As mentioned, while a fence is primarily a functional element, aesthetics matter. In privacy fencing, this is particularly true because of the high visibility of the object. A consumer that is willing to invest in the landscaping of their property is likely to see a fence as an extension of their living space environment. Manufacturers of composites generally have taken one of two approaches with their products: 1) create a design that simulates a wood fence (examples are Timbertech FenceScapes and Fiberon Fencing), or 2) create a distinct design with a premium appearance. In the former, the advantage of a composite is that part of the material is composed of natural material, typically wood or another form of reclaimed organic waste. This gives the product a more wood-like appearance and texture, and is much less reflective than vinyl. In the latter, a well-designed composite fence takes advantage of the natural attributes of its wood-based elements but because it is a manufactured product, the dimensions and aesthetics of the fence can carry a look of exceptional quality and greater value.
The benefit of a simulated look is that if a proximity to a wood appearance is preferred, composites are the best low-maintenance alternative. Composites tend to hold a richer color value than vinyl, have excellent durability, and perform better in the elements over time. However, cost becomes an issue with this design. The traditional stockade (dog-ear) style fence is more expensive than a similar wood fence, so the low-maintenance benefit may not be enough to overcome the price difference. Adding fascia rails or a top “cap” rail to create a more attractive design increases the cost, further challenging the justification for a higher-cost composite.
System-oriented fencing, on the other hand, can differ considerably in appearance but can keep the costs closer to a stockade style composite fence. Trex in particular has been successful with this design. The picture frame, shadow box (board-on-board) design creates an identical look for both sides of the fence. This is significant, particularly in residential installations where neighbors often share the cost of a fence. The fencing also centers within the post profile making it easy to center the fence on property lines. Despite its durability and strength, no composite is load bearing so the propensity for sagging is quite high. Rather than using treated wood support rails, however, the Trex fence design uses a metal (galvanized steel or aluminum) bottom rail which supports the entire fence. Because the fence is also constructed in components, the number of fasteners required is fewer than traditional wood or other composite fences.
Another unique element of a composite product is that they typically made from at least some recycled content. As sustainable building gains ground in public interest and in building requirements, composites are increasingly included in plan specifications. Timbertech, Fiberon, Terra Fence, and Trex use 51%, 84%, 94% and 95% recycled content respectively. All have green manufacturing processes as well and qualify for U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification points. Partially due to”green” criteria, Trex was selected recently in a Utah for public transportation initiative to run approximately 17,000 along a light rail line. The U.S. Forestry service also selected the product for the Black Hills National Park in South Dakota for similar reasons.