What Fence Material Is Best?

Choosing a material for your fence is a matter of knowing what you want, especially if you want to be happy with your choice. Perhaps you want to create a play area for your dog, add curb appeal to your property, or shield off nosy neighbors?

You have to think about things like privacy, appearance, cost, durability, and ease of maintenance, and how important each of these things is to you because you may have to make compromises.

For instance, a material that looks good may not shield off those nosy neighbors! Take Victorian-style metal fencing for example. It may look stunning, but you can very clearly see everything on the other side.

Even though you may have to make some compromises, your selection should ideally meet most of your requirements.

Wood: The Classic Choice

Wood is arguably the most popular material for fencing as it checks off many boxes. It’s beautiful (well, we certainly think so) and you can line up boards for maximum privacy. It’s relatively inexpensive and long-lasting which makes it a good-value material.

Cedar and redwood are the two common species used for fences. Both are great outdoor woods. They’re naturally resistant to rot and insects and are prized for their stability. You don’t have to worry about warping or shrinking boards.

As far as aesthetics go, both woods feature a gorgeous red hue that can be maintained with a wood stain. You can also let the wood weather naturally (meaning less maintenance for you) if you don’t care about keeping the color. Bonus points go to cedar because it smells so good.

Ready Seal Oil-Based Semi-Transparent Wood Stain and Sealer (Cedar)
This stain-and-sealer-in-one will enhance the look of your wood fence and protect it from the elements.

The other type of wood you can consider using is pressure-treated (PT) lumber. While not known for having stunning looks, PT lumber is very affordable, more resilient than untreated wood, and made to be highly resistant to insects and rot. That means they’re perfect for structural components that are somewhat hidden (rails) or installed close to the ground (posts), or fences that will be stained so that you won’t be able to see the wood.

A wood fence can last decades. You can improve the structural integrity and lifespan of your wood fence by using steel posts. Otherwise, wooden posts should be installed in a concrete base.

Vinyl: For Low Maintenance

When it comes to longevity and strength though, it’s hard to beat vinyl fencing. You never have to worry about rot, insects, warping, shrinking, or colors fading from the sun. Besides, vinyl fencing is virtually maintenance-free. It only needs a light cleaning to prevent mildew, whereas wood fencing requires a good scrubbing once in a while and a new coat of stain every few years to maintain their look.

The other great thing about vinyl fencing is choice. You can choose from a number of designs and colors (including ones that mimic wood) to suit your tastes and yard design.

The drawback of vinyl fencing is cost. The price of vinyl fencing has certainly gone down over the years, while their quality has gone up – which has contributed to their increased popularity – but it’s still more expensive than wood. That said, the cost of upkeep (besides eventual repairs and replacement) is practically zero, so you may factor that into your decision.

One thing about repairs: there may come a day where your vinyl splits or cracks. Due to the way vinyl fencing is constructed, you may have to replace the whole panel rather than a single board as you could with wood, which means repairs are more expensive. So this is something to consider.

Ornamental Metal: For Curb Appeal

Wood and vinyl are great options for those who want privacy from nosy neighbors. But for those who want something that wows, or a welcoming fence for their front yard, consider ornamental metal fencing.

Ornamental metal fencing is not to be confused with wrought iron fencing. With the decline of blacksmithing, wrought iron is actually no longer produced on a commercial scale. These days, it’s only produced for restoration purposes.

Ornamental metal fencing – made out of aluminum or galvanized steel – has taken the place of wrought iron fencing. Both materials are finished with a durable coating for weather resistance. You have little to do in terms of maintenance and little to worry about in terms of strength and durability with either material. But aluminum doesn’t rust like galvanized steel, while galvanized steel is heavier and feels sturdier of the two.

Chain Link: The Least Expensive

Chain link is a kind of metal fencing too. But it doesn’t have the curb appeal that ornamental metal has. Still, chain link is secure, hard-wearing, inexpensive, and maintenance-free. Consider building a chain link fence for your dog or a tennis or basketball court.

You can add privacy or curb appeal to chain link fencing by using plants. For something that requires less upkeep, a privacy screen is another option. These can be easily attached onto the fence. You can also use an artificial hedge for a more natural look.

Fence Privacy Screen
This privacy screen works great for a 6-foot tall chain link fence.
Artificial Pine Hedge
This artificial hedge with pine tree-like needles also works great for a 6-foot chain link fence.

Wood Composite: A Good Balance

Wood composite is a material made up of wood fibers and plastic. The result is a sturdier-than-wood material with a wood-like appearance that is unaffected by rot or insects and requires little maintenance like vinyl fencing. In other words, it’s a good balance between wood and vinyl.

However, wood composite is generally more expensive than vinyl. This is its major drawback. But you may think wood composite is worth the price knowing that it’s environmentally-friendly because it’s made from recycled materials.

Bamboo: A Unique Option

To round up our list, we want to throw a curveball and talk about bamboo. Bamboo makes a lot of sense for a fence from a practical and decorative standpoint. It’s stronger than even most hardwoods and can make your yard feel like a retreat.

Besides strength and character, the great thing about bamboo is cost. It’s comparable to a cedar fence. In fact, maintenance is also very similar to that of a wooden fence. You’ll have to clean a bamboo fence every once in a while and re-seal every few years to maintain the look.

Bamboo can be installed in a number of ways with a metal or wood frame. For privacy, you can choose panels with bamboo tied snuggly against each other via wire. Or you can choose to position bamboo sparsely to create a see-through fence.

Still on the Fence?

It helps to list out what you want in a fence and see how each material matches up.

Wood, vinyl, and wood composite are the practical go-to choices for most yards, especially if privacy is a concern. If you want something special, ornamental metal and bamboo are great options. For playground and sport use, nothing beats a heavy-duty chain link fence.

Have Fun Out There!