Pros and Cons of Picket Fences

white picket fence in front of a house

Having a home with a white picket fence is a symbol of the American Dream and success. Some homeowners love the look of a picket fence, but others say the design is not for them. It’s good to know the pros and cons of a picket fence before deciding if it’s your dream fence.

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What is a Picket Fence?

Picket fences are constructed by attaching vertical slats called pickets to horizontal rails. The rails are connected to posts. The top of the picket usually ends at a tapered point. The pickets are spaced evenly apart, so a traditional picket fence is not considered a full privacy fence. Picket privacy fences are an option, but they’re not considered standard picket fences.

Picket fences are found everywhere, but most commonly located in the front yard. Traditionally, they’re painted white and built from wood or vinyl. However, there is an abundance of building material, paint, stain, and design options.

Picket comes from the French word “piquet” which means “pointed stick or board.” The picket design stems from old-world defenders protecting against cavalry. Over time, it developed into a 20th-century cultural symbol of success. But the white picket fence symbolism continues to evolve. Nowadays, it’s associated with friendly neighborhoods, beaches, and gardens. 

Pros of Picket Fencing

white picket fence with yellow flowers
Photo Credit: Marje / Canva Pro / License

There is more to picket fencing than its simple, clean look. Homeowners choose it for its durability, easy installation, cost, and customizability.

Durable

Due to the spacing in the picket fence design, they hold up well against unpredictable weather. Strong winds can easily pass through the gaps. Are you worried about snow accumulation? Snow will pass through the gaps, reducing snow drifts. With reduced drifts, there will be reduced weight on your fence.

Treated wood and vinyl/PVC fences are protected from wind debris (within reason), rain, and sun. Well-maintained wooden picket fences can last up to 20 years. Well-maintained vinyl picket fences can last up to 30 years.

Customizable

Picket fences, particularly those made of wood, are highly customizable. Here are some ways you can make your picket fence unique.

  • Color: Using paint or stain, your color options are only limited by your imagination – and your HOA. Check community rules before you pick up a paintbrush.
  • Picket Tops: Choose from traditional styles like colonial or nontraditional styles like shapes. There are so many choices to make your fence unique.
  • Fence Post Caps: Post caps have a range of options. Choose simple flat squares, LED lanterns, or birdhouses.
  • Gates: If you have a fence, you probably have a gate. Customize your gate’s color, style, or design to complement your fence.

If you’re looking for more ways to make your exterior pop, check out these picket fence ideas.

Provides Some Security

Picket fences keep loved ones in and bothersome visitors out. Let’s look at some excellent security claims.

  • The delineation of property prevents passersby from trampling on your property. You won’t have to shout a cranky, “Stay off my lawn!” 
  • It prevents larger stray pets and animals from destroying your lawn.
  • Peace of mind comes from a boundary that keeps your beloved pets and children inside your yard.

Having a picket fence is protection while still giving a welcoming aesthetic to your home. However, it’s important to note that picket fences are not made for security. Intruders can easily bypass a picket fence due to its height and openness.

Inexpensive

a white vinyl picket fence
Vinyl Picket Fence
Photo Credit: Deniseesser / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Picket fences are one of the least expensive fence installations because they’re usually made with wood or vinyl. Compared to other materials, wood and vinyl are some of the more affordable options available.

  • Wood fences range from $1,996 to $4,448 overall, or $14 to $31 per linear foot. 
  • A vinyl fence averages from $2,181 to $6,089, or $17 to $38 per linear foot. 

In comparison, check out these other fencing options.

  • Chain-link fence: $12 to  $33 per linear foot
  • Composite fence: $26 to $57 per linear foot
  • Aluminum fence: $27 to $55 per linear foot
  • Wrought iron fence: $28 to $56 per linear foot

In terms of budget, picket fences are a solid choice. If you love picket fences but want a different material, there are plenty of options.

Easy to Install

The picket fence design is simple, especially compared to some designs like shadowbox or basket weave. Due to the gaps in a picket fence, less material and labor are needed. Because of their construction material, picket fences are erected in smaller sections called panels. This makes fence installation easier.

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Cons of Picket Fencing

a white picket fence in the lawn of a house
Photo Credit: Pxhere

For the same reasons homeowners love the picket fence design, it’s also what makes it less appealing than other types of fences. It does require specific maintenance and doesn’t offer the best privacy and security.

Requires Maintenance

Picket fences need maintenance to keep their long lifespan. Here are some things you’ll need to do to upkeep your picket fence.

  • Check for damage: Although picket fences are sturdy, they’re not indestructible. Walking your fence line regularly will help you keep on top of any issues that arise.
  • Make repairs quickly: If you notice any cracks or breaks, repair them quickly to prevent further damage.
  • Regular cleaning: Picket fences need to be cleaned yearly to prevent buildup. You can clean with a power washer, a pressure washer, or a brush and soapy water. Be sure to remove dead leaves and vegetation near the base, too.

Further, wood and vinyl picket fences each have their own list maintenance requirements.

With wooden picket fences, especially untreated wood, you’ll have to:

  • Watch for termites and other wood-destroying insects
  • Check for mold and fungus
  • Watch out for splinters
  • Restain every one to eight years
  • Repaint about every 10 years

With vinyl, you’ll need to:

  • Check for color fading or warping if you live in a high-heat area
  • Watch for mildew, which causes staining
  • Look out for algae, it could turn your fence green
  • Understand vinyl isn’t easily replaceable if damaged

All fencing materials need to be maintained. As long as you perform regular maintenance like you do to your home, it will last a long time.

