Choosing the right type of wood for your fencing project is crucial to ensure durability, aesthetics, and cost-effectiveness. Whitewood, referring to inexpensive softwoods like spruce, pine, and fir, is a popular fencing choice due to its affordability. But with whitewood’s lack of natural rot-resistance, it does require careful consideration.
This comprehensive guide will examine the pros and cons of using whitewood for fencing. We’ll explore whitewood’s vulnerabilities, compare it to superior wood species, provide protection tips, review proper maintenance, and compare costs. With the right precautions, whitewood can be a suitable budget-friendly option for some fencing needs.
What is Whitewood?
Whitewood is a term for various inexpensive, lightweight softwoods predominantly white or pale. The most common whitewood species used for fencing include:
- Spruce: A versatile softwood with straight grain. Spruce is less dense than pine or fir.
- Pine: The most abundant commercial softwood. Several pine species are used, like lodgepole and Ponderosa.
- Fir: Strong and fairly resistant to decay, with a faint growth ring pattern. Douglas fir is a popular species.
Whitewoods are abundant in northern climates across North America and Europe. They are harvested in large quantities for lumber and pulpwood. Compared to dense hardwoods, these softwoods are faster-growing, lighter, and easier to cut and work with.
The low cost and availability of whitewood makes it an economical choice for many construction applications. However, it lacks natural durability. Understanding whitewood’s vulnerabilities is key when using it for outdoor fencing.
Pros and Cons of Using Whitewood for Fencing
Let’s examine the benefits and drawbacks of using whitewood for fences:
- Cost-effective – Whitewoods are generally the most affordable wood fencing option. This can significantly reduce total project costs.
- Easy to work with – Softwoods cut, drill, and fasten easily using basic tools. This makes whitewood ideal for do-it-yourself installations.
- Takes paint and stain well – Whitewood accepts paints and stains evenly. Finishes protect the wood while adding color.
- Appealing natural grain – Freshly installed whitewood has an attractive, pale appearance that suits many home styles.
- Lack of natural durability – Whitewood has almost no resistance to rot, decay, and insect damage without preservative treatment.
- Prone to warping and splitting – Whitewood can easily warp and split from moisture exposure and natural stresses. This can leave ugly gaps in fencing.
- Requires frequent maintenance – To achieve longevity, whitewood fences need vigilant cleaning, sealing, and replacing damaged boards.
- Short lifespan – Even with meticulous care, most whitewood fences need replacing after 5-10 years due to wear and tear.
While whitewood’s affordability can be tempting, its lack of decay resistance presents definite drawbacks for fencing. Whitewood fences quickly show signs of weathering, rot, and insect damage unless properly treated and maintained.
How Does Whitewood Compare to Other Woods?
Whitewood pales in durability compared to naturally rot-resistant species like cedar and redwood. Here’s how it stacks up:
Western red cedar offers excellent resistance to decay and insects. Its natural oils act as preservatives while deterring pests. This makes cedar perfect for exposed outdoor use. It also has appealing color variations and a moderately high cost. An untreated cedar fence can last over 15 years with minimal upkeep.
Redwood is another long-lasting outdoor wood. Dense redwood contains tannins and resins that protect against decay. When installed properly, redwood fences stand up well to weather, rot, and bugs. But redwood’s rarity makes it one of the more expensive woods.
For a more economical alternative, pressure-treated pine adds longevity to inexpensive whitewood pine. Treated pine gains considerable rot and insect resistance by forcing chemical preservatives deep into the wood. It lasts over 10 years on average but requires periodic maintenance like sealing.
Teak has an unmatched reputation for weather-resistance. This tropical hardwood’s high oil content makes it virtually impervious to moisture, rot, and pests. But mature teak is only sourced from Asia, making it prohibitively expensive for most fencing applications.
Naturally durable species like cedar and redwood are worth the extra investment when you need a fence to endure for decades with minimal upkeep. For more temporary fences, preservative-treated whitewood can suffice if maintained properly.
Tips for Using Whitewood Fencing
While it lacks natural durability, whitewood can still be suitable for some fencing projects if proper precautions are taken. Here are tips for maximizing whitewood fence longevity:
- Use preservative-treated wood – Treated whitewood has been pressure-impregnated with preservatives to deter rot and insects. This adds several years to its lifespan.
- Apply finish immediately – Freshly installed wood should be coated with stain or paint to seal the surface from moisture penetration.
- Use quality fasteners – Choose hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails, screws, and hardware to prevent discoloration stains and fastener failure.
- Check for ground contact – Any wood touching soil will quickly rot. Elevate fence boards at least 6 inches above ground level.
- Inspect and clean regularly – Spot treat any small areas of decay and wash fences annually to remove grime and mildew.
- Renew protective finish – Expect to re-coat whitewood fences every 2-3 years as the finish fades. This maintains the protective barrier.
- Address sagging and warping – Level any posts or boards that shift with time to limit further deterioration.
Regular inspection and maintenance are key to maximizing a whitewood fence’s service life. Avoid “set it and forget it” mentality, as neglect will lead to quicker failure.
How to Protect and Maintain Whitewood Fencing
To protect your investment in a whitewood fence, adhere to these best practices for care and maintenance:
New Fence Installation
- Allow wood to acclimate before building – Let boards sit at the site for several weeks to adjust to the moisture conditions.
- Use thick, structural-grade lumber – Thinner boards are more prone to warping. Opt for 1-inch thick boards for pickets and rails.
- Fasten boards tightly – Leaving room for wood movement often results in unsightly gaps. Butt boards tightly during installation.
- Apply finish immediately – Coating all sides with penetrating stain or paint prevents early moisture damage.
- Inspect routinely – Walk fences twice yearly, looking for decay, insect holes, loose boards, and deteriorating finish.
