Wood is a natural material that absorbs moisture from the air. When wood becomes saturated and stays that way, it can quickly become soft and rotten. Rotten wooden fences must be replaced, or they can become dangerous.
Eventually, all wooden fences succumb to exposure to the elements. However, the service life of a wooden fence can be extended with proper maintenance and care, especially if the structure is constructed from good, rot-resistant wood.
How Long Wooden Fences Last
The most rot-resistant tree species, including cedar and redwood, can last about 20 years. Spores that cause wood to rot do not infect wood unless the moisture content rises above 28%. When the moisture content of the wood drops below 22%, the fungus spores go dormant. They reactivate if the moisture content rises again.
Not all species and types of wood perform well in high-moisture environments. Heartwood from old-growth trees is best, but heartwood is now rare and expensive. Most wooden structures and materials are made from sapwood, which easily absorbs moisture.
How to Make Your Wooden Fence Last Longer
Wooden fences can be treated to resist moisture. There are multiple ways to treat your wood fence. Some homeowners use stain, others seal it with paint. Stain can last anywhere from 1 to 8 years, depending on how opaque the stain is. Transparent stain lasts a short time, while an opaque stain lasts longer.
Paint lasts up to 10 years if it is properly applied and the right type of paint is used. It’s important to apply high-quality exterior-grade paint. Lesser quality paints and interior-grade paints will not last as long.
How to Know When It’s Time to Re-Seal Your Fence
Read the manufacturer’s instructions when coating your fence the first time. The stain or paint manufacturer may indicate on the can how long the product can be expected to last. Make a point to re-seal or repaint the fence before the sealer is expected to wear down.
After painting your fence, inspect it periodically. Look for cracks, bubbles in the paint, peeling areas, and places where the bare wood shows through. If your fence was recently painted and the bare spots are minimal, treat problem areas with touch up paint. If your fence was painted or stained a long time ago, and there are many areas in need of touch-ups, then it’s time to re-paint.
If the paint job on your fence fails prematurely (within a couple years of the application), this could be a sign that the paint was applied incorrectly. Maybe the wrong type of paint was applied, or the fence was painted while the wood was wet – either way, you’ll need to paint the fence again.
You’ll be able to tell when your stained fence needs to be re-stained because the wood will start to absorb water when it gets wet. Try this test: put a teaspoon of water on a dry, flat part of the fence (example: the top rail). If the water sits beaded on top of the wood without being absorbed, the stain is still in good condition. If the water is absorbed into the wood, the fence needs a new coat of sealer. Stained fences also start to fade or lose their sheen when they’re ready to be re-stained.
Protect Your Fence With Periodic Cleaning
In addition to periodic re-staining or re-painting, another way to extend the service life of your wooden fence is to clean it periodically. Mud, moss, mold, and fungus on the surface of your fence can trap water against the finish, causing the sealer to fail. Cleaning your fence to remove moss and dirt can protect the wood and lengthen the service life of your fence.
To clean your fence, use a sponge or a gentle scrub brush and 1 gallon water mixed with 1 cup oxygen bleach. Do not use chlorine bleach, as this may kill grass or landscaping around the fence.
Signs You Need a New Fence
Wood is durable and long-lasting, but it doesn’t last forever. Even the best maintained wooden fence will eventually need to be replaced. Here’s what to watch for.
Poke your fence with a sharp tool like an awl or a screwdriver. If the tool can be sunk into the wood, then it’s rotten. The wood should feel firm and hard when you poke it.
Splintering Wood Near Earth
Fences usually rot around the ground first. Inspect the pickets and posts in the areas closest to the ground. Look for splintering, splitting, soft or jagged wood. This is a sign that wood rot has infected the fence.
Fence is More Than 20 Years Old
After about 20 years, wood that is constantly exposed to the elements can become brittle and dry. You do not need to replace a fence that is performing perfectly even if it is more than 20 years old, but around this age, many fences start to fail. Start budgeting for a fence replacement when your fence is about two decades old.
Need New Fence Installation? Contact A Reputable Fence Company
Is it time to replace your wood fence? Fence Outlet sells beautiful, durable fencing solutions. We sell fencing products like Fence in a Box, made for easy installation and long-lasting performance. Contact us to order your replacement fence today.