So you finally decided to pull the
trigger on your new fence. You did the research and found the best
fence product for your application and price range. Because you want
this fence to reflect the level of investment you have in your home,
you bought a top quality, American made fence. But what's holding it
Whether you chose ornamental
aluminum, or steel, or even chain link, wood or vinyl, all those
components have to be held together with something. All of the
fasteners, brackets, post caps and gate hardware added together
represent just 10% or less of the value of all the materials used in
the fence. Did you know that these components are also the ones most
likely to be imported in bulk from overseas?
Why does that matter? Common opinion
holds that American products cost more than imports because of labor
costs. The fact is that American labor is more expensive per hour
than labor obtained overseas. Another fact is that the American
labor used in manufacturing these items is much more efficient and
has a much lower rate of substandard parts than those from overseas. In the U.S., the cost of labor per unit is actually lower on many items.
So why are imports so much less
expensive to buy? That's a great question. Especially when you
factor in the cost of shipping all that distance. There are several
factors that factor into the price difference.
First, the imported parts are made to
lower quality standards than most American made parts, resulting in
more rejected parts, (which the contractor had to pay for, and you
can be certain that price is passed along to you), and shorter usable
life spans for those components due to incomplete parts and poor fit
Second, the imports are made of inferior materials. In
some cases the total amount of material that goes into an imported
part may be as much as 30-35% less than an American made part.
Third, and possibly most
importantly, quality American made parts often carry Manufacturers
Liability Insurance. Most importers in the states don't carry this insurance, and neither
do their suppliers. Most people think that the insurance is to
protect the manufacturers, but actually, it protects everyone in the
chain, from the factory, to the installer and end user from damages
resulting from product failure. Imports typically don't offer that
level of service and protection. They instead count on you not
Keep in mind also that American
manufacturers are involved members of communities. They contribute
far more than just a good post cap or fence bracket. They
participate in local service projects, the jobs they provide support
families, and they are tax paying members of the country you call
home. So while the price might initially look higher, consider the
cost of not using American made accessories to assemble your fence,
and demand the best. In most cases, the cost of owning a fence that
is 100% American made will be far lower than that of one using
I've written a lot on this blog about
why you should buy American made, but what if you are in the position
to sell American made products? Is it worth the trouble to
source American made products? Aren't they more expensive and
therefore harder to sell?
Apparently not, according to this
in Consumer Reports. It
seems that American retailers are slowly coming to the realization
that their customers are most concerned about price when they believe
they are buying inferior quality. When offered an American
alternative, an overwhelming majority of customers are ready to shell
out significantly more money. And that's not just in America! Even
among Chinese consumers, over 60% would rather buy American goods.
So what is
stopping you from taking advantage of the increased market share you
can win by offering American made products? Think about it. Even if
you pay slightly more for an American alternative to supply your
customers' needs, your margin is computed from that higher base, so
you are earning more real cash per transaction, and your customer is
looking for you,
because you care enough to offer what your competitor
Does your supplier pee on your leg,
then tell you its warm rain? Or, to put it more delicately, are you
getting everything you're paying for when you buy fence materials?
Chances are, unless you know your supplier and check each delivery,
what you get is what you get.
The easiest way for anyone to get your
business is to offer you a “better price”. I won't go into that
loaded term here, but let's just assume for now that means a lower
price per unit. There are a couple of ways for a supplier to do
that. One, is to buy in such large quantities that they can save
money on the unit cost, as most manufacturers and distributors offer
quantity discounts. This is unattractive to all but the very largest
of companies because of the high cost of storing and paying for
inventory. Most companies trying to drive down unit price do so by
seeking out a supplier that offers a lower price per unit for the
parts they need.
To do that, the supplier must remove
something from the product.
It takes a measurable amount of material
costs and labor costs to manufacture anything, along with
transportation cost to get it to the end user. To reduce the unit
price, one must reduce either the cost of labor, i.e. “outsource”,
or the cost of materials, or the cost of transportation. In the age
of spiralling fuel costs, cheaper transportation is very scarce, and
the cost of transportation is largely out of the control of the
supplier. Labor can be found elsewhere, much cheaper than in the U.S., but that
usually means additional transportation costs. Recent increases in
the relative wages in common outsource supply countries has led to a
closing gap in the cost of goods sourced in Asia when compared to
American made goods.
This leaves only material costs as a
means of controlling unit price. Many manufacturers are succumbing to
the pressure to drive down unit price by reducing the amount and the
quality of the raw materials they use. The alternative is to
continue making top quality products at reasonable prices to compete
with the poor quality, lower priced alternatives being dumped on the
Unfortunately, for most contractors,
the alternatives are to buy poor quality, and hope the check clears
before the product fails, or try to figure out how to win a bid
against someone selling lower priced, (inferior) products. The key
is to help the customer see that by buying lower price, he is getting
lower quality, and will not be satisfied for long. It can be a
difficult sell, but Bill Gates didn't get rich clipping coupons.
