There are many brands of vinyl fence out on the market today. While they may look the same, they are not all created equal.
Virgin Vinyl vs Recycled
Professional grade vinyl fences are made of primarily of virgin vinyl. In fact, many brands of professional grade materials are available exclusively for dealers and then create a separate brand for consumers who shop at the “big box” stores. Although it is hip to use recycled products and shop for environmentally “green” fencing products, some are simply less than desirable as a building product that need to withstand the weather elements, high winds, and sun (UV) damage. Vinyl fencing made of recycled plastics will often sag prematurely, become brittle (especially in cold climates), and fade and warp prematurely. Professional, contractor grade fencing will not only use virgin vinyl cap stock, but also mix UV inhibitors in to help prevent against sun (UV) damage to last a lifetime.
Wall Thickness and Component Sizes
To make vinyl fence more budget-friendly, manufacturers will make components thinner (meaning the wall thickness of the materials). Many cheaper styles of vinyl fence also will use smaller diameter profiles, posts, rails and pickets, this also reduces the cost. The thinner the wall and the smaller the diameter of the profiles the less support the product has. Post length is another thing to pay attention to; consumer grade will often have shorter posts. Be sure to compare the wall thickness, actual horizontal rail sizes, and picket sizes. Each of these components can be significantly less in size and thickness when compared to professional grade products. Also know that there are horizontal aluminum or galvanized steel inserts through the bottom support rails. It is very important to have an aluminum post insert on every gate hinge post. This will ensure good durability for the lifetime of the fence gates.
In order to make a vinyl fence less expensive and easier to inventory, it is common for consumer brands to offer one single ‘blank’ (no holes) post and use a bracket of some sort to attach all horizontal rails to fence posts. These rail brackets are often painted steel, which will rust on a white vinyl fence. These brackets can be brittle and usually don’t have much to attach to seeing how it’s a vinyl fence. In general, better fences will have posts routed to accept the horizontal rails. This way, the section is not going to come off the posts without practically tearing down the post as well. The same principle will apply to how vinyl fence manufacturers design pickets to attach to rails. Inferior brands will simply glue, or screw pickets to the face of horizontal fence rails; these will not last. Better brands route the pickets through the rails which accept pickets through the center of them, or into routed or extruded grooves.
Inexpensive vinyl fence systems will often cut a panel down in width, screw on a diagonal vinyl piece of some sort and call it a ‘gate’. Gate hinges are inferior to others as they only ‘face-mount’ to the post and gate. Better systems will have a ‘true’ gate with better design to help prevent gate sag. Gates have the largest quantity of call backs to installers as they can be tricky, are usually the only part of the fence designed to move, and are often underestimated when designed and installed. A gate is a bad place to 'skimp' on your fence project as it could cause hours to years of aggravating maintenance when adjusting, realigning, and replacing parts and hardware.
Vinyl is considered a lifetime product, so choose a company that is willing to back that up and provide replacements if anything goes wrong. It may save you more money in the long run to choose a fence with a warranty than to go with a lower cost fence without a warranty.
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