Wood Rot: Types, Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Wood is one of nature’s ideal building materials. It can be cut, shaped and molded into many forms, making it perfect for both structural and decorative elements of your house. Wood is readily available in many species and is the most economical building product — it’s even a renewable resource.
As much as the American building industry so commonly uses wood, it has one big weakness: Rot.
Experts estimate that around 20 billion board feet of lumber are destroyed by rot annually — that’s far more than all the wood destroyed by fire. Most rotten wood needs to be replaced rather than treated. Rot replacement accounts for nearly 10% of all wood products produced yearly in America.
While that’s a large amount of wood being destroyed by rot, most of this waste could’ve been reduced if people had prevented the conditions contributing to rot destructions. Part of prevention is knowing the causes and identifying the early indicators of wood rot. This makes treatment for wood rot easier and far less expensive.
Identifying Wood Rot
Wood rot is a natural phenomenon. It’s nature’s way of recycling dead, organic material and turning it back into soil fertilizer to help new generations of plant life. The wood in your home’s frame and trim work is dead — it’s just been preserved from decay by a drying and/or artificial treatment process. If conditions are right, rot is bound to occur. Knowing how to identify rot is the first step to treating it and preventing serious damage.
The first thing to know about wood rot is that there are three different types. They manifest in different manners, and one is far more destructive than the other two. However, left untreated, wood rot will not stop — the decay process speeds up as time passes. Here’s how to identify the three rot types:
- Soft rot is the rarest form of wood rot. It forms inside the wood cells and capillaries. Because it grows from inside out, soft rot is difficult to identify until it’s taken a massive hold. Soft rot begins slowly but leads to significant structural loss. The easiest way to spot soft rot is by noticing a bulge or blister in the wood surface — it feels softer than the surrounding wood when you press on it.
- Wet rot is the most common form and starts on the wood’s outer surface — you can notice it immediately. It has a slimy, slippery appearance, will feel spongey to the touch and emits a musty odor. You’ll always find wet rot accompanied by high moisture content. Wet rot is called white rot because of its white or yellowish appearance. If you catch it early enough and remove it, you can control any significant damage.
- Dry rot, or brown rot, is the most severe type. This occurs over longer periods and doesn’t require a high moisture content. You’ll see signs of dry rot due to large cracks in the grain and a dry, decomposing condition. Advanced cases of dry rot will crumble to the touch and leave behind powdery dust. By the time you’ve identified a clear case of dry rot, the wood strength will almost always be so depleted that replacement is your only option.
It’s important to know that all forms of rot are different organic processes than mold or mildew. Mold and powdery mildew are surface conditions where colonies are propagating. They’re using the wood as a host and are only feeding on the outer layer, whereas true rot is the wood’s cellular decomposition. Left untreated, mildew and mold can quickly lead to rotting wood. Also, mold and mildew are easier to treat than cellular rot, but they all have the same causes.
Wood Rot Causes
All wood rot is a natural organic decay condition caused by fungal growth. Fungi are microscopic organic spores present everywhere in nature — you can’t escape them. They’re built into the environment to break down wood and other plant life that has died and needs to be recycled back into the ecosystem.
While you can’t do anything about the presence of fungi spores, you can certainly do something about fungi colonizing and taking hold — that’s what causes rot. For rot to start and advance, four conditions need to exist:
- A substrate or surface. Fungi cling to and colonize on a surface. Wood is perfect because it’s hard enough to support fungal growth, yet porous enough to let fungi enter the wood structure and break down the cells. Wood cellulose is an excellent food source that provides fungi spores and colonies with all the nutrients they need to prosper. Some woods like cedar and cypress have natural fungi inhibitors and decay slower than species that are high risks for rot, such as pine and spruce.
- Warmth. Fungi need a certain temperature to thrive. They can’t prosper in freezing temperatures. However, fungi spores and colonies can stay dormant in frozen wood only to reactivate when the weather warms and wood thaws out. Rot can advance anywhere above the freezing point, but has optimal conditions around room temperature.
- Oxygen. Fungi are living creatures, and they need oxygen from the air just like plants and animals. Oxygen doesn’t have to be in large supply. In fact, a large supply of air flow, especially warm air, is counter-productive to wood rot because conditions dry out.
- Water. There must be moisture present to allow fungi spores to live. They can’t survive in dry conditions because water is the source of all life. Even in cases of dry rot, there’s sufficient moisture present.
Once you have all four of these living conditions present in a wood environment, fungus naturally begins its lifecycle. This happens in four distinct stages:
- Fungi spores enter the environment and lay dormant.
- Moisture causes spores to grow into hyphae.
- Germination turns hyphae into masses called mycelium.
- Fruiting bodies create new spores and expand the rot process.
The Kansas City area has a perfect climate for rot to thrive — we have the perfect storm of warm, humid summers and relatively mild winters. Furthermore, almost all our homes are wood frame construction. Our historic and heritage homes used wood everywhere, from their frames to the siding, doors, windows and other exterior trim.
These optimum conditions of extensive wood substrate, warmth, oxygen and moisture make Kansas City the ultimate breeding ground for fungi. Many homes aren’t properly designed or maintained to prevent natural decay, which is why we experience so much wood rot in the Kansas City region.
