Vinyl vs. Wood Fence: Cost, Strength, Style Comparison

How to narrow down the best fence material

White Vinyl Fence

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Natural wood has long been the favored material for residential landscape fencing. Its natural appeal has made wood the first choice for most homeowners for many years. Easy to cut and assemble, widely available, and relatively affordable, wood fencing can be adapted to just about any landscape style and is a relatively easy material for DIYers to work with.

For over 40 years, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic has become more prevalent in landscaping. Vinyl is a petroleum-based product with various uses in the building trades, and one of its recent adaptations is for landscape-fencing materials.

Unlike wood fencing, vinyl fencing doesn't rot, doesn't warp, and never needs painting. But it has a few downsides: it's difficult to repair, prominently shows dirt and grime, and has limited design choices.

  • Painted look only

  • Low upkeep costs

  • Cannot be refinished

  • Difficult to repair

  • Boards do not warp

  • Easy to clean

  • Artificial materials

  • Wood or painted look

  • Some costs for upkeep

  • Can be refinished

  • Easy to repair

  • Boards will warp

  • More difficult to clean

  • Natural materials


A point-by-point comparison between vinyl and traditional wood will help you decide if vinyl is the right option for your fence.

Vinyl Fence

Made from the same plastic used in white plastic plumbing pipes, vinyl is widely used in fencing materials. Some home centers now stock vinyl fencing components and preassembled panels in a limited range of colors.

The first vinyl fences were simple white plastic panels with shiny surfaces—not very natural looking—but now additional colors, including brown wood tones, are available. Some vinyl fencing is now even textured to resemble wood. These days, nearly any fencing style can be constructed in vinyl. The material ranges from ranch-style rails to New England pickets or tall solid-panel privacy fences.

Wood Fence

With wood fences, the materials are simple and easy to define: wood. Different types of woods are used, often cedar, soft pine, redwood, and cypress.

Most wood used for fences can be left unstained and untreated. Western red cedar, for example, starts red but quickly weathers to an attractive silver-gray.

Wood can be painted, but it's usually best to coat it with a fence preservative. Ranging from solid color to semi-transparent to transparent, fence coatings let the beauty of the natural wood show through.


Do-it-yourself vinyl fence panels were considerably more costly than wood panels when they became popular in the 1980s; this price difference has narrowed significantly. Preassembled fencing panels at major big-box home improvement centers are moderately priced compared to wood.

  • 6-feet high x 8-feet long pressure-treated pine privacy panel: $50
  • 6-feet high x 8-feet long pre-stained wood horizontal privacy flat top fence panel: $85
  • 6-feet high x 6-feet long white vinyl plastic privacy panel: $105
  • 6-feet high x 8-feet long red cedar panel: $155
  • 6-feet high x 8-feet long wood-composite privacy panel: $285 to $475


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and nowhere is this more accurate than with landscape fences. Many people will find real wood's warm colors more attractive than vinyl plastic fencing.

Wood is a versatile material that can be left to weather naturally or stained or painted however you want. A wood fence can be custom-built to make it unique to your landscape and readily adapted to uneven building sites.

If you want a better-looking fence with some of the advantages of vinyl, one popular option is a wood-composite fence. Made from the same blend of wood fibers and plastic resins as used in synthetic decking, these fence products are very durable and stable. Wood-composite fencing, however, is not cheap—expect to pay at least twice as much as a vinyl or wood fence.

Comparatively, vinyl tends to look best when it tries to mimic the look of a traditional white-painted fence, but even in that case, it still looks artificial. Older vinyl fences and less expensive new products have a shiny, somewhat artificial surface.

As vinyl fences weather, the shininess may give way to a chalky coating that dulls the look of the fence. Vinyl fence panels stocked in bulk come in limited options, so you may be disappointed that your fence looks precisely like dozens of others in your community. When building with mass-produced vinyl panels, it is hard to get a designer look.

Pros and Cons of Vinyl

  • Doesn't need painting

  • Will not rot or warp

  • Uses post-consumer recycled plastics

  • Few design options

  • Dirt and grime easily show

  • Repairs not simple

Vinyl will not require repainting, as does wood. Except for dirt and moss, white vinyl fencing will stay white year after year. Of course, this can also be a drawback—once you've installed your vinyl fence, you are stuck with its appearance and color for its lifetime. Unlike wood, vinyl cannot be easily painted a different color if you want to change its appearance.

Much like synthetic decking material gradually became more of a premium option, likely, vinyl fencing will also see improvements in appearance. Some of vinyl's liabilities are gradually removed as manufacturers offer additional colors and have now introduced textures. And add-on features such as lattice panels and shaped post caps make vinyl fences less utilitarian than they once were.

Ease of Installation

Both wood and vinyl fences typically come out better when installed by a professional fence company. For any fence, digging post holes and setting posts is challenging. Typically, fence posts should be buried to at least one-third of their length (and deeper in some cold-weather climates). After that, the posts must be set in concrete. Multiply this task by 20 fence posts, and you can see why many homeowners hand this job off to a fencing contractor.

But if you are a dedicated DIYer, vinyl fencing is a bit easier to work with than wood because the posts and panels are considerably lighter than wood posts and panels. Many vinyl fence products are designed for easy assembly, with posts that are notched to accept rails and matching panel brackets available.

Working slowly and in discrete stages, as with any large project, will make the work easier. Plan to take your time and be incredibly diligent in the layout and installation of the posts. Installing a large landscape fence should be considered a season's worth of work—not something to knock off in a weekend or two.

Remember that wood and vinyl fencing installations usually require municipal building permits. Most communities' fence laws treat vinyl and wood equally regarding installation requirements. But if you live in a housing development controlled by an HOA, you may not be able to install a vinyl fence.

Maintenance of Vinyl vs. Wood Fencing

Vinyl doesn't decay, and it doesn't need to be sealed, stained, or painted. Vinyl fencing is largely maintenance-free, which is why so many ranches, farms, and commercial operations opt for vinyl fencing for large installations. Easy maintenance greatly outweighs appearance and other considerations when you have a lot of fencing to maintain.

Properly sealed wood will resist rotting for a few seasons but must always be re-sealed. Some fence woods, such as cedar, are naturally oily and better at fighting decay than others. Still, all woods benefit from some surface treatment, whether you are sealing or painting. If your only priority is eliminating fence rot, vinyl fences are the way to go.

Be aware that vinyl fences get dirty—very dirty. Many owners regard this as the worst thing about a vinyl fence. Most vinyl fence owners say that owning a pressure washer is essential if you have a vinyl fence.


At least once a year, vinyl fences need a thorough power washing to remove dirt that splashes onto the lower section from rain, fungus, mildew, and moss. Wood fences also get dirty, but wood textures and colors are much better at hiding grime than the shiny white surfaces of vinyl fencing.

Vinyl fences are also more difficult to fix when problems arise. Repair is usually a matter of replacing entire panels and not fixing individual elements. If there are cracks in your fence, they'll be easier to repair if it's made of wood. You can use wood filler to fix your wood fence and likely make it a DIY project.

Our Choice: Vinyl Fencing

Vinyl plastic fencing has made strides in the last few years, with additional colors and textured surfaces now available. And the price gap between vinyl and natural wood has now been reduced, with costs fairly comparable. However, the best vinyl fencing products are not as elegant as natural wood or wood-composite fencing.

Vinyl is durable and immune to rot, but it needs regular cleaning. Vinyl is a great choice when your main goal is a long-lasting fence that won't rot or need painting or staining.