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Installation Tips

How to Choose a Vinyl Fence Appropriate for Your Project and Budget


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There are many brands and types of fence in the market these days and navigating these can be sometimes be akin to navigating a mine field – even amongst seasoned professionals! Here are a few brief tips to consider when choosing a vinyl fence for your home or business:

1.       Pay Attention to the Ingredients - Buy Fence Made of Virgin Vinyl/ PVC – Not all vinyl fences are created equal. Professional grade vinyl fences are made of virgin vinyl/ PVC ; consumer grade fences are often made of recycled plastics, often the scraps from the ’good stuff'. In fact, many brands will have their professional grade materials available from professional fence and deck dealers only, and then create a separate brand for many of the ‘big box’ stores for consumers. Although, it is hip to use recycled products and shop for environmentally ‘green’ fencing products, some are simply less than desirable as a building product that needs to withstand the weather elements, high winds, and sun (UV) damage.  Vinyl fencing made of recycled plastics will often sag prematurely, become brittle (especially in cold climates), and fade and warp prematurely. Professional, contractor grade fencing will not only use virgin vinyl, but also mix UV inhibitors in to help prevent against sun (UV) damage. If you wish to simply buy a couple sections of 3-4’ high spaced picket fence for a corner accent, a consumer grade fence may be a perfect fit. Installing it would only be a couple hours at best and it would be easy to replace when it wears out…and this is only a question of when it wears out, not if it wears out.  If you wish to buy a taller fence, install 10, 20, or 30 sections of fence with gates, and have it last more than a season or two, choose a professional grade fence worth investing in and installing. Installing fence is a significant investment, sometimes thousands of dollar even as a do-it-yourself project. Spend a couple hours digging holes and mixing cement and then think about setting in concrete inferior fence posts and sections which will not last. I think you will soon agree, professional grade materials are the only type to consider using.

2.        Pay Attention to Vinyl Fence Component Sizes and Wall Thicknesses – To make a vinyl fence, or nearly any fence more budget-friendly, manufacturers will make components thinner (meaning the actual wall thickness of the material) and smaller in size. Many inexpensive styles of vinyl fence will utilize fence posts measuring 3-1/2” x 3-1/2”. Further, because the wall thickness is insufficient, a 4 x 4 wood post must be inserted inside the vinyl for strength. If you must use a 4 x 4 wood fence post on the inside of the vinyl fence post, that will tell you something about the quality of the vinyl post – it’s too thin and weak to hold the fence panel by itself. The 3-1/2” square vinyl post might be inexpensive, but add to this the expense of a 4 x 4 wood post (currently around $9-10 ea.). Pay attention also to the length of the vinyl posts. Consumer grade vinyl fences often come with shorter posts. Posts should be of sufficient length to extend into concrete footers for support. While looking at at the wall thickness, actual horizontal rail sizes, and picket sizes, you will find each of these components to be significantly less in size and thickness when compared to professional grade products. Professional grade fences will utilize true 4” square posts on shorter fence and fences which allow air flow; they will use true 5” square posts on taller fences and privacy fences. These posts do not need wooden 4 x 4 posts on the inside of them to support the fence panels. It is common though on all grades of vinyl fence, to use a a post insert (aluminum or steel), or the method of filling a post with cement for a gate (hinge and latch post) and terminal posts for extra support.

3.        Pay Attention to Interior Reinforcement and Fence Section Widths – Check pickets, rails, and posts for manufacturer’s recommendations on interior reinforcement. A quality fence will often have interior ‘ribbing’ on pickets, or other forms of reinforcement vs. a hollow rail. Quality taller vinyl fences and privacy fences will also have either a galvanized steel reinforcement channel in the bottom rail to help prevent sag; these rails are a full 8 feet in length! Lesser fences will come in 6’ sections without steel reinforcement channels. Shorter fence sections mean more posts to purchase, more holes to dig, and more cement to mix! Be careful comparing material costs and installation time with these comparisons. A cheaper vinyl fence product may not be that much cheaper in the end.

4.        Pay Attention to Fence Design – In order to make a vinyl fence less expensive and easier to inventory, it is common for consumer brands to offer one single ‘blank’ (no holes) post and use a bracket of some sort to attach all horizontal rails to fence posts. Often these rail brackets are even a painted steel which will rust on a white vinyl fence. These brackets can be brittle and usually don’t have much to attach to seeing how it’s a vinyl fence. Having simply one post, is much easier to inventory though. In general, better fences will have posts routed to accept the horizontal rails. Vinyl fence end posts will have holes routed on one side only to accept fence horizontal rails and terminate a fence line. Corner posts will have routed holes on adjacent sides to create a 90 degree or there about turn. And line posts will have holes on opposite sides to be used as an intermediate post. There are various ways in which fence manufacturers have found to ‘lock’ the rails inside the posts. Point is, the section is not going to come off the posts without practically tearing down the post too. Further, a fence system with routed posts is often more aesthetically pleasing when compared with a fence with brackets. In general, a routed post system will surpass a bracketed system in strength, appearance, and ease of installation. This is a generality, and there are some types of railing and fence sections with brackets which are designed well. Also, don't forget to add up the costs of these fence brackets in estimating and comparing brands. The same principle will apply to how vinyl fence manufacturers design pickets to attach to rails. Inferior brands will simply glue, or screw pickets to the face of horizontal fence rails; these will not last. Better brands will often have routed rails which accept pickets through the center of them, or into extruded grooves. One better way of attaching pickets to the face of a horizontal rails is from the backside with larger lag screws and caps which hide the fasteners from the weather and your sight. Keep in mind, a fence is only as weak as its weakest point. Privacy fences should have tongue and groove pickets so that the fence remains private when, not if the ground shifts.

5.        Pay Attention to Gates – Inexpensive vinyl fence systems will often cut a panel down in width, screw on a diagonal vinyl piece of some sort and call it a ‘gate’. Gate hinges are inferior to others as they only ‘face-mount’ to the post and gate. Better systems will have a ‘true’ gate with better design to help prevent gate sag. Gates constitute the largest quantity of call backs to installers as they can be tricky, are usually the only part of the fence designed to move, and are often underestimated when designed and installed. A gate is a bad place to 'skimp' on your fence project as it could cause hours to years of aggravating maintenance when adjusting, realigning, and replacing parts and hardware. A better quality gate should have gate uprights fastened to horizontal rails in a secure fashion. Better brands may have ‘gate sockets’ glued and riveted into uprights to accept horizontal fence rails. Steel, or aluminum frame are often used to help prevent sag on better quality vinyl fences. You will also find a variety of quality gate hardware sets available to compliment vinyl gates. Better hardware will be designed to mount to two sides of the gate hinge post and often the gate upright itself which allows for multiple points to install screws or ‘thru-bolts’. Avoid hinges which are single dimensional and will only allow you to drive screws into the face of the gate and gate post, these easily ‘pull’ from both during wind. The same principle will apply to latches and having attachment point on both sides of a gate post and gate upright. When choosing a low-to-no maintenance fence, use stainless steel hardware which has been powder coated, or a quality polymer piece of hardware. Installing regular painted steel hardware on a vinyl fence will cause rust stains to bleed down the face of your new fence in a few years; worse yet, you won’t be able to replace it with better hardware without then seeing old holes in your fence and gate where the old cheap hardware used to be.

6.        Pay Attention to Your Dealer and Fence Manufacturers’ Credentials – Buy from a well-established fence dealer and long-standing manufacturer and you will rarely err. Professional fence companies and manufacturer’s will service your needs. This isn’t to say they also won’t make mistakes, but they will work feverishly to fix them!