Metal or Wood: Which Privacy Fence Posts are Best?

A privacy fence can greatly improve your property and add to its value. There are many reasons to install a privacy fence: contain children and pets in a safe area, enclose a pool, or make a space more intimate for family gatherings. Privacy fences can also boost your property’s curb appeal, keep out nosy neighbors, or block an unpleasant view. When considering your needs, it’s important to also think about the material you’ll use.

Wood fence posts are the traditional choice for their beauty, ease of use, and relatively low cost. Wood posts don’t last as long and will fail even earlier if they are not maintained properly. Metal fence posts are stronger, last longer, and require less upkeep. Metal posts cost more upfront and change the appearance of your fence if left visible.

Selecting the post material for your privacy fence is a decision that you shouldn’t take lightly. Fence posts are the most important part of a fence and have a big impact on the design, installation, cost, and longevity of your fence. We researched nine common fence post options to see how much they cost and how long each will last.

Fence Post MaterialCost per 8-ft PostExpected Lifetime (years)
4×4 Ground Contact Treated Pine$87-15
4×4 Ground Contact, Heavy Duty Treated Pine$1215-20
4×4 Redwood$2012-20
4×4 Cedar$3015-25
16 Gauge 2-3/8″ Round Galvanized Steel$21 w/brackets25+
14 Gauge 2-3/8″ Round Galvanized Steel$25 w/brackets25+
Master Halco Postmaster$2825+
Slipfence Aluminum Post$6025+
FenceTrac Metal Epoxy Coated$6525+
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Metal vs Wood Fence Posts

Wood is the most common fence material in the United States, with 80% of privacy fences made from cedar or yellow pine (source). Because they are so common, most people are familiar with the pros and cons of using wood posts but want to learn more about metal posts for their wood privacy fence.

Wood Posts are the Classic Choice

Like any classic design, wood privacy fences never go out of style – its what people expect. Most people either admire the beauty of a wood fence or are neutral about them. Even if people don’t love wood fences the decision to use wood posts for your privacy fence will never be a wrong choice.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but solid wood privacy fences have a continuous flow that is not disrupted by a fence post of a different material. Because wood privacy fences are so common there are many products available to stain or cover the green color of pressure treated wood. Modern pressure treatment methods can even produce natural-color fence posts that blend with your other materials.

Metal Fence Posts Have a Modern Look

Metal fence posts allow for designs that match well with modern architecture where a traditional wood fence would look out of place.

Traditional fence designs have a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side’ and this holds true for both wood fence posts and metal fence posts. The picket side is clean and looks better than the side with the posts and the rails. With metal fence posts the silver glint of galvanized steel can make the view even worse.

Round galvanized steel posts can be hidden behind an enclosure or simply covered with a board. Premium metal fence post designs look the same on both sides to keep your neighbor happy.

Wood Posts are Easier to Work With

Wood posts are available at your local lumbar yard and you can do everything you need with standard homeowner tools, no commercial-grade or specialty equipment required. All you need is a circular saw to cut the post to length, a drill for making holes, and a screwdriver or nail gun for fasteners.

The standard 7-1/4 inch blade on a circular saw won’t cut all the way through a 4×4 wood post so you will need to make two cuts, one on each side. Most 10-inch miter saws are capable of cutting thru a 4×4 in a single pass but know that it is approaching their limit. You may need to adjust the blade guard to get enough clearance and some motor may not have enough torque.

In rocky soil or uneven terrain wood posts have another advantage – it is easier to get all posts the same height by cutting a little off the top rather than fighting to get them set to the exact same depth.

Wood Posts Cost Less

The initial cost to purchase a wood fence post is much cheaper than metal. Most people have sticker shock when they get a new fence quote and cost is a major factor in their decision. The average cost of a builders-grade wood privacy fence with installation is $15 per linear foot, but prices vary by region and go up in price for additional features.

Most homeowners should consider using heavy-duty pressure treated lumber if they decide to stay with wood fence posts. They cost about 50% more than basic ground-contact wood posts but the additional preservative will likely double the life of your fence if you are like most of us and don’t do all the recommended maintenance. Fences in heavy clay or with drainage concerns will benefit the most from the upgrade.

