They say that good fences make good neighbors, and it’s true. The fence around your yard defines your space in the world. It keeps your pets and children from wandering. It provides privacy for you when you are enjoying the outdoors or grilling on the deck with friends and family. It can also add to the aesthetic of your home and the neighborhood when it is well-maintained.
Wind, rain, pests, and sun can take a toll your fence. Over time these natural elements break down the wood and cause the paint to peel. Every fence will need repairs at one point or another. A little preventative maintenance combined with knowing when and how to solve the common problems with your fence is key to making it last.
Although they come in many different styles, at the core, most wooden fences are the same. They are simple structures composed mainly of vertical posts, horizontal rails and the hardware that holds them together. On these rails hang the rest of the fencing pickets. If the underlying structure of the fence starts to break down, it may cause weaknesses to develop in surrounding panels. You should inspect your fence annually for signs of discoloration or warping. Correcting these problems when you first notice them can help to prevent more significant problems later.
Common Fence Problems
- Pests – One of the first places to look for problems is the base of the fence. Pickets or posts that meet the ground are often the first to be affected by wood-eating pests such as termites or other beetles. Check for signs that these pests are destroying the wood. You may need to call an exterminator out to inspect the rest of your property if you find evidence of termites.
- Rot – Look in places where vegetation touches or leans up against the fence for signs of moisture damage. Plants and soil can hold water up against the pickets or posts, causing it to soak into the wood. Vines climbing on a fence, in particular, can cause this problem. Trimming back plants against the fence line can help protect the fence from excess moisture.
- Loose or missing hardware – The integrity of the fence depends on the screws and nails that hold the boards together. Exposed to the elements, this hardware can begin popping out or can become rusty. The result is loose pickets or even whole panels if the rails become detached from the post. These connections should be tightened, and rusted components replaced regularly.
- Sagging posts – There are many reasons why a fence post may start to sag. It may be that the soil around the post has shifted and pushed it in a different direction. The weight of the gate pulling on a post repeatedly may cause it to lean. A post may move to one side under the weight of a fence panel that is too long. The fixes for a leaning post are as varied as the causes. Often, the post will need to be replaced to provide a strong vertical anchor for the fence.
- Warped or splintered boards – With exposure to the outdoors, the wooden boards in a fence will twist and bend. These boards should be replaced with new boards and then painted or stained to match the rest of the fence.
Many of the problems associated with fences are not complicated to fix, nor do they require special tools. Many homeowners are capable of tightening and replacing hardware or swapping out a warped board for a new one. However, other fence projects are much more labor-intensive and time-consuming, such as that of replacing a decaying post. Posts are usually encased in concrete and sunk deep in the ground. It can be a lot of work to dig one out.
When to Call a Professional
Before you call someone to fix your fence, check to see if it is still under warranty. Many companies guarantee their fence against common problems for a period after it is built.
If you don’t have a warranty and the structure of your fence is compromised, you may want to consult with a professional about the best way to fix it. Your fence may need extensive repairs or replacement in the following situations:
- If more than 20% of the boards in your fence need replacement.
- If your fence was damaged by a vehicle or a tree.
- If you see substantial damage to the fence by pests.
- If the wood in your fence is nearing or beyond the life expectancy for that type of wood (4-7 years for spruce, 5-12 years for pine, 20-30 years for cedar fencing, 15-20 years for pressure-treated wood, though that diminishes to 8 years in arid or desert climate like Colorado).
Fixing small problems as they arise and sealing the wood will help the fence to last longer and look better, too. You don’t have to wait until the fence falls over to replace it. If the maintenance of a wood fence is more work than you care to do, there are other durable fence materials from which to choose. Vinyl and composite materials like Trex wood are popular options that maintain their appeal from year to year.