Doesn’t Provide Privacy

If privacy is high on your must-have list, the picket design is not for you. Due to the slat spacing and shorter height, it’s not recommended as a privacy fence. In fact, most fences that can withstand bad weather and high winds don’t make great privacy fences.

Won’t Stop Small Pets or Animals

Picket fences are great for keeping loved ones in and bypassers out – unless they’re small. If you have a chihuahua you want to keep in your yard or rabbits you want to keep from eating your flowers, a picket fence won’t stop them. Small animals can easily squeeze through the small picket gaps.

If you like the look of a picket fence but need a solid base, try a picket top. As a bonus, you can still customize the picket design. This fence style will protect your tiny fur babies and give your family more privacy.

Best Picket Fencing Materials

a picket fence made of wood
Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures

So you’ve decided on a picket fence and now need to choose your building material. While we’ve seen that wood is one of the most common options, you still have to decide on the type of wood. Or not. There are a plethora of building material options available.

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Wood

Wood is a common choice for fences. Overall, it’s inexpensive, easy to install, and highly customizable. But what type of wood should you choose? The list of possibilities is endless, but here are some superb wooden picket fence options.

Redwood

Redwood is an excellent option for fences because of its durability. Due to the warm, humid climate where redwood grows, it’s more resistant to sun and moisture than other types of wood. It’s also known to be exceptionally resistant to insects. The drawback is it’s more expensive than other wood types.

Cost: $4 to $7 per linear foot

Cypress

Cypress is a great option due to its natural insect repellent, cypretine. It’s also rot-resistant and gives off a natural pleasant scent. You’ll want to keep up with staining to prevent sun damage. Cypress wood can be costly, depending on availability in your area.

Cost: $8.50 per linear foot

Cedar

For a less expensive wood, cedar is perfect. This insect-resistant wood is a go-to for inside and outside building projects. But you’ll need to regularly clean and stain it.

Cost: $4 to $8 linear foot

Vinyl

Vinyl is another common material for picket fencing, and for good reason.

  • Cost: Although not the cheapest material, it’s affordable.
  • Durability: Vinyl isn’t affected by insects, moisture, rot, and weather – except for very high heat.
  • Low-maintenance: Vinyl doesn’t need paint or stain and only needs washing for aesthetic purposes.
  • Customizability: Vinyl comes in most design styles and colors.

Cost: $17 to $38 per linear foot

Metal

a blue color picket fence made of metal
Photo Credit: Pxhere

Metal is the most sturdy choice for a picket fence. It’s a durable option that withstands all climates, but it’s also the most expensive. If you decide to go with metal, you have a few options.

Aluminum

Aluminum is the most rust-resistant, but the weakest of the three metals. It’s also recyclable or can be made from recycled aluminum. Aluminum is usually used for fences covering a large area.

Cost: $24 to $32 per linear foot

Steel

In terms of durability and cost, steel is a middle ground between aluminum and wrought iron. Be sure to use galvanized steel to avoid rust.

Cost: $23 to $45 per linear foot

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is the strongest of the three metals, but also the most expensive. Wrought iron is found with older homes in cities like New Orleans. These days, it’s not often used due to cost.

Keep in mind that metal pickets are thinner than other pickets. So, using metal pickets further reduces privacy.

Cost: $28 to $56 per linear foot

Composite

Composite fencing combines wood fibers and plastic polymers. The result is a finished wood look without the upkeep. Composite is becoming more popular and here’s why.

  • Low-maintenance: Only requires occasional cleaning to keep it looking its best.
  • Durable: Holds up against weather conditions and isn’t affected by insects or rot.
  • Cost: In terms of price, composite is a middle ground. It’s less expensive than metal but not as cheap as wood or vinyl.

Keep in mind that not all composite is created equal. Research the quality of the manufacturer before making your final choice.

Cost: $11 to $46 per linear foot

FAQ About Picket Fences

How tall are picket fences?

Picket fences are usually 3-4 feet tall. However, the height varies depending on the fence’s purpose. If you are using your picket fence for a pool, the minimum height is 4 feet. On the other hand, a garden fence is typically 2-3 feet tall.

Does a picket fence add property value?

The short answer is, yes. A picket fence adds curb appeal, making the house more attractive to buyers. Usually, the more desirable a house, the higher the selling price. But before you pick up a hammer, there are some considerations.

Housing Market: A fence won’t make a world of difference, particularly if the housing market is unstable. A buyer doesn’t buy a house for the fence, but it is definitely an added bonus.
Recouping costs: There’s no guarantee you’ll get back the money you invest. If you’re only adding a fence to increase property value, there are cheaper ways to up that selling price.
Subjective fence value: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. While one person may hold picket fences in high regard, the next person may prefer a different style.

While fences are an excellent addition to the exterior of your home, they won’t make or break your home sale.

How big are the spaces in a picket fence?

The spaces in picket fences are about 1.5-2.5 inches wide. This spacing measurement is typical. But you can space your pickets as close together or as far apart as you want. 

The slats on picket fences are generally 3.5-5.5 inches wide. However, you can craft your pickets wide or narrow, depending on personal preference.

Undecided? Don’t Sit on the Fence

Deciding on a fence is a big decision. But you don’t have to balance precariously on the fence when making a decision.

Whether you need advice or want to pass the DIY project to a qualified builder, there are highly-rated fencing professionals in your area, ready to lend a helping hammer. Get more information or a quick and easy quote.

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Main Image Credit: DebraLee Wiseberg / Canva Pro / License

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi is a writer, author, and teacher who grew up in western Massachusetts and currently resides in the Austin area. She enjoys flower and vegetable gardening, reading, cooking, listening to true-crime podcasts, and spending time with her husband, three children, dog, and cat.