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Now that cold, winter weather is settling in across the state, most of us are probably turning our attention away from backyard barbecues and thinking more about skiing, sledding, and the approaching holidays. Winter weather is incredibly hard on wood and can easily damage your fence if you don’t prepare for it now. Before you bid goodbye to the yard and close the back door on your deck and fencing, there are five things that you should consider doing.

  1. Clean and Seal the Wood – Many people choose wooden fences because they are both beautiful and cost-effective. However, wood is a porous material. These small pores in the surface allow water, fungi, mildew, and a host of other substances to get caught just below the wood’s surface. During the winter, drastic temperature changes can cause any existing water to expand and contract within pores and cracks in the wood. As this freeze-thaw cycle repeats itself over and over, it will expand existing gaps and may cause new ones to develop.Avoiding this type of damage involves getting in front of the problem by sealing up pores and cracks in the fence before winter weather arrives. If you did not stain the fence when it was built, there are still options. Even if the fence has been stained before, it may need another coat. You can check to see if the fence is still repelling water effectively by pouring a small amount of water on the fence. If the water soaks into the wood, it may be time to reapply. Before you paint or stain the fence, it will need a good cleaning to remove mold, mildew, and debris that has collected over time so that you don’t seal in all the grime.
  2. Trim Back Foliage – The trees in your yard likely have grown over the summer. Branches that weren’t an issue last winter may be encroaching on the fence line now. Additionally, when they have the winter snow weight on them, the branches may hang several inches lower than they currently are. The problem with tree limbs so close to the fence is two-pronged. Under the weight of heavy, wet snow, they may break and fall on the fence causing significant damage. If they do manage to hold up the snow, they will drip meltwater on the fence after the storm, keeping the fence wet for days. Clearing tree debris such as fallen leaves, pinecones, and branches in the yard is also helpful. Piles of this organic matter hold onto moisture and can lead to wood rot at the base of the fence.
  3. Fix Leaning Posts – Wooden fence posts should be installed at least 36 inches deep. At this depth, the bottom of the posts is below the frost line. Placing them so deep in the soil ensures that they won’t shift or lean when the ground around them moves. Why would the ground move? As the water in the ground freezes and thaws repeatedly, the top layers of soil are prone to shifting. If you find posts that are not deep enough or have begun to lean, you should call a fence professional to address it. Fence panels only stay up as long as the posts to which they are attached. If the posts start moving, it may compromise the integrity of the whole fence.
  4. Increase Fence Visibility – If you have ever driven in a snowstorm, you can imagine how difficult it is to see a white or cream-colored fence by the side of a road in these conditions. You can protect your roadside fence from passing traffic by making it easier to see in poor driving conditions. Brightly colored flags or reflective posts work well for alerting drivers to the location of your fence and helping motorists stay on the road and out of your yard.
  5. Regular Winter Care – Because snow is both heavy and wet, it can damage all your wooden surfaces. The last step to prevent this damage is to keep the snow off and away to the best of your ability. It is not a good idea to use a snow shovel on your fence, as the shovel may chip the paint or dent the wood. Instead, consider using an old broom or the brush on your ice scraper to sweep off the majority of the snow and ice that accumulates.As you clear snow from other areas of your property, such as the driveway and the sidewalks, take care not to pile it up against the fence. Excess snow leaning on one side of the fence will put unwanted strain on that fence panel. Naturally occurring snowdrifts can cause the same problem. Over time, this pressure can weaken your posts and start pushing the whole panel over. It may be a good idea to shovel away large snowdrifts that build up along the fence line.

Taking the time to prepare your fence before harsh weather arrives can prevent damage during the cold winter months. Then, check on your fence periodically, perhaps when you are out shoveling the walk or throwing snowballs with the kids. Take the time to remove snow and ice as needed, and you can keep your fence standing strong.