3 minute read

The Best Fencing for Cold Climates will Stand up to the Elements

Cold climates bring challenges for fences. Winter can affect the fencing material you use, causing it to break down or become fragile.

One big challenge for wood fences in frost heaving, also called frost jacking. This happens when cold weather arrives and the moisture in the soil freezes, causing it to expand and push the posts out of their holes as it solidifies. The fence loses stability and strong winter winds can take down a whole fence affected by frost heaving. There are different solutions to this issue, but according to the fence professionals with Fortress Building Products, the most common recommendation is to ensure your posts or footers go at least a couple feet beneath the frost line. However, even if you dig that deep, some frost heaving may occur—especially with posts sunk in the ground—as the frost acts on the part of the post above the frost line. The surest solution is to pour concrete footers below the frost line that are wider at their base than at their top. This way, the expanding frost helps to lock them in place rather than work them loose. But the challenges that winter brings to your fencing don’t stop once you get above ground level.

Winter affects wood mainly because it changes the humidity content of the air (air tends to be much drier in winter than summer), causing wood to shrink. Periods of wet followed by periods of dry weather can also cause cycles of shrinking and expanding that will push fasteners like nails and screws out of the fence and can cause boards and rails to come loose. Some materials, like vinyl fencing, are made of a material that doesn’t absorb water. Yet, as temperatures drop plastics enter a glassy state and become more brittle, making them prone to snapping upon sudden impacts (like slipping on frozen ground and trying to catch yourself on the fence).

So what fencing material does do well in cold weather? The experts at Fortress Building Products offer some insight.

From a purely structural standpoint, metals are the best material for cold weather fencing. The molecular structure of metals doesn’t absorb water, so they’re not as vulnerable to moisture-based swelling and shrinking. That’s not to say that water can’t work its way inside a metal fence, or that metal doesn’t contract. But water simply doesn’t saturate metals. There are a couple of fencing options that take advantage of this:

Wood fences with metal posts have wooden pickets that are subject to the same water absorption and other problems as your average wooden fence. But by not depending on wooden posts to hold them up, the structure of these fences is sounder and lasts longer. A wood fence with metal posts should stay up through at least a few winters.

Steel fences are steel through and through, with steel top rails, pickets, and posts. These are the fences that people are thinking of when they talk about a wrought iron fence. No parts of steel fences are prone to water absorption, but water can collect in joints and around fittings. It is very rare that expansion or contraction problems affect these fittings, but it can happen. Typically, steel fences have spaced pickets that allow strong winds through, making them good fences for windy areas such as the Great Plains and the coasts.

Aluminum fences share many of the same properties as steel ones. They are also built with an eye toward the “wrought iron” look. These fences, however, are a lot lighter than their steel counterparts, and easier to install. There is a tradeoff in strength, though. Depending on the quality of the fence, aluminum fences can be more prone to denting and bending than steel is.