvillea proffers an easy way to create a beautiful focal point that also doesn’t need much attention – it thrives on neglect. Simply prune it from time to time to keep it in shape.

Solid walls

Usually constructed from brick, cement bricks or plastered clay bricks, solid walls are ideal for privacy and security. Facebrick walls require the least maintenance, while plastered walls need a good quality, elastic exterior paint.

Never build security boundary walls to only eye level (1.7m) as this will simply tempt passersby to peer over; this type of wall should be at least 2m high. And while solid walls are ideal for security, remember that they also provide privacy for burglars. Boundary walls are normally built with an extra brick column of 230 x 230mm after every 3.5 metres, for structural support.

The wind can have a serious effect on boundary walls: solid walls often produce unwanted turbulence, whereas perforated walls can be more effective in reducing the intensity of the wind.

Tip: In our warm climate, boundary walls near a house should preferably not be painted white – the sun’s heat will be reflected towards the house, making it even hotter. Slightly darker colours and textures work better here.

Solid plastered walls painted white match a variety of architectural styles.


Palisade fencing is the ideal solution if security is your primary aim. Many homeowners add railings to existing low walls, or build base walls 1 to 1.2m high, which they top with palisade fencing – a solid base prevents animals and small children from slipping out into the street. Palisades can be made from wood or steel, they can be sealed or painted, or even galvanised or epoxy-coated for added durability.

Remember: Palisade fencing doesn’t provide privacy and can be tricky to erect on your own.

Tip: If you’re using wooden or steel pillars, it’s wise to set them in a small concrete block cast so they protrude from the ground, to keep the wood or steel away from damp soil and so, retard rust or decay.

A steel fence combined with solid pillars provides good security, but not much privacy.

Retaining walls

If your property has a natural slope of more than 45 degrees, you need proper retaining walls. Always consult a civil engineer as the height, foundation size and depth are very important, particularly if the retaining wall is higher than 1.22 metres.

Jacques suggests making provision for drainage pipes 100mm in diameter every few metres to provide drainage for surplus groundwater that might otherwise dam up behind the wall. Ordinary uPVC pipes are ideal. ‘If it’s a higher retaining wall with plenty of groundwater, a perforated uPVC pipe wrapped in geotextiles can be laid in a layer of gravel in the base level of the retaining wall, running parallel to the wall with drainage pipes running off it,’ he explains.

Other popular options are wire gabions filled with stones or recycled tyres stacked as retaining walls. Tyres should only be used on gentler slopes and filled with soil to ensure stability – here, creepers can provide an attractive cover.

A simple wire fence ornamented with a creeper trained into a diamond shape.

Picket fences

Many young people dream of a home of their own with a picket fence, a shaggy dog in the garden, and potted pelargoniums at the front door. This type of fence is easy to install and companies such as Swartland Windows and Doors manufacture panels in six different heights, available from most hardware stores; you can select raw or treated pine, with gates the same height. Paint them white for a traditional look or seal them for a natural finish, but avoid clear sealants that magnify the effects of the sun and do more damage in the elements, advises Charl Jacobz of Swartland.

Picket fences are ideal for homeowners simply wanting to demarcate their boundaries, ensure privacy or keep pets and small children inside. They’re particularly suitable for housing developments where only privacy – and not security – is needed and complement a variety of architectural styles, working well with contemporary colonial, Georgian, Victorian and rustic farmhouse buildings.

Easy to install and considerably cheaper than built walls, picket fences provide a beautiful finishing touch to a house. ‘But,’ cautions Charl, ‘They’re not the ideal solution for security around your property. And they need annual maintenance to keep looking good and prevent decay.’ To retain the wood’s natural beauty, Charl recommends Maxicare oil, or a water-based sealant that protects the wood against sun and rain, but that also contains fungicidal properties to delay decay.

Picket fences provide a charming, rustic look; combine them with electric fencing for added security.

Working with vibracrete

There’s no getting away from the fact that precast concrete walls aren’t all that attractive, which is why they normally end up in the back garden. But apart from concealing them with plants, you can also consult companies that specialise in beautifying vibracrete. Classy Crete’s unique patents make their products very popular for transforming dull precast walls into classic, solid walls. The technique not only covers the wall but widens the pillars and the copings, and is available in a variety of finishes.

These stronger walls also increase the value of your property, say estate agents. Other companies, such as Revelstone, use special cladding or plastering techniques to finish concrete walls.

Tip: Stick with the experts if you want a vibracrete wall plastered; because the panels are loosely slotted in, fairly minor movement can result in cracks.

Before and after: concrete walls Before and after: concrete walls

Did you know?

Insurance companies make no distinction between different types of boundary walls when it comes to premiums.

Municipal regulations

Although any boundary wall has to be approved by your local authority, requirements vary. In some cities, for example, your wall doesn’t have to be designed and signed by a draughtsperson or architect registered with the South African Council for The Architectural Profession – but make sure before you start building. All boundary walls must meet the design requirements of the National Building Regulations, SANS 10400-K and SANS 2001-CM2.


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April 2023

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