What To Know About Metal Fencing
Wrought-iron is the original metal fencing, but today there are cheaper options that are easier to install. Here's a rundown of your options.
Centuries ago, when only a few blacksmiths produced wrought-iron fencing, it was a sign of wealth and status. But as more and more blacksmiths began producing it in the 1800s, wrought-iron fencing became more commonplace.
Today, it isn’t as rare or prohibitively expensive as it once was. But it still looks expensive, and that’s a big part of its appeal.
Most of today’s wrought-iron fencing, mainly made of steel or aluminum, comes from large factories. And it isn’t the only kind of metal fencing available. Other than chain link fencing, which is mostly utilitarian, decorative metal fencing comes in shapes and styles that look nothing like wrought-iron. Styles feature sleek horizontal or vertical balusters, slats and combinations thereof.
Some metal fencing comes in kits with fencing panels and posts. If you purchase a kit like this, or one with spiked posts you drive into the ground, you can often do the installation yourself. Whether you choose to DIY your fence or have it professionally installed, metal fencing deserves a closer look.
Metal Fence Pros
Whether it’s painted cool metallic gray or jet black, or features clean lines or ornate curves, metal has an aesthetic appeal unmatched by any other fencing material. That’s an important selling point.
Here are some others:
- Long-lasting: Metal is one of the most durable of all fencing materials. Hollow steel fences last upwards of 20 years. Aluminum fences, as well as solid metal and iron ones, can last a lifetime.
- Low-maintenance: Apart from periodic repainting to control rust, metal fences need no maintenance. They don’t stain or rot, and insects can’t hurt them.
- Cost-effective: Metal isn’t the cheapest fence material, but it isn’t the most expensive, either. A range of options exist to suit every budget.
- DIY installation is possible: Kits require setting posts and screwing panels to them. Depending on how you set the posts and the weight of the panels, you might do the installation yourself. Professional installation is required for heavy steel and wrought-iron fences, because they often must be lifted into place with heavy equipment.
Metal Fence Cons
DIY installation isn’t always an option and professional installation adds to the upfront costs. Metal fencing has two other drawbacks:
- Many styles lack privacy: Some solid aluminum panels or slats provide privacy, but conventional metal fencing with pickets, balusters and semi-transparent panels are primarily for decoration.
- Lack of security: Lightweight aluminum fencing is more vulnerable to break-ins than wood or composites. Solid steel and iron are less vulnerable, but they’re significantly more expensive.
Types of Metal Fences
Metal fences can be made from aluminum, steel or iron. They feature a durable powder-coat finish to protect against rust. Some metal fences are variations of traditional wrought-iron fences with pickets. Some of the other picket styles available:
- Straight pickets with a square cross-section terminating with a spear, ball or fleur-de-lis.
- Alternating pickets that form a loop over intermediate ones.
- Straight pickets terminating with two top rails that include a design feature, such as circles or crosses.
- Curved shapes crisscrossing the spaces between the pickets to mimic the intricate designs of vintage wrought iron.
Metal fences also incorporate more contemporary styles. These are perhaps more common than faux wrought iron. Among them:
- Straight, featureless balusters extending between a top and bottom rail.
- Privacy panels made from vertical or horizontal slats, to mimic the appearance of a wood fence.
- Corrugated metal panels, also used for privacy fencing.
- Metal panels or screens with laser-cut semi-transparent designs. Some give the fencing a futuristic look.
How Much Does a Metal Fence Cost?
At the low end, the cost compares favorably to other materials. Tubular steel or aluminum fencing kits, which include posts, panels and everything you need to assemble them, runs from $20 to $35 per linear foot, about the same as a quality wood, vinyl or composite fence.
If you don’t do the installation yourself, add labor costs from $35 to $75 per hour. That translates to about $20 to $25 additional per linear foot, or between $4,000 and $5,000 for a 200-foot fence.
At the high end, metal fencing is in a price class of its own. A tall, sturdy aluminum or solid steel fence can cost $60 per linear foot just for materials. Installation costs are higher because the job is more difficult. You’ll need deep pockets if you want real wrought iron because materials alone can be as much as $125 per linear foot.
Metal Fence Maintenance
It’s crucial to maintain the finish on a steel fence. The factory coating doesn’t last forever, and when the metal begins to rust, the damage may be irreversible.
Restoring the finish is a relatively easy job with a can of rust-preventative spray paint. Aluminum doesn’t rust, so touching up the finish from time to time will restore the color. If you skip that, you don’t have to worry about deterioration.
Metal Fence Installation
Assembling a lightweight aluminum or steel fence is a job any homeowner who doesn’t mind digging fence post holes can handle.
It calls for precision, though, because the posts must be accurately placed for the panels to fit between them. If you get the spacing right, you can do most of the rest of the job with a drill/driver, because the panels have brackets that screw onto the posts.
Most homeowners will opt for professional installation for one or more of these reasons:
- A typical fence calls for a large number of panels. Transporting and carrying them is a lot of work.
- Posts may need to be mounted on an existing concrete or brick substrate, requiring professional building techniques.
- Heavy steel or wrought-iron panels must be lifted and positioned with a mechanical crane.
- Racking panels (arranging them to follow the slope of the ground) calls for precision and experienced workmanship.
- Some high-end fences must be constructed on-site; they don’t come as panels. That’s definitely a job for a pro.