Let’s get this out of the way first. As an installer of custom-built wood fencing, it is fair to say that I might be a bit biased. I’m not going to argue with you. But business practices aside, I just don’t like the stuff. If I thought vinyl fencing was a good product that clients could benefit from I would install it, thus eliminating the bias. But I don’t feel that way, oh let me count the ways.
First, the appearance. Maybe it’s just because I have a trained eye and I pick up things that other people don’t, but I’ve heard a fair amount of feedback from a wide range of people who also seem to find it unsightly. There’s something just not right about the way they look. Whether it’s the consistency of color from picket to picket, the shiny glare across the entire fence surface, or the awkward connections at the posts, it just doesn’t look natural. That’s because it’s not. You may call it vinyl, it’s basically just plastic. Do you really want a plastic fence? And don’t even get me started on the faux wood grain finishes. If you want it to look like wood, then why not go with, oh I don’t know, how about wood!
And there’s the cost, something that is of the utmost importance to the majority of clients. On the front-end install costs, most vinyl fencing tends to run about one-and-a-half to two times as expensive as wood fencing of comparable styles. Now the vinyl salesmen will sell this is as a front end cost trade-off to lower maintenance costs down the road. To be honest, I’ve never known anyone to spend thousands of dollars on maintaining a wood fence. So even if the vinyl fencing was truly maintenance-free as they claim, the cost savings still don’t add up to me.
And contrary to what the vinyl reps may tell you, vinyl fencing is not maintenance-free. They are just as prone to algae and mildew build-up as the wood fences. And because of the uniformity of color and typically white color, those green stains show up quite well. And look quite unsightly. I’d much rather have a naturally weathered wood fence than a green-hued plastic eyesore.
And if your vinyl fence breaks? Single replacement pickets are not easy to find, as vinyl fencing is typically sold as complete fence panels. And even if you are lucky enough to find single replacement pieces, the color may be slightly off, the size and/or pre-fabbed connection points may not line up and the cost is much higher than purchasing a single wood board or picket. The maintenance-saving argument just doesn’t fly with me.
Design options. Because most vinyl fencing is sold as pre-fabbed sections and kits, the designs are limited to what the manufacturers offer. While some manufacturers do offer a full range of styles to choose from, your choice as a homeowner is limited to what the dealer is offering. With wood, the sky is the limit when it comes to design options. Not the case with vinyl. And color options are usually limited to three or four colors at the most. Due to the nature of the material, vinyl isn’t easily paintable without regular upkeep of the paint job. Another notch against the maintenance-free argument.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly depending on your point of view, vinyl fencing is just not good for the environment. Vinyl fencing is made from PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. The key ingredients are chlorine, carbon, and oil/gas by-products. The harvesting of these materials can often have a huge negative impact on the environment. They are fossil fuels after all. PVC is not bio-degradable, not easily recycled, and can be harmful to our waterways and wildlife. According to the site greenlivingtips.com, “No other plastic presents such a direct human health threat as PVC does throughout its lifecycle, from manufacture, to use to disposal, yet our demand is only increasing.” We don’t need to add to the problem simply because you had an expensive inferior fence installed, do we?
I will say this. Just like any other products out there, some vinyl fencing is better than others. If you are insistent upon going with vinyl for whatever reason, be sure to look into what you’re purchasing. Make sure your supplier has an adequate supply of replacement parts and pieces available if you should ever need them down the road. Make sure its UV-resistant (believe it or not, some of the products out there aren’t, leading to yellowing and splitting). Make sure the vinyl is of a strong enough gauge that it will resist sagging or bending. And make sure it’s workable enough that it can be customized for those end-of-the run smaller sections or inevitable trouble spots around roots and trees.
But honestly, why? There are so many advantages to wood, that in my humble opinion it just doesn’t make any sense to even consider vinyl.