We struggled with replacing wood posts that had broken off at ground level until we figured out a way to remove the concrete footing easily and without digging. Here’s how we slide the concrete out using water pressure. The Wood Post Puller patent was issued 8/28/2012 (US Patent 8,250,787) and we sold our own tools until 2017. Now we recommend the Corona RootIRRIGATOR (buy on Amazon) for its quality construction and excellent performance.

How Much do Metal Fence Posts Cost?

A basic galvanized steel fence post (2-3/8-inch diameter, 16 gauge wall thickness, 8-ft long) costs about $20 individually or $15 in bulk quantities but remember that is just for the post. You also need a post cap ($1.50 ea) and brackets to hang the rails ($3.00 ea). For a 2-rail fence design each post and required hardware will cost approximately $21.00 plus tax.

Always ask for quantity discounts when shopping for a big project! Even if the have volume pricing posted it never hurts to ask – once the store knows you are buying in bulk they may have other benefits that are not publicized, like free delivery. Building supplies are heavy so even if you have a truck it saves you time and energy that you can spend on your project.

How Do You Attach Wood to a Metal Fence Post?

Round steel galvanized fence posts have another big drawback – collar brackets are tightened around the post by one or more bolts that hold it in place with friction and then each rail attaches to the bracket with a screw. The entire connection has many fasteners that need to be held in place and tightened which will tire you out during construction. All of the fasteners are also possible points of failure for the entire system because they will loosen with time.

Some metal fence posts design don’t require brackets. For a traditional picket design the rails attach directly to the metal post. These u-shaped metal posts are a great value because they don’t cost much more than heavy-duty pressure treated 4×4 posts but they will last much longer.

If you have the budget, metal fence posts with u-channels on each side are top of the line for wood fences. The u-channels hold the fence boards securely and look the same from both sides. No horizontal rails means the fence is more secure and harder to climb. Plus, the design has fewer overhangs and cracks to shelter wasp nests and other critters.

Metal Fence Posts Last Longer

With regular maintenance a pressure treated 4×4 post rated for ground contact will last about 15 years. But the reality is that most of us don’t do the maintenance needed to get that lifetime.

  • You need to keep your wood fence post dry. Don’t water your fence, keep sprinkler pointed away and make sure ground is graded so no water pools around the post. Keep vegetation trimmed back to reduce moisture and insect damage.
  • Clean your wood fence each year to remove mildew and retreat the post with wood preservative. Avoid damaging the surface of your post (scratches caused by string trimmers are common) and retreat damaged areas when they occur.

If that sounds like a lot to keep up with, it is – and most of us don’t do the regular maintenance so our privacy fence gets wobbly as posts start to rot at ground level. A couple damaged fence posts are all that is needed for a big storm to cause a domino effect and the entire fence collapses.

Metals Fence Posts Won’t Warp: During the pressure treatment process, high pressure and water is used to get the preservative chemicals to penetrate the wood. Because of this, pressure treated lumber is frequently sold with very high moisture content and posts may not stay straight as they dry. Warped posts will cause a fence to lean and look uneven. Severe twisting can even pull panels off the post.

Wood Posts Rot: Modern pressure treatment methods are effective to inhibit mold and rot, but are not as resistant to termite and insect damage as the CCA treatments available before 2004. CCA stands for Chromated Copper Arsenate, which as you might guess contains arsenic and was very effective at preventing insect damage.

Over time the wood degrades and fasteners will pull out of the post. Most fence posts fail at ground level simply because everything is more severe at this spot. Rot occurs within a few inches of ground level because oxygen is required, the base of the post sees the most water, insects attack at ground level, and lawn care does the most damage at ground level.

When the wind blows all of the exposed fence is supported by the section of fence post that is in the ground. All of those factors combine to put the most stress at ground level and that is where fence posts will break nearly every time. Repairing a fence panel is an easy weekend project, but replacing fence posts is a bigger deal in both cost and time.

Compared to metal posts, wooden posts have a 4x shorter lifespan before they require replacement. When working with wood posts, you need to be aware of weathering, rot and wood bugs. Sealing your posts before use can help to prevent any distress to the wood, and choosing a bug resistant wood like cedar can ward off insect infestations.

