Best Materials for a Picket Fence

house fence

Picket fences are beautiful and classic. To some, they represent the American dream. Adding a picket fence to your home is a great choice, but what are the best materials for a picket fence?

The most common choice for a new picket fence is wood, but you can choose from other options such as vinyl, metal, and composite. 

What is a Picket Fence?

Picket fences have a very distinct look. Vertical slats, called pickets, are evenly spaced and attached to horizontal fence rails. The rails are connected to posts. The pickets usually have a tapered top that ends at a point. Because of the space between pickets, a picket fence is not considered a full privacy fence.

The front yard is where you’ll find most picket fences. Traditionally, they’re painted white and built from wood. However, there are many paint, stain, and design options.

The word picket comes from the French word “piquet” which means “pointed stick or board.” The picket design stems from old-world defenders protecting against cavalry. Over time, it developed into a 19th-century cultural symbol of success. Today, the symbolism of the white picket fence is evolving and is now associated with friendly neighborhoods, beaches, and gardens.

What are the Best Materials for Picket Fences?

Wood Picket Fence

wooden picket fence
Photo Credit: Idlir Fida / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

A wood picket fence is a common choice. Overall, it’s inexpensive, easy to install, and highly customizable. But what type of wood should you choose? First, for longevity’s sake, use pressure-treated wood. Here are some of the best wood picket fence options.

Redwood

Redwood is an excellent option for fences because of its durability. Due to the warm, humid climate where redwood grows, it’s more resistant to sun and moisture than other types of wood. It’s also known to be resistant to insects. The drawback is it can be more expensive than other wood types.

Cost: $4 to $7 per linear foot

Cypress

Cypress is a great option due to its natural insect repellent, cypretine. It’s also rot-resistant and gives off a natural pleasant scent. You’ll want to keep up with staining to prevent sun damage. Cypress wood can be costly, depending on availability in your area.

Cost: $8.50 per linear foot

Cedar

For a less expensive wood, cedar is perfect. This insect-resistant wood is a go-to for inside and outside building projects. But you’ll need to regularly clean and stain it.

Cost: $4 to $8 linear foot

Vinyl Picket Fence

Vinyl-Picket-Fence
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto

Vinyl is another common material for picket fencing for good reason.

  • Cost: Although not the cheapest material, it’s affordable.
  • Durability: Vinyl isn’t affected by insects, moisture, rot, and weather – except for very high heat.
  • Low-maintenance: Vinyl doesn’t need paint or stain and only needs regular washing to keep clean. While no fence is maintenance-free, vinyl is pretty close.
  • Customizability: Vinyl comes in most design styles and colors.

Cost: $17 to $38 per linear foot

Metal Picket Fence

Metal Picket fence
Photo Credit: Pxhere

Metal is the most sturdy choice for a picket fence. It’s a durable option that withstands all climates, but it’s also the most expensive. If you decide to go with metal, you have three options.

Aluminum

Aluminum is the most rust-resistant, but the weakest of the three metals. It’s also recyclable or can be made from recycled aluminum. Because of its lowest (for metal) cost, aluminum is usually used for fences covering a large area.

Cost: $19 to $32 per linear foot

Steel

In terms of durability and cost, steel is a middle ground between aluminum and wrought iron. It performs well in all kinds of weather and is easy to maintain. Be sure to use galvanized steel to avoid rust.

Cost: $23 to $45 per linear foot

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is the strongest of the three metals but also the most expensive. Wrought iron comes in many styles, and is popular in historic downtown cities like New Orleans. Although wrought iron fences have many benefits, these days, it’s rarely used due to the high cost.

Cost: $28 to $56 per linear foot

Keep in mind that metal pickets are thinner than other picket materials. So, using metal pickets further reduces privacy.

Composite Picket Fence

Composite picket fence
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Composite fencing combines wood fibers and plastic polymers. The result is a finished wood look without the upkeep. Composite is becoming more popular and here’s why.

