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Anatomy of a Long-Lasting Wood FenceNovember 10th, 2017 by
One of the most popular materials for fences, wood is favored for its traditional aesthetic, versatility, and economy. Beyond adding beauty and value to a property, installing a wooden fence has several functional advantages: fences provide privacy, containment for children and pets, and an extra layer of security as theft deterrent.
However, wood fences are less durable than other common fence types and require the most maintenance. Susceptible to rot, warping, cracking, and termite damage, the lifespan of any wooden structure is relatively limited, especially in regions with wet climates.
Its shortcomings notwithstanding, many homeowners choose wood for its aesthetic value, and a quality installation can last up to 20 years—if it isn’t neglected. To ensure the longevity of a wood fence, the fence must be installed correctly using quality materials and maintained regularly.
Keep reading to learn the basics of building and preserving a good-looking, long-lasting wooden fence to define and beautify your property for years to come.
Wood Fencing Installation
How to set a fence post
Whether you plan to install a fence yourself or hire a fencing professional, understanding proper fence post installation is important to ensuring the job is completed correctly.
To set a fence post with concrete:
1. Starting with the corners, stake the ground where you plan to set each post and measure to ensure even spacing. Typically, fence posts are spaced between six and eight feet apart.
2. Using an auger or post-hole digger, dig a hole where you placed each stake. The holes should be deep enough to house at least one-fourth to one-third of the fence post. For a standard 4×4 post, the hole should be at least eight to ten inches in diameter.
3. Pour a six-inch layer of gravel into the hole and tamp it level. Gravel allows for water drainage, which helps prevent the post from sitting in water during heavy rains.
4. Place the post, and fill the hole with concrete* up to the ground level. If the concrete is too thin, use braces to keep the post upright and level while it cures.
5. Use a trowel to slope the concrete cap away from the base of the post. This will divert the flow of water away from the fence.
6. Allow at least three days for the concrete to cure completely before attaching rails or panels to the posts.
*Note: Some installers prefer to use gravel to set fence posts instead of concrete. Gravel is typically less durable than concrete and should only be used if you have compact, clay-like soil. Fence posts set in loose, sandy soil should use concrete to ensure a stable base.
However, because gravel allows for water drainage, posts set in gravel are less susceptible to rot and frost heaves, both of which can compromise the structural integrity of the fence. A reputable fence installation company will be able to determine which setting material is best for your individual circumstances.
Best Wood for Fences
When building a fence with durability in mind, the quality of materials is equally important as a stable foundation. And while cheaper materials may be appealing in the short term, investing in superior wood will pay dividends in a sturdy, attractive installation that lasts.
Types of lumber
Pressure-treated pine (PTP) is chemically treated to protect against decay and termite infestation, and most PTP comes with a warranty. However, while PTP is relatively inexpensive and likewise a popular choice for outdoor structures, it is generally more inclined to warp, shrink, and crack than better-quality lumber, and it requires a great deal of maintenance.
For a more durable option, many homeowners choose one of the following types of wood for fence construction:
- Cedar (~$4 per square foot)
- Cypress (~$5-$8 per square foot)
- Redwood (~$17 per square foot)
These higher-cost, higher-durability woods contain natural oils that make them resistant to insects and rot. However, all natural wood will require some level of treatment and maintenance for longevity.
Wood grades are based on appearance, size, and structural integrity. Grade schema varies depending on the type of wood, but in general, wood marked with a clear, construction, premium, or select grade will have a smoother appearance and the least amount of surface defects, such as wood knots. Standard, quality, and economy grade wood is less expensive, but contain more defects relative to the cost.
Not only does better-grade wood look nicer, it typically lasts longer, as knots weaken wood and can augment cracking and warping. Dead knots can also fall out during handling, leaving a hole or gouge in the surface of the wood.
Heartwood vs. sapwood
Another determinant of lumber durability is the part of the tree from which it was cut. Heartwood comes from the center of the tree and is typically harder with a cleaner appearance, whereas sapwood—wood cut from the outer layers of the tree—contains more knots and is also more susceptible to rot.
To save money and still prioritize structural integrity, some homeowners opt to use heartwood for fence posts/supports and sapwood for panels or pickets.
How to Maintain a Wooden Fence
In this article, we’ve reiterated that all wood fencing—no matter the type or quality of wood—necessitates regular maintenance. So, what kind of care does a wooden fence require?
Painting, sealing, and staining wood fences
While paint generally offers better protection against the elements than stains or seals, most homeowners prefer the natural beauty of wood grain to a solid coat of paint. Paint can also chip and flake, requiring significant time spent sanding before reapplication.
Stains, sealants, and combination products highlight the grain pattern of the wood, though sealants are typically clear while stains lend a hint of color to the wood. Look for products that are oil- or wax-based and offer UV protection, which protects against fading, as well as mildewcide to deter fungus growth.
In general, fences should be re-sealed annually, while stains should be reapplied every two to five years depending on weather conditions in your area.
Cleaning wood fences
Cleaning a wooden fence will strip off dirt and grime as well as the top layer of dead wood cells that give older fence installations their dull gray color. The most efficient way to clean a wooden fence is with a pressure washer, but using one incorrectly can do permanent damage to the wood.
If you’re up for the challenge, check out our comprehensive guide to pressure washing before you attempt to use one. Of course, you can always hire a professional to handle the job to save yourself the time and hassle.
Most companies that offer pressure washing can also take care of your driveway, siding, and other outdoor features in need of spiffing up at the same time, so plan ahead before collecting bids from contractors.
Hire a Best Pick Fencing Expert
Wood fences can last a good while—if they’re correctly installed and maintained. To ensure the longevity of a wood fence, be sure to:
- Set fence posts properly
- Use quality wood with few natural defects
- Clean the wood and reapply protective coatings as needed
While it is certainly possible to build a durable wood fence yourself, you’ll know the job has been done right when you hire a reputable fence company. All Best Pick fencing professionals carry the proper licenses and insurance, and they come highly recommended by your neighbors, so you can feel confident hiring a Best Pick contractor.