This is a question that can be asked and answered in so many ways.
Can Vinyl Fencing really hold up to the high winds that we get in some areas of Utah?
First, a “Vinyl Fence” is not necessarily a “Vinyl Fence”. Meaning not all vinyl fences in Utah are made the same or will perform the same because of the way that contractors install their vinyl fences.
Style Makes a difference.
A solid privacy style will catch and hold more wind, which makes it have a higher chance of failing in high winds. If privacy fence are made with smaller horizontal rails (1.5” x 5.5”), that fence is not as strong as a fence with 7” or 8” rails.
Height Makes a difference.
The most common height of a privacy fence is 6’ tall. It goes without saying that 7’ and 8’ tall fences have a much higher chance of blowing over especially if the fence does not have a mid rail for extra support and strength.
Distance between posts makes a difference.
Most Privacy fences are made on 7’ centers between the posts. The closer that posts are installed to each other the stronger the fence will generally be. It is not necessary to have posts closer than 6’ on center.
What size and thickness of posts are installed?
Most Vinyl Privacy fences should be made with 5” x 5” posts installing the posts 24” into the ground. Some fencing manufacturers may ask for there posts to be installed between 30” to 36” in the ground for added strength.
How it is installed makes a difference.
Usually posts should be installed in the ground with a concrete footing double the width of the post (10” usually) and 24” deep. Another part of the vinyl privacy fence that is many times not included as part of the installation is “U Channel”.
So what questions do you need to ask to get the best fence and the best installation?
How was the product manufactured?
People call and say how much for a vinyl fence (Like all fence is the same quality material and strength). That couldn’t be farther from the truth. To compare you need to know the wall thickness of the product, what is the vinyl made of, what level of UV protection was applied to the cap stock? Several companies in the benefit from a customer’s assumption that all vinyl fence materials are manufactured to the same specification. They lead you to believe that a 6’ fence is a 6’ fence and that just isn’t true.
How was the product fabricated?
Let’s start with vinyl privacy fence as an initial example:
Companies in Utah usually consider a 6’ fence to be the height of the top of the posts and not the height of the top of the top rail. That makes the fence usually 70” tall. Some companies consider the top of the fence to be the top of the top rail.
Wall thickness of the 5X5 post?
Some of the extruders in Utah have pushed the limits extruding posts and vinyl fence to the thinnest and cheapest material they can sell to the Developers and Builders. Unfortunately doing that has given Vinyl fence a bad name in the state because the fence often times blow over in high winds. Post thickness is important to give your fence the wind load strengths necessary to hold up in windy areas. If a vinyl fence post has a thin wall it will break at grade level when exposed to high winds. A .135 minimum wall post is a very common thickness in post for privacy fence. With that wall thickness, you should be good as long as the post make up is a industry standards.
U-Channel is a part of privacy fence that is not used very often in Utah. Everywhere else in the country U-channel is an important part of the installation process. Vinyl fencing expands and contracts.This is two small 1” strips that go on each side of every panel. U-channel has been eliminated over the years by many fabricators saying, “Oh, all you need to do is just cut the last picket with a table saw nice and straight and you won’t have to deal with extra cost and labor associated with installing u-channel (3 self-tapping screws and 30 seconds is worth it when it comes to u-channel). The truth is that u-channel is not just a trim piece that covers a bad cut; it is very important to the integrity of the panel. The elimination of u-channel has very little to do with an “easier” install but lots to do with charging the same price as another company offering u-channel, preying on the customer that doesn’t do research and pocketing an extra $4.00 on every panel. U-channel not only offers a cleaner look but will increase the strength and longevity of each panel.
Horizontal Rail Top & Bottom Rail
This one gets me every time. In my mind, there are two types of rails on a privacy fence: a pocket rail and a ripped rail (reference the image below). Once installed it would be hard for even an experienced installer to tell the difference. However, the difference between the two is significant. How a professional fence supplier would think marketing a ripped rail as standard and acceptable is beyond me. A pocket rail is extruded specifically for privacy fence. It comes off the extrusion line with a pocket design for the vertical pickets to slide into. It is usually deeper, stronger and fits better. Furthermore, it is much easier for a DIY homeowner to install. A ripped rail is a rail designed for ranch rail fence that is put in a machine and has a 7/8” or 5/8” gap ripped down the middle to fit a vertical privacy picket in it. The rail is generally thinner and not designed by the manufacturer for privacy fence. You have to ask yourself the question of why would a fabricator go to all of the trouble of ripping a rail when they could buy a pocket rail already extruded with a pocket for the vertical picket. Answer: They save a ton of money and most people would never know the difference. The ripped rail sold undisclosed to a customer as a standard privacy rail is misleading.
Tongue & Groove Pickets
Good would be a 7/8”x12” Picket or 5/8”x12” Picket. The best picket is a 7/8”x6” Tongue & Groove. It will have a higher wind load rating, will be a stronger fence, and will have more flexibility for racking a panel. The 6” picket generally has more ribs. The 12” picket was designed to save money and install quicker but still provide the same look.
Bringing it back to the beginning—If it’s expensive, then it must be good right? Well, not always. You get what you pay for, right? I usually do agree that you get what you pay for. However, if you don’t do your research you could be paying the “best” (highest) price and receiving the “good” product or, even worse, something bad that definitely won’t last. In every market when it comes to products there is always a good, better, & best option. Way too often in the vinyl fence industry, I see customers paying for the best & getting less than good. If you follow these guidelines above, it will help you avoid this scenario. Vinyl fence is a fantastic product and will add value to your home and property. Do your research and ask lots of questions. Is it worth paying a little more if necessary? Paying a little more and doing your research may be the difference between a fence that will last for many years to come and a fence that will only last a few years.