Fence Pickets Vs. Panels: What is Better?


If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to be doing over multiple weekends is building a new fence. My grandfather taught me that building a fence picket by picket is the best way to build a fence, rather than using “poorly made” pre-made fence panels. Is building a fence with individual pickets better than building a fence with pre-made fence panels?

Most people building their own fence should use pre-made fence panels due to the ease of installation and time saved; especially when building a vinyl fence. However, if the yard is sloped or there are outdoor pets, the fence should be built using individual pickets instead.

Fence panels are indeed a great way to save time, but seeing as they are not always the answer, let’s explore the differences between pre-made fence panels and fence pickets to see where pickets are indeed a better choice.

What is the Difference Between Fence Panels and Pickets?

Fence pickets and pre-made fence panels are more alike than you might think. The debate here is less of a battle between materials, and more of a battle of whether building a fence from scratch is better than building one with pre-made pieces.

Fence panels are pre-built sections of fence pickets, whereas fence pickets are the individual picket. Building a fence with fence pickets involves building the entire fence from scratch, whereas building with panels involves merely installing the various sections of the fence.

What are Fence Panels?

Pre-made fence panels, or just fence panels, are sections of fence that have been prebuilt. Building a fence with fence panels, then, means that rather than having to set the posts, setup the braces, and install each individual picket (or more depending on the fence being built), all that needs to be done is set the posts and install the pre-built sections of fence.

Unfortunately, going to Home Depot or Lowes and buying their pre-made fence panels is not a great idea if you are looking for a quality fence. Built with thin, cheap wood and installed with staples rather than nails or, better yet, screws, their pre-made panels are definitely not built to last.

When buying fence panels, make sure that you buy from a lumber company or fencing company to ensure the best quality for the price.

By buying straight from a lumber company or fencing company, the fence panels will be of high-quality and properly built. Additionally, buying fence panels from them will guarantee that your fence pickets are all high quality and properly and equally sized.

Why are Fence Panels Typically Better than Pickets?

One of the greatest advantages that fence panels have over fence pickets is the ease of use. It is drastically easier to build a fence with fence panels than it is to build one from scratch, just by principle alone. The fewer pieces that have to be managed, the easier a task is.

Building a fence with fence panels also significantly reduces the amount of time that it takes to build a fence. Seeing as the sections of the fence are prebuilt, time does not need to be spent installing each individual picket perfectly.

What would normally potentially take multiple weekends to build can be built in a single weekend, or even a single day. This can’t be stressed enough. If you are someone that heavily values your time and doesn’t get a kick out of building things from scratch, fence panels are definitely going to be a blessing in your life.

However, if you are building your fence alone, fence panels will be more trouble than they are worth. Fence panels are heavy and awkward to lift; let alone install on your own. Having one or two others to help install the fence is basically a must when building with fence panels.

Luckily, buying fence panels costs around the same as building the fence from scratch. Of course, you can spend much more when building a fence from scratch. Having infinite possibilities and options is not always the best for your checkbook. Generally, however, the cost will be about the same.

Fence panels are also about as sturdy as building a normal fence from scratch, that is so long as you got your panels from somewhere other than a retail hardware store.

Building a fence from scratch does enable you to build a sturdier fence if you need it, but most people don’t need that level of sturdiness.

Should I Use Fence Panels or Pickets for a Sloped Yard?

Most yards have some degree of natural slope or incline. The incline of a yard can cause some interesting problems when building a fence with panels.

Even if the yard doesn’t seem to have a steep incline, after the fence has been built, you might be surprised to discover some larger than normal gaps between the fence and the ground where the yard slope really manifests itself.

Fence panels are not very adaptable when it comes to dealing with sloped yards or areas.

Due to their prebuilt and unchanging nature, fence panels are not good to use for heavily or moderately sloped areas. Even with a yard that looks flat, fence panels could potentially cause gaps. You definitely don’t want random animals entering your yard from gaps in the fence.

All is not lost, though! Customizability is where building the fence from scratch with fence pickets really shines. Fence panels are restricted to what you get in the panel you buy.

With wooden fences built from scratch, the possibilities are quite endless.

Every contractor I know prefers to build fences from scratch rather than use panels. The ability to build the fence not only how they like to, but exactly how the customer wants it, is a valuable thing to be able to do.

Additionally, it allows for the contractor to be able to ensure they build a quality fence without gaps or spaces.

Building a fence from scratch allows it to be conformed to the slope of the area. With a fence built to the individual angles and slopes of the area, unseemly gaps will vanish.

When hiring a fencing company or contractor to build a fence for you, it is a good idea to request them to build the fence from scratch if you know you have a fairly sloped yard to make sure you don’t have any unseemly gaps.

It may end up being more expensive, as it will take more time to complete, but it could end up saving you grief later if they decide to just use panels and you have gaps that you have to solve yourself.

Is it Better to Use Fence Panels or Pickets If I Have Outdoor Pets?

Gaps under the fence and outdoor pets go about as well together like oil and water. No one wants to come home and find that their dog has escaped through the gap between the fence and yard. Likewise, no one wants their dog to easily be able to dig a tiny little hole to make it through the fence.

As we discussed in the previous section, fence panels can leave gaps that pets can easily fit through, whether naturally or by excavating. Even in a yard that doesn’t seem like it has any slope, gaps can still form.

Having the fence built from scratch allows for a variety of options to combat the escape plans of your precious animals:

  • Conforming the fence to the slope of the yard to prevent large gaps from forming.
  • Allowing for a completely gapless yard by utilizing what’s known as a gravel board.
  • In circumstances of pets with extreme digging tendencies, you could even pour a complete foundation of concrete for your fence to prevent their escape by a tunnel.
  • Anything that fits the individual circumstances of your yard.

Pets are wonderful additions to our families and lives. Should you be concerned about building a fence by scratch by yourself, hiring a fencing company could definitely be worth the time they save you.

Are Fence Panels or Pickets Better For Building A Vinyl Fence?

So far, we have covered the ins and outs of building wooden fences with fence panels and with pickets. However, vinyl fences also have the option to be built by picket or by panel.

Unless you are someone with extreme D.I.Y. talent, vinyl fences should generally be built by the panel rather than by picket. Vinyl fences are just really complicated to build from scratch by individual pickets if you can even find individual pickets to buy.

The benefits you get from building a wooden fence from scratch, while still carrying over to vinyl fences, are just not worth the effort and time it takes to build a vinyl fence by picket.

Vinyl fences are also not nearly as customizable as wooden fences are.

Hopefully, this article has helped you decide whether fence panels or building from scratch are the better option for you. Whichever option you decide to go with, we hope it will last you for years to come.

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