While reading through a DIY fence forum this morning, the question was asked “why are there spaces in my privacy fence?” The writer stated they were not there when the fence was installed, but now there are gaps between the pickets. The writer went on to say he felt that his privacy fence no longer provided privacy and wanted to know how to fill the gaps. Others wrote in suggesting to cover the gaps with small pieces of wood, fill in the gaps with caulk, or fill in the gaps with “great stuff” expanding foam. I feel bad for this home owner, not only that his fence hasn’t lived up to his expectations, but also for the bad advise he was given for a fix.
Lets start with why the gaps are there. Most fences are constructed out of pressure treated southern yellow pine. Most of the pressure treated southern yellow pine is still “wet” when it is purchased. In other words, the lumber was pressure treated, bundled, and sent out for sale. A fence is built using this lumber. As the lumber dries, the wood shrinks, twists, and warps. This makes spaces between pickets and can warp the fence lines. No matter how good an installer is, the drying process of the lumber can alter the appearance of a fence. Once this happens, there is no getting it back in its original condition.
There are steps to prevent this from happening. First is the use of kiln dried lumber. This lumber is dried before it is bundled and sent out for sale. This ensures the lumber stays straight and reduces shrinkage. Kiln dried lumber is more expensive, but it keeps your new fence looking new for much longer. Another way to prevent gaps in privacy fencing is to use tounge and groove fencing. This is more common in cedar fencing. Again, this type of fencing is a bit more expensive. Yet another way to prolong your fence is the use of a stain that contains both a water sealer and a UV protectant. This technique will not stop the shrinkage and warping as well as the first two suggestions, but will definitly prolong the life of your fence.
In the perfect world, all fences would be built with kiln dried lumber and protected with a water sealer and UV protectant. But we are not in a perfect world, and with todays economy, it can be hard to justify the extra expense. With all things being said, talk with your contractor about the different options and what to expect in the future with your fence.
Thanks for reading!