When it comes to fences made from wood, cedar and pine are two of the most popular. Each brings its own attributes as well as challenges in creating a proper wooden fence. Choosing between cedar and pine starts with understanding what each material does.
Cedar is a popular wood for fencing and other uses. This wood is easily recognizable thanks to its reddish/dark brown hue. It’s also a durable wood that offers the considerable advantage of having natural defenses against rot or insect invasion. Cedar chips are often used in dog houses which reduce the number of fleas present.
Because of the natural rot resistance qualities of cedar, it does not require chemicals to the same degree as other woods, such as pine. Staining with a penetrating oil is all it requires to stay protected.
Pine is arguably the most common of softwoods. It’s durable, aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps most importantly, it is readily available.
Pine fences have been used for many decades around the world. In most cases, the pine is pressure-treated as pine that is untreated does not last as long in the harsh outdoor environment.
Comparison: Cedar vs. Pine Fence
When choosing between cedar and pine, it is important to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and differences. What follows is a basic comparison of both types of wood for fencing purposes.
- Cedar: In terms of being exposed to the sun and the elements, cedar is the stronger wood. Cedar is more resistant to shrinkage and warping compared to pine. This means that for greater durability and longevity, cedar is the better choice.
Cedar pickets are normally available in ¾ -inch thickness, which has sufficient strength.
- Pressure Treated Pine (PTP): These picket boards are available in ¾-inches and 5/8-inches, with most suppliers carrying the latter, which is smaller in thickness.
Warping, twisting, and cupping occurs more on pressure treated pine than on cedar pickets. In the case of pressure-treated wood, the boards dry unevenly, and they get pulled towards the dry side, causing them to bent.
Perhaps the most noted difference between cedar and pine is the cost. In terms of purchase and installation, cedar is roughly 30% to 50% more expensive compared to pine. It is because cedar tends to be less available compared to pine.
However, in terms of cost over the lifespan of the fence, cedar has a considerable advantage. Cedar tends to last twice as long compared to pine and requires less annual maintenance. For those who plan on staying in their homes for a long time, cedar is probably the more economical choice.
For the most part, cedar and pine are subject to potential damage caused by common sources, which include the following.
- Wood Rot
- Insects, carpenter ants
- Ultraviolet or UV Rays
- Elements such as Rain, Snow, Sleet, Hail, and Wind
Cedar has natural oils in the wood, which gives it resistance and tends to be far more durable compared to pine in all categories where the wood is exposed to the elements.
However, the one exception is the part of the cedar which is buried underground. When covered in soil, cedar tends to rot considerably faster compared to pine. It is why many fences have cedar panels but pine posts.
Treated pine is chemically treated to resist wood rot and infestation.
Pine: The old pressure-treated lumber used last 20 to 25 years. But those treated lumber had a potentially toxic chemical called CCA (Chromated Chopper Arsenate). From 2004, manufacturers replaced the toxic CCA with safer wood preservatives such as CA-B (Copper Azole), MCQ (Micronized Copper Azole), and ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quaternary) for residential use. However, this also reduced the life of the treated wood.
Today, a typical treated pine fence lasts around 8 – 12 years but may last longer if properly stained and maintained.
Cedar fence pickets have a lifespan of 15 – 20 years.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there are differences of opinion on whether pine or cedar is the most aesthetically pleasing.
- Cedar does offer natural beauty in its vibrant colors. It has a light pinkish-red color and can be made darker by staining.
- Pine pickets come in a nice, even yellow color. Pine ages quite well and become silvery over time.
Cedar has a clear advantage over pine in terms of annual maintenance. Pine requires more cleaning and must be stained every year to maintain its integrity.
Cedar does not require annual staining, doing so will improve the life of your fence. But there are issues that must be addressed, such as carpenter ants entering from the bottom of fence pickets that touch moist ground.
Pros and Cons of Cedar Fence
There are several advantages along with some disadvantages of having cedar fencing. You will want to consider all the attributes and issues of cedar before making your decision.
