How to Make Your Wood Fence Last
When properly cared for, a quality wood fence can last for decades, but without adequate maintenance it can quickly deteriorate, especially in the Pacific Northwest’s wet weather conditions. If you want a wood fence that can accompany you through the years while retaining its vitality and youthful appearance, take these key steps to get the most life out of your fence.
1. Use quality materials. Ensuring your fence’s long life span begins with the fencing materials you use to build it. Although cedar is the most popular Northwest material for wood fence panels, a cedar fence actually has two other important parts that require different types of wood. These include the posts and the supporting rails.
Posts: Structurally, the posts are the most important part of your fence. They hold the fence upright and anchor it in place on the ground. Because they’re in contact with the ground, wood fence posts require extra protection against moisture and rotting, which is why all fence posts should be constructed from pressure treated wood.
Rails: Rails are another structurally important element, as they hold the fence boards in place. Because they do not come in contact with the ground, they don’t need to be made from pressure treated wood; in fact, pressure treated wood rails tend to twist and cause problems. Cedar, on the other hand, is too soft to use for rails. Choose a harder wood, such as Hem-Fir.
2. Apply stain properly. Upon building your wood fence, let the wood set for at least a few days in warm, sunny weather to allow any moisture to evaporate before staining. This will help ensure the stain penetrates properly. If you built your fence in the winter, it’s acceptable to wait until spring to apply the first coat of stain.
After your fence is dry all the way through, then you can begin the process of staining. When applying the stain, you can use either a regular brush or a power sprayer. The power sprayer is useful for large-scale jobs, while the brush is handy for hammering out the fine details. The power sprayer should be fit with a tip that is compatible with stain, as stain is thinner than paint and doesn’t require the same amount of pressure.
3. Perform regular fence inspections. In order to extend the life of your wood fence as much as possible, it’s important to be proactive about addressing any problems or repairs. A good guideline is to check on your fence every time the seasons change, as well as after any major storms or long rains. Things to look for include:
— Broken boards, cracks, splinters, rotting wood and popped nails. Repair these as soon as possible to prevent them from growing into larger problems.
— Rotting posts. Grab the top of each post and try pushing it in all directions. A sturdy post shouldn’t budge.
— Knotholes, particularly at the end of winter. Fill these in promptly, as they can invite pests to move in.
— Pest infestations, especially termites. If action is not taken quickly, these can spread to your home.
— Leaves and other organic matter built up on rails or wedged between boards. Keep your fence free of such debris, which can accelerate rot.
— Dirt, mold or mildew. Remove these by hosing, pressure washing or scrubbing your fence.
— Tree branches hanging over your fence. Frozen branches can break off and damage your fence in the winter. Fall is a good time to trim back any encroaching branches.
— Grass or other plant matter around the bottom of your fence and on the concrete post supports. Keep grass trimmed back and keep the concrete supports clear of debris to avoid weakening and rot.
4. Reapply stain every few years. The actual time between stain applications can vary depending on the wood, the environmental conditions and the quality of the initial stain job. Re-stain your fence if you notice the color fade, the wood begin to crack or any other indication that the protection is waning.
If you follow these tips, then you’ll have a better chance of seeing your wood fence live out its full life span in excellent condition.
~Ben Anton, 2010