Once upon a time, while working as an apprentice for a big residential construction company, my company was called to put up a new fence around a gated community. For the first eight years of the development, it had been surrounded by a cedar security fence with shrubs planted right up next to it, which were designed to eventually grow into hedges. However, in less than a decade of wear and tear, the fence was failing, leaving some residents nervous about how secure the security fence really was. Moreover, the sagging fence next to the gate at the entrance to the development had just about taken the ‘gate’ out of gated community.
There are of course plenty of materials suitable for gated community fences. Masonry, stone, concrete, wood, and steel fencing can all do the job, both individually and in conjunction with each other. In the case of this particular project, the climate called for a more resilient fence than cedar. We needed something capable of standing up to the elements with relative ease and providing security, all while delivering a high-end aesthetic to match the exclusivity of the community.
Gated Community Fences: Choosing a Fence Material
Since location, climate, cost, and aesthetic requirements all have to be considered, there certainly isn’t one best way of building a wall around a community. Some of the best design schemes even incorporate two or more different materials. Here are the materials that are always on my list when I work on a project like a gated community.
- Stone and Masonry: One of the most common types of fencing for gated communities uses stone and masonry. Sometimes topped by steel finials for additional security and for looks, there is a wide range in quality when it comes to these fencing systems. I’ve seen developers use simple cinder blocks, cinder blocks faced with stone, brick, and on the high end, walls made entirely of stone. While these are sometimes climbable, with enough height and the addition of finials, they provide ample security and privacy. The main drawback with these is the higher upfront cost of installation, as well as a lack of visibility through the fence.
- Concrete: Whether built using wooden forms with steel reinforcement or poured into the gaps in cinder blocks, concrete provides a stable wall for a long time if sealed from moisture. Just as with masonry walls, concrete can range dramatically in aesthetic appeal. While it costs extra, adding decorative ledges and simple patterns to concrete turn a simple and sometimes boring material into something much more elegant and interesting.
- Wood: Usually built using cedar or redwood, wooden fences provide plenty of privacy and work well when security isn’t a huge concern, as they are relatively easy to scale. Building the community’s walls out of wood allows the walls to be more cheaply moved or altered if the boundaries of the community expand.
- Steel: Steel fencing lends a dignified and solid air to the properties it graces, and I’m seeing it show up more often in my projects. Typically difficult to scale, especially when topped with pointy finials, it compares favorably with stone and masonry constructions. To achieve privacy with steel fencing requires either the addition of heavy plantings or a steel fencing system that is designed to accommodate wood or composite infill boards between the metal pickets. Since it has a relatively high upfront cost, it’s very important to choose a steel fence that has high-quality protective coatings so that maintenance issues don’t add further costs. While most steel or cast iron fencing of the past had issues with rust and wear from moisture and UV rays, there are now steel fencing options that are well protected from the elements by powder coatings and e-coats.
Among the materials listed above, concrete, masonry, and steel fences probably provide the best security options. Like any other requirement, security needs vary from one setting to another. These are the areas I consider when I’m looking for security from a fence:
- Difficulty in Scaling: While masonry and concrete walls do sometimes offer toe holds, if high enough and topped with something sharp, they will prove effective. Steel fences also do well in this category, offering slippery pickets, few rails, and having spikes or finials along the top, all of which helps deter climbers.
- Visibility Where Needed: While a fence should maintain a community’s privacy, a fence that doesn’t obstruct the view can be useful when it comes to security in certain areas. In these places, which often fall around entrances and exits, steel picket and rail fencing, or some other fencing that offers visibility, is generally the better choice over solid walls.
A beautiful or secure fence that doesn’t last a long time is not ideal if you’re a developer looking to install a fencing system and leave it alone. If you’re looking to avoid time and money spent on maintenance, consider how your fencing material of choice stands up to:
- The elements: When sealed from moisture, brick and concrete will last a long time with no hiccups and very little maintenance. Wooden fences will need to be washed, stained, and sealed regularly, which is generally less appealing for larger developments. In the past, moisture has been the bane of steel fencing, but advanced coating processes have made some steel fencing nearly as maintenance free as concrete.
- Downed branches and detritus Developments in heavily wooded areas need to be resilient enough to weather the fallen branches and miscellaneous detritus that come down in storms or in heavy snowfall. If this is a particular issue, as it might be in very cold climates or in hurricane-prone areas, concrete, steel, or masonry will likely be a much better choice than wood.
- Shifting ground: All four of the materials I mentioned earlier in this post perform well when it comes to standing up to bending or breaking, especially stone and concrete. However, this is not the case if the ground under the masonry or concrete walls is prone to subside for any reason. With enough subsidence, stone and concrete walls not only become weak and aesthetically unpleasing, but they can also become legal liabilities and maintenance headaches. If there are concerns with subsidence, extra work on the foundations can lead to significant increases in costs. Wooden and steel fences, on the other hand, have a much easier time handling this issue.
The right look for a gated community fence can be highly dependent on the situation–the area of the country, the terrain, and the style of the houses and overall development. More than one material or a combination of materials can all look at home in one development. For instance, a community of Tudor-style homes would be served well by vine-covered brick walls, as well as by steel fences in the style of Victorian wrought iron. While all developments are different, most are looking for understated elegance and classic appeal, which is why I often turn to steel. Steel has a classic, versatile look that can skew sleek and modern or elegant and old-fashioned, depending on whether you choose to add decorative elements to the pickets like finials or ‘knuckles.’
If a steel fence proves to be the option that makes the most sense for your gated community, there are some steel systems that will prove to be a better investment than others. Probably the most important quality in a steel fence is the protective coating on the metal. The majority of steel fencing being used has a powder coat (or a coat of paint–definitely a bad idea), but powder coating isn’t totally moisture-proof. It’s very slightly porous, and, especially around the welds, can let in moisture that will cause the fence to rust. Fortress Fence produces a unique system that uses a powder coat on top, but underneath that adds an e-coat–the type auto manufacturers use to keep the underside of cars from rusting out. They even throw in an extra layer of zinc for good measure underneath the e-coat. All this adds up to a fence that’s great for wet areas as well as for any situation where you’re looking for reduced maintenance expenses. If Fortress’ fencing sounds good, more of their materials can be found at Fortress Building Products.