Thursday, March 17, 2011

Increasing the lifespan of your fence

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.