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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

For an Elegant, Maintenance-Free Black Fence, Try Powder-Coated Wrought Iron

I’ve had the great luck to work in some truly lovely old Victorian neighborhoods, with their streets lined by huge deciduous trees and the lots filled with glorious painted ladies, almost all enclosed by hedges and black wrought iron-style fencing. In one such neighborhood, having become the neighborhood handyman, I soon discovered that almost all of the fences were in serious need of some major TLC, displaying paint chipping, corrosion, and even some structural damage. At first, I figured the fences were just very old, but I soon found out that most of them had been installed only ten years before I arrived!

Black steel fences, whether in an old-fashioned style or a sleek modern style, possess a universal appeal and a timeless aesthetic, not to mention they give your yard an open feel and let light in. Keeping them in good condition, however, is not so universally popular. Rust and corrosion must be kept at bay, blemishes must be wire brushed away and sealed, and many fences require fairly frequent repainting. Over the years I’ve discovered that it is most certainly possible to have a classic-looking, maintenance-free black fence—and I’m here to pass on my findings.

The Common Challenge with all Metal Fencing

 When bare metal comes into contact with oxygen, it rusts. If rust isn’t stopped quickly in its tracks, a small problem will very soon turn into a larger problem, as the process of corrosion picks up a momentum of its own. Water and the UV rays of the sun are the most frequent agents of weathering. Any crack in the layer of paint (and this is often the only protection fences are given) will be found by water, whether in the form of rain or morning condensation. Once water finds its way into a crack, the process of oxidation will begin unless the metal has further protection from the elements, such as galvanization. If there is no further protection, rust (iron oxide) will form and wear away at the metal, causing irreversible damage.

The sun, on the other hand, weathers a fence by both by breaking down the protective paint and by providing heat. This, along with cooler periods, causes expansion and contraction in the metal, which ultimately weaken the paint’s bond to the fence, especially where there are joins, such as where pickets are attached to rails. As you can tell, sun and moisture are a good team when it comes to wearing down and damaging your metal fence. But there are ways to keep these at bay.

Types of Metal Fence Coatings

With fences, as with so many other materials, I’ve found that typically the more layers of protection, the better. I won’t recommend a fencing system to my clients if it’s only protected by some spray paint or even just a hasty layer of powder coat. A fence with the clean and classic look my clients are after won’t stay looking that way long if it isn’t protected with a high-quality coating. When I do recommend a fencing system there are a few elements that I look for.

  • Galvanization: This just means the raw metal is coated in a layer of zinc, which is highly resistant to corrosion. There are various levels of galvanization, represented by numbers like 30 or 45, which simply indicate the concentration of the zinc. Galvanized steel is much more resistant to corrosion than bare steel, but it won’t last forever. It’s meant to be a temporary fix, as the zinc layer will slowly but surely wear down over time, ultimately exposing the bare metal to the elements.
  • Powder Coating: A powder coating is a kind of paint that is electrostatically bonded in powder form to the metal, and allows for a much thicker, more durable covering than traditional paints. You’ll find this method used in everything from household products to automobiles. Some powder coats contain zinc, and many have UV inhibitors. While very tough and UV resistant, it can be slightly porous and isn’t in itself a surefire means of protecting against moisture.
  • E-coating: E-coating is another name for electroplating, in which a metal piece is dipped into a vat of paint, and an electric current is applied, causing a chemical reaction. This process results in an incredibly thorough, no-spot-left-behind paint job. The technology was originally developed within the automotive industry to protect the undercarriages of cars from the elements and from deicing salt, and is therefore excellent at keeping moisture at bay. It is now being used by some fencing manufacturers as a layer beneath the powder coat to provide long-lasting added protection to the metal.

In my career, I’ve put in some very well-made fences that have utilized just one of these coating methods. But having more than one of these methods goes a long way in ensuring that a metal fence remains beautiful for a long time. So much of the usual maintenance work that goes into keeping a wrought iron or even a steel fence looking good can be cut down by choosing a fence that is made with better materials and processes.

These days, I steer my clients in the direction of a steel fencing system that combines all three methods of protection in one place. Manufactured by Fortress Building Products, these black metal fences have a timeless aesthetic, able to add either modernist class or Victorian charm to your project. When the project is larger in scope, I also recommend taking a gander at their full line of beautifully crafted building materials. If you are looking to install a black metal fence and also want to cut down on the maintenance, I can’t recommend them enough.

 

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