Wood is our favourite material. We love the look, we love the feel, we love its versatility, and we love how nice it is to work with. As great as wood is, it is susceptible to rotting. Rotting wood is damaged wood, which must be dealt with appropriately. So—how do you tell if your wood is rotting, and what do you do about it?
There are two kinds of rot which affect wood and timbers; dry and wet rot. Dry rot is the result of the infestation of a living fungus, whereas wet rot is simply the natural decay of timber in the presence of high levels of moisture. Of the two, dry rot is far more serious and is usually treated by the removal of all infected timbers as well as the application of chemical fungicide. Wet rot is treated depending on the severity and placement of the rot; sometimes simple reapplications of water-repellent finishes may stop the rot, while on other occasions the entire timber may need to be replaced. In all cases of wet rot, the source of the moisture which causes the rot must be addressed to prevent further issues.
Despite its strengths, wood can be quite vulnerable to degradation. When poorly maintained, timber quickly becomes a prime feeding source for various pests and fungi. One of the most common issues to look for in your wooden features is rot, and the sooner you locate it, the easier it is to amend the issue. Here’s how to spot the signs of rotting wood.
At Hitch Property Constructions, we offer timber repairs work from simple timber repair to almost new structures, renovations, and extensions.
How to Identify the Three Types of Wood Rot
Wood + Water = Decay (rot)
It’s a simple equation that can cause a lot of damage. Wood rot can ruin a deck quicker than just about anything save termites. Wood rot must be caught early and taken care of as quickly as possible to minimise the damage.
Three types of wood rot can occur. Being able to identify the rot properly will help you decide the best plan of action for rectifying the situation.
- Parts of Wood it Damages: Cellulose and hemicelluloses
- How it Affects Wood: Rapid strength loss – up to 80% depending on the type of wood / Cracks wood against its grain / Causes wood to split
- Moisture Content Conducive to Decay: 20%+
- Visible Signs: Brown rot is often referred to as “dry rot” because overtime the affected wood will become so deprived of nutrients that it will take on a dry or powdery appearance.
- Parts of Wood it Damages Cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin.
- How it Affects Wood: Significant strength loss
- Moisture Content Conducive to Decay: 20%+
- Visible Signs: This rot gets its name because affected wood will get white spots where rotted. It can range from whitish to grey or yellowish. Wood with white-rot will feel spongy.
- Parts of Wood it Damages Cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin.
- How it Affects Wood: Significant strength loss, but slower degradation than the other two types of rot.
- Moisture Content Conducive to Decay: 20%+
- Visible Signs: This is the rarest type of wood rot. The cavities it forms are within the wood. However, you may see cracking and discolouration similar to brown rot.
Dry rot and wet rot
There are two types of rot that impact wooden surfaces: dry rot and wet rot. Dry rot is usually the most detrimental to your timber, and is caused by the infestation of a living fungus (sounds yucky, we know). Wet rot, on the other hand, is the natural decay of timber due to the levels of moisture in the surrounding environment. The treatment for wet rot and dry rot differs, so the first step in solving the problem is identifying which type of rot you’re dealing with.
Common signs of dry rot:
- Cotton wool-like substance on timber
- Mushroom-like fungus on the surface (often rusty or yellowish)
- Spore dust around the surrounding area
- Warped, dry, split, crumbling, or shrunken wood
- A musty smell
Common signs of wet rot (usually found in timber that gets a lot of moisture- near water or close to the ground):
- Wood appears darker in rotting areas
- Wood is easy to penetrate
- Wood is soft and spongy
- A black fungus may be visible
How to treat wood rot
The way you’ll treat your affected wood will vary based on the type of rot your wood is experiencing. Depending on the severity of your rotting situation and the location of your rot (i.e. if your timber is structural), it’s a wise idea to get professional help. Experts are trained to deal with these situations and can help you find your best solution.
Generally, regardless of wet rot or dry rot, the affected wood will need to be removed as soon as possible, and replaced with healthy, pre-treated timber. A fungicide will usually be used to help stop the spread of the rot and try to save the surrounding wood. It’s essential that in addition to the above, you take preventative measures to provide a safe and protective environment for your wood. This means keeping wood as dry as possible and treating wood with a quality waterproofer.