The key is to teach the customer that though a component looks like
the one you are selling, it will not perform the same.
No one likes to spend too much money
for what they buy, and saving fifty dollars today and finding out
that you'll pay hundreds to repair the problems caused by the poor
quality component that you saved money on is absolutely painful.
Insist on getting what you pay for, and be ready to pay a fair price
for quality, or prepare to pay for a lot of broken promises.
the last post I pointed out that the wheel under a gate could be
eliminated if the gate were built rigid enough to support itself.
'So what', you say? There are probably millions of gates out there
with a wheel under the swing end. In this post we'll look at some of
the reasons that may not be the best way to build a gate.
than looking at gates with wheels and why they are built that way,
let's look at sound gates and how they are made so they don't need
wheels. No matter what material is used to build a gate, there are
certain principles of physics that apply to all gates and will affect
how they should be designed.
is a lot of opinion about bracing on gates, and most of it is based
on anecdotal evidence. You will often hear a gate builder say
something like, “The man who taught me this business has forgotten
more about fence than most other guys know, and he said do it this
That's great, as long as he forgot all that fence stuff
he taught you! All kidding aside, it is a truth in life that the
worst reason to do something in a particular way is that it has
always been done that way. There should be sound reasons behind what
we do, not just tradition backed by emotion. Henry Ford's dad taught
him to hitch a horse to a wagon to move stuff on the farm.
Fortunately, Henry didn't let that stop him from building something
order for a gate to be strong and long lasting, it needs to be rigid. Flex in the system will tend to loosen the connections between
components of the gate, and as this looseness grows, the gate gets
weaker and starts to sag and flex and even lay over. Often it is at
this point that a wheel is added to keep the leading corner from
dragging. This is not a solution. If I break my leg, the doctor can
give me a crutch, and I can get around. If he doesn't set the bone
and cast it so it can heal, (be rigid again), I'll use that crutch
the rest of my life, and the longer I do, the more I wear out my
shoulder, and the other joints in my body because I'm compensating
for the weak leg.
the next post we will look at the geometry of a gate and how proper
bracing makes a gate stronger, and improper bracing just makes it
The question is, “How do
I hang a heavy gate”? The answer starts long before that in the
design phase of the job. Simply put, the farther apart you can place
your two hinges, the stronger the overall system will be. This means
designing a gate with hinge points as close to the top and bottom of
the gate as possible.
Whether you are building
the gate from scratch, or you already have the gate, once you know
the distance between the hinges, the next factor in the equation is
the width of the gate. How big is the opening? With these two
numbers, and the overall weight of the gate, it is possible to
compute how much rotational force, or “moment” the gate produces.
This is the force that destroys hinge systems. Choosing a hinge
designed to carry a given “moment” is crucial to making a strong
The wider the opening, the
longer the gate, and the greater the leverage exerted by the gate on
the hinge, and the gate post. Spreading that leverage over a larger
hinge distance lessens it's overall impact on the system.
I only know of one
manufacturer that rates hinges using these calculations. You can
find their “Proportional Load Charts” by registering at their
and downloading their 2013 Catalog.
I started this installment
with the statement that the farther apart your hinges are, the
stronger the gate system will be. There are several ways to optimize
this distance. For ornamental gates, gusseted corners can help
support that weight. Never place a hinge in an unsupported area of
the upright, as it will flex under load. For wood gates, consider
placing hinges where top and bottom rails of the gate meet the
upright. Chain link can offer some interesting variations. In
industrial and commercial applications, one way to gain strength for
gates on very wide openings is to build an “extension”. Extend
your gate post above the fence line to the distance you want to gain
between hinges, then extend the gate upright to the same height,
bracing it to the top rail with a brace at no more than 45 degrees,
If you look closely at this gate, you can see that it is almost as described. The gate builder has added an extension to the top of the gate to gain strength. Unfortunately, he is not taking advantage of this height. He has kept the top hinge just below the top horizontal rail of his gate. It would be a much stronger system if the top hinge were at the top of the extension. The other flaw in this design is that the angle brace comes down at an angle greater than 45 degrees, which prevents taking advantage of it's strength to keep the gate rigid. Notice the addition of a wheel at the bottom of the gate. It could be eliminated, and the gate would be much stronger, if the top angle brace were attached to the top horizontal rail of the gate at the point where the lower angle braces meet in the center of the gate. But that's a topic for the next post!