- Wash regularly – Use a power washer on low pressure to remove dirt, mildew, and grime at least once per year.
- Spot treat damage – Replace or repair any boards or posts with significant rot. Treat isolated areas of decay with wood consolidants.
- Renew finish – Expect to re-coat whitewood fences every 2-3 years. Remove old finish first for best results.
- Adjust hardware – Tighten any loose bolts, screws, and nails. Replace severely rusted fasteners.
Diligent, regular care of your whitewood fence will help it last longer and maintain a pleasing appearance. But also budget for full replacement within 10 years or less.
Whitewood Fencing Styles
While lacking natural beauty and character, whitewood can be incorporated into numerous fencing designs:
Traditional picket fences use vertically installed boards spaced 1-3 inches apart. The clean lines provide a decorative border for gardens, pools, or front yards. Picket fences are typically 3-4 feet tall but can be built taller as a privacy screen.
By installing whitewood boards side-by-side with minimal gaps, privacy fences over 5 feet tall block views and noise. Overlapping alternating boards increases privacy. They are ideal for bordering patios, hiding unsightly views, and enclosing private yard space.
Ranch Rail Fences
Also called split rail fences, the ranch style uses rounded wood rails stacked horizontally between vertical posts. Their openness allows wind and light passage while maintaining a safe enclosure for horses and livestock.
Alternating overlapping boards attached to front and back fence rails create a rustic board-on-board look. Small gaps add textural interest. They bring a casual, farmhouse feel to gardens, pools, and yards.
Basket Weave Fences
Interlaced wooden slats arranged in a basket weave pattern make an attractive decorative fence style. The alternating vertical and horizontal pieces have a playful, dynamic look. Basket weave fences are typically low profile at 3-4 feet tall.
With boards installed alternatively front and back oriented, shadowbox designs overlay contrasting board profiles. Scalloped, angled, straight, and curved boards make interesting visual patterns. Shadowbox fences provide both privacy and unique style.
Short, wide paddles spaced apart along horizontal rails resemble tongue-and-groove paneling. Their clean lines and bold shapes work well in modern, contemporary spaces. Paddle fences make an attractive pool enclosure.
Fences with angled, overlapping slatted boards control visibility and airflow. Louvered designs provide privacy while allowing breezes and light passage. They bring visual interest with dynamic lines.
Also referred to as plank fences, the simple post-and-board style features wide whitewood planks secured to fence posts. Planks may be installed vertically or horizontally. It’s a versatile design for privacy and garden borders.
Whitewood’s neutral coloring and affordability incorporate it into diverse fencing applications. But for improved longevity, use thicker dimensional boards instead of thin pickets. And don’t forget to apply protective finish immediately!
Fencing Location Considerations
Where you install any fence affects its performance and lifespan potential. Factors like sunlight exposure, soil contact, and moisture impact durability. Consider these tips for siting whitewood fences:
- Full sun – Avoid excessive sun exposure which accelerates weathering. If unavoidable, apply UV-resistant finish.
- Partial shade – Dappled shade protects wood while allowing good air circulation to dry boards. Fences last longer in shade.
- Ground contact – Any wood touching soil will quickly rot. Elevate at least 6 inches above grade.
- Protection from rain – Large roof overhangs shield fences from heavy rainfall. Direct splashback rots lower boards.
- Air circulation – Allow space between sections for airflow. Stagnant moisture accelerates decay.
- Drainage – Slope soil away from fences so water drains rather than pooling. Use gravel, sand or French drains to aid drainage.
- Sprinklers – Don’t constantly spray fences with irrigation. Allow them to dry out between waterings.
With careful siting and drainage considerations, you can extend the service life of whitewood fences. But providing adequate overhangs, air space, and shade goes a long way in preserving durability.
One of the biggest advantages of using whitewood for fencing is affordability compared to other wood species:
- Whitewood – $3-$7 per linear foot installed; $800-$1200 for 100 linear feet
- Cedar – $9-$18 per linear foot installed; $2000-$4000 for 100 linear feet
- Redwood – $10-$20 per linear foot installed; $2500-$5000 for 100 linear feet
Remember that cedar and redwood prices reflect the added cost of naturally durable, high-quality woods. Their exceptional lifespans of 15-30 years also compensate for higher initial pricing over time.
Whitewood becomes less of a value when you account for continual maintenance and frequent replacement needs. Cedar or redwood fences may cost more upfront but avoid costs of frequent repairs and replacement boards down the road.
- Whitewood is the most economical wood fencing material but lacks natural durability and longevity.
- Preservative-treated whitewood is more resilient but still requires vigilant maintenance.
- Woods like cedar and redwood justify higher initial costs through decades of minimal upkeep.
- When using whitewood, apply protective finish immediately, inspect and wash regularly, and promptly replace warped or rotten boards.
- With diligent care, whitewood fences may last 5-10 years on average but eventual full replacement should be budgeted.
Whitewood can only be recommended as a budget-friendly short-term fencing solution. Naturally rot-resistant species like cedar and redwood are superior for long-lasting, low-maintenance wood fencing. But with proper precautions and care, whitewood can serve its purpose for several years before replacement.
Wood fencing involves weighing costs, appearance, longevity, and maintenance requirements. Whitewood offers affordability but lacks natural durability. With knowledge of its vulnerabilities, whitewood can be suitable for temporary garden borders, short-term enclosures, and other applications where lifespan is less critical.
For fences expected to last decades, pay the premium for durable, rot-resistant woods. Cedar, redwood, or preservative-treated pine will reward you with fences that endure beautifully with minimal upkeep. And always remember that diligent maintenance and protective finishing are key to maximizing the lifespan of any wood fence.