Test of Time

Posted on April 1, 2016 by Rob Zimmer

046-HOME-bkgrThe white picket fence has come a long way over the decades, yet it’s as popular as ever according to fence manufacturers and installers throughout the Fox Valley. The traditional classic gets an uplift with higher-quality, long-lasting and durable materials, as well as more style options.

“I’m kind of a wood purest,” says Jim Marks, owner of Valley Custom Fence, Appleton. “I love working with wood because there’s so much that you can do with it. We’re basically unlimited.”

Marks, who hand crafts fencing onsite or in his local facility, says that wood is still a popular choice for fencing options throughout the Fox Cities, despite the number of low-maintenance vinyl and ornamental aluminum options available.

“We use northern white cedar because it’s readily available in our area. The quality is much higher and it’s naturally resistant to insects. It’s a much more stable wood, meaning it won’t bend or warp,” he adds. “Wood is the most versatile of all fencing styles because we can do whatever we want with it.”

Planning ahead

Jeff Kaiser, general manager at American Fence, Neenah, says that privacy issues are at the top of the list when it comes to fencing requests throughout the Fox Cities.

“In the Fox Cities, for residential purposes, privacy is the No. 1 reason for fencing requests, with security being No. 2, followed by property definition,” he notes.

Kaiser adds that the fencing season is just heating up so it’s best to start planning ahead.

“It seems right around Easter that things really start to pick up. People are outside in their yards more after the snow melts and appreciating being outside again. They’re starting to think of how to define their property and obtain some privacy,” he says.

Homeowners also should factor in some lead times when deciding on options and setting installation schedules.

“Once they call us, we like to schedule an estimate within one week,” Kaiser says. “During the busiest season, installation could be as high as six weeks out, though we have crews in other offices who will travel to help out.”

Opening new doors

While the popularity of wood-style fencing for all purposes is still high, Marks and Kaiser agree that new and less worrisome options are becoming even more popular here in the Fox Cities.

Photo courtesy of Valley Custom Fence

Photo courtesy of Valley Custom Fence

The white picket fence has received a facelift in clean, durable, maintenance-free PVC and vinyl, a product that is easy to install, yet higher cost than traditional wood. The payoff, however, is in the long-lasting durability vinyl provides.

“Vinyl is often the most expensive style, but it’s very low maintenance,” Marks notes.

With vinyl, you also are somewhat tied to what manufacturers will create. The styles are somewhat customizable, but nowhere near as versatile as wood.

As for color options, Kaiser says that white is still at the top of the list, though his company is receiving additional requests for vinyl fencing in tan, gray and newer, textured wood grain styles.

Chain-link fencing is still a popular option in our area with new looks that help this style look less institutional and blend into the landscape.

“Here in the Midwest, things take longer to reach us than in more cosmopolitan places, but fencing manufacturers in some areas are straddling the line between chain-link and ornamental, and creating some very impressive designs,” Marks says.

This new style of chain-link, sometimes referred to as a “crossover fence” or “mesh panel,” is available in many styles and takes the traditional chain-link and elevates it to an attractive, all-purpose option, providing security, attractiveness, property definition and privacy.

Ornamental metal is another popular fencing option, used less for security and more for beauty and property definition.

Like other fencing styles, a whole new generation of ornamental fencing exists, with more styles than ever before providing higher-quality and longer-lasting beauty.

“Most ornamental fence is done in aluminum or in steel,” Marks says. “Aluminum tends to be more popular because it doesn’t rust. Fence coatings are better than ever.”

Because of the painting style, even on steel, which can rust if nicked, scratched or scraped, Marks recommends simply contacting your fence installer for touchup paint if any of these should occur.

A team effort

When considering fencing options, fence installers recommend property owners have a few things prepared to discuss when contacting a fence partner.

“Knowing your budget is important.” Marks says. “We all want to shoot for the sun, moon and stars, but then reality kicks in.”

Prospective clients also should be familiar with their property lines, if the fence will be used for property definition.

Many subdivisions have covenants and restrictions in place. Check with your local community for any codes that need to be adhered to.

The more information the client has, the easier the whittling-down process becomes. Many homeowners have a design option or visualization in mind from something they’ve seen on the internet perhaps, or have designed or drawn themselves.

Many prospective clients have already done their research, Kaiser says, which helps streamline the process of narrowing down selections by purpose and budget.

Fencing by design

Photo courtesy of Independent Landscape Solutions, LLC

Photo courtesy of Independent Landscape Solutions, LLC

In addition to budget, fencing options also are dictated by the home itself, as well as outdoor elements and structures on the property.

This can mean a combination of fencing styles and options to maximize budget and provide the desired look. For example, a homeowner on a tight budget may decide upon ornamental metal fencing or vinyl for curb appeal in the front of the home, while adding less-expensive chain-link for security around the back perimeter.

“The choice of fence material is driven by the architecture of the home, the surrounding neighborhood and the overall landscape theme,” says Andrew Smith, landscape consultant and owner of Independent Landscape Solutions, LLC. “For instance, a 1930s bungalow house with a cottage-style garden calls for a 3-foot white picket fence, not a 6-foot chain-link fence.”

“Green fencing,” or combining fencing options with plants is an excellent way to maintain a more natural look while providing privacy and security. Trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses can be used to create a living wall.

“This can be done with plantings, or a combination of decorative fence panels and plants,” Smith says. “Fence panels with lattice work, or louvers, provide a great way to screen out unwanted views or add privacy to an outdoor living space. These panels can be used by themselves and placed in a ‘baffling’ pattern, which allows access and air movement, but obscures views.”

The goal for many homeowners is to simply achieve a look that ties together everything they’ve created and designed in the landscape and yard.

“Think of fencing as the frame around a picture,” Marks says. “It shouldn’t jump out at you. It’s nicest when it simply blends in.”


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