What is Vinyl Fence?
Vinyl fence is made from polyvinyl chloride. A type of plastic known as PVC. Two types of PVC are used for fences. Virgin and Recycled.
Virgin PVC uses the highest quality materials, as a result, it is the most pure. Recycled PVC uses cutoffs and scraps from anything PVC and recycles them, offering pretty much the same product at lower prices.
Recycled PVC for vinyl fence had problems with color years ago. White vinyl fences using recycled PVC sometimes turned yellow. However, the process of recycling vinyl has improved.
As a result, many manufactures use both in their product lines. A process of covering recycled PVC components with a coating of virgin PVC has been perfected.
To tell if vinyl fence components are virgin or recycled, look inside. Virgin PVC will be one solid color. Recycled PVC will have one color for the core and another for the outside coating.
What Are The Advantages of a Vinyl Fence?
Vinyl fence has many advantages over a wood fence. They don’t need to be stained or painted, for example. Likewise, they can never rot or rust. Even better, they don’t warp or twist like wood fences.
Combine that with most manufacturers offering a lifetime warranty and you have all the makings of an awesome, reliable fence.
Most vinyl fences look the same on both sides. As a result, you won’t have to give your neighbor the better looking side like you do with wood fences.
Vinyl fences are easier to construct compared to wood fences. Therefore, making them appealing for the do it yourselfers. Vinyl fences come in many styles that are difficult to build out of wood.
They don’t require toxic or harmful chemicals to maintain, therefore are safe around pets and children. All of these are reasons why people choose vinyl over wood.
Styles of Vinyl Fence
Vinyl fence has more styles than any other type of fence on the market. Not knowing where to start can make choosing the right one difficult. However, we can classify the styles into four main categories.
Picket fence, semi private fence, privacy fence and post and rail fence. Within those categories are countless sub categories.
Knowing what the purpose of your fence is will help to narrow down your choices. Let’s take a look at each style of vinyl fence and what their uses are.
Vinyl Picket Fence
Vinyl picket fence is constructed in one of two ways. Traditional or routed picket. Routed picket is also known as “Good Neighbor” fence.
Traditional picket fence is built similar to wood picket fence. With each picket fastened to one side of the rail. As a result, leaving a good side and bad side. The good side is the side with the pickets. The bad side is the side with the rails or stringers.
Routed picket fence rails have holes routed into them allowing pickets to be inserted through the center. Therefore, the fence looks the same on both sides.
There are different width pickets for each style. Wide pickets are usually 3″ wide x 1/2″ thick. Resembling the dimensions of a wood picket.
The second option, narrow pickets, measure between 1.25″ – 1.5″ square. Normally between 3′ tall and 4′ tall, vinyl picket fences are also constructed in taller heights for custom installations.
Vinyl Picket fences are used for many applications. For example, securing backyards. They do a great job keeping pets or children contained.
Vinyl picket fences are great for gardens too. The lower heights allow for sunlight to reach plants. And they can help in keeping unwanted animals out.
Furthermore, vinyl fence is better than wood fence in high moisture areas due to constant watering.
Vinyl picket fences along sidewalks in front yards can really dress things up and give a house that inviting look many desire. Often they are the backdrop for a flower bed in these situations.
Scalloped and Arched Vinyl Picket Fence
Both the narrow and wide vinyl picket fence options can can have an arch or scallop. This means they have a concave or convex curve between each post.
The normal change in height for these styles is 6 inches. Scalloped and arched picket fences add a great look to a picket fence. However, if the layout of the fence line has a lot of cut sections, staying with a straight top option will be better.
Cut sections will throw off the the uniform look of the scallops or arches. As a result leaving a fence without uniform sections which not appealing to the eye.
Contemporary Vinyl Picket Fence
Many vinyl manufacturers offer contemporary picket options. These options have a top rail and bottom rail much like a hand railing. Taller options, 5′ tall and higher will have a middle rail.
Contemporary vinyl picket fence looks the same on both sides. Rails are routed to receive pickets, consequently it has a very smooth look. You will find contemporary vinyl picket fences around swimming pools and playgrounds.
Because comtempory picket styles have no points, day cares are also a popular place to find them.
Semi Private Vinyl Fence
Taller fences with tighter spaces between the pickets are classified as semi private. Semi private vinyl fences look the same on both sides. They can have exposed picket tops or a flat contemporary picket look.
Two of the most common picket sizes for semi private fences are 3″ wide and 6″ wide. The space between the pickets can range between .5″ wide to 1.75″ wide.
Semi private fences usually start at 5′ tall and go taller from there. Good where screening is important while keeping air flow.
Common places to find semi private fence is around pool equipment or air conditioners. Outside patios or bars that have smoking sections are also common uses.
Vinyl Privacy Fence
Vinyl privacy fence is very popular. It looks the same on both sides. It comes in many styles and colors. And because it requires little to no maintenance, you never have to go on the other side. An especially nice feature when neighbors don’t get along.
