The snow has cleared and you can finally see your backyard again, only the fencing around it doesn’t look so hot. Does the wood just need a good bath, or are there more sinister forces at work here? Find out below what your outdoor Spring cleaning buddies say about wood rot and how to avoid it.
Reese L. Robbins

Reese L. Robbins

Improper Installation and Maintenance or Poor Design

Fences that are not installed correctly
Fence posts are usually installed by pushing them into the ground. This often causes the post to have an uneven base, leading to the rot of the fence. The rot can also spread when the wood is left exposed to the elements without some sort of protection.

Also, nails that are not firmly attached to the fence board will likely fall out over time. When this happens, it will start to spread through the fence board.

Fences that are not maintained properly
Fence boards are usually made from pine or cedar. These woods are typically treated with chemicals to prevent them from rotting. However, these chemicals will leach out over time and cause fence boards to rot.

Fences that are poorly designed
A poorly designed fence can also cause the fence to rot. For example, a fence board can be too narrow or too wide, which will cause it to warp over time, which can lead to wood cracking and eventually rotting. A well-designed fence will also have a gap between the fence boards. This will allow for proper air circulation, which helps keep the wood from getting wet.

Fences that have been damaged due to water and wind
When fences get damaged, the fence board can become weakened, and rot can begin to form within the board. Also, when nails have been pulled out of the fence board, the wood can be exposed to the elements. The result is that the fence boards can weaken and rot.

Fences should be inspected regularly
The first thing is to examine the fence for holes, tears, rot, and broken boards. If there are any problems, then repair them immediately.

Precipitation, Humidity, Irrigation, and Sun Exposure

Moisture is the critical ingredient in rotting fences. If water from precipitation, humidity, and irrigation gets trapped in your fence, you’ll end up with rotting wood. Water breaks down the integrity of the fibers in a fence, and if it freezes and melts, the expansion and contraction of the water will open up the fence to more breakdown.

The sun can also increase the rotting of a fence. The UV light can dry out the fence’s surface, making it easy for moisture to enter.

Pests are another problem that leads to rot. For example, if termites get into a wooden fence, they’ll eat through it and ruin the integrity of the wood.

If you have a wooden fence and seal it as needed, you’ll prevent the damage that water and sunlight can do.

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson is a home maintenance expert with Clearsurance.com.
Omer Reiner

Omer Reiner

Omer Reiner, A licensed Realtor & President of FL Cash Home Buyers, LLC.

Long Exposure to Moisture

The rot of fences usually happens with prolonged exposure to moisture. The most common area this happens is near or in the ground. Soil tends to give fence posts prolonged exposure to water. This can usually be solved if the fences are fixed into concrete or by suspending the fence well above the ground. Waterproof paint at the bottom of the fence will prevent exposure to moisture.

Soil Moisture and Fungus

One of the factors that cause fences to rot is excessive exposure of the wooden fence to the moisture of the soil to which the fence is erected. Normally, the portion of the fence that was buried beneath the topsoil is the one that is mostly exposed to the moisture and eventually causes it to rot. The soil carries an immense amount of moisture throughout time and when the wooden fence base gets exposed to this for a long time, it slowly rots.

This is called “wet rot.” Cellar fungus, as a result of too much exposure to the wood beneath, is one of the major contributors to wet rot. When they come in contact with the wood, the rotting happens to the fence.

Another reason fences, most especially wooden ones, become rotten is because of dry rot. Dry rot refers to a kind of rot where the primary cause of the rotting of the wooden fence is a type of fungus that survives at a lower level of moisture. What happens is that this fungus absorbs the moisture it finds from areas that are wetter and when they do, they eventually transfer it to drier areas.

This phenomenon is otherwise known as dry rot or brown rot and is causing the wooden fence to slowly become rotten due to the transferred moisture facilitated by the fungus. When the phenomenon happens very frequently and no corrective measures are made, the wooden fence will become rotten even more and be damaged.

Johnathan Smith

Johnathan Smith

Johnathan Smith, Founder of CamperGuide.
Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of Backdoor Survival.