Identifying Dry Rot
In the earliest stages, dry rot will look like off-white, cottony sheets on brickwork and timber. It may have a yellowish tinge were exposed to direct light.
Some mushroom-like bodies may grow over surfaces and finishes that are concealing dry-rotting timber, such as plaster or paint. Often, they can be the first visible signs of dry rot.
Inspect timbers for long, deep cracks running across the grain. These cracks may also evidence the off-white fibres of the fungus.
Where possible, apply direct pressure to wood which you suspect to be suffering from dry rot. Timber decaying from dry rot will buckle under pressure, often crumbling under even slight touches.
Check out our range of timber repairs Melbourne at Hitch Property Constructions.
Identifying Wet Rot
Check for wet rot in areas typically vulnerable to moisture, such as those which may be exposed to the most moisture or that is nearest to the ground or other areas where water collects.
Paint and finishes may look sound while concealing rotting wood underneath. Professional builders and practised do-it-yourselfers may use a thin-bladed knife to press into the timber, applying only very slight pressure. The knife should not penetrate very deeply at all. Deep penetration is a sign of rot.
Feel the wood in question. Timber affected by wet rot will feel spongy, even despite finishes and paint, and will look darker than timber unaffected by rot.
Wet vs. Dry Rot
First, let’s distinguish the two main types of rot that might affect your wood — wet and dry rot. Wet rot, as its name implies, refers to a species of fungus that goes after damp wood and other moist materials such as carpets and plaster. Dry rot can spread relatively quickly, digesting wood from the inside out. While both forms of rot are problematic, dry rot is the more severe of the two due to its rate and strength of spread. Wet rot spreads much more gradually because it needs an existing source of moisture to grow, meaning it won’t spread beyond damp areas.
Spotting Signs of Wet Rot
To the inexperienced eye, wet and dry rot can be difficult to tell apart, but there are some telltale differences between these frustrating fungi. In order to identify wet rot, you’ll want to focus on the wood’s colour, texture, shape and size of damage (i.e. fracturing), and smell. More specifically, common wet rot signs include:
- Softened texture (spongy and easy to penetrate with a pointed object)
- Darkened appearance (one area might appear darker than the rest)
- The musty, earthy scent
- Cracks and crumbles
- Localised fungus growth
- Chipping paint (i.e. wood deck paint)
Because wet rot occurs in damp areas, you can usually identify it based on where you’re looking, too. For instance, basements, attics, roofs, and other places that experienced high moisture levels are more likely to encounter wet rot (though dry rot may also occur in these places).
Spotting Signs of Dry Rot
Dry rot is perhaps even more difficult to pinpoint than wet rot because it tends to exhibit more obvious signs later in its lifecycle. That said, those experienced with wood rot, carpentry, deck repairs, etc. can usually find dry rot if it’s there. These signs include:
- The appearance of fruiting bodies (mushroom-like, pancake-shaped, rust-coloured, porous)
- Spore dust on wood (usually red and near fruiting bodies)
- The spread of white mycelium across wood (fine, fluffy strands)
- Yellow-white-grey-ish “skin” overlapping the wood in patches
- Damp, musty, mushroom-like scent
What to Do About Rotted Wood?
When it comes to eliminating rot from your wooden features, the first step in addressing the root of the problem (usually a source of moisture). Once you’ve resolved that, your two main options are killing the fungus where it lives and making repairs or removing and replacing the affected wood entirely. The best option will depend on the depth and spread of the rot. If wet or dry rot has engulfed a major portion of your wood, your best bet is to get rid of the whole piece and replace it. But if you catch the rot early in its development and it’s relatively isolated, you can usually stop it in its tracks with the proper fungicide. After you’ve killed the fungi, you can make necessary repairs, re-apply wood deck stain or paint, and/or apply wet rot wood hardeners.
Common Indicators of Wood Rot
Some home problems that require repairs appear highly visible, constantly reminding you that they need attention. However, wood rot is often hidden, able to grow and feed. When undetected, wood rot can begin to affect your health as well as your home. In very serious cases, however uncommon, wood rot can become so widespread that it affects the structural integrity of the building.
Because of the risks associated with unaddressed wood rot, it’s important that you, as a homeowner, know how to recognise wood rot in all its stages. If you live in an area with average to high humidity, we advise you to inspect your home and property thoroughly for any signs of wood rot at least once a year.