Most manufactures offer privacy fences starting at 5′ tall. Some go up to 8′ tall with addition post reinforcements. However, some manufacturers offer a lower 4′ tall option. Used mostly to prevent dogs from seeing out since most children and adults can see over them.
Pickets on vinyl privacy fence usually interlock with tongue and groove joints like a hardwood floor. Keeping the pickets from separating.
It also makes the fence much stronger when dealing with wind. Tongue and groove pickets help keep each other from blowing out under extreme wind loads.
Backyards and swimming pools are the most common places to find vinyl privacy fence. However, dumpster enclosures also use vinyl privacy fence to screen out unsightly dumpsters.
Drive around any development and you’ll find them on top of a berm providing privacy from nearby roads or exercise paths.
Have a nosey neighbor? A vinyl privacy fence will help. Whatever the use, if privacy is the goal, a vinyl fence might be what you’re looking for.
Accents and Headers
Many vinyl privacy fences have options for accents and headers. This is where the top of the section changes style.
Routed picket, contemporary picket and lattice accents are popular. Although they take away from the overall privacy, they break up the hard lines that the top rails of a vinyl privacy fence has.
Adding an accent or a header gives your vinyl privacy fence a custom look. However, these option will drive the cost of the fence up.
Vinyl Post and Rail Fence
Vinyl post and rail fence gets used everywhere. 2,3, and 4 rail configurations are the most popular. Cross buck is a style of vinyl post and rail fence that has a cross or an “X” formed by the two middle rails.
Vinyl post and rail fences are very popular along the entrances of developments and shopping centers. You also find them along walking and exercise paths.
They are also a very common farm fence design, used to corral horses. However, strength sometimes becomes and issue. Consequently, most applications are purely for decoration.
Vinyl gates normally match the fence style. Single leaf gates are called man gates. Vinyl man gates come in 3′, 3.5′, 4′ and 5′ wide.
Double gates have two gate leafs. Standard sizes are 6′, 7′, 8′, and 10′ wide. However, vinyl doesn’t have structural integrity like wood. Therefore, vinyl gates are reinforced with aluminum for added strength.
This prevents the gate from sagging and gives the screws for gate hardware something sturdy to bite into. Posts for vinyl gates also require an aluminum reinforcement.
A hollow vinyl post cannot support the weight of a gate. So aluminum post reinforcements are added to both the hinge and latch posts, providing a solid foundation to hang the gate.
Custom vinyl gates have arches or scallops. Sometimes consumers like the gate to stand out. So they opt to go with a different style gate or one with an arch or scallop.
What Color Does Vinyl Fence Come In?
White is the most common color. However, different colors are available. Solid colors like tan, grey, and mocha add anywhere from 10% – 15% to the cost of the fence. Therefore, choosing a color option is a personal choice and not always in the budget.
Most people just go with white. But sometimes a white fence just doesn’t fit in with its surroundings. For instance, in older neighborhoods that feature homes with classic architecture and building materials, white vinyl fence can look out of place.
Choosing a darker color in this setting helps the fence look more natural.
Blends and Textures
There are obvious advantages to vinyl fences. A negative response we sometimes hear is that they look too much like plastic. For this reason manufacturers have developed blended colors and textures.
Blended colors have two or more colors added to the vinyl extrusion to give it a wood grain look. This can really soften the hard look of a solid white panel.
Other manufactures developed extrusions with textures incorporated into them. Wood grain and stucco are two popular textures. Vinyl fence with textures look even more natural.
Available in darker colors and blends, the texture also helps to cut down on the reflectiveness of the fence. These colors and textures come at a cost though.
Depending on style, adding these options can almost double the cost of your vinyl fence.
Vinyl Fence Maintenance
Vinyl fence is dubbed “maintenance free”. Likewise, most manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty. After 25 years of installing fence, I would say limited maintenance would be more appropriate.
You won’t need to paint or stain a vinyl fence. But they will need cleaned every so often. A vinyl fence located in an open yard may rarely need cleaned. In areas with trees or shade, it will need cleaned at some point to keep it from looking dirty.
Vinyl fence does not wick in or hold moisture. That’s a good thing and the reason they last so long. But they do get wet from rain or from foggy dewy mornings.
Areas that have heavy shade, allow mildew or mold will grow. It won’t hurt the fence. But it gives it a dingy green color. If this happens, you will need to clean your vinyl fence.
How to Clean Vinyl Fence
Giving your fence a shower from time to time will help it remain looking beautiful. Simply hosing off dust or dirt is normally enough. Sometimes, it will take more.
A pressure washer will do a good job removing heavier dirt. In either case, make sure you wash your fence in a warm sunny day so it can dry out in a reasonable amount of time.
If your fence does start to grow mold or mildew, you can make a homemade solution that will help remove it.
Cleaning Solutions for Vinyl Fence
A really dirty vinyl fence or one with mold growing on it will need a stronger cleaning solution. But chances are you have the materials to make one at home.
Bleach and Water
We use bleach to clean everything. Cleaning your vinyl fence is no different. Use a mixture of 1 part bleach to 3 parts warm water.
