This winter has proven an especially mild one – with heavy showers and high winds being prevalent on the country’s west coast, particularly in Cornwall, Wales and the North-west. This spate of disagreeable weather has caused an enormous amount of upheaval, and has led to a great deal of structural damage. The most newsworthy examples of this have been the most dramatic, like lorries being flung over, but the bulk of the damage has been reserved for wooden structures like fences. Owners of storm-damaged fences and sheds might despair at the situation – just what can be done to make a fence more durable – and save costly repairs and heartache?
Fortunately, there are a few options available. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Identify the weak points
Fences are especially vulnerable to being picked up by the wind and toppled over. But why is this? Clearly, it’s because the panel is a large, lightweight structure with a surface area that can catch a great deal of wind. In the face of a storm, it therefore acts like a sail.
One natural remedy immediately presents itself – dispense with panel fences entirely. A wire mesh fence is entirely immune from this sort of wind damage; the wind will simply pass through it without uprooting the structure. But wire meshes have their disadvantages. For one thing, they’re a lot less attractive than wooden fencing panels. For another, they offer a great deal less privacy. For this reason, they’re more often found in industrial and agricultural areas than they are in private residences.
The fence panel is almost never the point where the actual structure fails – instead, it’s the post which affixes the panel into the earth. It’s at this point that the force is most concentrated during a storm. Moreover, it’s this point which is most degraded by moisture.
If you’re caring for a wooden fence, then moisture should be considered your enemy number one. Wet soil offers the perfect conditions for microbes to chew through your fence – particularly those areas of the fence that are underground. One should therefore protect the wood against excess moisture.
One might do this in several different ways. Drainage is an important consideration. If your fence is at the centre of a dip, then rainwater will tend to collect around the base. This is bad for the fence’s lifespan. Conversely, if your fence is at the top of a slight bump, then rainwater might flow away, thereby extending said lifespan.
It’s best to do this with a non-absorbent substance like gravel. Water around the base will drain straight through and into the soil beneath. One might disguised the gravel with a flowerbed in front of the fencing.
One might also apply a special coating to the fence itself in order to prevent moisture from soaking into the wood. These come in several different forms; some will tint the colour of your fence, which may or may not be what you want. Be sure to clean and thoroughly dry your fence before applying the coating, as this will ensure that no moisture is trapped beneath.
We’ve already established that the weakest point of a fence is the post which affixes it into the ground. One can therefore hugely improve the strength of an all-timber fence by replacing these posts with stronger ones.
By installing concrete posts in between wooden panels, you might achieve a neat compromise between looks and solidity. The concrete posts will be unmoved by even a fierce gale, and the wooden panels will remain quite immobile in the centre.
One needn’t go this far, however – some wooden posts are stronger than others, and swapping out older, rotten softwood posts for new, hardwood ones will almost certainly yield improvements in solidity.
It’s worth devoting special consideration to the base of the posts, since, as we’ve seen, this is where the greatest amount of stress is focussed. You might dig a small hole at the base of each post, and fill that hole with concrete. This will help insulate the wood against underground moisture, and provide a weight that will prevent the post from being uprooted.
If you don’t feel like spending an afternoon mixing cement, you might alternatively consider ready-made blocks, which can be affixed into place either with a long spike that can be rooted in the earth via a sledgehammer, or secured to a suitable wall using bolts.
In North Wales, fencing supplies retailers will happily provide either solution. Richard Williams fit the bill nicely for example – they’re a hugely reputable timber, building supplies and plumber merchant in North Wales.