Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Wooden fences are particularly vulnerable to fading and flaking of paint or stain, regardless of whether they are built in open sun, full shade, the arid southwest or the humid northwest. However, there are a number of choices of materials that make that problem less of a concern.
Woods such as cedar contain lots of oils, that tend to repel moisture and insects, Consequently, if cost is less of a factor in your choice of woods, cedar is more viable than spruce, pine or fir. Be sure, though, that you are purchasing cedar, and not cedartone wood. For wood posts, choose treated four by four or six by six posts, either in brown or green treatment. This treatment delays the onset of wood rot.
Even when you have selected treated wood, though, you will need to reapply preservative periodically. For instance, on horizontal deck surfaces, you will need to recoat every few years.
Conditions that are too dry, too moist, too cold, or too hot all impact on the lifespan of your fence treatments. That pretty well covers the entire continent!
Perhaps the harshest weather element is direct sunlight, which dries the woods rapidly. When applying a protective coating, it is critical that you do not apply paints or stains in direct, hot sunlight, as the temperature variations along the boards will cause the finish to penetrate and dry at uneven rates, or even to fail to penetrate at all. Applying stain or paint to wood that is wet will, likewise, not allow the product to penetrate adequately, although water-based paints and stains will integrate better than oil-based ones. Stains generally work better than paints on softwood materials, and last somewhat longer. However, they, too, will dry and powder out of the wood eventually. Varnish or lacquer applied to a fence is definitely not recommended, particularly where that varnished area will be exposed to a hot sun.
There are a variety of ways to reduce the rate at which paints fade on fences exposed to sunlight. Shade trees and bushes, grown at a distance away from the fence and blocking some of the hottest rays of the sun will increase the lifespan of the paint application. Wood preservatives and moisture repellents are great on horizontal surfaces. Be sure that you do not install reflective surfaces such as ponds or stainless steel barbeques so that light is reflected directly on the fence. Similarly, consider exterior blinds for windows that reflect the harsh sun directly on a fence surface.
Of course, even better solutions are available, if you choose to use materials that are pre-painted, or where the colour is impregnated into the materials. This includes aluminum products, resins and PVC fencing.
If wood is your only choice, however, recognize that, regardless of what surface application you use, eventually, you will be outdoors, sprayer, brush or roller in hand!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Most of us assume that the best way to increase the lifespan of our fence is to apply a new coat of paint or stain each spring. But this is only one small step in to the process of ensuring that your backyard enclosure lasts as long as possible.
The procedure of maintaining your fence and ensuring its longevity actually begins prior to building the structure. Too often, we build inadequately and then attempt to compensate by repeated, desperate attempts at salvaging a project that is nearly beyond redemption! That is the hallmark, too, of many disreputable fence contractors, who construct what is initially an attractive project, but that deteriorates rapidly in an environment for which it was ill-suited.
Before you even dig the first post hole or set the first support, consider all of the impacts and inputs that will affect your fence. Such considerations as the amount of direct sunlight, exposure to winds, accessibility to foot traffic on sidewalks (and risk of graffiti, vandalism or inadvertent damage), contact with prolonged moisture, proximity to gardens and plants or soil and substrate conditions all will determine how successfully you will be able to extend the lifespan of your fence. Of course, underlying all of these factors is the choice of materials, the choice of design, and the integrity of the structure itself.
Each material has specific advantages and disadvantages, in various applications. Many of the pvc products, for example, resist fading, can be set into high-moisture environments, and are structurally sound. At the same time, the continuity of one colour is an open invitation to graffiti artists in urban settings.
While wood is eschewed by some homeowners because it may rot, degrade or deform in harsh environments, those problems are often the consequence of choosing the wrong wood for the particular situation. Treated woods are much more appropriate for higher-humidity situations or for setting in soil that does not drain as well as other types. Wood such as cedar has a natural resistance to rot due to high humidity, but is less friendly to a variety of paints in high-sunlight areas.
Fences in high wind zones need to be constructed in such a manner that they are able to withstand the blunt force of wind on their surfaces, or so that they deflect the wind or allow it to move more freely around and through the structure.
