A wood fence serves many functions: it creates privacy, increases security, delineates property lines and adds aesthetic beauty to a property. However, even the best wood fences don’t last forever, which is why homeowners should learn about the basics of fence replacement and maintenance. We asked three Diamond Certified Expert Contributors in the fencing industry to share their insights on this topic.
Knowing When to Replace Your Fence
While it’s often possible to repair a failing fence, in some cases it makes more sense to just replace it. Ona Hennessey of Hennessey’s Construction and Fence says there are a few indicators of the latter scenario. “If your fence is leaning, it typically means one of the posts is broken. Unfortunately, once one post goes out, it starts a chain reaction that causes them all to start failing. Additionally, when boards and other components start falling off of your fence, its stability and security become compromised. At this point, replacement is usually the most practical option.”
Ms. Hennessey says another indicator that it’s time for a fence replacement is if you’ve already paid for several fence repairs. “The cost of continual fence repairs adds up over time. At a certain point, it become more cost-effective to replace the fence instead of continuing to pay for repairs.”
Choosing Wood Fence Materials
Buying cheap fence materials may save you money in the short term, but it could end up costing you more if your fence fails prematurely. That’s why it’s wise to choose lumber that’s designed to last. When it comes to wood fencing, redwood is far and away the most popular lumber choice, and for good reason—not only is it beautiful to look at, it naturally repels harmful insects and resists rot. However, few consumers realize that redwood lumber comes in a wide variety of grades. For this reason, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting when choosing a redwood product for your new fence.
Julian Meza of Meza’s Fence breaks down the hierarchy of redwood grades into their most basic form. “Grades designated as ‘heart,’ such as Construction Heart, are sourced from heartwood, which is the inner part of the tree,” he explains. “Grades designated as ‘common,’ such as Construction Common, are sourced from sapwood, which is the living outer layer of the tree. In general, the higher redwood grades contain fewer and smaller knots, and they also tend to be more consistent in color.”
Due to the variety of redwood grades available, Mr. Meza recommends discussing them in detail with your fence contractor. He also advises verifying that your contractor’s proposal specifies the wood products to be used on your fencing project.
To learn more about redwood lumber grades, watch this video presentation by Mr. Meza.
Fence Installation Tips
Choosing lumber is the first of many steps involved in installing a new wood fence. Mr. Meza offers a couple of additional recommendations for ensuring a quality final product.
- Insist on a better fastener. When building a fence, some contractors use nails while others use staples. However, since staples are smooth and thin, they’re more likely to come loose, especially as the wood contracts and expands in season. In contrast, galvanized nails provide a better grip and maintain a stronger bond between the wood materials.
- Make sure post concrete is above soil level. When pouring concrete for the fence posts, make sure it comes up above soil level. This will keep dirt off of the posts and protect them from erosion. Ideally, post concrete should be formed in the shape of a hill to ensure water runs off the concrete instead of pooling.
Maintaining Your Wood Fence
The amount of maintenance a wood fence requires depends on a couple of factors, including the type of wood it’s made of and the homeowner’s aesthetic preferences. While woods like cedar need to be recurrently stained or painted to protect against moisture, Bob Easley of California Fencing says this isn’t the case with redwood. “Homeowners often assume they need to stain their redwood fences, but this is purely an aesthetic choice—it doesn’t actually help preserve the wood. The natural tannin contained in redwood enables it to resist the effects of weather, moisture and insects without the aid of sealants. Unstained redwood will eventually fade to an attractive gray, but its structural integrity will remain long after this occurs.” For those who choose to stain their redwood fences for aesthetic reasons, Mr. Easley recommends restaining every five years to maintain the desired coloration.
Mr. Easley has one final piece of advice for maintaining your wood fence. “If you have lawn sprinklers, make sure your fence isn’t in their line of fire,” he cautions. “Continuous exposure to sprinkler spray can cause fence boards to rot and fail prematurely, so adjust your sprinklers’ trajectory if needed.”