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How To Stop Wood Rot - 7 Things to Look For

Updated: 2 days ago

Understanding how to prevent wood rot from spreading can save you from spending anywhere between $20 to over $2,000 on deck repair. Wood rot in decks is a common issue that can be easily fixed if caught early, but if left unnoticed, it can seriously threaten your deck's structural integrity.

We’ll guide you through everything you need to know about wood rot: how to identify it, how to repair it, and most importantly, how to stop it from spreading on your deck!

What is Wood Rot?

Wood rot is a type of decay that affects wood, causing it to weaken and eventually disintegrate. It is primarily caused by fungal growth that thrives in moist conditions. There are two main types of this

Dry Rot

Despite its name, dry rot requires a certain level of moisture to begin. It is caused by specific fungi that can spread extensively through wood, even affecting dry areas by transporting moisture from wetter regions. Dry rot can cause significant structural damage as it breaks down the cellulose and hemicellulose in the wood, leaving it brittle and crumbly.

Serpula lacrymans

Diagram showing Serpula lacrymans that can cause wood rot
Figure 1. Infestation of timber by the dry rot fungus Serpula lacrymans and tissue types of S. lacrymans. (A) Damaged wood with fruiting body; (B) fungal mycelia on a wood beam ceiling; (C) fruiting body; (D) aerial mycelium; and (E) rhizomorph (cord mycelium) with wood.

The dry rot fungus, Serpula lacrymans, is a big problem for buildings because it eats away at the wood used in construction, leading to expensive repairs. This fungus breaks down the essential parts of the wood, called cellulose and hemicellulose. Alongside the fungus, various bacteria and other fungi are often present, and they interact in ways that can either help or hinder each other.

Research shows that S. lacrymans hosts many bacteria, mostly Gram-positive ones. These bacteria vary depending on the part of the fungus they are found in. For instance, bacteria in the fruiting bodies and mycelia are mostly from a group called Firmicutes, while those in the rhizomorphs (root-like structures) are mainly from a group called Proteobacteria. Other types of bacteria, like Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes, are less common.

Wet Rot

This type of rot occurs when wood is continuously exposed to high levels of moisture. The fungi responsible for wet rot thrive in damp conditions and cause the wood to become soft and spongy. Wet rot is generally less aggressive than dry rot but can still cause considerable damage if left untreated.

7 Signs of Wood Rot To Look For

1. Discolored Wood

Wood that has turned dark brown or black could be a sign of wood rot. The discoloration often appears as dark spots or patches.

2. Soft or Spongy Texture

If the wood feels soft or spongy when you press on it, this is a strong indicator of wood rot. Healthy wood should be hard and resistant to pressure.

3. Cracking or Splintering

Wood that is cracking, splintering, or breaking apart easily is often a sign that rot has set in. Look for unusual fractures or splits.

4. Musty Smell

A musty, damp smell around wooden areas can be a sign of rot. This odor is caused by the presence of mold and mildew that often accompany wood decay.

5. Peeling Paint or Bubbles

Paint that is peeling, bubbling, or blistering could indicate moisture has penetrated the wood, leading to rot beneath the surface.

6. Growth of Fungi or Mold

Fungal growth, such as mushrooms or mold on or around wooden areas, is a clear sign that the wood is decaying.

To remove Fungi or Mold, first, identify the source of moisture causing the fungal growth or mould on the wood. Common sources include roof leaks, plumbing issues, or poor drainage. Fix any leaks and improve ventilation or drainage to prevent water from continuously reaching the wood.

Next, remove the affected wood if it's severely rotted and clean the remaining area thoroughly with a fungicidal cleaner or a bleach-water mixture (1:1 ratio) to kill any remaining mold spores. Ensure the area is completely dry before proceeding, using fans, dehumidifiers, or natural ventilation to eliminate moisture.

Finally, treat the remaining wood with a preservative to protect it from future fungal growth. Replace the removed sections with new, treated wood, and seal all joints properly with caulk or sealant. Paint or stain the wood with a protective coating to provide an additional barrier against moisture. Regularly inspect and maintain the area to ensure it stays dry and free from mold.

7. Presence of Termites or Insects

Termites and other wood-boring insects are attracted to rotting wood. Seeing these pests around your wood structures is a common sign of wood rot.

Carpenter ants are found almost exclusively in rotten wood, and can be a surefire indication of water damage. If you see ants, take care of the ant colony with professional pest control or with commonly available pesticides, and then be sure to thoroughly inspect the wood for any signs of brown rot or carpenter ant tunnles.

Regularly inspecting your home for these signs can help catch wood rot early and prevent extensive damage.

How Do You Stop Wood Rot From Spreading?

Stopping wood rot from spreading requires a combination of identifying the source, addressing the moisture problem, and treating or replacing the affected wood. Here are the steps you can take:

Identify and Address the Source of Moisture

Find the Source: Locate the source of moisture causing the rot, such as leaks, poor drainage, or high humidity.

Fix Leaks: Repair any leaks in roofs, gutters, pipes, or windows to prevent water from infiltrating the wood.

Improve Ventilation: Ensure good airflow in areas prone to dampness, like basements, attics, and crawl spaces, by using fans or dehumidifiers.

Treating the Affected Area

Remove Rotted Wood: Carefully cut out and dispose of the rotted sections of wood. Ensure you remove all decayed parts to prevent further spread.

Dry the Area: Thoroughly dry the remaining wood and surrounding area. Use fans or heaters if necessary to speed up the drying process.

