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Friday, February 8, 2019

The Best Fence for a Wet Area Has a Tough, Multi-Layered Coating

Much of my building career has taken place in very moist and rainy climates, the kind of places where it rains so much that partially cloudy is shorthand for sunny. Within this moistened training ground, I once had the good fortune to build and repair the fences of an entire block, moving from property to property via word of mouth. Being in a rainy town, the summer work turned out to be an educational tour in all the ways that moisture breaks down fences of different materials--the wooden fences were rapidly transforming into compost piles, the black iron fences were weeping rusty tears, and the aluminum fencing was pitted in the places where its coating had come off.

My job was to find a fence for these clients that looked great and stood up to the months of rains. Building a fence to last in a particularly wet climate can be a challenging task, as in a wet climate, fencing breaks down rapidly unless it is well protected from the elements. Every material has pros and cons, but there are some that work exceptionally well in moisture. After working with a bunch of different materials, I’ve found a personal favorite that performs wonderfully in the rain for years and years. But first, let’s talk about some of the materials most often used in fencing and how they perform in rain and fog.

Cheap, Easy-to-Use Wood

Wooden fences come in many types and styles, and that versatility, along with the fairly low cost makes it a common choice for fencing. Within a wet climate, though, wood requires plenty of maintenance--a yearly regimen of pressure washing, staining, and sealing. But pick the right wood and put in the work and a cedar fence with pressure treated posts can last for more than a decade.

However, depending on a million factors, that can just as easily not be the case. Where posts touch the ground, they are prone to rotting, while horizontal fence rails also have the tendency to break down quickly due to the moisture that collects there. Wet wood can swell, too, pushing out nails and screws and leaving pickets and rails loose. My conclusion? As long as you have the wherewithal to do the maintenance (and maybe a bit of luck), a wooden fence can be a fine choice for wet climate living.

 Classic Wrought Iron

Black wrought iron fencing is one of my favorite types of fencing, as it brings a certain gravitas and classic appeal to a property. WIth wrought iron there is also a kind of elemental gritty reality that many people, myself included, find incredibly appealing. You can feel that it came from the earth and has been shaped by fire.

Apart from the aesthetic value, the greatest asset of the material is its sheer weight and strength. But with those strengths come a few serious weaknesses. The primary drawback with iron is its tendency to rust and to do so frequently, even in climates that aren’t particularly rainy. While some fences can go years without rusting due to exceptional welds and high-quality paint jobs, in my experience they are the exception. Most of the fences that I’ve worked on have rusted at their welds because these places are fairly porous. What this means is lots and lots of scraping and repainting. And because the rust problems are caused by porous joints, it can be impossible to even reach some of the rusty crevices to treat them. What I tell my friends in rainy places is that if they are looking to use iron, they should make sure to get a fence with the best welds they can possibly afford.

 Super Lightweight Aluminum

Aluminum is a very lightweight metal, which is a big plus for some people. A lot of aluminum is also inexpensive, but like most materials, there are various quality grades of aluminum. The lowest-quality aluminum is easy to ding up, bend, and scratch. I don’t even like using it on a garden shed! And like other metals, aluminum corrodes, especially where screws have been drilled into it or where it has been scratched. Like with iron rust, corrosion is speeded along by water, so an aluminum fence requires a good coating system. Higher-quality aluminum may still scratch, but is much more resistant to bending and takes longer to corrode. Unfortunately, this kind of high-quality aluminum is probably a better fit for the aerospace industry than the consumer building products market, as it is very expensive.

 My Pick for Best Fence for a Wet Area? Galvanized, Powder Coated Steel

In my mind, today galvanized steel essentially fills the role that iron fencing once took on the marketplace. Like iron, it’s incredibly sturdy. Also like iron, it can rust in a wet climate. But it’s easier to find than iron, lighter and easier to deal with and install, and if you choose the right manufacturer, you’ll end up with a maintenance free black fence that looks like wrought iron but without iron’s issues.

The difference in quality between various steel fences typically comes down to what they’re coated with. Some are protected with just a paint job or powder coating, but if you live in a wet area, you want several layers of coating that will ensure you won’t have to touch your fence for years. The highest quality galvanized steel fencing systems are protected with a zinc precoat layer, an e-coat, and a premium powder coat. The combination of these protective layers is highly effective at protecting the metal from sun and moisture, producing fence that is nearly maintenance free even in the wettest of climates. Furthermore, compared with other materials, a well-designed steel fence can be one of the easiest fences to install yourself.

There is definitely a time and place for every material. While I still might use all of the materials I listed above, depending on the needs and desires of my clients, I have definitely come to favor building with premium coated galvanized steel. To put it simply, it’s just got great benefits: it provides the strength and classical look of wrought iron with less maintenance than wood and more durability than aluminum. A good place to begin researching high-quality steel fencing is Fortress Building Products. Their steel fencing is protected by a zinc precoat, an e-coat, and a powder coat, which allows it to perform very well, whether in a sunny location or a very, very wet one. If you have more work to do on the house or the yard, I also recommend looking through their wider catalog of innovative building materials. They’ve got super durable decking, railing, and HDG ornamental hardware, too, all perfect for a rainy climate and a great match for your new fencing.





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