Preventing Wood Rot
Preventing wood rot makes far more sense than replacing it. Unfortunately, we see many cases where rot could have been prevented if the home builder and homeowner had been more aware of potential rot conditions and taken steps to prevent rot from taking hold. Once rot sets in, there’s no alternative than to stop it, cut out the affected material and ensure it doesn’t reoccur.
Preventing wood rot is challenging because it’s impossible to remove fungi spores, and there’s not much you can do to control oxygen or climatic temperature. The only effective measure you have left is to control moisture around wood. You can do that in three ways:
- Draining and drying the area. Water is wood’s friend while it’s alive, but a deadly enemy when it’s dead. However, wood will last indefinitely if you keep the moisture content below a certain level. Keeping wood dry is the main step in preventing rot. You must remove standing water and allow the wood to dry out.
- Increasing airflow. Moving air is the best way to remove moisture, as it lets water evaporate much faster than stagnant air. Your home’s exterior is constantly exposed to moving air — even wet, rainy air. But rain quickly stops and the airflow continues allowing wood to go through a natural wet and dry cycle. But when air can’t flow, you’ll get problems. Airflow problems occur behind siding, beside windows, under decks and around trim boards.
- Treat the wood. Builders do this by paying attention to detail while applying wood in areas that face moisture exposure. They treat wood in many ways, such as with paints, stains, sealers, and caulkings. Unfortunately, even experts can apply these incorrectly. The secret is to use the right product, make sure the wood is dry and apply it evenly to all sides of your wood.
Treating Wood Rot
Wood rot is prevalent around Kansas City. As one of the largest cities in the American Midwest, Kansas City has grown at a fast rate over the past century. Wood has been the main construction material and still is. Over the last 100 years, home builders used wood everywhere from their foundation up to their roofs. Many homes are standing in perfect condition because their builders knew how to properly prepare, install and make sure their wood assemblies could withstand water by drying, sealing and allowing air to flow.
Unfortunately, we regularly see cases where people didn’t use care, apply proper techniques or perform required maintenance. Then rot happens and the structure suffers, some to the extent of being unstable and unsightly. The only repair remedy is to fully inspect the extent of rot damage, remove it and replace the rotten members with new, properly prepared material.
Our professionals at Neighborhood Painting are experts in wood rot repair and wood rot replacement. We work in two teams of specialists who know how to treat wood rot and how to prevent the wood from rotting. Our first team deals with identifying the extent of rot and replacing it using advanced, modern sealing methods. Our second team is responsible for painting your repaired home. All specialists are Neighborhood Painting employees. We never sub-contract out our work to ensure you have quality control and continuity throughout the entire restoration and refinishing process.
Our Kansas City company has been in business since 2002. We’ve done some of the trickiest rotted wood replacement projects on some of the city’s finest historic homes. We handle the entire scope of works, from surveying your home and providing a firm estimate of the costs. We make sure you’re serviced by dedicated employees, not from independent sub-trades who revolve through the business.
We know the Kansas City conditions lead to many of our older homes becoming rot infected. We also know exactly what materials and restoration techniques work in our climatic zone — this ensures that work done on your home by Neighborhood Painting can be guaranteed to perform without failure.
Before You Paint, Make Sure It’ll Last
“Before you paint, make sure it’ll last” is our rot repair and replacement philosophy. It’s part of our company core values. We use this approach in all the restoration services we offer — we guarantee we’ll remove your rot and carefully prepare new fabrications before applying a drop of paint. This includes all our entire service lines:
- Siding. One of the biggest areas where we see damage from wood rot is in a home’s siding. When siding has been installed wrong, it traps moisture and can’t breathe. Given the humid conditions and warm summer weather in Kansas City, the backside and lower edges of lapped wood siding are the ideal breeding ground for fungi. As we know, that leads to rot. We’re able to replace your siding and install new materials in a way that we know will last before we start painting.
- Trim. Columns, railings, fascia boards, deck surfaces, trim details and battens are all subject to rot if they’re made of wood and haven’t been prepared to resist rot. We’re specialists in identifying trim details that are rot damaged and can remove and replicate them so they appear original.
- Windows. Every part of a wood window system can suffer from rot. That includes your window frames, mullions, sills, sashes, noses and stops. Neighborhood Painting can repair and replace all components. We can even replace your glazing and ensure a custom fit. That not only improves the look of your Kansas City home, it also makes it more energy efficient.
- Doors. Your exterior doors can also be subject to rot. Often, we find sills and frames that are water damaged. While the door blank itself might be salvageable, the surrounding support might need to be replaced. Neighborhood Painting can do that as well.
Contact Neighborhood Painting
Our services go beyond repairing rotten wood and painting your home. We also deal with all forms of water damage, drywall repair and stain fences and decks. If you have an exterior or interior remodeling project in mind in the Kansas City area, we can help. Remember, all workers at Neighborhood Painting are dedicated company employees.
Before you paint, make sure it will last. For reliable and professional wood rot specialists in Kansas City, choose Neighborhood Painting Inc. Contact us today for a free estimate on your wood rot repair project in Kansas City.