As thrilled as we are to see the sunny days of spring, the bright light often reveals that our fences suffered a hard winter. Snow, wind and months of dampness — not to mention the occasional falling tree or branch — can leave even a sturdy fence in need of attention.

Two Seattle-area fence experts have advice on how to get your fence back in shape so you can enjoy your yard this summer.

Start by doing a quick assessment to see what calls for some DIY cleaning and repair, and what might need professional contractors.

“You want to check the base of the vertical boards — what we call ‘pickets’,” advises Rick Koch, owner of All City Fence. “If soil or leaves have been allowed to pile up along the bottom of the fence, you probably have damaged boards.”

Months of wind and dampness — not to mention the occasional falling tree or branch — can leave even a sturdy fence in need of attention. (Getty Images)
Months of wind and dampness — not to mention the occasional falling tree or branch — can leave even a sturdy fence in need of attention. (Getty Images)

DIY or call a pro?

All City sells replacement pickets and other fence components that enable homeowners equipped with basic tools to make their own repairs to damaged panels. But if fence posts themselves have suffered rot at the base, or are leaning, that’s probably when most of us are going to call for assistance.

While most residential fencing projects are not essential services under Washington state’s stay-at-home order, it’s still a good idea to reach out to fencing companies and get on their lists.

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“You want to book that now,” Koch says. “The season is starting, and most fence-repair companies are already scheduling work for the spring through the summer.”

If the problems with your cedar fence are cosmetic, you can likely address them yourself with a scrub brush and detergent or an eco-friendly moss removal product.

Grier Blumenscheine, owner of Urban Frontier, a custom carpentry business, suggests removing the moss, letting the fence dry, and then giving the cedar a quick sanding. Finish it with a coat of wood stain. “Staining your cedar fence every two or three years will prolong the life of the structure,” he says.

Koch says you can use a pressure washer to clean fences if you’re careful. Be sure to dial the washer way back from the setting you’ve been using on your concrete walkways — pressure washing can damage soft woods. Most guides suggest 500–800 psi for cedar.

You may choose to hire a professional for a larger project such as replacing a gate. (Courtesy of Urban Frontier)
You may choose to hire a professional for a larger project such as replacing a gate. (Courtesy of Urban Frontier)

Check the gate

A well-designed gate can be a dramatic focal point for your yard. Unfortunately, gates are the part of a fence most likely to have problems. If the wood swells or the ground shifts, or if the gate was improperly built in the first place, the gate can sag. This not only looks shabby, it can also make it difficult to open and close.

“In the Pacific Northwest, gates are the Achilles’ heel of any fence,” Koch says. A sticky gate can be smoothed with heavy sandpaper, and you can replace damaged latches. But if the problem is with the gate’s hinges or posts, the work gets trickier.

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“I see a lot of poorly made gates where the hardware they used wasn’t strong enough to handle the weight of the gate,” Blumenscheine says. In those cases, the hinges themselves may need to be replaced and the gate properly rehung.

If your fence is on a shared property line, it’s a good idea to check in with your neighbor before embarking on repairs or improvements. You may need some access to their side of the fence. Or the neighbor may have pets that need to be kept inside while the fence work is underway.

Blumenscheine suggests getting a property survey done before starting on major fence work, such as a replacement. “You want to make sure the fence you’re working on is really on your property,” he says.

A fence-replacement project is also a chance for a style update. Consider latticed panels, a custom gate or trellis, or — if your house is a midcentury modern or contemporary style — horizontal rather than vertical slats.

“Horizontal fences are all the rage,” Blumenscheine notes. “Architecture is moving in the direction of harder lines, and the horizontal fences go well with the modern look.”