How to Select Fencing Materials

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A guide to choosing the correct fencing material for your property depending on the initial costs, life expectancy, and maintenance required.

There are many choices when it comes to fencing materials, whether it is wood, vinyl, metal, or composites, selecting the appropriate material will impact the initial cost as well as the maintenance of the fence for years to come. Choosing an inexpensive material that requires frequent maintenance will cost more in the long run and also look less attractive as time passes.

Another factor to consider is what zoning requirements and community standards are in place where you live. Some towns will have limits on the fence height, the materials used, and the setback from the property lines. If you live in a neighborhood that has a home owner’s association you will also need to consult with the board and read the HOA documents to determine what is allowed. A permit is almost always required along with a plot plan that has been sealed by a professional land surveyor or engineer.

The last factor to consider is if the material is appropriate for the style of fence you are planning on installing and whether that material is suitable for the function of the fence. A split rail fence may not be useful if it is constructed out of vinyl.



Metal fencing has long been a popular for several hundreds of years from ornamental wrought iron fences to the more modern aluminum and chain link fences. Although new metal fencing materials can be coated with vinyl to prevent oxidation, most require some minor maintenance. Iron rusts quickly if left unprotected so you need to factor in the periodic maintenance if you choose iron fencing. Wrought iron can be painted, powder coated, or dip coated. Wrought aluminum fencing is a lighter and more durable option to iron fencing.

Chain link fencing is another inexpensive option that is installed quickly and requires little maintenance.

Aluminum Fencing



Wood fencing has been an economical fencing choice for generations and it is available in treated and untreated materials. There are dozens of wood varieties to choose from such as cedar, redwood, pressure treated, and pine. The wood selection has a great impact on the life expectancy and the final appearance of the fence. Treated lumber is injected with chemicals that slow the aging process and help extend the life of the wood anywhere from seven to ten years longer than untreated wood of the same species. Some wood types are naturally rot and insect resistant such as black locust, cedar, and ipe.

Ipe fence

Regardless of the type of wood used to construct the fence, wood has a certain charm that many homeowners look for. If you choose wood for your fencing material you should always apply a waterproof sealer if you wish to maintain the original color of the wood. Untreated wood will weather quickly and typically turn gray within a few months. Unless stainless steel fasteners are used, black streaks will appear on the surface of the wood. Preventive maintenance will ensure that your wood fence will look good for years to come.

Wood fencing that is weathered, cleaned, and stained

Another option that has recently become popular is bamboo. Bamboo can withstand extreme weather conditions without painting or maintenance. Bamboo fencing material can come in individual stalks that are nailed to rails like those on a picket fence (often referred to as a bamboo stick fence), bamboo panels, or it can come in the form of a mat as with rolled bamboo fencing. Since bamboo has a unique look and feel it may not fit in with your neighborhood or landscaping plan.

Rolled Bamboo Fencing

Bamboo Stick fence

Stone, Concrete, and Brick

Stone fences are often considered walls, but if they are installed along the perimeter they can be considered a fence. While the labor and material costs can be high, a stone fence will provide years of useful service and beauty. Stone fences can be dry set or set in mortar, depending on the desired look and can be constructed from architectural stone, river rocks, or field stones. Dry setting is less expensive and may take less time to build, but installing a dry set stone wall or fence is an art form. Mortar setting will e more expensive and change the look of the final fence; mortar setting will also require periodic maintenance to repair cracking mortar from winter freeze-thaw cycles.

Brick and concrete fencing is another variation to traditional stone fences. Brick and concrete can be installed quickly and made to accommodate gates and other structural elements.

Brick fence

Dry set stone fence

Manmade Materials

These manmade materials can come in the form of wood-grained fencing with the durability of metal. Composite fencing material can be purchased just about anywhere and comes in several styles and colors. Composites such as vinyl or PVC do not need to painting or sealing and are formulated to be UV resistant. A downfall to this material is that it can be brittle, especially in colder weather and it can crack is hit with a ball or falling branch. If vinyl fencing is placed too close to a driveway, the exhaust from an idling car can cause the material to soften and deform. In the past there were limited color options for vinyl with white and beige being the primary selections, but now more colors are available but may require a special order and several weeks for the materials to arrive. Inexpensive vinyl fencing can look like cheap plastic lawn furniture so do your homework and select a style and material that fits within your budget.

Composite Fencing

Vinyl Fencing

Vinyl fencing costs much more than wood. Initial financial investment for this fence type exceeds that of wood fencing. However, maintenance costs are much lower for vinyl fencing than wood. Although vinyl can be recycled, it is not biodegradable. Where environmental concerns are a factor, wood makes a better choice over vinyl. Vinyl is easily cleaned with water and detergent.

Mixing Materials

Depending on the style of fence you wish to build, you may be able to mix two materials to achieve a unique look. You may want to construct stone pillars and install wrought iron or wood fencing between them. You may want to install a low stone fence with a wrought iron section on top of it. You may also build a fence with cedar or redwood posts and composite or vinyl fence panels inserted between the wood posts.

Stone and wrought iron fence



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