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Privacy screen and windbreak buying guide

Privacy screen and windbreak buying guide

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

125 guides

Looking to protect your outdoor space from the wind or get a bit of privacy from the neighbours? Privacy screens and windbreaks are designed to layer over a fence or balcony to enhance your comfort at home. But from brushwood to reed, which material is best? Read on to find the perfect privacy screen or windbreak.

Important features

  • Synthetic or natural materials
  • Service life
  • Design and use
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From natural and synthetic screens to 100% opaque models or openwork panels, it's important to start by working out the type of product you need.

Privacy screens: for at-home comfort

A privacy screen is the best way to block views in both directions meaning you won't be able to see out and people won't be able to see in from the other side.

When it comes to materials, you have a few options:

  • Woven fabric offers around 60 to 99% visual blockage;
  • PVC slatted panels are impact- and weather-resistant;
  • Wooden screens do require maintenance.

Looking for a unique privacy screen? It is possible to use a customised fabric screen with the image or even painting of your choice to cover up your side of the fence.

Quick tip: PVC screens come in a range of colours and finishes including slats, faux reed or even artificial hedging.

Windbreaks: keep the breeze off

Windbreaks perform two roles: they create privacy within an overlooked space and block the worst of the wind.

They often come in the form of netting. While they may not be all that attractive, windbreaks work to protect crops and make your time outdoors in windy areas more enjoyable.

Garden screening: for privacy and style

Natural garden screens form a kind of trellis made up of canes. These screens are made to blend into gardens while providing a decorative edge.

Natural screens come in a range of materials including reed, wicker and bamboo. It's possible to play around with colours and finishes depending on the material you choose. For example some materials are darker than others.

Bear in mind that screens made using natural materials are not weatherproof. While you can give them an anti-mould and weatherproofing treatment, you will still have to replace them regularly. These screens also provide good wind protection.

It is also possible to find synthetic screens made to look like natural materials. These screens are usually given a UV treatment to make them last longer. The downsides: synthetic screens can look like plastic and can be fragile in places.

Brushwood screening

Brushwood is made up of dried twigs from things like heath plants. The weave can vary in tightness depending on the wire holding it together. These screens come in thick rolls.

Brushwood provides a natural visual barrier to separate you from your neighbours. The amount of privacy a screen offers depends on the density of the twigs.

A bonus of brushwood is that it looks natural and wild.

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Metal fencing

If you want to install a privacy screen or windbreak correctly and ensure it lasts, choose from four different fastening methods:

  • Plastic clips
  • Wire fence staples (will only work for wire fencing)
  • Fencing wire (secure every 50 cm)
  • A twister tool (a hooked tool to link fencing wire to screen wire)
  • A tensioner (perfect for preventing buckles in privacy screens)

Solid panels will usually come with their own installation kit.

In terms of efficiency, natural and synthetic privacy screens are more or less equal as long as the fabric used for synthetic has a tight weave or is coated.

The main differences come down to durability. If you go for a high-quality synthetic screen, you will have the edge over a natural material. However, low-end PVC slatted screens won't stand up well to the sun's rays or frequent high winds.

When it comes to installation, it is best to work with at least one other person so you can roll out and secure the material more easily. It can be tricky to work with a long length of fabric. Comparatively, PVC or natural panels can be installed piece by piece with minimal effort.

Finally, you'll have to think about aesthetics. For a contemporary outdoor space, go for a PVC screen. If you're looking for a more natural feel, choose a reed or brushwood screen. Looking for an environmentally friendly solution? Go for a natural material.

Synthetic

Natural

Visual blockage

xxx

xxx

Service life

xxx

xx

Ease of installation

xxx

xxx

Style

x

xxx

Maintenance

xxx (can be washed)

x (requires treatment)

Used as privacy screens or even space dividers, solid screens can take the form of wooden panels, retractable side awnings or even Japanese-inspired laser cut panels. A solid screen can be used to protect you from the wind and prying eyes!

Under this category, you'll find:

  • heat-treated wood or exotic wood panels which can be secured to concrete using bolt-down posts. Make sure to choose a product with a FSC or PEFC label. These screens look more like a fence than any other option.
  • retractable nylon side awnings are a bit like vertical blinds that can be opened and closed depending on the weather;
  • retractable trellises are usually made of a mix of powder coated steel and synthetic materials and feature latticework that opens like an accordion. Just like retractable awnings, these screens need to be mounted against a wall;
  • freestanding retractable awnings or privacy screens can be moved around and are equipped with a weighted foot and casing like a blind where the screen can be reeled out and rolled up. While this is a great modern option, these screens won't be able to handle strong winds.

There are several points to consider to ensure you end up with a high-quality privacy screen or windbreak. Prices will range depending on material as well as the properties of each material.

Synthetic materials

The strength and wear resistance of synthetic materials depends on their weight which is given in grams per millimetre (gr/ mm²). The higher the fabric density, the more resistant the material. Synthetic fabrics (such as nylon and other polyesters) must be treated against UV rays as a bare minimum to ensure their colour lasts over time and don't become brittle – in theory, at least! These fabrics can also be coated with a water-repellent treatment and can be tear-resistant.

Metal garden screening

Most metal garden screens will be made of powder coated steel which means they have been coated by a resin. This material may also be hot dip galvanised prior to powder coating for even greater strength. While this material is weatherproof, it can corrode if scratched. Aluminium is by far the most resistant material. Even if aluminium corrodes, its properties aren't altered meaning it will last and look good for a number of years. Stainless steel and wrought iron are not usually used to make up garden screens.

Wooden privacy screens

Heat-treated wood offers durable protection. Exotic woods don't require any treatment beyond the application of wood oil to prevent discolouration and ageing. While heat treating European woods makes them rot-resistant, waterproof and resistant to fungi, exotic woods are naturally resistant to outdoor conditions. It is possible to find wood from sustainable sources in which case they will come with a FSC or PEFC label.

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Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds, 125 guides

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

With a handyman-father, I grew up with the soft sound of the sander and hammer on weekends. I am both manual and cerebral (yes, it is possible), I learned the basics of DIY and the customization of furniture because I was passionate. The salvage mentality is a true way of life that allowed me to know how to use all the tools and products needed to give something a second life, from sander to varnish. I have two favorite activities: the transformation of old furniture and decoration tips. I am always ready to lend a helping hand to revamp a table or to restore a mirror that was intended for the trash that will become a friend’s centerpiece. I’m convinced that it’s possible to reinvent an interior by small, regular modifications, I constantly research low-cost, test ideas.