Fences are great for keeping kids and pets in, unwanted creatures out, and lending privacy and intimacy to your outdoor space, but they’re not immortal. The elements can take their toll on fences, but fortunately, regular maintenance on your part can protect your fence and make it last longer. We asked experts to share tips for maintaining wood fences over time. Here’s what they had to say.
I know everyone thinks staining is the best way to protect a fence, but paint is a much better product to use on a wooden fence. First, you’ll want to use latex or acrylic paint. These paints are much more UV-stable than stain or oil-based paint. They will protect the fence from chronic UV exposure, which is one of the leading causes of premature fence deterioration.
It’s best to maintain your fence every 2-3 years. Check it for signs of rot or warping and replace boards that are affected. Once any deformities or weak points are dealt with, pressure wash the fence. You can rent a pressure washer from many places these days, and it’s pretty easy to use, though it might seem intimidating at first. Just go in slow using continuous strokes, top to bottom, then back up.
Pressure washing obviously removes dirt and grime, but it can also kill anything beginning to grow on the wood that may cause rot down the line. Of course, you’ll want to do this on a sunny day so it dries well, and then I highly recommend repainting and sealing the fence afterward. This will give you the absolute best mileage out of your fence, and it only requires setting aside an afternoon or two, depending on the size of the fence.
Pressure washer, paint or stain
The fence is no different than any other wooden structure on your property. Regular cleaning is always a good idea. I recommend yearly cleaning with a pressure washer, followed by a new coat of paint or stain.
In cleaning the fence, did you notice any places where the paint or stain had worn away? Do some spot checking to check for soft areas in the wood, or loose boards. Small soft spots can quickly grow so make minor repairs quickly.
Do you have a sprinkler system? Check the trajectory of the water and make adjustments if your sprinkler is hitting your fence. This can cause water damage over time that is totally preventable.
Apply a wood preservative
To extend the life of a wood fence, mound the ground up around the posts. Pooling water rots pressure treated and cedar posts, causing them to fail. Apply a wood preservative to the posts from the ground up to further prevent decay.
My first fence experience [with this] was assisting a friend to replace a privacy barrier a builder had put up five years previous. We’ve all seen something similar. Sections were sagging, and some had fallen over. The fence panels were still good, but the posts had failed. Water had pooled in the depressions around the base of the posts causing rot to set in. Posts in mounded post holes don’t deteriorate, remain strong, and extend the fence life.
It is also important to stain or seal all surfaces of the fence. Clean the surfaces first, and only use quality wood sealer or stain. Don’t be cheap, or the results will be cheap. Reapply the stain or sealer when needed, every 2 to 5 years. Most fences only get protected on one face, leaving the unprotected side exposed to the elements and causing boards to twist, cup, split, and rot.
Fences between neighbors should be treated on both sides, too. I’ve found most people are willing to let you on their property to clean and stain or seal the fence. Communication is the key to cooperation in extending the life of a shared fence. Their side doesn’t have to be the same tint or color, but it needs to be protected.
If you have underground sprinklers, make sure they are adjusted to not hit the fence. Having water hitting the same spots of the fence every day will make those spots fade and weaken. If the sprinklers can avoid directly spraying the fence, the fence will wear more evenly and last longer.
Periodically – every four years, or so – power washing the fence will remove dirt and moss that gets into tiny cracks and holes and makes the flaws worse. After washing, resealing will provide a fresh layer of protection.
• Protect immediately: As soon as a wooden fence is installed, the elements start taking their toll. Don’t wait a season or two before you spray and seal your fence. Do it immediately. This will protect both the look and structural integrity of the fence.
• Be aware of how you’re washing the fence: Traditional power washing can actually gouge out the wood. Use a gentler method and a cleaning solution to get rid of mold and dirt.
• Consider painting the wooden fence: Paint can protect the wood from UV damage, and specific types of paint can ward off mold and microbes.
• Regular maintenance is less costly than regular replacement. Continue to seal your fence according to the recommended cadence, depending on the type of sealant you use.
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