Q&A / 

Vinyl Fence

DEAR TIM: I've had it with my wood fence. Painting it is a huge investment of time. Besides, the paint only seems to last three years or so. I have seen vinyl fencing. Do you feel that vinyl fencing is suitable? Not too long ago, I saw one that didn't hold up very well. Is there a way to identify quality vinyl fencing? R. Y.

DEAR R.Y.: That poor quality vinyl fence you saw could have been one of the first ones made. Then again, it may have been made six months ago. There is a wide range of quality in some of the vinyl fence products. Some are fantastic, some are so - so.

The vinyl fence industry got it's start in the early 1980's from PVC pipe manufacturers. The early fence products didn't fare well in the sunlight. The pipe manufacturers forgot that their pipe is usually buried in the ground or in walls. Destructive ultraviolet (UV) light caused pipe grade PVC fencing to break down readily.

However, several manufacturers responded to these early failures. They developed new technology that now allows them to manufacture vinyl in two layers that are chemically bonded to one another. The process is called coextrusion. This process produces a thin top layer that contains ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, which slows the breakdown of the vinyl. The thicker bottom layer contains ingredients which enable the vinyl to remain pliable and crack resistant for many years.

The amount of titanium dioxide in the top layer is critical. The higher the amount the better. This ingredient actually absorbs and reflects the energy of the UV rays. Vinyl with lower amounts of titanium dioxide simply succumb to the UV rays at a faster rate.

Vinyl fencing products are available in a wide range of styles. The industry first targeted the agricultural market. Virtually every manufacturer has a post and rail fence. The more progressive companies developed a wide range of other styles for the residential market. These styles include picket, privacy, wrought iron look, and cross buck. Several manufacturers offer different colors and extremely realistic wood grained texture. Within six months, a variegated multicolored fence will be available. The look is virtually indistinguishable from real wood.

Vinyl fencing is pricey. Often it can cost up to twice as much as a similar wood fence. However, there is absolutely no maintenance once it is installed. Maintenance costs for wood fencing can cost as much as $0.70 per foot per year. When you figure you have to paint your fence every 2 - 3 years, a wood fence system can actually cost far more than a vinyl system in a short amount of time.

Installation of vinyl fencing is critical. It requires tighter tolerances and accurate placement of posts. Many of the fencing sections come preassembled so the posts must be spaced equally. Warranties are also a good way to identify a quality fencing product. Take your time to compare one with another. Some warranties are not only lifetime, but they are also transferable as well. Vinyl fences with strong warranties are a good bet.



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