• Steve Wilding

Fence Posts - Should I Choose Concrete Or Wooden Or Metal Posts?


Are you sitting on the fence regarding this question?


So, you might have decided to do a fencing project. Maybe you are repairing or replacing existing fence panels, or perhaps you are creating a new boundary which did not previously have fence panels and fence posts. The next choices are really which fence panels, from the multitude of options available nowadays, and also, what type of fence post to use.


So, 3 of the main options for fence posts are concrete posts or metal posts or wooden posts. Some of the factors worth considering are ease of installation, aesthetics, durability, strength, maintenance, sustainability, security and costs.


Before we get into the detail though: When we talk about metal posts below, what we are really talking about in the context of fence post installation is galvanised steel fence posts. Technically, steel is not a metal, i.e. it is not a pure element in the scientific periodic table you learnt about in school, but rather it is an alloy, i.e. a combination of more than one element. By the word galvanise, we mean to coat the steel in a protective coating of zinc to prevent rust. So, when people ask us to install metal posts, what they generally require, from a durability aspect, are galvanised steel posts.


EASE OF INSTALLATION


Concrete - Concrete posts are heavy! They can weigh approximately 40kg, so it is probably easier to have at least one extra pair of hands available when installing these. A concrete post for a 1.8m high fence is twice the recommended safe weight for one person to lift {but of course it depends on the strength of the lifter}. The extra weight leads to installation taking more time and effort. Generally, installing the posts is the most time-consuming part of a fence installation, and it is certainly the case with concrete post installation.


Wooden - Wood is significantly lighter than concrete, meaning much less effort is required to install a fence using wooden posts, and is therefore quicker to install than concrete posts. For maximum efficiency though I would still recommend two people for the post installation. Wooden posts are certainly lighter than concrete posts, but are generally heavier than galvanised steel posts.


Metal - Galvanised steel posts can be approximately 80% lighter than concrete posts. This makes the entire installation process efficient with just 1 person, reducing the time-to-install.




AESTHETICS


Concrete - Some say concrete posts have a non-appealing appearance. Some describe concrete posts as having a stark aesthetic, but may be suitable visually for certain garden designs. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you too will no doubt have your own opinion on this.


Wooden - Some homeowners prefer wooden posts to concrete posts, because they seamlessly match wooden fence panels, and can therefore create a far more natural effect than concrete. Wooden posts allow the addition of decorative fence post caps and fence post toppings, for example an acorn can add an elegant finishing touch to any fence, and also can help to delay a thief as they would have more removal work to do to enter.


Metal - Metal posts can be stylish, elegant and modern looking, again depending on the eye of the beholder, and with some metal post manufacturers you can customise with powder coating, colour matching capping rails, gravel boards and post caps for a customised fence, and some manufacturers offer a seamless fence line where the posts are almost invisible from the front of the panel



DURABILITY / LONGEVITY


All three materials can have around the same lifespan, but this can depend on a number of factors including the quality of materials, manufacturing processes, installation methods, and other external environmental conditions.


Concrete - Prone to cracking or crumbling. Concrete is a durable building material and can last for around 20 years with minimal maintenance, but concrete isn’t immune to wear and tear as excessive wind and rain can cause concrete posts to chip and crack. This often leads to the interior wire reinforcements becoming exposed, weakening the structure. If a small crack or chip appears within the concrete, water can travel deep into the post. If the water in the post then freezes, this can cause the crack to worsen over time eventually exposing the metal reinforcing wires which have the capacity to rust. The rust can be responsible for the integrity of the fencing to become compromised causing fence failure. High winds and excessive rain can affect the integrity of the post, making it prone to chipping or cracking. Once one crack appears, cold weather can accelerate its destruction quite quickly. However, on the plus side, concrete is a robust material which does not easily succumb to rot or insect attack, so it can be a highly durable and strong material.


Wooden - Unlike concrete posts, timber posts do not chip or crack. After that, the durability of the wooden post depends on whether it was pressure treated {better} or dip treated, whether they were kiln dried {better} or not, and the type of timber used. A slotted wooden fence post will not rot if the timber has been pressure treated and installed with adequate drainage. Kiln dried, pressure treated timber forms an insoluble compound providing permanent protection against rot and insect attack. Timber posts, if you opt for ones with a long lifetime guarantee, having been pressure treated with high quality treatment, will last for 25 years and above. While dip treated timber posts can last from anywhere between 10-15 years, and untreated timber may need replacing in under 5 years. With timber posts, the longer you can avoid rotting, splitting and warping, the better!