Treat with Fungicide: Apply a fungicide or wood preservative to the remaining wood to kill any lingering fungi and prevent future growth.

Seal the Wood: Use a wood sealant or paint to protect the wood from moisture. This helps to create a barrier against water infiltration.

Replace and Repair

Replace Damaged Wood: Replace the removed wood with new, treated wood. Ensure the new dry wood is appropriately sized and fits well with the existing structure.

Protect the New Wood: Treat the new wood with a preservative and seal it to protect against future moisture exposure.

Ongoing Prevention

Regular Inspections: Routinely inspect your wood structures for signs of rot or moisture issues. Early detection can prevent extensive damage.

Maintain Gutters and Downspouts: Ensure gutters and downspouts are clear of debris and functioning correctly to direct water away from the structure.

Proper Landscaping: Grade the landscape around your home to direct water away from the foundation. Avoid planting water-heavy plants too close to wooden structures.

How Can Atlas Vinyl Sundecks Help With Rot In Wood Decks?

At Atlas, we have years of experience repairing old, damaged, and rotten decks. We install Duradek Vinyl to create a waterproof membrane that will protect your deck for many years to come. From removing the old rot to installing the final layer, we are a full-service deck builder that can help with any step of the project.

How To Repair Wood Rot?

DIY Wood Rot Repair

One of the most important aspects of rot repair is sourcing quality materials that will last and give your deck or structure the life it needs. Pressure-treated wood and Trex decking are both great options that provide great rot protection compared to conventional lumber. Once you have the new materials, you can begin the rot repair by removing the rotten wood.

Repairing minor wood rot yourself is easier than you might think! This guide will help you fix your deck, door frames, window sills, and other solid wood elements.

1. Gather Tools and Materials

Before you start, make sure you have all the necessary tools and materials. You'll need a 5-in-1 rasp, chisel, claw hammer, wood hardener, wood filler or epoxy, a putty knife, and a sealant or stain.

2. Remove Rotten Boards

Use your tools to carefully remove the rotted areas of wood. Be gentle to avoid damaging the surrounding wood. If an entire board is rotten, replace it with a new one.

3. Apply Wood Hardener, Filler, or Epoxy

For areas with minor damage that can't be easily replaced, use wood hardener, filler, or epoxy. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the best results. These products will help strengthen and stabilize the damaged wood.

4. Shape and Smooth

If you're using filler, press it into the recess with a putty knife. Shape it to fit the space and look aesthetically pleasing. You'll have about 10 to 15 minutes to work before the filler starts to harden, depending on the temperature.

5. Stain or Seal

Once your repairs are done, stain or seal the new wood to match the rest of your deck. This step is crucial to protect the wood from moisture and prevent future rot.

Reinforcement for Major Damage

If the rotten wood affects a joist or beam, it's best to call in a professional handyman or use a reinforcing beam or joist to ensure the structural integrity of your deck.

By following these steps, you can effectively repair minor wood rot and extend the life of your wooden structures.

Professional Wood Rot Repair

If you're looking for a professional to save your deck and repair the wood rot, contact us today. Atlas Vinyl Sundecks has saved many decks from certain death from wood rot.

Frequently Asked Questions and Wood Rot & Decks

What is dry rot?

Dry rot is a type of fungal decay affecting timber, caused by the fungus Serpula lacrymans. Despite its name, it requires moisture to thrive. Key signs include discolored, spongy wood that eventually cracks, crumbles, or becomes brittle. It produces a musty smell, white or gray mycelium, and mushroom-like fruiting bodies. Prevention involves controlling moisture and ensuring proper ventilation. Treatment includes removing infected wood and applying chemical fungicides. Regular inspections are essential for early detection and prevention.

What does dry rot look like?

Dry rot typically exhibits several distinct visual characteristics:

  1. Discoloration: Affected wood often changes color, appearing darker or lighter than surrounding wood.

  2. Texture: The wood becomes spongy or soft to the touch and may eventually dry out and become brittle.

  3. Cracking and Splitting: The wood develops deep cracks running across the grain.

  4. Mycelium: A white or gray cotton wool-like growth may appear on the surface of the wood or nearby materials.

  5. Fruiting Bodies: Mushroom-like structures or large, pancake-shaped fruiting bodies with a rusty red color can form on the wood's surface.

  6. Spore Dust: Fine, reddish-brown spore dust may be present around the affected area.

Recognizing these signs can help identify dry rot early and prevent further damage.

What causes dry rot?

Dry rot is caused by the fungus Serpula lacrymans, which thrives in damp, poorly ventilated areas. Key factors include moisture in wood (above 20%), poor ventilation, lack of maintenance, and mild temperatures (59°F to 86°F). Preventing dry rot involves controlling moisture, ensuring good airflow, and maintaining wood structures.

How to treat dry rot?

  1. Eliminate moisture by fixing leaks and improving ventilation.

  2. Remove and dispose of all infected wood.

  3. Apply fungicide to surrounding areas.

  4. Replace with treated wood.

  5. Ensure proper ventilation to prevent recurrence.

How much does dry rot treatment cost?

Dry rot treatment costs typically range from $500 to $5,000, depending on the extent of the damage and the area affected. Minor repairs might be on the lower end, while extensive structural repairs can be more expensive.

Is dry rot dangerous?

Yes, dry rot is dangerous as it weakens the structural integrity of wood, potentially leading to severe damage in buildings. If left untreated, it can cause significant safety hazards and costly repairs.

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