Is a Top Rail Necessary for a Chain Link Fence?


Chain link fences are a very practical option for a fence, and their many components play very important roles. But if you are thinking of leaving the top rail off, you need to know this.

Installing a top rail on a chain link fence isn’t necessary, but it is encouraged. Including one helps keep the integrity of the fence and extends the life of it far longer than if the rail is not installed.

Why Have a Top Rail?

Imagine a sheet of chain link fence material: it’s typically very pliable and can bend easily, especially over time. By itself, it’s easily manipulated and can cause fence failure in the future.

Adding a top rail on a chain link fence is important because it:

  • improves longevity and integrity of the fence
  • easier to add a privacy screen
  • looks more professional

Longevity and Integrity

This is a huge reason for wanting to install a top rail on your chain link fence. Among other things, a top rail helps strengthen the chain link mesh.

Climbing a chain link fence is fairly easy, but can damage the fence after several attempts at climbing. Especially at the top of the fence, the mesh loses its integrity due to the weight and pressure that climbing the fence puts on it.

If you install a top fence rail to the chain link fence, however, the integrity of the fence stays intact because it takes the force of the climbers. This ensures less damage done to the top of the chain link mesh and extends the life of the fence as a whole.

So if you have kids who hop fences in your neighborhood, or a dog that jumps on the fence, a top rail becomes a must.

Gravity and weather also affect the integrity of the fence. Over time, wind can rock the fence back and forth. That constant movement can end up making the chain link mesh sag and start to collapse.

Gravity does the same thing: it can cause the fence to sag over time, especially in the middle causing eventual failure.

Having a top rail installed helps alleviate this specific issue and also extends the life of the fence as a whole.

Add a Privacy Screen

Along with a top rail helping to keep the integrity of the fence, it also has other added benefits.

If you have installed a top rail to your chain link fence, it makes it easier to add a privacy screen or mesh to the fence because it, as a whole, is more stable and able to resist wind gusts better.

It Looks Better

Along with privacy and stability, a top rail adds a finished look to the chain link fence. The side posts of a chain link are meant to have a top rail attached to them.

So, rather than leaving the top of the fence raw, when you add a top rail, it looks a bit more professional and well-done.

It’s also easier to add gates to your chain link fence if you decide to install a top rail. Because installing a gate requires there to be a gap in the mesh sections, having a top rail will secure the sections on either side of the gate.

And, chain link gates will almost always have a top rail. So, in order for the gate and the rest of the fence to match, a top rail is necessary.

How to Install a Top Rail

There are many steps that need to be taken before the top rail of the fence can be installed: make sure you know where all the underground lines are, where you property line are, and how far apart you want the poles to be.

Proper planning also requires you to know:

  • How many poles you need
  • How much chain link mesh you need
  • How many brace bands, tension bands, and tension wire you need
  • How many top rails you need
  • How much concrete you need to set the poles
  • Whether you want metal ties or zip ties to attach the top rails
  • Where you want to a gate installed (if you want a gate, at all)

A good how-to video of the whole step-by-step installation process can be found on YouTube. This particular one is provided by Lowe’s and is very well done.

Once the poles are evenly spaced and set in the ground with concrete, place the hardware: a brace band on the bottom, tension bands, and another brace band on the top with a rail cup attached. To finish the poles, place a top cap.

Make sure you alternate the cups on the brace bands on each post for the rails. Once all the bands are placed, and the mesh is installed, slide the top rails into the rail cups on each pole.

After the top rails are installed into the rail cups, attach the mesh to the top rails with either zip ties, or metal ties. This keeps the mesh flush to the top rails and strengthens the mesh section of the fence.

What Happens if
You Don’t Have a Top Rail?

As mentioned above, there are many benefits to having a top rail on the chain link fence. And, benefits always come with some cons. There are a few downfalls to not installing a top rail on a chain link fence, but there is one that trumps all others.

The main con and the number one issue to not having a top rail installed is the inevitable sagging.

Chain link mesh is pretty pliable and isn’t very sturdy, by itself. Because of this, weather, gravity, and constant climbing can affect the integrity and longevity of the chain link mesh, thus causing it to sag.

Usually, sagging will first start to happen in the center of the fence, then the sides of the fence will follow. If the top rail is installed, this keeps the chain link sturdy and prevents any sagging, therefore extending the overall life of the fence.

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