Plastic-covered wooden fences a sensible choice

When we first began writing this column 20 years ago, a fence consisted of rows of vertical wood posts placed in holes filled with concrete. Each series of posts supported horizontal rails that in turn acted as backing for fence boards. Nothing could be more basic or simple.
And what worked then still does today. However, there are more alternatives now than ever before, alternatives that can save you time and money.
For example: If you don't like the idea of digging post holes you can purchase a steel device (which kind of looks like a giant railroad spike) that can be driven directly into the ground (no concrete needed) and, once in place, the above-ground portion becomes a post base while the below-ground portion acts like a pier support. The fence post is connected to the post base with a pair of nuts and bolts. The wooden post remains above ground and free of termite damage and accelerated rot associated with typical earthen installations.
Fence materials are still as varied as ever, but there is now the addition of composite materials. Keep in mind that these new materials are often more beautiful than the "conventional fence materials" we are used to seeing. But don't be misled. These new materials require as much maintenance as their natural solid-wood relatives.
So, whatever you think you won't have to do with the new choices in synthetic materials, just keep in mind what some have to say on the issue: Forget about it. The work is the same.
Even the wood, which is not in contact with good old Mother Earth, will eventually rot. So, why not one of the new plastic fences, you ask? Simple, most of them aren't as strong as wood.
But there is a middle ground. Plastic sleeves. They are made to fit snugly over a standard 4x4 wood post, thus offering the strength of wood and the low maintenance and durability of plastic. A wooden inner core -- you pick the post -- and a plastic outer shield.
By the way, the shield can be replaced 20 years down the road when it's old and pitted. Slip the old cover off and slip the new cover on. The sleeves to which we refer also come with their very own caps, making them not only attractive but completely watertight as well. Couple these plastic sleeves with the steel post bases mentioned earlier and you end up with a fence post system that takes the "rot" out of fencing.
Keep in mind that the horizontal rails (2x4s) can be covered, too. Hollow plastic fence boards are light in weight, easy to attach and easy to replace.
If you don't care for plastic, you need to visit a different section in the big box store in your neighborhood -- the pre-fabbed steel fence section. Pre-fabricated steel fencing is a breeze to assemble and install. Sections snap or bolt in place and, once in place, the job is done. There's nothing to paint or weather seal. It's all done for you at the factory.
Typical steel fences include rail sections, posts and connectors that join them. Each section of fence (available in multiple heights) requires two posts and each post requires two mounting brackets. So, for a typical first section of fence, one needs a rail section, two posts and four mounding brackets (two two-bracket sets). Oh yes, the mounting bracket kits come complete with nuts and bolts.
The next section of fence requires an additional post, and again, two bracket kits (four more brackets). Even though there are a lot of them, the bracket kits aren't very expensive.
Steel fencing is now a do-it-yourself alternative that simply was not available 20 years ago.
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