How Long will Galvanized Fence Post Last?

We just covered a long list of factors that affect the lifespan of wood fence posts, but for metal fence posts you can expect a service life of 50 years or more from the post with no maintenance required. In fact, after you install a metal fence post there is very little you can do to influence how long it lasts, unless you back over it with a vehicle.

Sustained high winds about 60 mph from major storms may damage metal fence posts, but they are more likely to bend then to fail completely like wood posts. Galvanized steel fence posts will corrode slowly over time as moisture makes its way past the layer of zinc and rusts the steel. The best thing you can do is to minimize any scratches to the zinc and touch-up any areas with exposed steel using a spray paint formulated for galvanized steel.

Since metal is impervious to rot, insects, and most weathering your fence will last have a longer lifespan. This also means that you will not have to waste as much time on maintenance or replacements. A fence that lasts longer also adds a more permanent improvement to your property value.

How Do You Hide Metal Fence Posts?

Hiding the metal fence post is easy if you use the Master Halco Postmaster steel fence post – simply place a board over the post section and secure it. Besides the simple design, this is one of our favorite features of the Postmaster.

For round galvanized steel posts you can build a wood enclosure to hide the post. A simpler solution is to just cover the metal post using a couple u-brackets and another board. This method works surprisingly well with 6-inch wide pickets because once the metal post is out of the sun and covered everything blends together nicely.

Are Fence Posts Hardwood?

You might think that using a dense wood like oak would be the best way to get a long-lasting fence post that won’t rot. The chemical preservatives used in pressure treated lumber do not get enough grain penetration in hardwoods to protect them adequately. Manufacturers commonly use incising techniques to ensure enough preservative retention to meet heavy-duty requirements.

While there are native hardwoods that make excellent fence posts even when untreated, black locust is one example, they are not commonly available and are very expensive unless using self-sourced materials.

Pressure treated lumber is typically made from pine, fir, or spruce with southern yellow pine widely available at big box stores throughout the U.S. During the manufacturing process the preservative formula is forced into the core of the softwood using high pressure.

Why Choose Wood Posts for Your Privacy Fence

Wood posts are a great choice for everyday fences. They are by far the most common type of fence post, providing good quality for a reasonable price. Because wood fences are so common you will have the widest section of material suppliers and contractors to quote your project for the most competitive pricing.

Thirteen years – the median time homeowners stay in their home is 13 years, and it is trending down. Unless you moved into your home and the fence was already tired and falling down, replace it once and the statistics say you will likely move before it needs to be replaced again. It doesn’t make sense to make a large investment if you won’t get the benefit of enjoying it for long.

For most homeowners your neighbors will also be major decision makers in your fence project. When a privacy fence between properties needs to be replaced, typically the costs are split between the neighbors.

Even if you plan to foot the entire bill, you still have HOA requirements and restrictions to comply with since 24% of Americans live in an HOA (the number is closer to 50% of owner-occupied properties).

It is much easier to get HOA approval to replace a fence with the same design, and your neighbors are more likely to agree to upgrade to heavy-duty pressure treated posts for a moderate bump in cost.

Why Choose Metal Posts for Your Privacy Fence

Metal fence posts offset their higher price with longer life and low-maintenance requirements. Metal fence posts, whether they are made of galvanized steel or aluminum, are stronger and more durable than wood fence posts. Metal fence posts are virtually immune to the factors that cause most fences to fail at ground level: moisture, rot, and insect damage.

Metal fence posts are able to withstand higher winds and if fence panels are damaged the metal post makes them easier to repair. Even if the metal fence post shears off, the metal stump will make it easier to remove than rotten wood that just falls apart.

We struggled with replacing posts that had broken off at ground level until we figured out a way to remove the concrete footing easily and without digging. Here’s how we slide the concrete out using water pressure. The Wood Post Puller patent was issued 8/28/2012 (US Patent 8,250,787) and we sold our own tools until 2017. Now we recommend the Corona RootIRRIGATOR (buy on Amazon) for its quality construction and excellent performance.

When you are confident that you will be keeping the property for 5 years or longer then metal fence posts are the obvious choice. Spend a little more up-front and enjoy the benefits long-term.

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