Every now and then I get to drive out to the edge of town and take on some projects on large, often semi-rural plots of land. When one of these projects involves putting up a long fence, often for a large area of land, I have to stay mindful of the time and costs involved. As a young builder, I had a few projects get away from me, causing me to lose money. Over the years, though, I’ve learned a few rules of thumb that have allowed me to keep the quality high while keeping the costs down for both my customers and myself. This has generally led to increased savings and happiness for my clients, and plenty of referrals. But knowing how to keep a big fence project manageable means knowing the best fence for a large yard, which will help you make the most of your time, and help the client make the most of their money.
Here’s what I’ve discovered in my time as a contractor.
Features That Will Make Your Fencing Job Easier
Unless you’ve done it a few times, the amount of work that is involved in putting in long lines of fencing can be somewhat deceptive. The following general rules of thumb have been absolutely key when it comes to making my work doable.
- Fewer posts: I couldn’t say exactly how much time is sucked up by digging postholes, but it’s usually one of the biggest jobs when it comes to putting in a fence, especially if the ground is difficult to dig in. One of the ways I streamline this process is by buying fencing with longer rails. With steel fences, this usually comes down to choosing eight-foot panels instead of the more common six-foot sections. This means that for every 24 feet, there is one less post hole that has to be dug, which adds up when there’s something like 2,000 feet of fencing to install.
- Rackable panels for yards with grade change: Out in those bucolic rural areas, the ground often has a gentle roll to it, which can create some extra time when putting in a fence. I’m typically keen to avoid stair-stepping, so I look for fencing systems that adjust easily to slopes. While some fences that I’ve worked with proved a little difficult to rack, I’ve found a few systems that make building fence on hills almost pleasant.
- Pre-assembled panels: This almost goes without saying, but the days of receiving a railing kit in need of assembly are by no means gone. That’s not what you want when you have limited help and many feet of fence to install. A pre-assembled fence means no welding and limited fiddling with hardware, which ultimately costs much less in labor than having multiple people working on assembly.
Why a Steel Panel System Makes the Best Fence for a Large Yard
While I still put up plenty of wooden fences in various situations, for larger properties I tend toward using high-quality and weather resistant steel fencing. I find that there are comparative advantages with steel over wood, and there are also important distinctions to understand between different lines of steel fencing.
- Faster assembly: This is the number one benefit of steel fencing over wood. Steel fencing often comes in pre-made panels, while wood typically does not, which makes a world of difference in the speed of assembly. In addition, while it is easy to “step” wooden fences, it takes more cutting and measuring to “rack” them along the contour. Finally, the amount of screwing and cutting involved with wooden fences makes them a bit labor intensive when dealing with longer distances.
- Weather resistant for fewer repairs: The difference between types of steel fencing comes down to their ability to stay weather resistant. Steel fencing, though strong, is famous for its tendency to rust, meaning they haven’t always been considered the best fences for wet areas. And when you’re dealing with hundreds or even thousands of feet of fence, the last thing you want is to use a material that degrades quickly or requires frequent repairs. With enough fencing, a homeowner--or contractor--might never stop replacing and repairing! What can keep this from happening is many layers of protection on top of the bare steel. Most steel fences have a powder coating, which helps prevent damage from the sun, and keeps most particles from getting to the steel below. Unfortunately, powder coats are very slightly porous, and also typically develop tiny cracks, especially around the welds, that will sooner or later be penetrated by moisture. To avoid this, your client should invest in a steel railing system that also uses an e-coat and another protective layer, such as zinc, in addition to the powder coating. A good e-coat picks up the protection where the powder coat leaves off, keeping dampness from penetrating to the steel. Should this fail, an extra layer of zinc serves as another buffer.
I used to have mild misgivings about taking on those large fencing projects due to my early challenges! Now, I absolutely love getting started on a big fence job. In many ways, this is due to finding railing systems that are easy to put up quickly, and last for a long time without maintenance, keeping my clients happy for the long haul. Having experimented with a couple of different steel fencing systems, I found one of the best protected to be the galvanized steel fences produced by Fortress Building Products. I don’t know of any other companies that do this, but they use a zinc pre-coat, an e-coat to protect against moisture, and a high-quality powder coat on top of that to resist UV damage. Because of this it’s one of the most innovative and best-protected steel fences produced. And if you’re looking for other innovative materials, I think it’s worth your time to look through their full range of building materials, like decking, railing, and super tough, stylish ornamental hardware.