The decision to either fence your yard or replace an existing fence is not a small one. Fence work can be expensive, and the material, style, and quality of your fence make a significant impact on your home’s value and curb appeal.
To make matters even more complicated, depending on your neighborhood and the presence of a homeowners’ association, you may need to work around restrictions in size, material, and style.
If deciding on a metal fence has you a little overwhelmed, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading for a guide to metal fencing materials and what to expect in terms of maintenance and installation.
Metal Fence Materials
When it comes to metal fencing, wrought iron is a classic. It provides a heavy-duty barrier while maintaining an elegant, decorative style and unobstructed view of your property. If you live in a historic or urban area, a wrought iron fence will fit in perfectly.
Each piece of a wrought iron fence is powder coated to protect it from the elements. Powder coating protects the metal by covering it in a heat-applied finish that is more durable than standard paint. But powder-coated materials—especially metals—don’t last forever. If the fence’s finish is scratched or marred, the iron will begin to rust immediately.
To prevent this problem, proactively repaint the fence every year or two and keep a very close eye on its condition throughout the year.
- Strong and durable
- Customizable designs
- Classic appearance, particularly for historic areas
- Requires consistent maintenance to protect against rust and corrosion
- Solid wrought iron is very heavy and difficult to install
- Fence sections cannot be sloped to accommodate a less-than-flat yard
If you do decide on a wrought iron decorative fence, consider tubular iron for the rails and pickets rather than solid iron. Tubular iron retains the strength and quality of old-fashioned solid iron, but it’s lighter in weight (and therefore easier for the installation crew to work with) and much less expensive.
Aluminum fencing is a fantastic option if you love the look of wrought iron but aren’t interested in the maintenance or the cost. Since it won’t rust or corrode, aluminum is ideal if you live in a coastal area.
- Aluminum doesn’t rust, so this type of fence is virtually maintenance-free
- Fence sections can be sloped to accommodate uneven terrain without leaving gaps at the bottom of the fence
- Less expensive than wrought iron
- Not as strong as iron
- Easier to bend and dent than iron
If your fencing needs are mostly ornamental, a black aluminum fence will offer the decorative look you’re going for without breaking the bank or taking up your spare time with maintenance.
Steel fencing is most commonly found in industrial settings, but if you’re concerned about security, steel is an excellent option.
- Incredibly strong and durable
- Almost impossible to damage
- Fence sections can be installed to accommodate hilly or sloping yards without gaps
- Like wrought iron, steel requires consistent maintenance
- Very heavy
- Doesn’t provide visual privacy
Like wrought iron, most steel fencing is also available in a tubular option, which reduces both the cost and the total weight of the fence without sacrificing strength or quality. If you decide to have a steel fence installed, be sure that the finish is both galvanized and powder coated to protect the metal from rusting.
Although it has declined in popularity in recent years, chain-link fencing is an inexpensive and durable way to enclose your property. Traditional chain-link fencing is made from galvanized steel wire, which discourages corrosion and rust.
- Easy to install
- Very little required maintenance
- Provides very little security—the wide weave of the steel wires makes chain-link fences easy to climb, both for people and animals
- Less attractive appearance than other metal fencing options
- Not permitted by many neighborhoods and homeowners’ associations
If your primary objection to chain-link is its somewhat dull, gray appearance, consider vinyl-coated chain-link—most manufacturers offer both black and green vinyl coatings to help the fence fade into the surrounding landscape.
Metal Fence Maintenance
The maintenance requirements of your metal fence will depend on the specific material your fence is made of and your region’s climate. Just as different types of wood age differently, metals react differently to the varied climates around the country.
An aluminum fence won’t require much maintenance at all (even in humid and coastal areas), but you will need to keep an eye out for any signs of a dulling or oxidizing finish. Here’s what to look for:
- White, powdery areas on the fence
- A finish that no longer shines
To bring your aluminum fence back to life, wash it thoroughly with soap and water, and then cover it with a coat of automotive wax. The wax will serve as a protective barrier against the elements, and it will bring back the fence’s original luster.
Iron, steel, or chain-link
If you live in a coastal or particularly humid area, an iron, steel, or chain-link fence may prove to be a high-maintenance part of your property. Bare iron and steel corrode when they’re exposed to air and water. The more moisture in the air, the quicker the corrosion develops. Add salt to the mix, and you’ll see rust develop virtually overnight.
Follow these straightforward maintenance tips to restore a rusty metal fence, and be sure to give yourself a weekend to get through the whole process. In fact, because bare iron and steel rust so quickly, metal restoration pros recommend tackling the fence in small sections so you don’t have to repeat too many steps.
1. Clear overgrowth
Vines and shrubbery are bad news when they grow too close to any structure, including metal fences. Vegetation traps moisture, which contributes to rust and corrosion, and overgrown areas can hide problem spots from view.
After your fence is cleaned and repaired, make a commitment to keep shrubs and trees trimmed away from the fence, and pull any vines promptly.
2. Remove the rust
Unless your fence has been neglected for decades, any rust on the surface will likely be a thin layer, so you won’t need heavy-duty equipment to remove it.
Use a wire brush to gently remove surface rust from flat areas. Rust in corners or on decorative elements can be sanded away with an abrasive material, such as black sandpaper (also called emery cloth) or synthetic steel wool.
For the most thorough rust removal, follow any sanding with a chemical rust remover. An example of this is Naval Jelly, manufactured by Loctite, but you’ll find several similar products at your local home improvement store.
Chemical rust removers contain phosphoric acid and other caustic substances, so it’s very important that you don’t use them in a closed or unventilated space. Follow the instructions on the package—both for safety and usage.
3. Clean the metal
After you brush off any remaining dirt and rust particles and remove the residue from the chemical rust remover, you’ll still need to clean the metal before priming and painting. To clean the metal effectively, wipe it down thoroughly with a cloth soaked in mineral spirits.
4. Prime the surface
In the process of removing rust, you probably removed some paint, too. That’s OK (and to be expected, honestly)! However, there’s little more discouraging than working hard to refinish an iron or steel fence only to find it rusting again a few days later, so be sure to prime any bare spots before stepping away from the project for the day.
Use an oil-based primer (also called an alkyd primer) specifically formulated for metal. You’ll likely find several options to choose from, but most sources recommend opting for a primer designed for use on rusty surfaces.
5. Paint the fence
For this step, use an oil-based paint formulated for metal. Unless you’re restoring a very small piece of fence, don’t use a spray paint. The paint you use is your fence’s primary defense against the elements, so the coats need to be thick. You’ll have an easier time with application using a traditional paint can and a brush.
Aim for two coats of paint, and be sure to let the first coat dry completely before you start on the second.
6. Prevent future damage
Inspect your fence throughout the year to catch scratches and signs of rust as early as possible. Wrought iron fences need to be washed (nothing fancy—just soap and water) twice per year; this semiannual fence bath is a good time to lubricate any latches, springs, and other moving parts.
The Bottom Line
Metal fences are an attractive way to enclose your property and keep pets and children safely in the yard. Although these types of fences are not completely maintenance-free, preventive work—keeping landscaping trimmed away from the fence and repairing damage promptly, for example—through the year goes a long way toward keeping your fence in good shape.
Get quotes from several reputable fence installation companies, and be sure that you know the exact boundaries of your property before any work begins. If you don’t already have a survey, now is an excellent time to have one done.
To ensure your fence will be installed correctly, ask each company you contact the following questions:
- Will you have utilities marked before beginning the installation process?
- Will you obtain the necessary construction permits?
- Do you set fence posts in concrete?
Depending on the material and the size of the job, most fences take several days to install, but the end result is well worth the wait.