Repair or Replace an Old Wood Fence?

Even the best built fences will in time need to be repaired or replaced.  When that time comes, how do you determine which is be the best option?  Sometimes it’s not easy to tell, other times it’s very obvious.   If the condition of your fence is between those two extremes it may not be clear as to which option is best. Today I will share with you how I assess an older fence and what I base my recommendations on when helping clients decide whether repairing or replacing is the best option

As a general rule I like to repair rather than replace.  Seeing wood with several years of life still left in it disposed of before necessary is disheartening at best.  However, this isn’t always feasible due to advanced age or as part of a larger landscape project.  When someone is on the fence (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) as to whether they should replace or repair a wood fence there are a few things I look for when making my suggestions.

The first is the overall condition of the fence.  If I begin to see signs of advanced deterioration then I know that repairing the fence may get close to what it would cost to replace it.  This means multiple post are leaning, 2x4s have come detached from the posts and reattaching panels is difficult due to break down of the end grain.  To the extent these issues are present really determines how extensive the repair may be.  As mentioned above, this could lead to the repair costing almost as much as replacement.  In these situations I will give the client both options so they can compare the two and determine which is best for them.

Let’s assume that your fence isn’t in such bad shape that replacement is needed.  What are the items that need to be addressed?  The first thing I look at are the posts. I’m most interested in how stable they are. The posts are the foundation of the fence and any repair work to take place needs to be done on a strong foundation.  Sometimes posts can be reused with only a few needing to be replaced.  What I’m really looking for when assessing a post is how solid it feels in the ground.  I’ll give it a good push and pull in all directions to determine stability.  A little bit of “flex” above ground is normal, but what I really want to know is whether there is movement at the ground level.  If so this will likely be an issue and is corrected by replacing the posts.

The next thing to assess is the condition of the panels themselves.  What I’m most interested in if I’m replacing a post(s) and reusing the panels is the condition of end grain.  If you look at the end of a 2×4 on a fence panel it may be in good shape or it may be badly damaged.  Damaged end grain on a 2×4 makes reattaching it to the post challenging or sometimes even impossible. If it can’t be reattached securely the 2×4 will need to be replaced.  This is a perfect example of where costs begin to rise.  If a repair was originally meant to include replacing X amount of posts and reattaching  the panels a lot more labor is involved if  2x4s need to be replaced as well.  It can be done, and material cost aren’t significant, but labor hours tend to add up quickly in such a scenario. Again, careful assessment in the beginning is important.  Just as I check the posts for stability,  I check for end grain integrity as part of a proposal for repair work.  In general I can come close to knowing the exact number of 2x4s needing to be replaced, but sometimes you don’t know for sure until you remove the panel from the post.  In this case  I will also include a per item cost for both labor and material if replacement exceeds my initial estimate.  This allows the client to know up front any additional costs and I will show the client the condition of the proposed replacement to allow approval before I continue.  I don’t like surprises when it comes to this kind of work and I’m guessing you don’t either.  This approach seems to work for both of us.

Gates are sometimes a difficult to repair due to the different ways in which they are built.  It is rare that I can look at a gate and have a simple adjustment that will fix the issue with opening or closing.  Sure, in almost every case something can be done to correct the problems, but it’s almost always temporary. I know the unique stressors a gate faces, I can’t charge someone for a repair I know won’t last.  It goes against the very essence of how I do things.  This is the reason why in most cases, unless I know the adjustment will fix the problem, I recommend a replacement for gates.

Many of the wood fences in Louisville can provide years more service with only minimum to moderate repairs needed.  You may already know which option you are leaning towards, but if you’re unsure I hope the information provided here will allow you to get a better understanding of what goes behind making a decision between repairing or replacing your wood fence.  If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail just click on the contact icon at the bottom or in the upper right hand corner.