Did you know that untreated cedar wood changes color over time?
Cedar wood has unique qualities and properties that make it an excellent fencing material choice, but a cedar fence can quickly change color from that beautiful red color it was when it was first installed to a silvery gray.
If that gray is not the color you are looking for, it is important to understand the required upkeep to maintain the color of your wood fence.
The Color-Changing Process
Most cedar wood begins as a light reddish-brown color. While there are exceptions, such as the white shade of Northern White cedar or yellow tones of Alaskan Yellow Cedar, the Western Red Cedar or Incense Cedar used for most fencing projects feature red and brown hues.
Cedar wood contains natural oils, which is an appealing aspect for many homeowners. The oils help to safeguard the wood by deterring pests. Termites, ants, cockroaches, mosquitoes, moths, and other types of insects that can damage your wood do not like the smell of natural cedar oil. Therefore, the oils work as a natural insect repellent, while also making the wood resistant to moisture and decay.
Live wood cells produce those natural oils, and they remain active and alive on the wood for an extended period of time. Eventually, rainwater, snow, and even water from your sprinkling system breaks down the outer cells of the cedar wood. Once that erosion process begins, the sun moves in to finish the damage. UV rays dry up the oils and allow water to penetrate the inner wood cells.
The combined water and sun (and oxygen) exposure turn cedar wood to that dull gray color. At this point, the discoloration is not the only problem with your fence, though. When the oils designed to protect the wood are no longer present, the wood becomes more susceptible to rot, decay, fungus, and mold. This affects the integrity, durability, and stability of your fence.
The graying process may not occur unevenly across the entirety of your fence. One area of the fence might get more direct sunlight, making it gray faster than a span of fence boards that remain in the shade primarily. The same goes for stretches of fence line that receive overspray from your sprinklers versus spots of the fence that stay relatively dry.
How to Stop the Gray
If you want to keep your newly-installed fence from turning gray, you need to act quickly to preserve that fresh wood. Waiting too long can create irreversible discoloration, not to mention physical damage to the wood that will require replacing the wood altogether.
Homeowners use a variety of methods – staining, painting, sealing, or bleaching – to preserve the color of their cedar fencing boards. Let’s discuss the two most popular choices:
Stain – Before you go and buy wood stain, take the time to educate yourself on the various types. Stain comes in opaque, semi-opaque, semi-transparent, or clear versions. Each kind will impact the color of your wood in different ways.
For example, a clear stain will not hide the original grain pattern of your wood. On the other hand, an opaque stain is a solid finish meant to cover up the grain as well as the graying color. A semi-opaque stain gives plenty of extra hue to your wood surface, and leaves the slightest bit of grain pattern visible. A semi-transparent stain, it is a blend between adding some extra tone to your wood and letting the grain pattern remain part of its appearance.
Applying a stain not only preserves the color of your cedar fence, but it also provides a protective sealant against water damage. In turn, this waterproof coating protects the wood against mildew and UV damage. It’s a win-win situation.
Paint – Painting your wood fence takes a bit more prep work and planning compared to staining. You must prime the wood before painting it. It would not be wise to apply paint alone. Primer acts as a preparatory coat, a sort of base and sealant for the subsequent layers of paint.
Paint is not like stain in that it will cover up grain patterns. If you want some type of wood appearance, paint is not the right option for you. Yet, if you want to totally cover up wood that has grayed, then paint is the perfect solution.
Furthermore, if you simply want to add a pop of color to your wood fence, you have a world of possibilities when going with paint. Don’t forget to check your HOA or city regulations to see if the color of wood fences is regulated in your area.
As for the type of paint to use, some professionals recommend an exterior-grade acrylic latex paint and others suggest an oil-based paint. No matter the type you go with, start with a quality primer to seal the wood.
Out With the Gray
As a final recommendation to preserve the color and appearance of your wood fence, remember that staining or painting your fence is not a one-and-done job. It is necessary to reapply year after year. Some stains and paints advertise that you will not need to reapply a new coat every year, but it is impossible to determine ahead of time the amount of wear and tear a fence will go through in 365 days.
Keeping a fence from turning gray requires regular maintenance and upkeep. Be prepared to put in some work, which will always pay off with beautiful results.
If you have questions, you can also contact our cedar fence suppliers here to receive additional information about persevering your cedar fence.