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Question DetailsAsked on 7/13/2013

How much warping in a treated wood post and rail fence should be considered industry norm?

I am experiencing significant warping rails in a treated wood post and rail (copper based treatment). A local contractor had purchased these at one of the big box home improvement stores. I am now stuck with an unsightly fence after 2 years with approximate 30 percent of rails warped, to the point that several have warped so badly that they have fallen out of the fence entirely. Should the contractor who supplied the materials and installed the fence be liable for repairs?

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Sorry you are having this problem - now the bad news.

Unless your contract had an express warranty longer than 2 years, you are probably out of luck. You have run into one of the problems with box stores - they tend to buy the cheapest product. The high-quality lumber companies stack the boards to be treated with deliberate small gaps between them side-to-side and with spacer boards between decks to allow even treatment penetration, strap the whole load together, and treat it, then place it in a kiln for drying to a specified moisture content, and finally outside for storage and aging until shipment, during which process the solvent (liquified petroleum gas or LPG for the better products) evaporates fairly evenly from all faces, so when unstrapped not more than a few percent of the boards want to kink and twist, and that from natural grain twist.

The cheapest wood, which tends to be small-diameter trunk young-growth southern pine which tends to twist a lot worse than larger diameter West coast hem-fir or spruce in the first place, is commonly used by the economy wood producers. They frequently just tightly bundle up a load of lumber about 5-10 feet high and wide and treat it without any space around the boards and commonly using a water-based treatment, so the penetration of the treatment is uneven and boards will range from 100% moisture saturation on one side to 25% or less on the other. They then put it outside to age and dry without the uniformity of kiln drying, and commonly ship before it has stabilized, so when it is unbundled at the store it looks OK for a few days, but starts warping soon after. Because the treatment was uneven, natural moisture penetration in rain is uneven also, so the boards tend to further warp and twist quite badly.

I would also guess the rails were nailed on rather than put on with screws or metal brackets - warping board can pull nails out, or force small head nailgun nails through the wood, whereas screws or nailed brackets will keep most boards from twisting (although if they really want to twist real bad, they will just split).

Unfortunately, after 2 years, you would have a hard time convincing a jury or a judge or an arbitrator that this was the contractor's fault, since you implicitly accepted the materials used when they were delivered and put up in your fence, even though you probably knew no better. If he did not check the lumber moisture and stacking when he bought it, he probably did not know this was the case either.

That is why commercial construction contracts commonly have explicit warranties, though even then for a fence it would probably not extend past 2 years.

About all you probably can legally do is replace the worst ones and live with it, I would say, and put a comment on material quality in the contractor's review. While it is possible to check moisture content in delivered wood, usually that is only done by framers for roof trusses, and finish carpenters and cabinetmakers in determining if hardwoods have aged enough for machining or painting.

About all you can do is point this out to the contractor, explain your complaint, and see if he will replace the worst of them as a customer relations measure. Angie's List might or might not help with your issue after this time frame - I don't know - contact Customer Service if you want to talk to them. Of course, if the contractor is rated on Angie's List, mentioned the List might help you get satisfaction. At this point I would not get nasty - see if he will fix the worst ones for you, and call that a win. If you try to swing for the fence, so to speak, and get them all replaced he is likely to just say NO.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD




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