Preventing Wood Rot

Rotting wood can be one of the most expensive types of home damage that a homeowner can experience. Once rot takes hold, the only option is usually a costly repair that involves replacement of the rotted parts.

Left untreated, wood rot spreads quickly and may lead to very serious structural damage. Moreover, damp wood is a welcome mat for termites and carpenter ants. An infestation of these pests can quickly reduce framing and structural wood beams to a crumbling mass.

So, how can you defend your home against rot and wood-damaging pests? Two ways: Frequent inspection and preventive maintenance.

At least twice a year, walk around your home and look for signs of rot. Look for the following:

  • Peeling, cracked or bubbling paint
  • Stains under eaves, around fireplaces and on interior ceilings
  • Sagging or leaking gutters and downspouts
  • Shrubbery or tree branches closer than two feet from siding or roofing
  • Vents blocked with insulation or debris
  • Dirt, leaves or twigs between decking boards

Focus on areas where two pieces of trim meet, where pieces of siding butt up against each other or where siding meets trim. Check horizontal surfaces carefully. Water tends to sit in areas like deck stairs, window sills, door thresholds and railings.

If you find any of the conditions listed above, it’s time to probe for rot. Use a nail or pocket knife to probe the area. If the wood feels soft, rot has started. If the wood crumbles, rot has set in and is spreading to other areas.

Tips for Preventing Rot

  • Always use decay-resistant or pressure-treated lumber for decks. Wood that touches the ground should be pressure-treated that is rated for ground contact.
  • Consider replacing wood brick mold and trim with a PVC or other composite product.
  • Consider replacing wood siding with fiber cement siding.
  • Prime, stain or paint all (6) sides of exterior lumber.
  • Build sloped horizontal surfaces to augment drainage.
  • Plug fasteners by countersinking and placing a wood plug or caulking in the hole.
  • Maintain exterior paint and stain to ensure wood surfaces always have an adequate coat of protection against moisture.
  • Maintain exterior caulking to seal out as much moisture as possible but allow wood to “breathe”.
  • Repair hail and other storm damage to exterior wood as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t lean anything, such as old lumber, tools or ladders, against your siding.
  • Keep plants trimmed back at least two feet from your house’s exterior.
  • Clean your gutters regularly.
  • If you have a whole-house humidifier, adjust your humidistat as the temperature changes to keep moisture from accumulating on windows and metal surfaces. (This is probably the #1 cause of rot in windows.)
  • Adequately vent humid rooms such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

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