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Top 3 Winter Threats to Your Cedar Fence Materials

Upper DeckThe cold, wet winters of the Pacific Northwest make hibernation a tempting proposition. However, holing up in your home and completely ignoring the aftereffects of winter’s wrath could be fatal for your cedar fence materials. Below, we list the top wintertime threats to your cedar fencing. Hopefully, this information will inspire you to review the status of your fencing materials… as soon as the rain stops, of course.

1. Falling Branches

From ice storms to high winds, there are many wintery occasions that could knock branches down onto your fence. Ice and snow add weight to already heavy branches. Especially if those branches are already diseased, they are likely to fall on your cedar fence materials, potentially breaking fence boards.

To protect your cedar fencing from falling branches, diligently trim any branches that overhang your fence. It is good to walk your property at least once a year, examining the area around your fence for possible threats.

2. Temperature Shifts

Being an organic material, cedar fencing naturally contracts and expands with changes in temperature. This is due to the fact that trees use special channels to transport nutrients from their roots to their branches. These channels are vertically oriented and especially prominent in tree trunks, which of course is the main source for solid fencing materials. In hot, wet conditions, these channels expand, as does the entire cedar fencing structure. Cold, dry weather causes the channels (and therefore all solid wood) to contract.

Considering that these size shifts are not generally large enough to notice with the naked eye, why should they be seen as problematic? Well, even a very small difference in size can cause wood knots to shrink, lose their connection to surrounding wood, and fall out. The resulting knotholes are susceptible to pests and disease, since they are usually not sealed and stained like the rest of the fencing materials. Moreover, temperature changes can cause nails to become loose and even pop out of their holes.

The solution to the knothole cedar fencing challenge is to fill any holes with wood filler. It’s fairly easy to accomplish this task during your annual fence inspection. Additionally, popped nails should be carefully hammered back into place. To prevent the same thing from happening again the following winter, add strength by placing another nail or two in that spot.

3. Winter Moisture

Nearly all wood rots in the moist conditions of the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, experts tell us that rotting nurse logs are a crucial part of ecological balance, as they provide countless smaller organisms with a food source. Although this is a lovely circumstance to encounter in the forest, it’s definitely not a good thing for your fencing materials. Rain and snow soften wood fibers and allow mold and mildew to thrive.

Along similar lines, wet fallen leaves can cause damage to your cedar fencing as they release staining tannins that are difficult to remove later. Moreover, if leaves and other debris become lodged between fence boards, rot is likely to set in.

To protect your fencing materials from the threat of wintertime moisture, regularly clear your fence of organic debris, and religiously seal and stain your cedar fencing.

The bottom line is that you should carefully examine your fencing materials after every major storm. A proper cedar fencing inspection consists of walking around your property line, visually inspecting fencing boards for signs of mildew, mold or other damage. You should also jiggle each fence post to ensure that it’s still stable. Finally, just as you would tap your home’s supports to look for termite damage, you should use a screwdriver or other metal tool to test for sponginess in your cedar fence materials. (A spongy texture often indicates wood rot.)

If you do discover problems, you can either call out a cedar fencing expert to fix them, or you can attempt to correct them yourself. Rotted or damaged fence boards may be replaced, sealed and stained. If you discover a rotting fence post, that’s a bit tougher to address. If the damage is less than an inch deep, you can apply a wood preservative to the area; otherwise, you will need to replace the entire post. To temporarily support a rotting fence rail, screw an extra 2×4 underneath it. (Of course, you will need to replace the entire rail once warmer weather rolls around.) Contact your local cedar fencing expert for more tips on how to resolve winter-induced damage to your fencing materials.

[ Photo by: hydrolix, on Flickr, via CC License ]

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