Aluminum fences look great and add value to the home, as well as making the property more safe and secure, but how strong is aluminum? When people think of aluminum they often think of an aluminum soda can, because that’s the application we encounter aluminum most frequently.
Or do we? Aluminum is actually all around us and we often simply don’t recognize it. Our cars are full of aluminum parts, as are power lines and even the interior of computers. But perhaps the biggest usage of aluminum is in the construction industry. From ladders to doors, from bridges to skylights, and all manner of internal structure in both residential and commercial buildings, aluminum is a mainstay when it comes to construction technology. This is because it is lightweight, strong, and easy to maintain.
Aluminum Fences Are As Strong as Wrought Iron, But Lighter Weight
As mentioned above, the things that come to mind when we think of aluminum are soda cans and tin foil, but an aluminum fence is every bit as strong as a wrought iron fence! It is sturdy, can withstand bumps and bangs, protects your home from those who would try to bend open the pickets or jump over the rail. It is absolutely comparable in strength with an iron fence, but there are big differences that fall in aluminum’s favor.
Aluminum Fences Are Resilient to Weather
Aluminum fences are far more resistant to water corrosion, rust and decay than a wrought iron fence. Iron rusts easily, and even a little chip in the paint will soon start to oxidize and turn a beautiful post into an unsightly red-orange eyesore. But aluminum won’t rust and with a powder coating will be resilient to all bumps and dings–you’ll never need to paint an aluminum fence. The sun can bake it, snow can pile up against it, and icicles can dangle from the rail, but you’ll never need to worry about the weather damaging an aluminum fence.
Aluminum Fences Are Maintenance Free
As mentioned, you never need to do upkeep on an aluminum fence, as you would with a wooden or an iron fence which requires a new paint job every year. The only maintenance you’ll ever need to do on an aluminum fence is perhaps spraying it down with the hose to get grass clippings or mud off the bottom. But that’s it! They are sturdy and take care of themselves.
Grades of Aluminum Fencing
Not all aluminum is the same. The key is to use the right product for the right project. Here we’ve broken down some of the differences between the main grades of aluminum fencing that you will see.
Residential Grade Aluminum Fencing
Whenever you are choosing a grade of aluminum fencing, the first thing to keep in mind is that most of the qualities of appearance are going to be similar. You’ll be able to find the same colors, the same powder coatings, and many of the same styles. Obviously, with residential grade aluminum fencing you’re going to find a wider variety of ornamental styles than, say, in industrial fencing. But the overall look of an aluminum fence is going to be the same regardless of grade.
Residential grade aluminum fencing is strong and lightweight, very durable and needs no maintenance. It is made specifically to be shipped and installed as fencing around your property, so it is meant to withstand any bumping, grinding, or rubbing associated with being jostled around on a worksite. That’s likely the time in a residential fence’s life that it’s going to take the most abuse. And if you’re worried it’s not strong enough to take some weight of a person jumping over it, we know that’s going to happen in the life of a fence (especially if you’ve got children or teenagers). A residential grade aluminum fence can take that weight.
Pool Grade Aluminum Fencing
Pool grade aluminum fencing is aluminum fencing that has been made to a stricter standard: the BOCA code (Building Officials and Code Administrators). These are rules that are specified for the building and safety of residential construction. There are BOCA codes for everything from electrical to plumbing to foundations, and there are BOCA codes for pool fences.
While BOCA codes vary by municipality, they generally state that a pool fence must be at least 48” high. Some cities require 60”. Spacing between the pickets cannot allow a 4” sphere to pass through, but that is the minimum. Many pool grade aluminum fencing companies put the pickets at 3” to be on the safe side. (The reason for this rule is to stop the curious toddler from squeezing through the pickets and getting into the pool unsupervised.)
Other than the codes for height and spacing, however, the strength of a pool grade aluminum fence is typically the same as that of a residential grade aluminum fence. (And don’t worry about any water damage from the pool water or chemicals. Aluminum pool fences can withstand anything like that.)
Commercial Grade Aluminum Fencing
Commercial grade aluminum fencing is more heavy-duty and is designed with an eye more on protection and security. This type of fence, while it still may look in style like a residential grade aluminum fence, will typically be in place for more than decoration and is designed to handle rougher abuse. The aluminum used is heavier and stiffer, with the intention of stopping commercial-style incidents–a bump from a vehicle, the scaling of a determined burglar, or the collision of falling inventory or equipment. Areas that see high traffic from vehicles, equipment, and people ought to look into commercial grade aluminum fencing.
Industrial Grade Aluminum Fencing
Industrial grade fencing is an even stronger and more durable aluminum than commercial grade, made from thicker material. Industrial grade fencing is used not so much in different types of businesses than commercial grade (for example, don’t think a regular business needs commercial grade but a factory needs industrial grade). But the difference is that industrial grade aluminum is used in applications that see more use and wear. For example, a commercial facility with commercial grade fencing might have an industrial grade fencing gate for continuous use.
Steel vs. Aluminum Fencing: What You Should Know
So how strong are aluminum fences versus steel fences, and what do you need to know about them? Here are some comparison breakdowns:
Strength Comparison: Steel vs Aluminum
When it comes to strength, there is no doubt that, pound for pound, steel is stronger than aluminum. This is not to say aluminum is weak, just to say that steel is a very tried-and-true material that is made to withstand almost anything. While both materials are durable, steel is more resistant to impacts and dents.
Corrosion Comparison: Steel vs Aluminum
Aluminum is nearly impervious to rust, and it needs no coating or treatment to make it rust-resistant; it is just a property of the material. Steel (or “carbon steel” as opposed to stainless steel) usually needs a treatment or coating or even paint to make it rust and corrosion resistant. When it comes to lifespan of a fence, a galvanized and powder-coated steel fence has about the same life as an aluminum fence, which is to say: more than fifty years, at a minimum.
Weight Comparison: Steel vs Aluminum
In this category, aluminum comes through as the clear winner. It’s the tradeoff that steel has for being the stronger metal. Steel is approximately 2.5 times heavier than aluminum. (This varies based on the specific alloys being tested.)
Appearance Comparison: Steel vs Aluminum
When a metal fence is installed and in place, whether it is aluminum or powder-coated steel, they are virtually identical. It would take a material scientist to tell the difference in a lab (or someone weighing the fence). When it comes to appearance, there is no clear winner because they are identical for all intents and purposes.
Price Comparison: Steel vs Aluminum
It may surprise you to know that when it comes to raw materials (which fluctuate with the market) steel is a cheaper substance than aluminum. HOWEVER, when it comes to the actual fencing available for sale, aluminum will always be significantly cheaper than steel.
Another benefit when it comes to price is that, because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, the price of shipping aluminum is considerably lower than the price of shipping steel.
Also, aluminum is a more malleable metal, and is easier to bend and shape into various architectural and ornamental designs than steel, making the entire process of getting an ornamental aluminum fence easier and cheaper than getting an ornamental steel fence. So if you’re looking for an ornamental look, aluminum is going to be cheaper still.
Are you ready to get an aluminum fence?