Fences exposed to sunlight need regular treatment with good, absorbing paints and stains, and need to be painted or stained when they are fully dried and cured. Saving on materials by buying poorly dried woods will result in blistering and paint failure more rapidly than if you invest in well-dried woods. Pre-treatment and sealing of many materials is critical to ensuring durability of finishes.
Many fences that are otherwise designed and constructed well will fail, because fasteners and supports at critical junctures are inadequate. Particularly in areas to frost heave, such as near building walls exposed to sunlight in winter, poor anchors will cause the fence to shift. Hinges and section fasteners that may be adequate, but are not installed at critical load or weight-bearing points will allow the fence components to move or distort.
Fences that are built so that plants and growth is allowed to encroach on them will deteriorate at those spots more rapidly than in areas where air flow is unrestricted. By edging lawns and gardens a few inches away from the base of the fence, air movement allows for the ability of the fence to breathe as naturally as the rest of the structure.
Of course, even with all the proper precautions and prerequisites taken care of, any fence ill still require ongoing care, whether it be regular washing of PVC materials, readjustment of hinges and brackets, or periodic painting and tightening of screws. A healthy fence, like a healthy body, needs care and consideration that is ongoing.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The first image that comes to mind when discussing privacy fences is that of a high-rising, solid wood or stone wall. While that, in a very literal sense, is a definitive privacy fence, there are myriad options that should also be considered.
Materials that run the gamut from cloth to green-growing fencing, from lattice to bamboo, or from PVC to concrete provide viable privacy screen fence options. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and applications for which some are suited while others are not. Many of the best privacy fence designs incorporate a combination of two or more options.
The first of these is the “green” screen fence. That buzzword may intimate either a growing, shrub or plant-based divider or an eco-friendly concept. In as many instances as possible, eco-friendly considerations should form a part of your decision-making. However, pure green-growing fences have the advantage of being almost maintenance free, and generally more economical to plant. However, long growing times may mean that your “fence” may not be truly private for a decade or so! In winter, all but evergreens will shed their foliage and leave you exposed to the outside world.
Eco-green fences are a bit more nebulous, with some claiming that only a wood fence is “green,” while others insist that the materials used must be recycled and reclaimed, as well as requiring sustainable installation processes. The reality is that even PVC fencing can claim to be “green,” due to its very low maintenance regimen, the dearth of painting required, and the low demand for equipment for installation.
Bamboo is one of the “green material” choices that has exploded in popularity recently.
Bamboo is used for dinnerware, window shades, flooring, walls, fences even clothing. In the proper climate and environment, it is durable, and offers a distinctive natural look. However, simple bamboo pole construction is not as sturdy as is needed in extreme environment conditions, and requires special care in design and installation.
Shade cloths and semi-transparent natural cloth or manufactured materials are excellent choices for patio dividers and for toppers on fence segments. While great accent pieces, they are not generally recommended for exterior standalone fencing.
Commonly, homeowners are choosing lattice fencing, lattice fence toppers or lattice used as a net for climbing plants. The choice of materials runs from softwoods to light low-grade wood to vinyl. Low-grade wood lattice is inexpensive, but very fragile. While vinyl materials often are 400-500% more expensive than inexpensive wood, they are far more durable, low maintenance and equally easy to install.
Stone, manufactured stone, concrete or cement decorative block fences can be quite costly, labour-intensive to install, and sufficiently heavy to result in sag and shift over a period of time. However, there is such a range of attractive materials and design that many homeowners prefer these types of privacy structures.
One of the considerations when contemplating a solid, transparent or semi-transparent “privacy” fence is the impact it will have on the surrounding vegetation, if sunlight is blocked. The concept of “privacy” is, for the most part, a two-way street, and if the fence blocks out views from the outside looking in, it will similarly block views from the inside looking out. When planning your fence, consider to what purpose it will be put, and what the ramifications of your chosen deign will be.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
The use of ground screws in fence construction has been a widely accepted practice for more than a decade, yet the use of ground screws for decks has not been as well embraced. However, these innovative products offer significant advantages over conventional piles & posts or pad and post systems. They have evolved considerably in recent years, with a wider array of types and widths.
