A broken or damaged fence is never a pretty sight on your home. Even the best and strongest of fences are likely to break down over time. When this happens, you’re left with two options; to repair or replace the fence.

To make this decision, you’ll have to consider several factors including the extent of the damage, age of the fence, cost, and the fence material, among others.

In this post, we’ll dive deeper into these factors as well as the signs to look for to ensure you make the right decision.

repair or replace a fence timber fence

As earlier mentioned, many factors play a role in determining whether it’s time to repair or replace your fence. However, many homeowners often narrow these factors to the cost and longevity.

Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Does it make financial sense to replace the fence instead of repairing it?
  • Will the repairs made be sustainable in the long term?

One of the most effective tools that can help you get these answers right is the famous 20% rule.

How to decide if it’s time to repair or replace your fence

This rule states that if the repairs required on your fence exceed 20% of its size, then it’s time to think of a replacement. In other words, if you have to repair a quarter or more of the boards on your fence, replacing them is the better option.

The rule works because it gives homeowners a substantial metric by which they can measure the damages on their fence. It’s also viable since it helps you save a fortune in future repairs.

Keep in mind; The damaged 20% of your fence is only the visible beginning of your problems. There’s likely to be more serious invisible problems and damages in the remaining 80% of the fence.

By replacing it sooner, you’ll spend more on upfront costs but your new fence will last for decades with minimal need for repairs.

Exceptions to the 20% rule

Despite being a good rule that’s simple and easy to implement, there are exceptions to this rule that you should know, i.e.,

  • If the cost to repair the fence is more than the cost to replace it, always opt for a replacement.
  • If your fence is just too old, replacing it is always the right decision. There’s no point in fixing a dying fence.
  • If the fence damages are more than 20% but the cost to replace it is just too expensive, repairing it is the only option that makes sense.

Important: Despite all these exceptions, the best way to determine whether you should repair or replace your fence is by consulting and getting a free estimate from a fence contractor.

An expert is able to inspect your fence panels, and several fence posts to assess the extent of your fence problems before making a final decision.

Signs it’s time to replace your fence

While the 20% rule is a practical way to look into the decision to replace your fence, there are other signs that could help you determine this.

ProblemsFence affected
Storm damage /car accidentsAll fences
Holes in the fenceVinyl fencing

Wood fencing
Leaning fence/fence posts / fallen panelsVinyl fence

Aluminum fence

Wood fence

Chain link fence
RustingSteel fencing

Wrought iron fencing
RottingWooden fencing
Missing boards/picketsWooden fence

Vinyl fence
Property line/Local lawsChain link fencing

Vinyl fencing

Wooden fencing

Homeowners who can spot these signs early are able to avoid many unnecessary costs associated with further damage.

The signs include:

Heavy damage

Any damages caused by storms, tornadoes, falling trees, or even car crashes can be very costly to your fence.

In many cases, these accidents cause structural damage to the fence posts that hold your entire fence together.

While you can repair such damages, you’ll find that fixing up your fence posts is very expensive.

Damages from natural disasters may also cause a shift in the soil structure meaning more repairs will be required.

Holes in your wooden fence

Holes in your wood fence should be the first signs that you ought to get worried. If they’re just a few holes then some minor repairs are fine.

But once you notice a widespread distribution of the holes across the entire fence, then that calls for a replacement.

However, if the holes are caused by insects like termites or pests like mice, your first step should be exterminating wood-destroying insects.

Contact an exterminator to help you with this before applying any wood filler or wood putty.

Otherwise, your new fencing will just be torn apart like the old fence in a short while. Note that holes can also affect a vinyl fence.

Extreme rusting on steel and wrought iron fences

Rusting is a common problem among all metal fences except an aluminum fence.

If you’ve noticed excess corrosion on your steel or wrought iron fence, applying a fresh coat of paint is off the books.

If not handled quickly, rust can eat away all the metal causing your fence to fall apart. You’ll, therefore, need to replace the whole fence including the rails and posts.

The best way to prevent this problem is to schedule a maintenance service regularly.

Leaning fence

A leaning fence is never good news. It usually indicates that there’s an underlying problem that will eventually cause the fence to topple over.

In most cases, it’s usually caused by shifting soil during soil erosion or weak and unstable fence posts.

The worst thing about this problem is that by the time you notice the leaning fence, there’s little you can do in repairs.

It’s often a sure sign that your fence needs to be replaced.

You’re likely to find this problem in wood fences, vinyl fences, and in some instances, an aluminum fence.

Rotting wood fence

In areas that experience hot and wet climates, moisture tends to build up in wood fences resulting in rotting. This usually appears as stains of gray or yellow on your wood, with the presence of molds and fungi growth.

If not spotted early, the rot will eat your wood posts inside out causing irreparable damage to the fence.

To avoid this, you can opt for more resistant fence materials such as treated lumber, vinyl fence, or an aluminum fence.

Repairs are piling up

If you’ve noticed that you’re always repairing your fence, that’s a sure sign that it requires replacement. This is a common problem when you’re dealing with aging wood, vinyl, and aluminum fences.

If it’s not broken, some boards are missing, or there are cracks and holes.

Investing in these repairs instead of replacing the fence will cost you a fortune and you’ll still have to replace the fence after it completely tears apart.

When should you repair your fence?

Generally, the only times you should repair your fence is when the damages are minimal. If money is to be involved, repairs should be cost-effective and easy to fix without disrupting the overall structure of your fence.

So, to know if your fence requires extensive repairs, first conduct an inspection of your entire fence to assess the state of the fence.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • For wood fences: Split boards, rails, small holes, insect damage, and fence panel damage
  • For vinyl fences: Damaged boards and panels, warping, rotting, fading
  • For Aluminum fences: Loose individual rail, bubbling paint
  • For metal fences: Loose rail, rust


It depends on the type of fence you want to replace. For instance, replacing a wooden or vinyl fence is much cheaper than replacing a metal fence like steel or wrought iron fences.

However, fence problems such as shifting soil may also mean you have extra costs to stabilize fence posts before the fence replacement.

Wood and vinyl fencing are usually among the cheapest to install due to their inexpensive cost of material. You also won’t spend a ton of money on regular maintenance. In most cases, just a power washer will do.

Nonetheless, barbed wire fences are the cheapest in the market (although many local governments and your homeowners association may be against it).

The lifespan of a wood fence varies depending on the type of wood used. Most wood fences from softwoods like cedar or pine, last anywhere from 15 – 20 years. With proper maintenance, they can last up to 30 years.

Hardwood fences, i.e Oak can last 50+ years with minimal need for maintenance.

Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.