Consider hybrid fencing option

Wood, metal or composite: What works best?

By Inman News Feed
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Wood, metal or composite: What works best?

Bill and Kevin Burnett
Inman News

Q: I live in California, about 22 miles south of the Oregon border. We have all four seasons here -- temperatures vary from 5 degrees below zero to 105 degrees. I recently purchased a new home on a one-third-acre lot. Now I need a fence. All of my neighbors have some form of wood fence. While some look really great, others appear to be fading, and a couple have gone to a grayish color.

Is there a wood that I can use for my fence that would last without tons of maintenance? Is there a good stain or some kind of material that would maintain the original color of the wood? I have heard there are fences made of composites/plastic that look like wood and require minimal care.

The length of all three sides totals about 300 feet. I'm not lazy; however, I do not desire to spend each summer treating 100 yards of fence.

A: Leaving out the more expensive and labor-intensive options, such as concrete or brick, we think you've got three choices: wood, metal or composite. Each has its pluses and minuses, and prices are all over the lot.

But be forewarned: We're wood guys with a metal backup. The composites we've seen look like, well, plastic.

Once you figure out the type of fence you want, you'll have a better idea of what material to use. Metal doesn't require maintenance and is long-lasting.

If you're looking for privacy, metal probably won't work. But if you want an open feel while maintaining some enclosure, an ornamental iron or aluminum fence might be the ticket.

The woods of choice for fences are redwood or cedar. That's because they last. The tannins in them resist rot. The useful life is usually about 15 years if untreated redwood or cedar posts are used.

Failure is usually due to rotten posts. You can extend the life of the posts, and thereby the fence, by using pressure-treated wood. The color of the posts will be different, but they last longer. Bill decided to swap looks for longevity a few years back on a fence he built by using galvanized metal posts and redwood fence boards.

Depending on how you see it, maintenance and color change are two disadvantages of a wood fence. From our viewpoint, the change in color of redwood or cedar from red or golden to silver or gray is aesthetically pleasing. Think of the colors of the coastal Sea Ranch community 100 miles north of San Francisco, on Highway 1. But we understand that's not everyone's cup of tea. If you want a colorfast fence, wood may not be for you.

We haven't found a stain that will maintain the original color of the wood or won't fade. For this reason, we suggest maintaining wood fencing with clear wood preservative to replace the moisture in the wood as it gracefully weathers.

Annual maintenance on a wood fence is not a must. Every couple of years will do the trick. Rather than get out the paintbrush and roller, go for a 2-gallon garden sprayer and spray the finish on.

Kevin's wife, Heidi, recently got into a spat with the neighbors about dogs. So Kevin had to put up a fence to keep them in place. He wanted a black wrought-iron fence to maintain the open feeling between the front yards of the two homes. At first the neighbors agreed, but then they decided they wanted some privacy instead of just penning in their dogs and ours.

They found some cedar panels on Craigslist. Now Kevin has a hybrid. The metal looks great - black with metal ball finials on the posts. And the neighbors have their privacy -- and a wood fence to maintain. Pearl, their dog, digs under the fence to visit.

Finally, a word about composites. They are made from recycled, ground plastic and sawdust held together by resins and pressed in high-pressure molds. It's the same stuff that is used for faux decks.

Functionally, they seem fine. Aesthetically, we don't like them. Maintenance is fairly light, requiring only an annual pressure washing -- perfect for one of those 105-degree days.

                                     
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