When installing a fence you have many options, and manufacturers will be quick to tell you the benefits of their products, but we thought that we’d put them in a head-to-head competition and see how two of the most common fence types stand up against each other: aluminum vs vinyl. Both are popular, both are common, but they each have their pros and cons and while we are obviously biased–we make aluminum fences, after all–we want to give you the most balanced analysis of your fencing options that we can offer.
So here are some of the biggest factors that homeowners will weigh when determining which type of fence to buy, and we’ll look at how each fence stacks up in each category.
When it comes to privacy, an aluminum fence is not going to offer you the same kind of blank-wall privacy protection that you can get from the flat, unbroken surface of a vinyl fence. While there are vinyl fences that come in slats rather than flat panels, most vinyl fences block the view into the yard entirely, and they keep nosy neighbors (and nefarious ne’er-do-wells) from peeking into your property. The same can be said about wooden fencing or brick walls: when you have a big flat surface instead of a slatted, rail-style fence.
Typically, when you have an aluminum fence and are looking for privacy, you tend to obscure sight lines with shrubbery or trees. Depending on the tightness of the rails and the age of the aluminum fence you can even get a good vine system growing on it, but it will never match the straightforward sight-blocking obscurity of a vinyl, wood, or brick wall.
This category has a winner as clear as the privacy category: vinyl can stand up to standard wear and tear, but when push comes to shove–literally!–aluminum will beat vinyl every time. Vinyl fences are made from material that is lighter, hollow, and grows brittle with time and age. A stray baseball can punch a hole through a vinyl fence, and the very thing that makes a vinyl fence so private–that big flat surface–makes it particularly susceptible to wind damage. A good windstorm can take down a wide, flat wall when it would instead just fly right through an aluminum rail fence.
Vinyl also will discolor with time, especially where it comes into contact with constant water–think how many times you’ve driven through a neighborhood with predominantly-vinyl fences and picture all the discoloration and mildew on the white vinyl that comes from constant, repeated sprinkler spray. Hard water on a white vinyl surface can leave unsightly arcs of tarnishing hard mineral deposits.
Aluminum fences are strong and sturdy, and virtually immune to weather damage–either wind or water. The only durability issues that arise with aluminum fences are direct hard impacts–cars backing up without looking, or something similar–but that would damage both aluminum and vinyl fences alike.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and there are some people who will always love the simple beauty of a blank white wall, but when it comes to options and pure architectural design aesthetics, you can’t beat an aluminum fence. Aluminum fences come in a wide variety of styles that match every design style, from southern gothic to French royal to Imperial, aluminum fences offer style and features that are simply more varied than the run-of-the-mill white walls with square caps that are common to almost all standard vinyl fences.
An aluminum fence can match most any design aesthetic, whether your home is old or new, brick, shingle, or wood, modern or old-world. Aluminum also has the benefit of mimicking wrought-iron for a fraction of the cost, giving your home an old-school charm that you simply can’t get from vinyl.
When installing vinyl or aluminum fencing, the initial installation and purchasing prices are not dramatically different, so you would think that they would add equal amounts to your property value. But as we’ve already discussed, aluminum is a more long-term investment, as it is more durable and will last longer–often years longer, especially in areas of high use or bad weather. So an aluminum fence will be better for your property value in the long run, even though a nice vinyl fence may look great when it’s first installed.
There’s also a lot to be said about the look of the neighborhood. Vinyl is the fence of choice in the suburbs, in cookie-cutter house after cookie-cutter house. But aluminum fencing adds a unique flair to a house, both in the city and the country, and raíses the property value of not only your house but the surrounding neighbors’ homes, through its excellent appearance and unique design elements. Your neighbors will thank you for installing an aluminum fence that will elevate your entire street.
When it comes to strength, there are many ways to gauge the strength of a fence, but an aluminum one beats a vinyl in almost all respects. First, there’s the example we gave above about a windstorm: a vinyl fence can get battered and an aluminum will not bat an eye. But there’s also a question of wear-and-tear, particularly from kids and teens who have a tendency to climb and jump. A vinyl fence is strong–there’s no getting around that–but an aluminum one will not buckle if you get a group of teenagers scaling it. You may not want them jumping your fence, but if you have rowdy kids at home–or rowdy kids in the neighborhood–you can avoid steep repair costs by going with a stronger fence from the very start.
You can shop around and get fairly even prices when it comes to vinyl vs aluminum and there’s no clear winner, but there are more things to consider than just the initial purchase and installation costs: there’s replacement costs and repairs. If an aluminum fence is going to last longer, then it’s going to be a better deal in the long run.
Fortunately, both aluminum and vinyl fences don’t require much maintenance–certainly nothing like a wooden fence that requires sanding and repainting from time to time (over and over again). A vinyl fence can get dirty, as we’ve mentioned before, chiefly from hard water stains and mildew, but that can be cleaned with a power washer and some manufacturer approved chemicals. An aluminum fence, on the other hand, requires next to no maintenance. You’ll never need to repaint or pressure wash. All that’s required is the occasional hose-down.
You can install both aluminum and vinyl siding on your own, or hire installers to do it for you, depending on your budget. Because vinyl is typically unassembled and more of a snap-fit product (and therefore weaker) it’s not too hard to assemble. Aluminum fencing has pre-assembled sections, requiring less work and it produces a stronger end result. So, in this case, aluminum is the clear winner. But ultimately, it’s all about what you prefer.