As you weigh the pros and cons of installing a wood fence for the first time or are repairing/replacing your old one, something that will likely cross your mind is: how long will my wood fence last these days? Wood fences are a beautiful addition to any property, offering privacy and charm, but wood won’t last forever – especially if you fail to put in the necessary upkeep required to protect it from our damp climate. That said, a well-maintained, high quality wood fence should last about 20 years.

Annual Maintenance

At least once a year, take a walk around the perimeter of your fence and look for rotting, cracking, warping boards, failing posts, or loose nails. Should you spot any trouble areas, repair or replace them as soon as you can. This will prevent further damage from spreading, especially when our annual Washington storms hit. Try to keep vines and shrubbery off your fence as they can contribute to fence rot and keep an eye on any tree roots trying to uproot the base of your fence. Also, don’t lay beauty bark against the base of your fence as it traps moisture and will increase the probability of fence rot. 

Every few years, your wood fence should be thoroughly cleaned – perhaps with a pressure washer – to remove built up grime and dirt. Then reseal it immediately with paint or sealant. This will add years to your fence’s life as well as making it look brand new.

Watch out for Pests

The Northwest is home to a few insects who love to live in, as well as eat, wood. The leading culprits are Termites, Powder Post Beetles, and Carpenter Ants. 

Dampwood and Subterranean Termites are the most common types of termites in the NW. They prefer living in moist environments – such as the bases of wooden fence posts – as well as eating the wood they live in. Should you see evidence of termites around your fence, tap the boards to make sure they are still solid. Although the outside may appear intact, if you’ve got a termite infestation, the boards will likely crumble to sawdust when prodded. 

Powder Post Beetles are not native to the NW but are sometimes imported in improperly checked wood. Evidence of their presence is first noticeable by a fine powder that culminates near their nests. As they seem to prefer untreated and unpainted lumber, installing pressure treated posts and applying yearly sealant should deter their presence.

Carpenter Ants do not eat wood, but they love to call it home. If any boards or posts are succumbing to rot, this pest will find the opening they need to move in. Therefore, watch out for rotting wood and piles of wood shavings nearby – it may mean that carpenter ants have built their nests in your fence. 

To eliminate these unwanted guests, you will need to consult a pest control company, set bait traps, spray insecticides, or do a complete tear out depending on the level of damage your fence has suffered and the type of pest you’re dealing with.

Material Quality

Naturally, the right material and its quality will affect the life of your fence. Wood fences are typically built from Cedar, Redwood, or Douglas fir because they are more resistant to decay than other types of lumber. The use of pressure treated posts over non-pressure treated is preferable not only because they act as an insect-deterrent but should also add years to your fence’s life. 

That said, sadly, wood products today are just not what they used to be. One of the major pitfalls of our modern, mass-produced lumber is the quality of wood has suffered in the name of expediency. The boards are cut thinner, grading has slacked, waning is allowed, and younger trees are being harvested to meet quota – all of which affects the quality of all lumber sold today. We are even seeing pressure-treated posts fail as early as 5 years.

Grading refers to the standard established and maintained by the American Lumber Standard Committee that bases quality on both the wood size and number of defects on the better side of the board. For example, Clear Grade means the wood has no knots. As the grade increases, the number of knots and defects also increase thereby decreasing product quality. Typically, fence lumber rates around a 1 or 2 with moderate quantities of knots and minimal defects. Today it seems more and more evident that lower quality wood is slipping through the cracks under the guise of a higher grade. 

Wane refers to defects on the ends and sides of as well as leftover bark on milled lumber. These defects are appearing more and more as lumber mills fight to keep up with today’s ever-increasing demand for wood.

Lumber used to come from “Old Growth” trees, but as old forests disappeared from over harvesting, mills began harvesting younger trees called “2nd and 3rd Growth.” 2nd or 3rd Growth refers to trees from replanted forests where trees are grown and harvested quickly (30-50 years instead of Old Growth which came from forests 200-300 years old). These younger trees unfortunately produce lumber that is less stable, more susceptible to rot, and much softer – which is preferable to termites. Old Growth forests are nearly extinct by now, which means we are stuck using New Growth. The little high-quality wood that is harvested today is being shipped overseas for a higher profit than lumber yards would see if sold locally. 


Wood fences are gorgeous! They add character, charm, and privacy to your yard and are much cheaper than Vinyl. However, they do require periodic TLC if they are going to maintain their charming appearance and will need to be replaced sooner than Vinyl or Chain Link. Therefore, as long as you are willing to put in the maintenance, bearing in mind that today’s wood quality is lower than it used to be, then you can have a beautiful fence that should last you up to 20 years.

Alicia Schnell