Consumers are well advised, however, to either consult with a knowledgeable supplier or research the best type of screw to use with each specific application, to avoid the risks associated with employing a screw, pile or post that is inadequate for the task. Many do-it-yourself decks are supported, in large measure, on good faith and not good foundation!
Simple, one-level smaller decks may well be adequately supported by a 4 by 4 post on a concrete deck pad. Even then, though, improper levelling can lead to unbalanced load distribution and shifting.
One step beyond pad and post supports is pile or pile and post supports. Piles offer the advantage over pads of distributing the weight into the soil below the deck, and providing an underpinning that is less likely to shift with varying soil moisture content and heavy deck traffic. In most cases for larger or multi-level decks, pile systems are the minimum standard to ensure stability, durability and strength.
But ground screws go beyond pile or pile-and-post construction, particularly for the home handyman. Simple ground screws can be easily removed and repositioned, unlike piles. With no digging, significant manual labour is eliminated.
Ground screws act in a similar manner to wood or metal screws. Their spiral allows for less force to be needed to insert the screw into the soil, while the increased surface area of the screw face provides more stable contact with the binding soil. This results in decreased frost heave and shifting due to dry or wet soil conditions. On the other hand, the screw is not suitable for some soils, such as those with lots of rubble, loose compact such as gravel or sand, shale, sandstone, dense or frozen soils.
In spite of these drawbacks, though, screws are more adaptable, and casnn be inserted in close proximity to overhangs, where piles could not be driven. Screws can be easily installed on slopes, and the light-weight equipment used for most applications is less disruptive than heavy pile-driving machinery.
Less digging and soil disruption means less waste left over and less cleanup and less noise during construction. Both screws and pre-cast pilings can be subjected to structural load immediately after installation, whereas poured-in-place piles require drying time.
In spite of the numerous advantage of screws, though, factors such as cost, building code requirements and aesthetic considerations need to be factored into decision-making. To ensure that your deck supports are properly designed, we advise that you consult with a building professional, to determine the application that is most appropriate.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The enthusiasm for a new project often overcomes the logic of planning that project properly. Nowhere in the realm of the home handyman is this more true than in back yard upgrades and, in particular, decks and fences. Yet, it is with proper planning that you will get the greatest enjoyment out of your project in the long run.
One of the common pitfalls of a homeowner installing a fence is the failure to check property lines accurately. Past mistakes and mis-measurements often are compounded by assuming that the original fence line was accurate. If you do indeed build in a manner that encroaches on a neighbour’s property, he may end up owning the fence, or, worse, could remove the fence or claim damages from you! A second failing is to properly assess the soil, the sunlight, the need for gate strength or the lines and geometry of the fence, resulting in shifting fences, frost heave, access restrictions and lawn or gardens that are killed by poor lighting.
The problems resulting from proper planning are more severe where a deck is involved. The first concern is to know and adhere to your local building code. For example, in the City of Winnipeg, homeowners need a permit if they build a deck that exceeds twenty-four inches above grade. Even a modestly-sloping wheelchair ramp requires a permit. There re restrictions on how far back from a property line a structure must be, and those distance vary, depending upon whether they are located in the front, back or side yard. Similarly, fences on each perimeter have maximum height restrictions.
For piles and footings, it is vital that you check to see that there are no power lines or gas or water mains running across your property. Cutting into one of those vital utilities could result in severe injury, extensive damage and even death!
But, beyond the need to conform to building code, a properly constructed deck is essential to avoid damage, failure or injury. Anchoring a deck is critical, for example, but if done incorrectly can result in extensive damage to surrounding areas or structures. Anchoring to a building requires ensuring that you are anchoring to a solid component, rather than just into a façade or weakened piece of lumber. Poorly planned deck supports can result in the deck shifting or collapsing, while posts and piles that are not properly set can cause warping, shifting and rot.
Even the location of a structure requires careful planning to get maximum enjoyment from it. Consider how it will be used today, as well as how it may be used in the future. Consider how it will impact on nearby structures. Look at how and when it will receive light, and how sheltered or exposed it will be to the elements. Look overhead, to see if it will impede with power lines.
Instead of rushing ahead with a project, hoping to enjoy it before that first warm weather of summer expires, take the time to plan carefully, consult with professionals, understand your requirements and explore all options. Then, dive in! Carefully.