  • Low-maintenance: Only requires occasional cleaning to keep it looking its best.
  • Durable: They’re long-lasting, hold up against weather conditions, and aren’t affected by insects or rot.
  • Cost: In terms of price, composite is a middle ground. It’s less expensive than metal but not as cheap as wood or vinyl.

Keep in mind that not all composite is created equal. Research the quality of the manufacturer before making your final choice.

Cost: $11 to $46 per linear foot

Pros and Cons of Picket Fences

Black iron fence with brick columns, house and truck in the background
Photo Credit: Pixnio

Pros of a Picket Fence

There is more to picket fencing than its simple, clean look. Homeowners choose it for several important reasons.

  • Durable: Due to the spacing, they stand up against unpredictable weather and strong winds. Snow will pass through the gaps, reducing snow drifts and weight on your fence. Treated wood and vinyl/PVC fences are protected from wind, rain, and sun.
  • Customizable: Picket fences, particularly those made of wood, are highly customizable. Just a preview of customizable options includes color, picket tops, and fence post caps. If you’re looking for more ways to make your border pop, check out these picket fence ideas.
  • Provides Some Security: Picket fences keep loved ones in, and the delineation of property prevents passersby from trampling on your property. It also prevents larger stray pets and animals from destroying your outdoor space. It’s important to note that picket fences are not made for security, and intruders can bypass it easily.
  • Inexpensive: Picket fences are one of the least expensive fence installations because they’re usually made with wood or vinyl, some of the more affordable options available. They also require less material and labor, which keeps the price tag low.
  • Easy to Install: The picket fence design is simple, especially compared to some designs. Because of their construction material, picket fences are built in smaller sections called panels. This makes fence installation easier.

Cons of Picket Fencing

For the same reasons homeowners love the picket fence design, it’s also what makes it less appealing than other types of fences. 

  • Requires Maintenance: Picket fences need maintenance to keep their long lifespan. Some maintenance routines include checking for damage (vinyl warping, termites, and mold), making repairs quickly, and regular cleaning, repainting, and restaining.
  • Doesn’t Provide Privacy:  If privacy is high on your must-have list, the picket design is not for you. Due to the slat spacing and shorter height, it’s not recommended as a privacy fence. In fact, most fences that can withstand bad weather and high winds don’t make great privacy fences.
  • Won’t Stop Small Pets or Animals: Picket fences are great for keeping loved ones in and bypassers out – unless they’re small. Small animals can easily squeeze through the small picket gaps.

FAQ About Picket Fence Materials

How Long Does a Picket Fence Last?

A picket fence can last 15 to 20 years. But, this lifespan is based on a wooden picket fence because wood is the most common picket fence material. The lifespan of your picket fence depends on three factors.

Material: This is the most important factor. In normal circumstances, a metal fence will always outlast a wooden fence.
Climate: A moist climate may cause rust or rot, but a hot climate may cause cracks.
Maintenance: Like most things, the more care you give your fence, the longer it will last.

How Long Does it Take to Build a Picket Fence?

Building a standard picket fence in normal conditions takes about two to four days. But most picket fences are customized, at least to some degree. Therefore, many factors contribute to the duration of any fencing project. Some factors that can alter a fence-building timeline are:

● Yard size
● Weather conditions
● Design complexity
● Ground conditions
● Material delays

How Far Apart are Pickets on a Fence?

The spaces in picket fences are about 1.5-2.5 inches wide. This spacing measurement is typical, but you can space your pickets as close together or as far apart as you want.

Not Sure What Materials to Pick? Ask a Professional

A picket fence is an excellent choice. They’re classic, beautiful, and versatile. But DIY fences are a big job. You can get lost in the customizing or the long building process. Are you looking for an experienced fence contractor? No problem! There are highly-rated professionals in your area that can lend a hand.

Main Image Credit: Pxhere

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi is a writer, author, and teacher who grew up in western Massachusetts and currently resides in the Austin area. She enjoys flower and vegetable gardening, reading, cooking, listening to true-crime podcasts, and spending time with her husband, two children, dog, and cat.