Last year, a couple of big storms came through knocking down a lot of fences. This led to a number of exposed backyards and loose dogs in the neighborhood. It also led to a bonanza of weekend side work picking up debris and repairing or replacing downed fences. For the most part, these fences were wooden privacy fences that had sheared off at ground level because their posts had rotted underground. Sometimes just the panels between posts had blown down, and the nails that held the top and bottom rails of the panel had pulled through the wood, damaging it. Fixing these required reinforcing the joint with additional wood. It’s a tedious make-do solution that doesn’t look very good from the house side of a fence, and in the worst cases can be seen from the street.
While wood panel fences work well enough for a little while, modular fence panels make it easy to install a fence on your own, and they make replacements and repairs easier, too. Modular fences use preconstructed panels that are simply cut to length and put into place. Usually, they mount with pre-sized brackets to make things even easier. Since they install more quickly than custom fences or ones built on the spot from scratch, they also provide a savings on labor, and sometimes even on the total cost of the project.
What Makes a Fence Modular
In short, modular refers to something that can be used in many different circumstances without substantial or time-consuming alterations. Modules on a computer, for instance, are sections of software that can be swapped out without affecting the entire program. In furniture, a modular sofa is one that lets you swap around the individual seats to adjust the sofa’s shape and size to fit your room. A modular fence uses pre-assembled wood or steel fence panels that easily fit together to work in any yard.
These panels install by attaching to mounts on a post. This is in comparison to more traditional fences in which each section has to be carefully customized to fit the place it will go. A modular fence reduces the effort needed to adapt a fence to suit the circumstances. One circumstance that modular fences easily adjust to is a slope.
Choose Rackable Modular Panels
The hardest part of installing a fence is adjusting it for a hill or slope. Before modular fences, a sloped lot left you with two options:
- The first was building or rebuilding the section of fence to match the slope. This required measuring the angle of the slope and matching that angle with a complementary cut to the rail where it met the post. If you messed up the cut, you had to discard the rail and start over. It also usually required a direct attachment of the rail to the post with either a nail (for a wooden fence) or by welding the rail to the post (for steel fences) since the selection of brackets with angles was limited. You would also have to do this for every picket.
- The second option was to install each section horizontally but as close to the ground as the slope would allow. This is called stepping a fence, because it results in the fence having a profile similar to a set of stairs. It’s not an ideal solution because it isn’t very attractive and leaves gaps under the fence where pests can crawl in and pets can crawl out.
Ideally, the best fence for a sloped yard is one that doesn’t need to be stepped, and some modular fences have come up with an easier solution called a rackable panel. This fixes the issue by attaching each picket to the rail with a hinge. This means that when each section of railing is mounted, the rails and pickets are able to adjust for the grade change by pivoting into place.
Rackable fence panels aren’t entirely perfect though. The pins are sturdy, but they aren’t the heaviest connections available and the construction is complicated, so don’t skimp on quality, or you may end up with a fence that’s flimsier than you would like.
Types of Modular Fence Panels
Before buying a modular fence you’ll first need to decide on a material. Your choice will depend on your personal needs, but homeowners look for a long-lasting material that will provide a strong barrier for security.
- Wooden privacy fences are available in a modular form. They’re not very difficult to work with, but they rot and crack easily, which is why so many fences in my neighborhood fell down when the storm came through. This isn’t the fence to choose if you’d rather not do maintenance or replace portions of the fence every few years.
- Vinyl fences don’t rot and they do provide privacy. Vinyl is easily broken, though, which has led teenagers in some places to make a sport of knocking vinyl fencing down. It’s not a material that stands up to wind very well either, being light and breakable.
- Steel fencing usually takes the form of traditional wrought iron fencing with pickets that are spaced three or four inches apart. For this reason, these aren’t the fences to choose for privacy, but the high visibility through the fence does act as a security feature, letting those in the house or yard see who is hanging around outside the fence. If they’re reasonably tall, these fences are also very difficult to climb or jump over. But the biggest advantage to steel fencing, in my mind, is that these are some of the sturdiest fences available, requiring a deliberate effort to damage–and often holding up even to that.
As you can tell, each of these materials has its pros and cons. You may like the look of wood despite its issues with maintenance, you may choose vinyl for a privacy fence that doesn’t rot, or you may go with steel for its classic look and longevity. But there’s one type of modular fence that stands apart.
How to Choose a Steel Modular Fence
For sturdy modular fencing that will stand up to a teenager as well as it will stand up to a windstorm, a steel panel fence is hard to beat. It’s the closest thing to hurricane proof fencing there is. However, not all are made to the highest standards. A key construction feature to look for is whether the pickets go through the rail. Fences with pickets that go through the rail will be sturdier than one in which the pickets are bolted to the side of the rail. The width of the pickets and rails is also a key part of a fence’s ability to stand up to the elements and neighbors alike.
You’ll want to think about rust protection, as this will make a difference in both the appearance and durability of a steel fence. Coatings not only give fences a nice appearance, but they also help prevent corrosion which can eat into your fence and cause structural issues. A high-quality fence should use more than one coating to protect the metal from moisture.
You’ll also want to look carefully at rackable panels. Pins that go through the picket and the rail detract from the appearance of the fence and can compromise the rust-proofing. This may be a special consideration for neighborhoods where local ordinances dictate that the street side and neighbors get the favorable view.
One fence that has all of these features is the Versai fence from Fortress Fence. The Versai fence is a pre-galvanized, e-coated, and powder-coated modular fence panel system that has true five-eighth-inch pickets that are sturdier than similar fences. The hinges for its rackable panels are concealed within the rail for a pivot that doesn’t damage the rust-proof coating. To find out more about the Versai fence and other fence products, contact Fortress. For more products that display Fortress’ careful engineering, take a look at Fortress Building Products’ deck and railing brands.