You’ll need a bucket and a sponge to wipe down your fence. Consequently the bleach will help kill the mold. After wiping down the fence, makes sure to rinse it with clean water from a hose.
Bleach can be toxic to some plants and flowers however. If this is a concern you have other options.
Vinegar and Water
Vinegar and water does a good job of cutting though the dirt and grime that builds up on vinyl fence. It is less toxic than bleach and you probably have some in your pantry.
Just like the bleach solution, 1 part vinegar to 3 parts warm water should be enough. Combine that with a sponge and a little elbow grease and you’ll be on your way to a clean fence in no time.
However, make sure to rinse off your fence with clean water after using the cleaning solution.
Cleaning Scuff Marks and Blemishes On Vinyl Fence
A magic eraser works great for removing scuff marks and small blemishes in vinyl fences. Lawn mower wheels, balls, and other things that hit or scrape the fence. Therefore leaving unsightly marks.
A magic eraser is normally all it will take to remove these marks without dulling the natural sheen of the fence.
What not to use
Never use an abrasive cleaning to clean a vinyl fence. Vinyl fences have a sheen to them. Using an abrasive cleaner will dull the sheen. As a result, your fence will be left look spotty or blotchy in the areas that were cleaned.
If the two cleaning solutions above aren’t enough to cut through the dirt, store bought vinyl specific cleaners are available.
Vinyl Fence Installation
Vinyl fence is not hard to install compared to other fence types. Building one is like building a giant puzzle. Requiring no specialized fencing tools. Many of the vinyl sections even come preassembled from the manufacturer.
First, the posts are set in concrete. They will need time to dry. However on some of the lighter picket style sections, setting the posts and assembling the sections can be done at the same time.
It is recommend to let posts dry for a day or two before assembling vinyl privacy fence on wet concrete.
Setting the Posts
Setting vinyl fence posts are like setting any other fence posts. The manufacture will specify how far apart they should be. It is most important to try and hit that measurement. However, many of the styles allow for a little variance.
Many people think vinyl fence posts get sleeved over wood posts. This is true with some of the lowest quality grades of vinyl fencing that you would find at big box stores. Any professional fence installation company however, will use a higher grade vinyl.
These posts are hollow and usually have holes routed into them to accept the rails. Resulting in a clean look without the need for fence hangers or brackets.
Gate post consist of the hinge post and the latch posts. Gate posts should include aluminum post stiffeners. These reinforcements give the hollow vinyl posts the strength they need to support a gate.
Installing Vinyl Fence Sections
As discussed before, many manufactures have preassembled fence sections. This make installation very easy. The rails of these sections will slide into the holes of the posts.
First, insert a rail into a post further and slide further in then it is supposed to go. This allows the opposing side room to clear the opposite post. Once clear, the section is pulled back so that the rail on the opposite side inserts into the holes of the other post.
Rails are notched at both ends. This notch acts like a barb on a fishing hook. Once pressed through the hole on the posts, the notch prevents the section from being removed.
Vinyl fence sections without notches will have a clip of some sort to achieve the same result.
Hanging Sections with Brackets
Some of the lower quality manufactures will have fence brackets that will screw to the outside of the fence posts. The rails of the sections will sit in the brackets so the section can hang between the posts.
Vinyl sections are not rackable when mounted using this method. This means they have to hang level any anywhere there is a change in grade the sections will have to step.
Vinyl fence sections that have routed posts are rackable and allow for the fence to follow grade better.
Some vinyl fence section come unassembled. However, they are easy to assemble on the job site. The bottom rails insert into the posts.
The pickets are usually the next to follow. Either sitting in a groove or trough in the bottom rail or in individually routed holes. The last step is to install the top rail to finish out the section.
Vinyl Post Caps
Installing post caps is the last part of the installation process. They simply slide over the top pf the post. They are glued on in areas with high wind or where they are susceptible to being stolen.
So, most manufactures include PVC glue when purchasing a fence from them. However, when gluing vinyl post caps to the post, don’t over do it. A little dab of glue in two opposing corners is all it will take to hold them securely to the post. This method allows them to be removed, if needed in the future.
Vinyl post caps come in many styles and shapes. Standard post caps take the shape of a four sided pyramid. Having just a slight pitch to them for water and snow runoff.
Ball caps, New England caps, and French Gothic caps similarly, are all popular styles of vinyl post caps. Some manufactures even offer lighted post caps. They are either solar powered or low voltage hard wired.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of vinyl fence. Making the investment to choose vinyl fence over other materials is a big decision.
The amount of maintenance you are willing to put into your fence should be a factor. Likewise, the amount of time you plan on living in your house is also a factor.
I tell my customers that if you don’t plan on staying in your house for at least ten years or longer, don’t buy a vinyl fence. You are paying for a lifetime warranty and little to no maintenance up front.
If you plan on moving in 3 – 5 years, you will never benefit from it. A wood fence might better suit your needs. But, if you never plan on moving or have limited capabilities for maintaining a fence however, vinyl might be the way to go.