Here at Rocky Mountain Forest Products, we get asked a lot of questions about fences.
Yet, there is one question that most often comes our way – “What is the lifespan of a fence?” And that’s a loaded topic!
Fences Come and Fences Go
The fact of the matter is that fences take on a lot of wear and tear. While a fence is a beautiful addition to any property, it won’t last forever.
In particular, wood fences are known to depreciate. You can’t control the fact that wood ages. It cracks, splits, and warps, and in time, your fence will succumb to that natural aging process.
There is good news, though. There are a few components to your wood fence that you can control to help your fence last longer, including:
- the type of wood purchased to construct your fence
- the installation process used to build your fence
- the maintenance and upkeep that follows once your fence is complete
If you want your fence to last significantly longer than your everyday unkempt fence, then we suggest the following:
#1 Go With Premium Wood
Not all wood is created equal. You have softwoods and hardwoods. Certain types are more heavy and dense, while others are lightweight and less durable. Some woods are considered low quality and others are high quality.
At Rocky Mountain Forest Products, we offer three fence grades – premium, standard, and rustic. Yes, many homeowners instantly jump to the cost difference between these fence grades, and price is a reasonable concern. But, the long-term financial benefits of choosing a high-quality woord often surpass that original price tag.
For example, “checking” is an issue with low-grade wood. What is checking? Checking is a term used to describe when wood cracks and splits. Wood shrinks and swells based on its moisture content. When first cut, the outside surface can dry at a different pace than the inner wood. This uneven shrinkage is one way that checking occurs.
Rustic wood usually contains already-existing check marks, not to mention dry rot areas and knot holes. Premium wood is the highest quality wood generally made from thicker materials with very few aesthetic defects.
Why is this important for homeowners to understand?
The type of wood a fence is built with carries lasting effects. Split and cracked wood leads to broken boards. Broken boards lead to problems. Think along the lines of escaped animals, get-away children, lack of privacy, poor structural integrity, and HOA fines.
Also, wood that is not in tip-top shape will not survive heavy storms. Strong fence boards withstand potential weather-related damage, while cracked slats don’t stand a chance.
#2 Verify the Wood is Seasoned
Remember that drying out process that results in checking? Unseasoned wood has yet to go through those growing pains.
Let’s say you are in love with the look of unseasoned wood and decide to install a fence using it. You should be aware that the appearance of your fence will change over time. Seasoned wood does not look like unseasoned wood.
Newly cut wood contains a significant amount of water. That water will eventually dry out, and when your wood loses its moisture content, the cracks and splits will appear.
Seasoned wood is wood that has been there, done that. If you build your fence with fully seasoned wood, the wood is more stable. It actually can resist further warping or shrinking.
#3 Install Your Fence Properly
You can go through all the right steps to purchase premium wood that is seasoned, but then destroy your fence with poor installation methods. Nails can split wood, and although screws are the better option, a screw can do some damage as well.
Your best bet to preserve your wood and avoid cracking is to pre-drill holes. Do not force nails or screws into your fence.
Thicker wood (a.k.a. premium wood) tolerates nails and screws better than standard or rustic wood. If you must use nails, use blunt nails instead of pointed nails to reduce the chance of splitting your fence boards.
In addition, be aware of where you place those fasteners. Do not place a screw or nail too close to the edge of a board.
Bonus Tip: While this might be pointing out the obvious, please remember to maintain your fence once you complete these three steps. A coat of stain and sealant are 100% necessary to prolong the life of your fence and avoid premature cracking and splitting
Cracked Wood = Problematic Wood
Cut wood ages and there is no way around that. It’s what you do before building your fence, during the installation process, and after the fence is complete that really matters.
Wood begins to break down for a number of reasons. Moisture rot, insect infestations, fungal overgrowth, sun exposure, weather-related damage, wood type, and natural causes can all impact the overall quality of fencing pickets.
When you maintain the condition of your wood and upkeep the integrity of your fence, you end up controlling (in a roundabout way) how fast your wood fence declines.
Want to learn more about how to slow down the aging process of your wood fence?