Making the Economic Case for Vinyl

If there is one thing most of us can agree upon, it is our disdain for the tedious and repetitive maintenance tasks like scraping, prepping and repainting a wooden patio cover or fence – or the expense of having to pay someone to do it again and again

Sure, when it is done, it looks great – for a while. Unfortunately, even this regular maintenance does not cover the bill when it has to be replaced because our ‘California State Insect’, the termite gets involved. These are voracious little critters. They can destroy the structural integrity of a wooden fence or patio (not to mention a house) in very little time. When the exterminators set up their big tops to eradicate the little pests, the fences are rarely tented. This means that twice a year, every year, these dry-wood termites will sprout wings and search for a new home nearby. Hopefully the home they find is not the same residence that was just tented and is being protected by the security of that same wooden fence or the shade of the wooden patio cover.

Enter the alternative: Vinyl fences, gates, and patio covers.

Now I know some of you are thinking these are cheap looking, will fade out, chalk and stain, just like the resin patio chairs you can buy at Pic-n-Save for $3 (I may have dated myself there). Well, there are lower quality vinyl products that may tread in that arena, but for high quality professionals that do this for a living, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that high quality vinyl building materials have as much in common with these chairs as a Mercedes has in common with a Yugo.

With lots of conflicting information available to consumers, there is a very legitimate concern in the Homeowners Association segment of the market regarding the longevity and usefulness of some of these products, especially considering the fiduciary duty that comes with serving on a board of directors.

Vinyl building materials have been successfully used outdoors for over 50 years, and were first used as fencing in the late 1970’s. The success of the outdoor vinyl building products is reflected in its acceptance and use by many cities and municipalities, commercial customers and military bases, not only for fencing and patio covers, but as decking and railing, street signs and other building materials. It is also approved and used as safety barriers (guard rails) for upper level, multi-story buildings. There are many well established test criteria on these products including ASTM and ICC, and these should be consulted when choosing a product.

The long life span of these products, eliminating the need for chemically impregnated wood, and not having to use VOC laden paints and stains every few years makes this product a very green alternative. Because it is made without ‘plasticizers’, it is inert and safe and it does not sustain a flame.

As these products are relatively new in the field (50+ years vs. centuries using steel and wood) it is important to choose a high quality product and have it installed by people who really know and understand the proper design, application, fabrication, and installation. Experience counts. This can be the difference between a happy one time project, and a disastrous project that never quite seems to be completed.

While vinyl fencing has a higher initial installation cost, because it lasts much longer than wood fencing and requires no paint and virtually no repair cycles, it is significantly less expensive. Replacing your wood fence with a high-quality vinyl fencing (with color, grain, and steel structural members) is like getting your second wood fence at half price, while totally eliminating all the repainting costs. This brings the effective cost down to about the same price as a wood fence in the shorter term and much cheaper in the longer term.

The bottom line is that associations with vinyl fencing enjoy lower reserve contributions. Install it, and you don’t have to think about it for 30 years or more. No warping, no cracking, and no termites!

Hopefully this information is useful to Boards of Directors and Reserve Study companies in an effort to more accurately plan budgets and reserves.

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