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  • John Esposito

Fences - Custom built vs. Fabricated Panels

Both DIYers and many fence-building companies like to avail themselves of convenient prebuilt wood panels. These inexpensive materials are sold at big box stores and lumberyards, usually in eight-foot sections. Contrast this to the much more laborious task of carefully selecting lumber, then attaching it piece by piece with runners and nails. A custom built fence requires a lot more time and money. Is there really a difference? Yes. There really is.

Portrait of a Prefab Fence

Eight-foot sections of prefab fence generally consist of 2″ x 3″ x 8′ rough cut runners attached to 1/4″ x 4″ x 6′ rough cut dog-eared pickets attached with staples or small tack nails. These nails and staples aren’t the strongest.


Custom built fences are also called stick-built, because they’re built stick by stick. This means freedom to choose the best sticks. The builder selects the boards, determining the best type of wood and thickness. You can pick any kind of beautiful wood you like, and choose thicker, more durable lumber than you get with prefab.

Fasteners are also important. A custom fence can use long-lasting, corrosion-free, streak-free decking screws, or three-inch ring shank nails. The reversed ovular rings on ring-shank nails make the nail act like a screw when puncturing wood. These choices are much stronger than the staples or little tack nails used in prefab fencing.


If by now you’ve guessed that we’re coming down in favor of the stick-built fence, you’re right. Custom building is the much more durable option. While prefab panels range in quality, they’re generally going to be thinner, of lesser quality and more susceptible to fungi and water damage. Every time it rains, your prefab fence will warp just a tad more, further compromising structural integrity. A good custom built fence will last at least twice as long as a prefab fence.


If you see a picture in a magazine, or admire somebody’s fence in your neighborhood, chances are it was custom-built. There’s no limit to your design options when you’re starting from scratch. Maybe you haven’t seen the fence of your dreams, but can picture it in your mind’s eye. That’s definitely a job for a custom builder. Custom is also the way to go if you have unusual or special elements in your yard. Tree roots, large trees, slopes and dips in the terrain, beloved bushes – these are all things a fencing pro can handle. But an eight-foot section of pre-fab fencing won’t be so amenable to working with these landscape features. Obviously, prefab options are much more limited than stick-built. The most beautiful wood went elsewhere. If you go prefab, you’ll be choosing between a few poorer-quality, less attractive options in the big box aisle.

A Short Term Fence

Okay, we know, it sounds like we’re really down on prefab fencing. Mostly that’s true. But it does have its place. If you need a temporary fix, it could be just the thing. Say you’re only planning to stay in your home for another year and you just acquired a dog. This could be a job for prefab fencing. Your pup can safely roam the yard, and your prefab fence will be an economical solution for your last year in the house. Prefab can fill many short-term fencing needs.


No surprise here: Custom built costs slightly more than prefab. But we hope after reading this, you can understand why. If you want a durable and attractive fence, custom built is the right way to go. You’re investing in quality materials and craftsmanship and avoiding the hassles of warping, rot and fungi. If you want a beautiful fence built right, call us today! We’d love to make your dream fence come true.

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