What’s the best wood for fence, pine or cedar?
Are you thinking about replacing your fence? My wooden fence is old and in terrible shape. Now that wood prices have declined, it’s a good time to get it done.
When you start to go fence shopping you will see a huge variance in pricing, materials, and style. As with all major projects, it’s a good idea to call more than one person for a bid. I like to use a rule that if it’s more than $5,000 I get at least three bids.
This post will help you if you’re on the fence (no pun intended) about what type of fence you like and give you tips about how to find a contractor to do the work.
How to Choose The Best Wood For Your Fence
There are two primary wood types used for all wood fences, cedar, and pine. I will go into the pros and cons of each one below, but first, you should know that pine is less expensive and if you don’t specify that’s probably what you’ll get.
The two most common options for wood fencing are cedar and pine. If you’re looking for a cedar wood fence you have two choices, Japanese Cedar and Western Red Cedar. If you are interested in the most budget-friendly, the best type of wood to use is pine (most is southern yellow pine) or spruce. It’s a little more expensive if you get pine pressure-treated lumber.
Just to give you a ballpark on pricing – a panel of pressure-treated pine (6 ft tall x 8ft wide) is $75. The same-sized panel of cedar is $105. Cedar is roughly 40% more for an 8-foot section.
Pros and Cons of Pine Fences
Pros of Pine Fencing:
- Pine is less expensive, this makes it a popular choice
- Pine is readily available, this makes it a good choice
Cons of Pine Fencing:
- Pine undergoes a chemical pressure treatment, you don’t know exactly what is in it.
- You have to wait a month after installation to apply a wood stain.
- Pine doesn’t last as long as cedar
- Pine requires more restaining and maintenance than cedar
Pros and Cons of Cedar Fencing
Advantages of Cedar Fencing:
- More Longevity – Cedar is a more durable wood and has natural oils that repel insects better than pine.
- Cedar is natural – Pine is treated with chemicals and you don’t know exactly what is in it when it’s pressure treated
- Appearance – it has a unique natural beauty as no two boards look exactly alike
- As a cedar fence ages the natural color of the wood becomes silver vs dark grey
- Ready to stain day 1 and often comes pre-stained.
- Less likely to warp or twist
- It will be a long-lasting fence and little maintenance is required
Cons of Cedar Fencing:
- Cedar is more expensive
- Cedar supply can be limited (as we saw during the pandemic). Western red cedar is the preferred kind, but it was impossible to get for a while. The substitute that many use is Japanese red cedar.
Board on Board vs Side by Side
When you start looking at fences you’ll notice there are two types of wood configurations, side by side and board on board. Either is an excellent choice. Side-by-side is less expensive because the boards don’t overlap. Board-on-board fences are approximately 30% more expensive.
Board-on-board are considered wood privacy fences because no one can see through cracks in the fence. It also has more aesthetic value, there isn’t a bad side (with the posts) and a good side.
Here’s an example of the difference between the two types of fence (both are cedar in this example).
Should I Get Steel Posts?
There are two types of fence posts, wood, and steel. Steel posts are better than pine or wood posts because steel doesn’t rot or warp. Steel lasts longer and it’s usually coated to prevent rust.
In addition, the fence installation companies I talked to offer a workmanship warranty for steel posts for up to 10 years.
There are two kinds of steel posts, round ones that attach to the pickets with a bracket (more common) or PostMaster square posts. The Postmaster post can be covered up with a picket if you don’t want the post to show. These are more expensive, but if you have the money this is an attractive option, your fence can look as good on the back as it does on the front.
How to Find A Good Fence Contractor
Here are my three tips for finding a good fencing company:
It’s really smart to get multiple contractors to come, in the long run it will save you time and money. My three bids for 120-foot 8-foot fence made of cedar were $8800, $10,300, and $14,300. That’s a big variance.
- Walk the neighborhood – You can learn a lot by just walking around your neighborhood and taking photos of fences that you like. You might even notice that several of the fences have the name of the installer. Some of the fences have a spot for the installer’s name.
- Use Nextdoor – I like to ask in Nextdoor to see if anyone has any good recommendations. Be sure you are getting answers from neighbors and not the contractors themselves.
- Search google for your city and fence contractor and read the google reviews.
What I NEVER use anymore is Angie’s List. This used to be a good option to find things, but somewhere along the way it turned into a lead generation service more than anything else. The same goes for Home Advisor (which is owned by Angie’s List).
Questions You Should Ask Your Fence Contractor
Here are questions you need to ask your fence contractor.
- Is the cedar pre-stained?
- What is the warranty?
- What kind of wood fencing materials are you quoting and are there different grades of wood you use?
- What types of posts do you use, wooden posts or steele posts?
- What type of trim do you use?
- Is a permit required in my city?
- How long will the entire process take?
- Does the price include staining the fence?
Should You Repair or Replace Your Fence?
About two years ago I wanted a new fence, but there was no wood available. Our fence was looking pretty bad, but we decided to try staining it.
If you have let your fence go too far, as we did, it was a little like putting lipstick on a pig. It still looked terrible. If there’s a lot of wood decay or rot, cracks, or leaning it’s probably not worth the expense of staining it.
If the wood is in good condition and it’s losing stain or turning grey, power washing and restaining your fence is a good way to extend its life.
Do Lumber Prices Impact Fence Pricing?
Lumber prices during the pandemic skyrocketed. This drove up the price of fencing. In 2023 the price of wood is declining, but that doesn’t mean the price of your fence will.
As I learned when I started getting quotes, most of the cost of a fence is the labor and not the materials. So it’s not that important to wait for lumber prices to go up or down when you want a new fence.
For more resources about fencing, check out Joe Everest, The Fence Expert (a third-generation fence builder). If you’re thinking about purchasing a fence and there’s a question I missed, reply in the comments. I hope this helps.