Metal - Galvanised steel posts tend to be stronger than both concrete and timber fence posts and may have guarantees up to 25 years, depending on the manufacturer. It doesn’t rot, split, warp, crack or chip and can typically withstand winds of up to 110mph. Metal posts, as they are relatively new to the market may have varied lifespans. Opting for galvanised steel, and a manufacturer who offers a 25 year guarantee, may be a good starting point.




STRENGTH


Concrete - Concrete posts have been known to withstand high wind speeds in open exposed gardens and escape with minimal damage. This is particularly true in coastal areas where they may be nearby seawater spray.


Wooden - Wooden posts are weaker than concrete and will not be able to withstand the same amount of wind in open areas without blowing over or cracking.


Metal - Like concrete posts, galvanised steel posts are exceptionally strong.




MAINTENANCE

Concrete - As concrete is relatively impermeable to liquids, mould or rot cannot easily penetrate the material which means anything that tries to pass through will likely just rest on the outer layer of the concrete. This is why concrete is easily maintained.


Wooden - inspect, repair, clean and stain as required. If you have pressure treated kiln dried timber posts your maintenance can be quite minimal.


Metal - Galvanised steel fence posts require minimal maintenance, and some manufacturers claim them to be completely maintenance free.




SUSTAINABILITY


Concrete - With the increasing concern for the environment, choosing an environmentally friendly fence is a priority for many homeowners, and contractors. Concrete fence posts have the biggest impact on the health of our environment over any other fence post. The material has even been labelled as ‘the most destructive on earth’ and is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the worlds CO2. In short, if sustainability is something you value, concrete posts are not for you.


Wooden - Whilst some timber is obtained from sustainable sources, the process still involves cutting down trees. This releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Also, the treatment of timber can be harmful to plants and animals as the chemicals used to preserve the wood to protect the fence posts from rotting due to insects, pests and fungi, can seep into the ground and contaminate soil or groundwater, harming the surrounding life. Products marked as certified to FSC or PEFC programmes can prove that the timber has been checked at each stage of processing showing a complete chain of custody certification, helping to ensure the implementation of sustainable forest management practices around the world, the protection of endangered species, and reducing the effects of climate change.


Metal - Galvanised steel is 100% recyclable, has a low energy manufacturing process and a long-life span, offering a relatively environmentally-friendly option. There are galvanised steel fence post producers in UK, meaning that transportation miles are cut significantly, reducing emissions and impact on the planet. After serving their time supporting your fence panels they can be melted down and used again.




SECURITY


Concrete - The fence panels may not be affixed to the posts, meaning that they can easily be lifted out, thereby leaving your property exposed. One of the most common ways items or pets are stolen from a fenced garden is the removal of a fence panel. This is a simple and reasonably quiet way of entering a property uninvited, if fence panels are sitting in slotted concrete fence posts. Thieves will lift the panel out of the posts and then have full access to the targeted property.


Wooden - Wooden fence posts allow the fence panel to be screwed to the fence posts, thus can make the fence more secure.


Metal - Due to the way many galvanised steel fence posts are made, the fence panels cannot be lifted once installation is complete, giving you security from your fence.




COSTS


When it comes to pricing, remember not to focus just on the short term costs. Initially, a cheaper fence might seem attractive financially but it may need replacing 3 or 4 times, and by then, a more expensive option could have been more cost-effective.


Concrete - Concrete is becoming more expensive to buy and the vulnerability to wear and tear also could mean a high lifetime cost. Concrete posts are typically more expensive when compared to their wooden counterparts.


Wooden - Although cost-effective in the short term, due to rotting, splitting and warping, opting for timber fence posts often means a high lifetime cost.


Metal - Although galvanised steel fence posts require a greater upfront cost than concrete and timber fence posts, they generally have a longer term cost-effectiveness, many coming with a 25-year warranty.



CONCLUSION


So, there you have it! I have tried to sum up the main factors to consider when purchasing fence posts. At the end of the day, the choice for you personally may boil down to your personal taste {aesthetics}, your concern for the environment, your financial budget or another factor, or a combination of factors, but I hope you have found the above useful in helping you to make a decision.



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