Here are the pros and cons of metal and wood posts, to help you decide what posts to use for your new fencing project.
Installing Fence Posts: Which Is Easier?
If you are looking to enclose an existing garden area or small space, chances are you will want to maintain an element of privacy, in which case you might opt for traditional (and cost-effective) wooden overlap or close board panels supported usually by either wood or concrete posts set in the ground in concrete. This is great for relatively small spaces, but if you have a large area to cover or are a farmer or landowner looking to fence off areas with longer runs of fencing, this approach is impractical from a cost, installation, and utility perspective. If you are looking at longer runs of fencing you will doubtless be looking at some sort of wire or mesh supported by either wood or steel posts. But which should you choose?
Establish Your Priorities
Both wood and metal posts are extremely popular to support fencing but the one you choose will need to be determined by weighing up what is most important to you.
No matter where your fence is going, how it looks is going to be an important factor in the decision-making process. Wood is often favored because it slots perfectly into the natural environment. It is an organic material that weathers nicely with age and fits easily into a rural or semi-rural setting. With the best will in the world, you are not going to get metal posts to fit so easily into the natural environment and they will always have a more industrial feel about them. However, there are many slimline metal fencing systems available that place less emphasis on the post itself and in the right environment, at least from a distance, can appear much less intrusive. Remember also, that both wood and metal posts can be painted to blend in with any surroundings. Wooden posts tend to be bulkier than metal posts as metal is obviously more durable than wood, but ultimately it’s down to you which posts would work best in your particular environment.
The decision on costs is not as easy as it might seem. Not least because the cost of wooden posts varies considerably according to the type of wood you intend using and making any selection can be very confusing. Do you opt for larch, pine, spruce, redwood, or chestnut? And in what shape, quarters, half’s, or full round?
There are also other variables beyond timber species when it comes to wood, as the raw posts can be finished with air-drying, kiln drying, and a variety of chemical preservative treatments. These treatments provide their own headaches, as ever since the EU banned the use of the CCA chemical treatments, which were commonly used to protect raw wood posts from the elements, there has been quite a lot of doubt about the effectiveness of many of the safer replacements. However, the cost is a major reason wood is so popular, as it is generally less expensive to purchase than steel or aluminum posts.
Depending on what post configuration you go for, your wooden posts could last 10-30 years but the better the post the more the cost. Many consumers are really confused as to what to purchase and what offers the longest life.
When you are considering costs you also need to factor in time to construct, the potential longevity of your fence posts, and how much maintenance they might require in their lifetime. And this is an area where the metal can be seen to provide better value than wooden posts, especially the cheaper, softwood versions, whether they have been treated or not.
Metal posts can be lightweight, yet exceptionally strong, and easy to install, and longer-lasting, often outlasting timber posts by three times, which is a major factor contributing to cost-effectiveness. What’s more, especially if you select heavy-duty galvanized steel, you are likely to encounter a relatively maintenance-free working lifetime of the post.
Ground line decay in the top 20cm of the soil is the main reason for agricultural fence and gate post-failure. This is because the earth here is well oxygenated with higher moisture content and warmer temperatures, making it a breeding ground for nutrients, fungi, and decaying organisms.
This is a real threat for wooden posts, so it is essential to protect wood fully and ensure the protection is maintained regularly. Steel doesn’t escape risk entirely and is vulnerable to corrosion, but when properly galvanized it can last for decades, even when buried in wet ground.
You will need to check your fence posts regularly whichever fence posts you select but you are more likely to have issues with wooden posts and you will need to ensure the level of wood protection is always maintained. A good idea is to regularly (check with manufacturer’s instructions) stain or paint your fence with a wood preservative to prolong the wood’s lifespan. This protects against wet weather and can also enhance the look of the wood.