So you want to build a fence. Most homeowners build fencing to provide some privacy for a property, like setting a boundary, keeping pests out of a garden, or securing the area around a swimming pool.
And of course, any residential fence will serve as a mainstay decoration for the entire property, so looks matter. But you also need to build the fence from a material that will stay strong over a long period of time with a low degree of maintenance.
There are many options to consider when it comes to fencing: material, design, size, finish, etc. But when deciding what kind of fence to build, not much matters besides the cost, what lasts longest, and what requires the least amount of maintenance. Cedar wood is the ideal material no matter what the other considerations because it is a beautiful, relatively inexpensive red wood that lasts.
Cedar Outperforms Alternatives
PVC or vinyl and metal are other options for fencing material, but they pale in comparison to a classic wooden fence, which is really the ideal when considering a fence around a typical house.
Plastic fencing may last but it looks tacky and artificial, as it is. Plastic is worse for houses in especially warm and cool areas, as well as those with high humidity or high variability in temperature. The plastic will warp according to the temperature, which leads to brittleness and damage when the plastic expands and contracts according to the weather. Also, mold and mildew will grow wild on plastic fencing in even slightly humid areas.
PVC also just doesn’t look like good, old fashioned wood. You can paint PVC to look like wood, but it will always have those artificial wood grains and the synthetic glean of plastic.
Vinyl fencing is also ironically usually more expensive to buy and install, with the benefit coming as less maintenance later. But cedar, at the most, requires a coat of stain every few years, which may even be foregone to let the wood silver naturally. Thus the difference between care and results for cedar and plastic is negligible.
Metal fences, on the other hand, commonly come in two ways: with vertical slats spaced widely apart from each other, like the short wrought iron fences that typically circle cemeteries. This type of fencing is often quite expensive, for materials and installation. And while the fence might look nice, it provides little privacy. A metal fence for privacy would be a sheet metal fence, which looks cheap and is rarely appropriate to be matched with a house.
Cedar: The Best Type of Wood Fencing
So you’ve decided you want to use wood, what type of wood should you use?
Some people like cedar solely for its beautiful natural red color, without consideration for the other benefits. As cedar ages, it will weather by turning a silvery gray, which some people also like, though others may stain the wood. The stain can protect the original reddish color of the cedar, apply another classic wood color, or any combination in between. You don’t even need to paint on the stain with a brush or roller–garden sprayers are available at every hardware store and make the job much easier. Simply load the sprayer with the stain and apply two coats like a wide aerosol spray.
The oils in cedar wood prevent rotting and damage from insects, keeping the lumber functional for fifteen to thirty years. Cedar wood chips are used in mulch to repel undesirable insects, and can even repel rodents. In fact, cedarwood essential oil has a number of medical and topical uses, including perfume, anti-bacterial, insect repellent–even being approved by the FDA as a food preservative.
Staining the wood will increase the longevity of the already hardy material. Untreated, the natural properties of the wood, like its oils and aromatics, protect the wood. But by staining it with the simple aforementioned trick only once every several years, you can preserve the wood with its original color for up to forty years!
But you don’t even have to stain cedar for it to last. Cedar wood was often used for framing houses and as the material for clapboards or shingles, because it is such a durable wood, especially for its resistance to termites. Left untreated, cedar will start to lose its red wood color after about a year, beginning the fade into a classic silvery, weathered gray color. This does not mean, though, that the wood will decay faster–it retains it durability and rot-resistance, lasting for fifteen to thirty years. The silvery color is a staple of many American neighborhoods–think the weathered silver shingles of beachside communities on Cape Cod. Some people prefer and even invite the weathering as an architectural feature. Others stain it in order to preserve its natural color, or to maintain a different one. Either way, upkeep is easy and the wood will last a very long time.
Pine is not a great option compared to cedar. Pine is a harder wood than cedar, so it tends to crack and break more in response to changing temperature than cedar. It is also much more difficult to stain: stain does not take to the wood as well, so the actual process is more labor intensive and requires doing it more frequently. All that considered, pine is also worse because you must stain the wood in order to maintain it. Unlike cedar, which you either don’t stain at all, or stain every couple years, pine must be stained every so often, and will suffer if you fall behind.
So, with other kinds of woods, staining is necessary both to preserve the color and integrity of the wood. But with cedar, you only need to stain it if you want to retain the original color or make the wood last significantly past it’s already long life span.