Should You Repair or Replace Your Fence?

A well-maintained wooden fence is an excellent addition to any home. It gives your yard the privacy and security to protect your property, and a traditional wood fence can also make your home more attractive. Other types of fences—for instance, vinyl and aluminum—also have looks that can make your home stand out for a unique style or fit in if you want your home to match your neighbors. A fence is not just practical; it is a reflection of your style and personality. But to keep it looking its best, you may eventually to to repair or replace your fence.

When a good fence starts to wear down, it can become an eyesore instead of an asset. Also, a worn-down fence may draw the attention of your homeowners association. Many HOAs require fences to stay in good condition since a rotting fence can make the whole neighborhood look run-down. So if your fence is beginning to show its age, you have two options: you can repair or replace your fence. Knowing which option to choose requires a close inspection of your fence, evaluation of the damage, and a decision on how much you want to invest in your fence’s future.

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Inspecting the Damage

The first step in deciding whether to repair or replace your fence is to make an honest and thorough assessment of the damage. Knowing the condition of your fence is the only way to get an accurate estimate of the labor and costs involved in repairing it. The type and extent of repairs you can make depend on the type of fence you have, so let’s take a look at some common fencing materials to see what sorts of repairs each one may require.

Wood Fences

Wood fences are the most common type of residential fence. They have become a hallmark of suburban living, and not without good reason. A wood fence is cost-effective, good-looking, and provides ample privacy and security. It can keep children and pets in, and unwanted guests and prying eyes out.

Unfortunately, wood fences are also the most prone to damage from regular wear and tear. Over time, the sun, wind, and rain age the wood, and your fence will start to deteriorate. How much and how fast a wood fence degrades depends a lot on the type of wood. An inexpensive spruce fence may last only 4 to 7 years. A pine fence lasts longer, about 5 to 12 years. Cedar is more expensive and more durable, lasting anywhere from 15 to 30 years, based on weather conditions and maintenance. A fence made of treated lumber can last 20 years or more, so it’s not surprising that treated lumber is also one of the most common wood fence materials.

How to Spot Damage to a Wood Fence

The first signs of damage you many notice to a wood fence are cracks and holes. These can usually be repaired with a little wood putty, but you’ll need to paint over the repairs if you want the whole fence to match. If you’ve left your wood its natural color, discoloration is another early warning sign of decay. If part of your fence is turning yellow or gray, the wood is deteriorating, and you may need to replace either the affected pickets or the whole panel. The most significant type of damage to a wood fence is rot at the base of the posts. The posts hold up your fence, but over time, even a well-maintained fence will start to show wear at the bottom of the posts.

Posts can wear out more quickly in humid or rainy climates and on properties without adequate drainage. Rot and shifting soil can cause wood posts to lean, warping the entire fence. Posts are usually installed in a cement footing, so replacing a damaged post requires digging out the entire footing. But if only a post or two is leaning, you may be able to repair the posts instead of replacing your entire fence.

To inspect your wood fence, start at the posts and inspect them from the base up. Look for signs of rot or insect damage close to the ground, and follow the post upward, looking for cracks or leaning. Next, inspect the pickets, looking for cracks, holes, and discoloration. Inspect the entire fence, and tally up how many posts and pickets are damaged.

Aluminum Fences

Aluminum fences can last a long time if they are appropriately maintained. But proper maintenance can be expensive. To keep an aluminum fence from prematurely aging, it needs to be inspected annually for bubbling paint or rust. Any rust or bubbling paint needs to be sanded down and repainted to protect the aluminum from further damage. An aluminum fence maintained this way can last for decades. However, there are other types of damage to aluminum fences that can’t be solved with responsible maintenance.

One of the most common problems we see with older aluminum fences has nothing to do with the fence itself. Instead, the problem is with the ground beneath the fence. Over years and decades, soil can settle and shift. As the ground below shifts, the posts can be pulled out of position, putting a strain on the rest of the fence. Aluminum has very little give, and a shift of just a couple of inches can warp railings or cause cracking at the joints. Since aluminum fences are often welded in place, repairing a warped fence can be a laborious process that requires a professional builder.

Aluminum fences are also susceptible to damage from accidents, such as falling trees or being hit by a vehicle. A strong impact can dent or bend an aluminum fence, and there is really no way to un-dent the metal. A section of fence that gets bent out of shape must be removed and replaced by a qualified professional.

Vinyl Fences

If you want to build your fence and then forget about it, vinyl is your best friend. A vinyl fence is basically plastic. Its color is built-in, so there is no paint to crack, peel, or fade, and it is impervious to water and insects. The only maintenance it requires is an occasional wash with a garden hose or power washer to remove built-up dirt and grime.

Rot and water damage are not issues for vinyl. Instead, the most common problems with vinyl fences are degradation from the UV rays in sunlight, and warping due to shifting soil. Vinyl has some amount of give and flexibility, but sunlight can make a fence more brittle and prone to cracking over time. A vinyl fence doesn’t rot, so the most common damage you’ll find is cracking panels. Vinyl fencing almost always comes as complete panels, so repairing cracks usually means removing and replacing the damaged panel. Luckily, vinyl is relatively inexpensive, and replacing a vinyl panel is much less expensive than replacing a section of aluminum fence.

How to Decide If It’s Time to Repair or Replace Your Fence

The main factors that help determine if you should repair or replace your fence are cost and longevity. Obviously, if it is more expensive to repair than replace your fence, you should opt for replacement. But even if the repairs may be less costly in the short-term, there are times when replacement is still a better option. If a fence is nearing the end of its expected lifetime, repairing it a little at a time may not be worth it. You can make a small repair today, but you are likely to need more repairs soon, and the repairs will only continue to add up. So if your fence is nearing the top end of its expected lifespan, it may be worth replacing it before you get caught in an endless cycle of minor repairs.

The 20% Rule

Most fencing professionals agree that a good rule of thumb is to replace a fence when more than 20% of the fence requires repairs. The fence material and style will determine how much of the fencing needs to be repaired. For instance, a wood fence may only need repairs to a few pickets at a time, whereas a vinyl fence requires replacing entire panels. Take a look at what needs repair and add up the damage. If more than 20% of your fence needs work, you’re probably due for a new fence.

This rule may be a little different for some materials. For instance, an aluminum fence can be expensive to repair, but it is also expensive to install a new fence. The 20% rule should be applied in combination with a cost comparison. If a replacement is significantly more expensive than repairs, even if 20% of your fence is damaged, you may want to try to keep your current fence. Ultimately, the best way to determine if you should repair or replace your fence is to get an estimate from a professional. If you think it might be time to replace your fence, contact Bravo Fence for an estimate. We’ll let you know the cost of a new fence and whether we recommend that you repair or replace your fence.