Secure, elegant, functional...fencing

Multiple material and style choices define today's fencing -- whether you need practical utilitarianism or ornate charm.

If good fences make good neighbors, then great fences can only improve on that analogy! Today, fencing options are varied with distinctly different looks and material choices. Businesses, institutions and recreational facilities can choose from an array of fencing products to provide security and protection from liability or add beauty to their grounds.

Today's innovations in the fence industry offer more material and style choices than ever before. Many of today's fence styles are maintenance-free, and some manufacturers offer warranties of up to 40 years. The most popular fencing materials include wood, chain link, ornamental steel, ornamental aluminum and vinyl. With such diverse material choices, every facility can find a fence that fits its needs perfectly.

The benefits of wood Historically, wood has been the fencing material of choice. Its versatility is endless. From the rustic charm of a split rail to the Victorian elegance of white picket to the attractive shield of a privacy fence, wood is commonly used in many different applications. Subdivisions, and condominium and apartment complexes, for example, often use wooden privacy fences to enclose property between high-density areas. Natural wooden split rail--which blends well with its surroundings--is often seen delineating property lines and park grounds.

Wood fences come in a variety of styles, and you can custom-build them with decorative tops such as lattice, gothic or rail tops, balls or finials. The regional availability of certain types of wood typically helps determine the appropriate kind of wood to use for your particular location. For example, in the West, redwood is popular, while yellow pine is a must in the South. Red cedar is the first choice in the Midwest, and those in the Northeast or the Mid-Atlantic regions regularly use white cedar.

Redwood fencing. Gary Malfatti, president of Morgan Creek Forest Products Inc. (Santa Rosa, Calif.), says redwood fencing is sold in western Nevada, Arizona and even as far away as Texas, but "A lot of the redwood fencing stays in the California market," where it's grown, he says.

Westerners like redwood fencing for several reasons. "Redwood can withstand insects and rot and holds up well outside," Malfatti explains. Redwood also lasts for up to 15 years without being treated chemically. "It does last a long time if it's kept up properly," Malfatti agrees. "It looks pretty, aesthetically, and it's affordable."

Southern yellow pine. While redwood is popular in the West, pressure-treated southern yellow pine dominates the Southern market. "Southern yellow pine accepts pressure treatment better than other types of wood," said Rick Atkinson, director of sales, fencing and highway products, of the Burke-Parsons-Bowlby Corp. (Ripley, W.V.).

Pressure-treating is a process in which wood producers introduce a chemical into the wood to preserve it. Because the South's climate is fairly wet, pressure-treated lumber is necessary to stave off rotting. "[Pressure-treated] southern yellow pine lasts about 30 years," Atkinson says. In fact, he adds, "A lot of people are offering 40-year warranties."

q Red cedar. Treated yellow pine is popular in the Midwest, as well as the South, but more Midwesterners choose to build red-cedar fences, says Steve Neal, sales representative for Cedar Creek Wholesale Inc. (Springfield, Mo.). "A lot of people use cedar siding, so they get the fence to match," Neal explains. He says cedar costs a little more than yellow pine but is less likely to warp or bend.

Although other types of fences may last longer than cedar, Neal says, "People like the natural, rustic look of cedar."In terms of maintenance, Neal says cedar fencing generally only requires repainting or restaining about every 5 years.

q White cedar. Although cedar is also popular in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, those areas prefer white cedar to red. American Fence Association President Robert B. (Bob) Shipley, CFP, of Anchor Fence Co. (Rexford, N.Y.), says white cedar makes a long-lasting fence. The panels of a white-cedar fence can last up to 30 years without being pressure-treated," he says.

Wood fencing offers several options in terms of installation. You can build wood fences on site or buy them in premade panels. Generally, you'll install them in one of two ways. Shipley says, "In some areas, they are installed with concrete footings, in others by tamping natural soil around the base of the post." If you use concrete, Shipley says, "The concrete should not flow under the post because it prevents the post from draining, and that accelerates deterioration." After the posts are in place, you then affix the fence to the posts.

Panels should be 2 to 3 inches off the ground to avoid deterioration. Another way to decrease deterioration is to use steel posts instead of wooden ones. You'll often see this done around trash receptacles, Shipley explains.

Chain link: The price winner Whether you want to fence in a swimming area or keep intruders at bay, chain link provides a long-lasting, no-nonsense fence. With diverse material choices and varying grades, chain link provides an effective safety barrier at a low cost. Aldo Sibeni, president of Boundary Fence & Railing Systems Inc. (Richmond Hill, N.Y.), says, "Chain link is considerably less expensive--about one-third the price of wood fence, half the cost of ornamental picket and about 80 percent less than PVC fencing."

Another traditional benefit of chain link is the visibility--and invisibility--it offers. Senior Project Manager Rick Hamilton of American Fence Co. (Phoenix, Ariz.), says, "It provides security, and yet you can see through it, so you can see if someone is outside the perimeter. However, if you plant vines and bushes around it, the fence will disappear while still giving you security. Or it can be slatted to provide privacy."

Today, chain-link fences are available in PVC-coated color and are more resistant to rust as well as being made of different materials, such as galvanized steel, aluminum-coated steel and aluminum. PVC-coated chain link comes in a variety of colors. Boundary's Sibeni says, "It is often the choice over galvanized steel. It is aesthetically pleasing and blends with surroundings." The most popular colors are black, green and brown. PVC-covered chain link does cost a bit more, however. Hamilton says, "It's about 20 percent higher than galvanized chain link."

Galvanized and aluminum-coated steel are resistant to rust, but both options may rust if the protective coating is scratched or comes off. If you work in a coastal area with salty air, or you're fencing around a pool and dealing with chlorinated vapors, any potential for rusting may be of great concern to you. In these situations, then, you should choose pure aluminum fencing, which will never rust.

