Butler Contracting has been in the fence building business for years and we have built a wide variety of fences to fit every customer’s needs, including chain link fences, wooden privacy fences, ornamental iron fences, and field fences. A key question that we’re often asked is, which is the better material to use for your posts – wood or meta?
Durability & Longevity
Metal posts have a great advantage in that they are not subject to the same threats as wood posts. They do not succumb to termites or other insects that challenge the structural integrity of the post and they are also not prone to rotting, shrinking, and cracking like a wood post. The only natural breakdown that can occur is rust, which is why the steel poles should be galvanized – this protects the post from rust and ensures a life expectancy of over 25 years, some metal fence posts can even last over 50 years.
Galvanized steel posts are also protected against warping in severe weather changes. The only thing that would cause a change to their shape is under extreme circumstances, such as a tree falling on the fence or a natural disaster like a tornado or hurricane, but the poles are more likely to bend than to break. This is especially true when undersized posts are used during a privacy fence installation. Metal posts should be at least 14 gauge thick and a minimum of Schedule 20 gauge. What does all this mean? Well for the average homeowner just know what you’re getting with a wooden privacy fence with a metal post. Many fence contractors will use chain link posts on wooden privacy fences because it is cheaper and often it is all big box store suppliers carry. Leaving you the customer with a ticking time bomb of when your undersized post will fail and the fence will fall over. For this reason, Butler Contracting uses Postmaster Post™ exclusively when building fences. They come with a 15-year structural warranty backed by the manufacturer and have a 73 mph wind rating. These Postmaster posts can also be entirely hidden in the fence line so you never see them making your fence more aesthetically pleasing.
There is no associated maintenance with metal posts as long as the steel is galvanized. It’s not even required to use concrete when sinking the posts if you put them deep enough into the ground and they are locked in the clay layer.
Metal posts can appear to be cheaper than wood posts, but that’s not completely true. There are several variations and options when it comes to building a wood privacy fence with galvanized steel posts. There are usually brackets that need to be purchased as well as post caps that all contribute to a higher overall cost. There are also certain types of metal posts that include the common round post, but you also have the option of u-channel metal posts that are smaller and require less hardware for installation. Some stores offer a discount when you buy in bulk, that might help offset the higher cost of metal posts.
Round galvanized steel posts against wood pickets stick out like a sore thumb. Some like the look, some do not, but there has been a lot of progress made in the availability of steel galvanized posts with drastically different visual aspects. The u-channel posts are much more discreet and can even be covered up with a wood board that matches the color and pattern of the pickets. There are also other metal posts that sit in between the pickets and have a very modern aesthetic and look the same on both sides of the fence so you don’t have to choose between the good side and the “ugly side” of the fence.
Durability & Longevity
Depending on the type of wood and its treatment, wood posts have a life expectancy of anywhere from 7 years to 25 years. There are a lot more factors that affect the lifetime of a wood post than a metal post, such as climate, how close to the ground the pickets are and if the wood gets proper maintenance regularly. Wood is really good at absorbing moisture, and typically that wood post is encapsulated in concrete, a very porous material creating an environment that is constantly moist. This can lead to rotting over time, especially if the posts don’t have enough air exposure to dry out. Wood posts are also subject to all of the insects that would like to make the posts their home. They eat away at the post and contribute to the wood rot that makes them weak and causes a need for replacement.
Treated wood also comes from the manufacturer wet and full of moisture. They’re often installed before they dry out. After they’re installed, the sun dries out the posts, but in that process, the wood can warp and cause undue stress on the rest of the fence and the warped post may need to be replaced soon after installation.
When wood is used for structures and subject to the sun and temperature swings, it often needs to be treated and sealed. In order to maintain the benefit of treating and sealing wood, the fence and its posts both need to be stained every two or three years. If you keep up with regular maintenance of the wooden fence, you’ll maximize the life expectancy of the fence, which as stated previously, can be about 25 years for cedar, which is the most durable wood used for fence posts. Other woods do not last as long as cedar, redwood and quality-treated pine can last up to 20 years.
The upfront cost of wood posts is cheaper initially, but over time you’ll have to pay some extra costs after installation. Maintenance of the wood will require purchase of the stain to protect the wood. If you don’t do it yourself, you’ll have to pay for the labor and have someone stain your fence for you. Some posts will probably have to be replaced after installation due to warping, if you have Butler Contracting build your fence, those replacements will be covered by our 2-year warranty.
A wood picket fence is a classic look that has long been desirable and probably always will be. What you should be aware of is that the appearance of wood can change over time, particularly cedar. As it ages, it turns from the nice reddish color that most associate with the wood to a silvery gray color that is not quite as desirable. The color can be preserved for longer if maintenance is performed at the proper intervals.
Both wood posts and metal posts are good options for a fence, but as noted, there are pros and cons to each. If you are planning on selling your house in a few years, a wood fence might not be a bad idea to keep YOUR overall cost down, but if you’re planning on keeping your house for most of your life, a more long term plan with minimum maintenance is better served with galvanized steel posts. You’ll have to determine how your favorite aesthetics match your budget. Everyone’s taste is a little bit different, so there’s no wrong answer for what you choose as long as you have a good builder that uses quality materials and tools!
We love building good-looking fences and making our customers happy! Get your FREE estimate by using our Fence Estimator Tool and start exploring options for your fence. It’s easy to get the process started right away.