About Vinyl Fencing
Vinyl fencing is a relatively new product, but is catching on fast. Designs that look like post and rail fencing, traditional wood fencing or decorative iron fencing are made of rigid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and have great appeal for the property owner looking for a virtually maintenance free fence.
The right material for the job
Vinyl fence is made of essentially the same material as vinyl siding and vinyl windows - not PVC pipe. While PVC pipe does use some of the same ingredients, it doesn't have the weatherability and strength found in siding, windows and fence. Making vinyl fence requires careful process controls during manufacturing to ensure a quality product. While most manufacturers offer lengthy warranties on their products, the warranty alone does not define the quality.
Two ways to make a vinyl fence
There are two methods of vinyl fence manufacture: mono-extrusion (single layer) and co-extrusion (two-layer). Some manufacturers maintain and advertise that mono-extrusion is better. Here's how to decide which is right for you.
The mono-extruded fence profile (in sizes such as 2x6, 5x5, etc.) is made from one layer of material. This process puts ultraviolet inhibitors (which protect the vinyl from sunlight) all the way through the product-even on the inside where they're not needed. The ultraviolet inhibitor is the most expensive ingredient in the extrusion formula. Since mono-extrusion uses only one extruder instead of two, and the mono-extrusion die is more simple to make, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars less to set up a factory for this process. Mono-extrusion also requires less technical expertise on the factory floor. But the greater quantity of ultraviolet inhibitors required, raises material costs to a level that cannot be offset by the slightly lower labor cost and equipment investment. That means mono-extruded products ultimately cost more to produce which means you may pay more, or the manufacturer has to make up the difference to remain competitive.
The co-extruded fence profile is made out of two layers: an outer layer containing the ultraviolet inhibitor and an inside layer with reduced ultraviolet protection. Co-extrusion demands a higher investment in equipment, tooling, training and overall manufacturing sophistication, but it significantly lowers material costs. In order to make the product even more affordable, many manufacturers make the inside layer out of reground material (rework) that may be a different color than the outside layer. This does not affect the product's performance as long as there is no recycled materials used. The lower cost of co-extruded vinyl creates a slightly more affordable product without sacrificing quality. In the mid 90s, only a few manufacturers in the vinyl fence business were co-extruding. Today, a majority of the key players co-extrude. These are reputable companies that back their products with lifetime warranties, meeting ASTM vinyl fence standards. Some mono-extruding manufacturers warn that since co-extrusion can result in a different color of substrate material, a scratch on a co-extruded fence will reveal the substrate color-much like a scratch on a car will reveal the undercoat color. However, quality co-extruders make the outside layer thick enough so that a scratch will not penetrate through to the substrate layer. You cannot "key" your way through to the substrate the way you can with a car; the top layer is just too thick.
Look for a commitment
Since co-extruding manufacturers make bigger investments in fixed assets and people, they must be committed to the vinyl industry for the long haul. They must do a superior job over a longer period of time before obtaining a reasonable return on investment. Whether a company co-extrudes or mono-extrudes has little to do with producing a quality product. Both methods should produce superior-quality products. When deciding which is best for you, look for details that indicate the company's commitment to total quality in every aspect of the fence you buy:
- Notched rail-fastening systems
- Heavy wall posts and rails
- Galvanized steel inserts in rails on certain residential styles for added strength on longer panels
- Painted-head stainless steel screws on styles using fasteners to attach pickets
- Stainless steel fasteners and hardware
Understand the Warranty
Most manufacturers provide a 20 year to lifetime warranty. It is important that you understand not only the details of what is covered, but also the company behind the warranty. Let's face facts, when it comes to a "Lifetime" warranty, very few things last forever and vinyl fencing is not the exception. A lifetime warranty that never terminates due to a change in ownership of the property or some other event is a tremendous liability to any manufacturer. A warranty that can be passed from generation to generation, owner to owner is either a very good deal, or the limit on the warranty is probably the lifetime of the manufacturer. A good warranty will cover cracking, breaking, and excess fading or yellowing. It will not cover damage from external forces, such as striking the fence with a vehicle or other abuse.