Advantages of Cedar
- Durable: Perhaps the most impressive aspect of cedar is that it holds up far longer compared to pine. Even in harsh climates where temperatures can become extreme, cedar is quite durable and long-lasting.
- Longevity: You can expect a typical cedar fence to last from 15 to 20 years and even longer when properly maintained.
- Low Maintenance: You will need to maintain your cedar fence at least once per year, but the work is far less intense compared to pressure treated pine which requires annual applications of new stain.
- Environment Friendly: As a natural product, Cedar is much more environment-friendly and safe for your kids and pets.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks to the cedar that should be considered.
Disadvantages of Cedar
- Initial Cost: You are going to pay roughly double the amount for cedar compared to treated pine for purchase and installation. This means more money out of your wallet for the initial purchase. However, this is offset by its longevity. But if you plan on selling your home in the next few years, then pressure treated pine is the more cost-effective option.
- Expensive Fastners: You must use double hot dipped or stainless screws or nails when installing the fence. Your regular zinc coated galvanized nails will not last long. The natural chemicals found in cedar wood will react with zinc and over the time will get corroded.
- Soil Erosion: While the cedar panels that are above ground are considerably resistant to rot, the cedar posts that hold the panels in place are subject to rot, particularly the portion that is under the ground.
It is recommended that you use galvanized steel or pressure treated pine posts instead of cedar posts when installing wood fencing.
Pros and Cons of Pine Fence
The attributes of pine start with being one of the most affordable options available for wooden fencing. For those who are on a budget and want a solid wooden fence, pine is a great choice. Other attributes of pine include the following.
Advantages of Pressure Treated Pine
Aesthetics: Pine has a pleasing yellowish appearance when new, and the fence pickets will all look similar and uniform, which makes it look even better.
However, this is subjective. You might like the non-uniform color and pattern of cedar better.
Available: In addition to being affordable, pine is quite available. In fact, pine is often more available compared to cedar. In certain areas of the country, you may find pine to be the single best option because of its availability.
Durable: Pressure-treated pine will commonly last at least 8 to 10 years under normal outdoor conditions and often considerably longer. Proper maintenance can extend the life of a pine fence by several more years, even decades.
Resistance to Soil Erosion: Admittedly, some of the resistance to rot comes from pressure treatment. However, the heartwood of pine is naturally resistant to rot and will stand up to decay along with insect invasion for years when properly maintained.
In fact, treated pine is so resistant against soil that you’ll find many cedar fences using pine posts that have been pressure treated.
However, pine does have some issues that need to be fully considered before you make your decision. In some cases, pine may not be a viable option for your needs.
Disadvantages of Pressure Treated Lumber
Discoloration: Pressure-treated pickets that are stained offer a pleasing appearance. But without staining, the pine will have a not-so-pleasing greenish tint. It is true that the tint will fade over time, but most people will want to have the additional staining applied.
Warping: Pressure treated pine is more susceptible to warping and shrinking compared to cedar. This means that without the proper maintenance, pine will twist, buckle, and shrink at a far more rapid rate which means additional repairs or replacement will be needed.
Environmental Hazard: To help preserve the pine, a chemical is injected that might have toxic properties to the surrounding environment. Although leakage of the chemical is rather small, if the wood is burned, it becomes far more problematic.
Longevity: Treated pine is not bad when it comes to how long it lasts, but cedar tends to last considerably longer. That means even with a lower price and installation cost, pine may be more expensive in the long run. If you plan on staying in your home for decades, then cedar is going to be the more cost-effective option.
Maintenance: While both pine and cedar require annual maintenance, pine will require additional treatments to stay solid. This includes treatments and staining that add a much-needed layer of protection to minimize the damage caused by being exposed to the outdoor environment.
Go for treated pine, if the initial cost is a major factor. Choose cedar if you don’t mind spending an extra 30% for a better quality fence.
I would recommend going for galvanized steel posts and cedar pickets for a fence that will last for a long time.
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