Should I Build My Privacy Fence Using Wooden Fence Panels?
Potential customers have asked me on many occasions if it would save them money to have their privacy fence built using wooden fence panels rather than building their fence from the ground up. The answer is yes. Fence panels do save on labor cost, but the real question is: Are they a better value? This answer to this question is a little more complicated. There’s several things that need to be taken in to consideration when deciding if you want to use wooden fence panels to save on labor cost. In most cases, panels are made using materials that aren’t quite as sturdy as custom-built fences.
I’ll begin with the pickets. The width of the pickets aren’t what’s important when it comes to structural integrity, but thickness is. You’ll want to measure the thickness of the pickets on the panels then measure the thickness of the pickets that are sold individually. The ones that are sold individually are what would be used to build the fence from the ground up. The pickets that are sold individually are usually quite a bit thicker.
Next, you’ll want to take a close look at the runners. These are the boards that run horizontal and have the pickets attached to them. For starters, you’re probably only going to see two runners on the panel. A good contractor is going to install three runners on a 6 foot tall privacy fence rather than two. This reduces warping and provides more anchor points for the pickets. You also want to measure the width and thickness of these. Then, measure a 2″x4″ which is what’s normally used for runners on a privacy fence that’s built from the ground up. You’re probably going to see that the panel has runners that are quite a bit smaller than a 2″x4″.
While you’re looking at the runners, you also want to see how the pickets are attached to them. You may see that they’re attached using staples. Most staples are nowhere near the same diameter as nails and as a result, rust to pieces much sooner. If you see staples, you want to make sure that they’re galvanized and the thicker the better. In my experience, staples are the number one cause of fences falling apart after only a year or two in regions that get rain regularly. I’ve had to replace a lot of fences that were no more than a couple years old, because they were built using staples rather than galvanized nails.
I know I mentioned that the width of the pickets don’t have much effect on the strength of the fence, but the width does need to be taken in to consideration. Mass produced fence panels are often built using pickets that aren’t as wide as a standard privacy picket. This means there’s a good chance that your local hardware store isn’t going to have any that are the same, exact size. This won’t be a problem until you need to replace some of them due to damage or rotting, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I’m not saying that all wooden fence panels are built using inferior materials, but most of them are, and I’m letting you know what to look for. Even if they are built using lower quality materials, in some situations it makes more sense to use panels. For instance, if you need a privacy fence in a hurry, they can be installed much faster than building one in its entirety. Also, if you’re planning on moving in a couple years, it may be in your best interest to go the cheaper route.