Residential fences are frequently built from wood. But other materials are available and they offer some advantages over wood. Chain link, for instance, is an inexpensive material for security tensing and vinyl fences require no maintenance over their life. Here are some non wood materials to consider:
Like decking, synthetic fencing material is made from various recycled products mixed with resins or fiberglass-reinforced resins. These composite materials are usually manufactured in shapes and sizes similar to standard lumber and some have the texture and color of wood. Lattice panels, weaves, and other fencing styles are available. Synthetics come in colors too, so you can build a color fence that will never need painting. Though they don’t have the strength of wood or metal, these are durable materials that resist rot.
Because many synthetic materials are like standard lumber in size and shape, you can design and plan a composite fence as easily as a wood one. Composites may be intermixed with standard lumber—composite infill on standard pressure-treated posts and rails for example. Some manufacturers provide prebuilt panels and ready-to-install fence kits too. Working with synthetics is much like working with wood. You can use standard carpentry tools for cutting and drilling. Screws are used for fastening.
Vinyl and other plastic fencing products are usually sold as complete fence systems or kits. Garden edge fencing is available in snap-together sections or rolls, while taller fences include posts and prefab panels with rails and infill. Vinyl fences resist rot and moisture damage, but ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun degrade plastics. Better vinyl fencing has high resistance to UV damage and many products are warranted against it. Some vinyl fences are shiny and white—a good look for a picket fence—and others have wood texture and come in a range of colors.
Vinyl fence assembly details vary among makes and models, but most require setting a starting post and working along the fence line so post spacing will precisely match the panel length. A vinyl fence is not as strong as a wood or metal one but is maintenance free.
Parts are precut so there is little cutting to do when assembling a vinyl fence. A handsaw, jigsaw, or circular saw will easily cut the materials when necessary. Some panels can be racked for contour fencing on a slope while others are rigid. Many fences can be installed with no more than a posthole digger, a level, and a cordless drill/ driver.
Metal fencing dates back at least to the industrial age when elegant wrought-iron fences were built around estates, parks, and other proud spaces. Soon black wrought-iron fences were a standard style in cities and towns.
The style is still popular today and is available as pre assembled panels that can be installed easily. Steel fence panels can be installed with steel posts, between wood posts or masonry pillars, or on top of a low wall. In almost any installation ornamental metal brings elegance and the look of security. It doesn’t offer much privacy.
Panels are available in several styles from plain square bars to elaborate twisted bars with pike tops. Where prefab panels don’t offer the style desired, fabricators can install custom-built ornamental metal fences—but at a price.
Some standard panels can be racked to follow a slope contour. Most metal fences bolt together, and posts must be set one at a time because the panels are a fixed length. Many metal fences are powder-coated to resist rust and require little or no maintenance. Several styles of bolt-together cast-iron fencing, popular in the Victorian era, are being reproduced today. Original fence sections sometimes turn up in antiques shops and flea markets. Placed most commonly in and around gardens, cast-iron fencing can be painted with bright colors. Left unpainted, iron fencing will rust, which is the look and finish some prefer. Wire fences are economical and easy to install. Chain link is a popular style for backyards, swimming pools, dog runs, and other installations where security outweighs the need for privacy.
Privacy can be enhanced with slats that thread through the fabric, or vines can be trained on the fence for a longer-term solution. Chain link is ideal for some landscape uses because the fence can effectively become invisible against the plants in the background.
Posts, rails, and fence fabric are galvanized to resist rust, and post caps and other hardware are either cast aluminum or galvanized steel. This makes a chain-link fence practically maintenance-free. The fence can be painted with a heavy-nap roller after the galvanizing weathers for a while. Some manufacturers offer vinyl-coated chain-link fencing too.
PREFAB PANEL FENCES
Prefabricated fence panels make the job easier—all you have to do is lay out the fence line, set the posts, and hang the panels. The prefab sections eliminate many of the measuring and cutting chores. They’re made for quick construction.
Once available in only one or two styles, you’ll now find lattice, lattice on tongue-and-groove, offset board-on-board, dog-eared, and picket-shape infill. You should be able to find something to match your tastes as well as your time. Look for well-made panels—they might cost a little more, but they’ll pay off in the long run. If your fence is sold as a kit it may include decorative post caps. Otherwise you can pick them up at your home center or chamfer the posts to help shed water.
Following the manufacturer’s instructions, lay out and set the posts with the specified spacing. Let the concrete cure. Before installing each panel test-fit it between the posts. It should fit snugly. If it’s slightly undersize that’s OK, but if it isn’t wide enough to hang in the brackets, add trim stock to the edges. Trim oversize panels on both sides with a circular saw.
Mark the position of the brackets on the posts as specified by the manufacturer and fasten the brackets to the posts.