Poor Landscaping Drainage

One of the leading causes of fence rot is poor drainage. When water accumulates near the base of a fence, it can seep into the wood and cause it to decay. This problem is often exacerbated by improper landscaping. In addition to causing rot, poor drainage could also lead to termite infestations because those insects thrive in moist environments. To prevent these issues, homeowners must keep their drainage systems well-maintained and directed away from the fence, keep undergrowth to a bare minimum, and utilize treated materials.

First Signs of Fence Rot Usually at Ground Level

There are various causes as to why fences rot. Wooden fences are the most vulnerable. Wet rot happens because the fence is regularly or excessively exposed to moisture. You would first detect it on the bottom part of the fence, where the soil can store in water. This brings us to the dry rot. When the fence is still damp, there are airborne spores that might come in contact with the wood. A fungus would form and eat away at the moisture. This weakens the fence. Lastly, white rot is caused by another fungus that attacks the wood which then leads to further damage. You would probably observe how your fence might have a white or yellow color, or be soft and moist.

Lorna Franklin

Lorna Franklin

Lorna Franklin from MyHome.
Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair, Founder and Tech Blogger at Allhomerobotics.com.

Different Types of Wood

First, there’s moisture. Excessive exposure to moisture, such as moisture content of over 50%, is problematic as it can lead to wet rot, which can soften the wood and make it feel spongy. Too little moisture on the other hand can cause dry rot, which can cause the wood to weaken to the point where it crumbles on touch.

Secondly, there’s the amount of maintenance. It’s important that you reapply stain and repaint the fence once about every year, as this adds a protective layer over the wood and helps curb the absorption of moisture.

Finally, there’s the actual type of wood itself. The truth of the matter is, some woods are simply more resistant to rot than others. Examples of these are hardwoods like redwood, oak, and cedar. This is an important factor about your fences that cannot be easily changed, so choose your fence material carefully.

Concrete Fence Footings Absorb Moisture

The fences commonly rot because of moisture that is being absorbed by their concrete base. When it rains, or when sprinklers spray water, that water slips down into the ground and will then stay there, having huge amounts of moisture for the soil. The concrete acts like a sponge and absorbs that moisture causing it to have cracks and eventually break when too much has been absorbed.

The wood fence itself also absorbs water and the water works its way down towards the base and the same result will happen, the footing will have too much water and moisture leading it to break and rot. That’s why having less water and moisture going to the fence helps to maintain its good condition for a longer duration.

Robert Banks

Robert Banks

Robert Banks, Founder of MrStocks.
Anton Giuroiu

Anton Giuroiu

Anton Giuroiu, an architect, CEO, and Founder of Homesthetics.

Porous and Untreated Wood Materials

Building a fence using porous materials like untreated wood is a very big factor when it comes to rotting. If the material used absorbs moisture, it speeds up the rotting process. On top of that, inconsistent maintenance efforts lead to fence deterioration. If you want to preserve your fences from rotting, you must keep them clean and sealed. Even better, choose a material other than wood so that the chances of your fence rotting are significantly reduced.

Soggy Ground, Excessive Shade, and Excessive Vegetation

Water is going to be the root cause of most issues with fence rotting. There are a few variations on this theme:

1. Soggy Ground
If your wooden fence is in an area with poor drainage, the water in the ground is likely to cause your fence posts to rot first, especially right at ground level. This can cause the whole fence to fall over even when the boards are still in good condition.

2. Excessive Shade
If your wooden fence is in a particularly shady area of your property, it can take substantially longer to dry off after the rain, and may never do so in particularly wet climates. This can cause your fence to rot more quickly in this area, especially if you don’t regularly treat your fence with stain and sealant.

3. Excessive Vegetation
If your wooden fence is crowded by shrubs, trees, or climbing vines, these plants could be damaging your fence by scraping, pushing, or even growing directly on it. This also tends to lead to excessive shade, which creates problems. Try to trim your landscaping so that it’s not directly touching your fence wherever possible.

Leonard Ang

Leonard Ang, CEO, iPropertyManagement.

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