Fence options continue to explode to meet growing demands. Buffered on one side by security concerns and on the other by the strong housing market, the fence marketplace is expected to surpass $3 billion by 2007. Chain-link, wood, vinyl and ornamental iron continue to maintain their places in this active market.
Whether you are installing a fence to enhance security, delineate a boundary, add a design element or any combination of those goals, you have an increasingly broad choice of materials within those basic categories and an even larger menu of add-ons to enhance the final product. The growth of access control add-ons for the residential, commercial and industrial markets as well as related products such as accessories and even decking are also expanding available options.
Wood is, perhaps, the most familiar fence product. Since the earliest settlers split rails for fence to contain their property, wood fence has been part of the American landscape. Despite arguments to the contrary, wood fences continue to hold a strong share of the marketplace. They are both affordable and handsome. By its very nature, wood lends itself to significant customization. Improved sealing and waterproofing products have made the care and protection of wood fences simpler. The switch from CCA-treated materials has silenced complaints about chemical treatments. New installation techniques using underground sleeves and other accessories have been designed to counter complaints about water damage.
Wood actually offers a variety of materials to choose from. Redwood and red and white cedar easily accept stains and paints, allowing customers to match the fence to other buildings on their property. If this lumber is allowed to weather naturally, it turns a silver-gray. All of these materials naturally resist rotting and insects and, therefore, provide a durable, long-lasting fence. The products are dimensionally stable and easy to work with. These wood types also come in a variety of sizes and grades to allow clients to further customize the fence to meet their aesthetic and budgetary needs. All of these characteristics make them desirable choices.
Domestic and imported pines are the most commonly treated lumbers. Treated wood is a great choice for high-humidity areas that are susceptible to rot and insect infestations.
Spruce, pine and fir are white woods and are primarily supplied by Canada. They are economical materials for screening to create privacy. Both treated and white wood can be left to weather naturally to a silvery-gray or they will accept paint and stains.
All wood fence materials are typically offered in a variety of grades. Better grades offer finer grain and fewer knots, but many people find that lesser grades have more character and are more appropriate for some settings.
After wood, chain-link may be the most popular fence. It's a versatile choice for fencing-in the swimming pool or keeping intruders at bay. Chain-link is secure and affordable. It's a traditional choice for tennis courts and ball fields. Available in steel and vinyl-coated aluminum in a variety of weights, mesh sizes and even colors to suit any purpose, chain-link is easily installed in a variety of configurations. Its reputation for low-maintenance is well-known. But today's chain-link is a far cry from what you may remember circling your old Little League playing field.
The woven wire fabric is the basis of all chain-link fencing. This mesh may be woven into smaller, tighter fabrics that make climbing or cutting more difficult. A new product called Flatlink eliminates the twisted or barbed salvage on traditional chain-link, making it safer around schoolyards and similar installations. Today's vinyl coating has been improved to resist fading. One of the more attractive developments in chain-link is black fence fabric; it tends to trick the eye, almost disappearing at a distance. Up close, it looks richer than other materials and offers an affordable estate look with the long-term durability and moderate cost of chain link.
Perhaps even more importantly in today's marketplace, new security needs and innovations have made chain-link an even more desirable choice in some installations. It is affordable for extensive perimeter installations, can accept a variety of enhancements for added security and does not block the view of would-be trespassers. ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards define many of these installations. As the country has become increasingly security conscious, chain-link manufacturers and contractors have looked for additional ways to enhance security options. Traditionally, security translates into stronger and higher. These include the use of heavier posts, the installation of horizontal bands of aircraft wire along the chain link or embedding the chain-link in cement.
Perhaps the only drawback right now is the accessibility of steel chain-link. Recent steel shortages pressured price and availability early in 2004, although this situation has eased somewhat.
Vinyl is the fastest growing fence category. The most recent estimates indicate the vinyl share of the marketplace has risen from 18 percent in 2003 to about 23 percent in 2004. Its popularity is based on two desirable characteristics: long life and no maintenance.
The number of vinyl fence products has grown substantially — from the white rail fence initially introduced in equestrian settings to a variety of picket and privacy styles in a growing color palette beyond white that includes buff, beige, clay and even black. Vinyl does not crack, peel, splinter, twist or rust, nor does it need paint. It costs more initially, but the lifecycle cost keeps it competitive with other products. Technological developments have made it stronger and more resistant to temperature extremes and fading.
Vinyl products are suitable for — and even designed for — installations beyond fence, including decks and railings (one of its largest categories). This means you can expand your vinyl fence installation to include these other features and enjoy the same good looks, long life and maintenance-free features. Unlike treated wood, vinyl does not require the use of chemicals or pesticides, and it's recyclable. Installations in challenging environments, like marinas where wet conditions play havoc with other traditional materials, are especially appropriate for vinyl.
Traditionally, ornamental metals have offered security and good looks. For this reason, experts expect them to continue to be desirable choices. Ornamental iron offers considerable room for customization in both fences and gates. Improved welding techniques make construction stronger and faster. Anticipated standards covering the quality of raw materials, load-bearing capacity and finish performance of the final product will raise the quality level of ornamental iron fencing. Architects can specify this standard for construction. Industry experts point out that ornamental iron is benefiting from both homeland security concerns and the growing sophistication of other end users who appreciate the potential for customization.
Access control for residential, commercial, industrial and other public sights is increasingly important. Once fencing has been installed, access control is often a key add-on. It can be as simple as an automatic latch on a swimming pool fence or as complex as a tamper-proof tag to identify a vehicle at a gated entrance. The level of security desired drives the choice of a system.
STYLE AND FUNCTION UNITE
In short, fencing options offer both style and function. Your challenge is to choose a material and installation to meet your needs. For more information or for answers to your questions, you can contact the American Fence Association at www.AmericanFenceAssociation.com.
Janet Arden is managing editor of Fencepost Magazine, the official publication of the American Fence Association (Glen Ellyn, Ill.).
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