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There are numerous types of residential fencing available to the consumer. When deciding upon a fence material and style, it is important to assess one's needs, so that the appropriate type can be selected. Metal fences are a popular choice for security and durability, but even with metal fences, there are a number of choices to be made. Aluminum and steel are two types of fencing that generally fall in the same range when it comes to cost of materials, so other factors have to be considered when determining which type is best for a home improvement project.
Pros of Aluminum Fencing
Aluminum is a low-density, silvery malleable metal that is very good at resisting corrosion. It is the third most abundant element on the periodic table and is in abundance in the Earth's crust. Aluminum fences come in many styles and are ideal for damp, humid or ocean-side conditions. As a metal, aluminum resists corrosion and is not affected by sprinklers, lawn chemicals and many other residential factors. It is highly recommended to use aluminum for fences, especially when the project is within 10 miles of salt water. Aluminum fencing usually comes with a lifetime guarantee and requires little to no maintenance. It is easy to install, thanks to how lightweight it is, and costs significantly less to ship in a final product than other heavier fence materials. Installation is often cheaper for aluminum fences than for other types because of the ease of handling the lightweight pieces. Aluminum fences come in a variety of styles due to the ease with which the metal can be shaped.
Cons of Aluminum Fencing
Aluminum is significantly weaker than steel, even though some companies suggest that their unique alloys are comparable. Aluminum alloys vary depending on the company that produces it. Each may have a different balance of maintenance and strength. Aluminum fences are not recommended where very large dogs or rambunctious children may apply frequent or heavy pressure to the fence. They are also not recommended as security fences or barriers against insistent intrusion as the fence can be bent and broken with applied force. Aluminum fences also can develop a patina and may require some maintenance to continue to look like it did upon installation.
Pros of Steel Fencing
Steel fencing is the strongest fence possible. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, although it is sometimes combined with different metals such as tungsten and chromium for other desirable characteristics. It is often the fence of choice in very dry inland climates like in the American West where anecdotal evidence suggests it sees very little rust. In addition to the strength of the fence parts, steel fences are generally welded rather than held together by movable parts such as screws, and this adds to the overall stability of the project. While an aluminum fence may even be damaged by playing children or casual accidents, a steel fence can withstand the bump of a lawn mower or even a car, depending on other factors.
Cons of Steel Fencing
Steel is not always the perfect solution despite its significant strength. Steel rusts when exposed to damp and is especially susceptible to salt water. It requires maintenance to keep it in good shape. Steel cannot be repeatedly worked like wrought iron, and the designs may therefore be somewhat limited. Shipping on steel fencing parts is also often considerably more expensive than aluminum, thanks to the higher density of the metal. Installation costs also increase significantly because of the weight and increased difficulty, which is also why it is not recommended for a do-it-yourself project. Steel ultimately requires sanding and repainting to prevent and deal with rust that inevitably begins to reclaim the metal back to nature.
Things to Know
Steel and aluminum both have variations that can alter the pros and cons of the material. Aluminum alloys may even rival the strength of steel; however, depending on the metals used in the alloy, the aluminum fence may become prone to similar problems as steel and need more upkeep. The price of various alloys also goes up significantly. Steel has variations that may alter the ultimate cost of upkeep. Galvanized steel is more resistant to rust and decay but usually costs significantly more. Finally, consumers need to be aware that the source of the fencing can have a great impact on its durability. American-made fences often out-perform cheaper fencing from China where the alloys and treatments of the metal may prove inferior. A bargain now may prove to be a disaster later.
Ultimately, as with most things, the choice between these two fencing materials is about a balance of factors that best suit the purpose. For similar prices, steel and aluminum can both provide attractive fencing solutions. While steel is a more traditional choice, the relatively maintenance-free nature of an aluminum fence along with cheap installation costs may be preferable. On the other hand, where durability, strength and security are the key factors in installing a fence, the extra maintenance and installation costs make steel a far more preferable choice.