Fence posts come in many different materials, and while they should be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of harsh weather, kids climbing and pets digging, they are also an integral part of your home and yard.
Choosing the best fencing materials for your project can be a question of both form and function. Keep in mind what it is that you want the fence to do. Are you trying to corral cattle, keep pests out, or enhance the exterior of your estate? After identifying your needs, find a fence post that is visually appealing to you. You can often mix materials to achieve your goals. Deciding on the right fence posts is the first decision, as they will bear the weight of the rest of the fence.
5 Common Fence Post Materials
Metal fencing is most often made using one of two materials: iron or aluminum.
Wrought iron fencing has been around for hundreds of years. Some of the earliest examples date back to the 15th century. Today, more durable rail steel is used to make traditional metal railings.
Many homeowners still opt for metal as a fencing material. The shape and ornamental designs of this type of fencing can vary widely, and the patterns can be very intricate. With the use of galvanized steel and the addition of a powder coat finish to prevent rusting, the fencing itself can last a lifetime.
That said, iron fences have their drawbacks. While they work well for ornamental purposes, they are not the right choice for a structural corner post that bears a lot of weight. To stand the test of time, children and animals, corner posts should be somewhat flexible and able to return to their position if someone or something decides to test the boundaries. Wood does this much better than steel. Wrought iron fences are also relatively expensive and very heavy. Installing a fence of this nature usually requires hiring a professional and emptying your pockets.
Aluminum fencing has a few advantages over iron fencing. Most importantly, it does not rust, which keeps the maintenance on an aluminum fence to a minimum. The upfront cost is significantly more than a wood fence, but the lack of upkeep makes it a viable option if you plan to own the fence for a long time. Aluminum fencing is also easier to install because it is lighter weight than steel.
Vinyl fencing is one of the newer fencing products on the market. While early iterations of this product had problems with cracking and yellowing in the sun, those problems have lessened as higher quality versions have been developed. In particular, making the fencing from new or “virgin vinyl,” as opposed to recycled vinyl, produces a superior product.
Vinyl fencing has also become more durable with the addition of aluminum for interior support. If you plan on using this type of fencing, you should hire a professional to install it. A small error in one spot can stick out like a sore thumb when the project is completed.
Vinyl fencing can be relatively inexpensive and is very low maintenance, but it does not provide a natural look.
By far, wood is the most popular choice for fencing. It is readily available, often precut and ready for use in fencing projects. The average homeowner has enough DIY knowledge to tackle building a wood fence, and the cost is low enough to fit most budgets. Best of all, wood offers an endless variety of possibilities when it comes to species, color, and style.
A wood fence can be made out of many different types of wood, including cedar, oak, cottonwood, Douglas fir, pine, and pressure-treated lumber. Pressure-treated lumber is usually a softer wood, like yellow pine, treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). Without this treatment, some species of wood may start to rot after only a few years. However, with this treatment, the wood can last for 15-20 years in some areas, though in arid desert climate’s like Colorado’s, it may not hold up very well past eight years.
In the wood category, cedar wood fencing deserves special mention. Many homeowners choose this wood because of its tight grain, red hue, and relative lack of knots. It is also a great structural choice. Cedar, along with redwood, has natural oils that are a deterrent to wood-eating insects. It also helps to prevent rotting and weathering outdoors.
Cedar is also less prone to shrinking and warping, which means less work for homeowners. With time, cedar will change to a silvery gray color if not sealed. We recommend that you apply a penetrating sealer to protect the color and integrity of the wood.
Keep in mind that cedar posts can have a tendency to rot near the ground where they meet the soil and plants and moisture. This problem can be mitigated by setting the bottom of the posts in concrete to protect the wood. It’s not unusual for a cedar fence to be going strong for up to 30 years.
Composite fencing and decking have become widely popular. Made from wood fibers and plastic polymers, composite boards are durable and low-maintenance. It is more expensive than vinyl fencing, but it provides a wood-like look that many homeowners love.
There are more color options for composite fences than there used to be, which offers you some really nice options. Be aware, though, that you should choose your composite wood with care. With the expansion of composites in the market, lower quality options have emerged. Be sure that you are working with a reputable dealer and getting a well-made, lasting product.
Brick and stone posts make a statement when used in fencing. Commonly mixed with wood or metal rails and pickets, these posts look very stately. They can be built in many different styles and can be made to match the house. However, they are not as durable as other posts. Posts built of heavy brick need structural footings below the frost line to keep them from shifting and cracking. Even with the proper supports, it is likely that the brick will need repointing as the ground shifts over time. Often brick is only used as a veneer over reinforced concrete to provide better supports.
Proper posts support the rest of your fence and beautify your property. Once installed, they can be dressed up with hanging plants and granite caps or simply sealed to enhance the natural beauty of the wood. Either way, they should reflect your personal style and needs.