Iron fences’ clean lines and stark black color have made them a popular choice for modern-day golf courses, pools, and homes in historic districts or near natural settings such as lakes, forests, and serene landscapes. However, the history of iron fences dates back thousands of years. Early ironwork originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C., where iron was primarily used for tools and weapons to ensure survival. While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first iron fence was built, the Middle Ages ushered in new processes of producing iron that made it available for widespread, public use. Between 480 AD and 1400 AD, iron rails were used to cover windows and doors to protect against invading armies and bandits, as decoration to add gravitas to ornate cathedrals, and to construct strong, long lasting fences.
Today, the metal fences we refer to as iron fences are actually made of steel. Steel is an alloy primarily composed of iron, and is created by introducing carbon into the iron itself. By the late 19th century, the Bessemer Process was invented, allowing steel to be produced on a much larger scale at a more affordable price than ever before. The industrialization of steel production resulted in most of today’s “iron” fences actually being composed of steel. But since steel is mostly iron, if you call a steel fence an iron fence, you’re still mostly correct.
Iron Vs. Aluminum: Different Metals For Different Applications
Although steel is the most widely used material for metal fences on the market today, aluminum is another popular option with a similar look, but different properties and intended purposes. Iron is more durable than aluminum, but Iron also has a weakness that aluminum does not: it rusts. This is why iron fences typically don’t fare well in coastal regions where there is a lot of humidity in the air. Salt-spray from the ocean quickly tears away any protective coating that is on the iron fence, which exposes the steel underneath and causes it to rust. Aluminum- on the other hand- doesn’t rust at all, making it the better fence-material choice for homeowners in Galveston and along the Gulf Coast. For the environmentally conscious fence buyer, aluminum also has the advantage of being easily recycled and reused for other purposes. But aluminum is a slightly more expensive and less durable metal than iron. A group of energetic kids and pets can easily morph and dent an aluminum fence over time, while an iron fence is tough enough to stand resolute in the face of climbing, kicking, and tomfoolery.
Iron fences are normally found where either visibility, security, or historical integrity are primary concerns. They are a popular choice for houses surrounding neighborhood golf courses, shared neighborhood ponds, or greenbelts and heavily forested areas where they offer a window to the beauty just beyond your backyard. Iron fences are also one of the best choices for security because they are much harder to break through than wood or aluminum fences. In historic districts and neighborhoods such as the Houston Heights, iron fences complement historic architecture while offering a view of the well-kept houses and gardens in the area.
Whether or not your iron fence makes it to its 20th birthday depends on how it’s manufactured and installed. If you bought your house in a new neighborhood with a metal fence already built, there’s a good chance your fence might not make it to the 3 year mark without some noticeable rust and structural degradation. Metal fences that come with new homes are weak because when neighborhoods are built, fences are usually contracted out to teams who focus more on quantity than they do on quality. After all, they have to build hundreds of fences as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The result is new neighborhoods with non-galvanized iron fences. Non-galvanized iron fences typically rust within 3 years because they have no coating on the inside of their square tubing, causing them to rust from the inside out. For your iron fence to last, it needs to be treated and finished properly.
A Fence Fit For The Ages
Treating iron fences is especially important because iron fences used today are hollow and rust from the inside out. Iron fences built 30 to 40 years ago didn’t rust nearly as fast as contemporary iron fences because they used a much thicker steel. With thicker steel, rust takes a much longer time to develop from the inside to the surface. As steel prices have risen over the last few decades, processes to treat and finish iron fences have become more common. These processes extend the lifespan of iron fences and prevent rust on thinner pieces of steel. Modern, quality iron fences go through a rigorous treatment and finishing process so that they last up to 20 years.
The two primary finishing processes are galvanization and powder coating. Galvanizing steel helps stop the development of rust by treating steel with a coat of zinc. Zinc coatings prevent scratches and scrapes from exposing steel to oxygen, the catalyst for rust. The best iron fences are galvanized on the inside -where rusting begins – as well as the outside, where abrasions can happen. After galvanization, high-quality iron fences are powder coated. Powder coating is a process that fuses a resin powder to the galvanized steel with electrostatic attraction. Powder coating provides a uniform finish that is tougher than traditional liquid-based paints for an iron fence that will stay intact for a long time.
Advancements in iron fence technology don’t end with how the steel is treated; they also improve how iron fences are installed.
How Iron Fences are Installed along a Slope or a Hill
In the past, iron fences built on hills had to be designed and installed to hug the curves of the landscape, which was a tedious and expensive process. Most iron fence material is now sold in 8 foot panels. Previously, iron fences were installed so that panels stair-stepped down the hill, which resulted in gaps underneath the fence. Now- with rackable panels- your iron fence can gracefully follow the contours of your property. Rackable panels use hinged brackets so your fence rails can run parallel to a hill while the pickets run parallel to each other. They’re a great option for those with small pets and children since they leave no possible escape room at the bottom of the fence.
Choosing The Right Iron Fence Design
Iron fences are generally designed to visually complement what is around them. Most iron fences we install are understated, yet elegant. They follow a timeless design philosophy that looks just as clean and classy against historic houses as it does against modern city homes. The designs we offer fall into a few different categories: press point, extended top, flat, and curved top.
Press point fences have pickets with what resembles a spear point at the top, and are sure to make any possible fence climbers abandon their plans.
Extended top fences have flat pickets that rise up over the rails, creating a top row of pickets between the fence posts.
Flat top fences have pickets that end at the top rails, creating a fence with a clean design.
Curved top fences have pickets that curve outward at the top. This creates a hard-to-climb fence that is great for added security.
There are also a variety of accessories such as post caps, finials, and decorative rings that add flash to your iron fence. But if you’re looking for a completely customized fence, custom ornamental iron is the way to go. You can create a fence with areas shaped liked Texas, your favorite sports team logo, or even your name if you want. Custom ornamental fences do require custom fabrication, which leads to additional costs. But a personalized fence will make your fence a one-of-a-kind reflection of your personality.
Maintenance and Other Considerations
Maintenance for iron fences is similar to maintenance for wood fences. You want to make sure any sprinklers you have in the backyard spray away from your fence. Also, be careful with weed eaters and other power tools that may be used around your fence. The powder coating on iron fences is typically strong enough to prevent minor scrapes from exposing the steel underneath, but weed eaters can still chip away the finish, leaving your fence more susceptible to rust.
Make sure you follow all state and local regulations for pool fences. In the state of Texas, it’s required for pool owners to install and maintain a fence and gate around their pool to prevent accidental drowning. A full list of Texas’ state regulations can be found on the provisions of chapter 757 of the Texas State Health and Safety Codes. The city of Houston also has it’s own pool fence codes. If you have any questions or live in a district outside of the city of Houston, you can visit your local municipality’s website or contact your HOA to learn your district’s rules regarding residential pool fences. In areas such as Bellaire, pool inspectors are present after pool fences are installed to ensure all requirements are met. In most places, pool fences must be at least four feet tall and have latches at least 54 inches from the ground to prevent small children from gaining entrance.
Accidents do happen- even to iron fences- so it’s always best to understand your fence warranty. Most warranties will cover defects in material construction, but some iron fence manufacturers have warranties that can change based on your climate and how close your fence is to the coast. Always be sure to check the warranty for whichever fence you decide to go with. We source our materials from the best manufacturers, but every company differs in their warranties. Choose a fence with a warranty that you feel comfortable with.
If you need to replace an iron fence or are interested in having a new iron or aluminum fence constructed around your home, call 281-807-7900 or fill out our contact form for a free estimate.
And to learn more about another popular residential fence, check out our guide to Western Red Cedar Fences.