For people who desire increased security, chain-link fabric is available in mini mesh. It offers privacy with the added benefit of being difficult to climb. In extra-security-conscious commercial applications, you can make chain link even more secure by adding barbed wire or concertina razor tape along the top.

Chain-link fence posts require a concrete footing three to four times the diameter of the post. You must install the posts below the frost line to prevent the concrete from shifting and rising, Shipley says. "Installing chain link requires more skill than installing a premade wood panel fence, especially when the lot is not perfectly level. You should use a professional fence contractor to install chain-link fence when grade changes or unlevel lots are involved," he advises.

Ornamental steel and aluminum: Old World charm Traditional wrought-iron fences have become virtually obsolete because they are hand-crafted and, thus, extremely expensive. Ornamental-steel picket, which looks like wrought iron and protects better, has stepped into its place. Marshall Frankel, president of Builders Fence Co. (Sun Valley, Calif.), explains why: "Steel is harder and has more tensile strength than wrought iron," he says. "It's also less costly."

Commercial applications for ornamental-steel picket abound, says Monumental Iron Works (Baltimore) Vice President of Marketing Jim Scheide. "Ornamental-steel fence has primarily commercial applications: universities, stadiums, HUD projects, apartments, condominiums, fire stations, police stations, jails and schools," he lists.

Mostly used for its security and aesthetic qualities, ornamental-steel picket fence requires little upkeep, in addition to being strong and pleasing to the eye. "It looks nicer, it's non-climbable, and--if it's strong enough--people can't pull the pickets apart. It's attractive security," Scheide says.

Available in many styles and several standard colors, ornamental-steel picket is available in custom colors, as well. Accessories such as balls, rails and finials increase this fence's beauty.

Ornamental aluminum offers many of the practical advantages of aluminum chain link--but with a more attractive, Old World charm. Because it is made of aluminum, it won't rust, even if the paint scrapes off. Thus, like aluminum chain link, it is the perfect fence to put around a pool, coastal retreat or any other perimeter. Scott Goodman, director of marketing at Specrail (Hamden, Conn.), says, "Aluminum gives you the look of ornamental iron without worrying about rust." Bruce Schwartz, president of Jerith Manufacturing Co. (Philadelphia), agrees. He says his firm sells a lot of ornamental-aluminum picket around pools and in coastal areas. "The salty air will rust steel pickets. Thus, our strongest areas lie in pools and around the ocean," he comments.

Ornamental aluminum also offers other benefits. "You never have to paint it; it comes with a lifetime guarantee; it's easy to install; and there's several color-variety options," Goodman says. "Ornamental aluminum has an electrostatically applied baked-enamel factory coating of color that will never chip or peel off." Plus, custom colors are available.

"The most popular style is the rail top," Goodman explains. In this style, the manufacturer adds a rail above the pickets. You also can choose to customize your fence with rings, ball tops, finials and scrolls. Ball tops provide elegance to the posts, while finials decorate picket tops, and scrolls and rings add charm between pickets.

One disadvantage to this fence type is its installation. Shipley says, "Ornamental-steel and -aluminum fences are sometimes difficult to install, and the American Fence Association strongly recommends using a fence contractor to install them. Ornamental-iron fences are custom-made to accommodate grade changes, and they require welding." Plus, he adds, you can install steel, iron or aluminum fence posts in either concrete footings or in sleeves in brick walls or patios. Ornamental aluminum is pre-made, but you must cut it to adapt to grades.

The advantages of vinyl Maintenance-free vinyl fencing is available in many of the same styles as wood and ornamental picket, including privacy, split rail and picket. Although the initial cost of vinyl fencing is more than wood, vinyl-fencing upkeep costs are minimal, says Jerry W. English, president of Carolina Vinyl Products (Grifton, N.C.). About the only upkeep involved is pressure washing, he explains.

Another benefit to vinyl fences is that they are solid. American Fence Association Marketing Committee Chairman Ralph Palmieri, of Bufftech (Buffalo, N.Y.), says, "We offer PVC in lieu of ornamental-steel picket because it is durable like ornamental steel."

Besides its strength, vinyl has another advantage: It never needs repainting. "It's maintenance-free," says Mark Board, national sales manager of Heritage Vinyl Products (Macon, Miss.). Because vinyl is maintenance-free, it is a perfect choice for subdivision, condominium and apartment developers. These sites typically want to provide a fence to enclose the community initially, but they don't want the eventual upkeep costs.

"It enhances the look of a property," says Cheryl Hamlin, national sales manager of Nebraska Plastics (Cozad, Neb.). "It looks much neater, like the day it was installed....Vinyl is really, really popular."

Picket-, post-rail- and wrought-iron-look styles are available, as well as privacy and semi-privacy types. And some companies offer several color choices. Accessories such as balls and finials are available as well to personalize these fences. Palmieri emphasizes, "There's a high interest in a maintenance-free product with durability and good looks."

Installation is about as cumbersome as any typical fencing option. "Vinyl fences require concrete post fittings for installation, and the posts are reinforced by pouring concrete inside them," Shipley said. Panels are premade and adapt to moderate grade changes, but they may require trimming and cutting if the site is not level. Vinyl fences continue to grow in popularity because they require little or no maintenance and come in many different styles and colors.

Whether you want to enclose a swimming area, hide trash receptacles, increase security or delineate property lines, today's fence choices are virtually limitless. Between the varieties of wood, chain link, ornamental steel, ornamental aluminum and vinyl, finding a choice to fit your firm's budget and needs should be within reach of any grounds manager.

Keith Fitzgerald is manager of marketing for the American Fence Association (Stone Mountain, Ga.). Valerie Smith Buxton is a staff writer.

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