If you notice any of the following six signs, have them evaluated and treated by a wood rot professional immediately.
Damaged or Decaying Timber
In your search for wood rot, one of the most common and sure indicators is a softwood. If the wood feels spongy to the touch or is brittle and crumbly, it’s probably damaged or decaying due to rot. This portion of timber likely needs to be removed to keep the rot from spreading. Another common sign of damaged timber is a section that appears shrunken or darkened.
Large Patches of Spore Dust
Dry rot spores appear at many properties, sometimes without accompanying rot. However, large and concentrated patches of spore dust are a cause for concern. If you find large areas of fine dust that’s orange, rust red or brown, ask a professional to help you clear away the spores.
Fine Strands (Hyphae) on Timber
After a certain point in the wood rot’s development, rot spores develop fine grey strands known as hyphae. These strands look similar to cobwebs and extract the moisture from the surrounding timber, eating away at it slowly.
Grey or White, Wool-Like Cushions
While mould and mildew are not the same as wood rot, dry rot can cause what’s called white mycelium. White mycelium looks similar to the white mould you’d find on old leftovers. These silky, wool- and cotton-like cushions are produced when the rot needs to spread. The mycelium cushions range in colour from pure white to grey.
Mushroom-Like Fruiting Bodies
The fruiting bodies that look rather like mushrooms or pancakes are nearly impossible to miss and indicate a problem that’s existed for a long time. The surfaces of these bodies have wide pores. These wide pores indicate that the rot has fed off the timber as much as possible and is now producing new spores to start another cycle.
Damp, Musty Smell
As with most forms of rot, wood rot produces a noticeable damp and musty smell. This smell accompanies any active rot, so if you start to notice the odour in your home, it’s wise to look for the above signs to find the source.
Where to Look
While searching your property for signs of wood rot, there are a few key locations to check. It’s important to note that wood cannot rot if it does not get wet, so wood that’s exposed to humidity, rain or other sources of water has the highest risk of rot. Paint can protect the wood, but if you notice any cracked or chipped paint, be sure to check the wood underneath in case any moisture got trapped there.
If you notice any of the above signs in your home or on your property, do not hesitate to call a wood restoration professional. The sooner the problem is addressed, the easier it will be to fix, and the less time the process will take.
Ways to Prevent Wood Rot
Keep it painted.
Keeping your house painted is the easiest way to keep the water out. Paint is a great layer of protection to help the surfaces of your house shed water and dirt. Though it may get wet, the paint keeps the water (and fungus) from attacking the underlying wood.
No standing water.
If any part of your house gets standing water after a rainstorm, then that area is much more likely to rot. Standing water will find its way into joints and cracks in the paint and seep into the wood giving rise to perfect conditions for rot. Redesign these elements to allow water to shed off of them.
We have a wide range of Melbourne timber repairs for your home renovations. Check out Hitch Property Constructions.
Allow for air.
Good airflow helps everything dry out faster, and the faster things dry, the less chance of rot. Trim back shrubs and trees from your house so that there is enough room for some airflow between the two. Wet shrubs directly against siding are a major cause of rot on many houses.
If you can keep it dry, you’re leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of us. Yes, the cause of rot is a fungus, but if you focus your energies on keeping the exterior surfaces of your house dry, you’ll stop it in its tracks. And preventing rot is a lot easier than stopping it once it gets rolling.
Ultimately, though, the best way to keep your wood healthy and structurally sound is by preventing rot in the first place. Some ways to avoid wood rot is to use pre-treated timber, hire pressure washing services to thoroughly clean your exterior wooden features once or twice a year, regularly clean and inspect all of your wooden features on your own time, and apply deck stain to your wooden deck or patio every 2-3 years to seal the wood’s pores and protect it from moisture, pests, and fungi.
It’s worth noting that rot, or decay, is different than mould. Mould and mildew affect the surface of decking and can be removed with proper cleaners. Rot, on the other hand, grows within the wood, causing it to lose structural integrity and strength.
However, mould and mildew is a sign of potential water problems. It can also make the wood more susceptible to the bacteria that causes rot.
The longer wood rot is left untreated, and the more severe and widespread the damage will become. More damage means more cost to repair. Typically, if signs are starting to show on the surface, then the damage is serious within the wood. At first sight of possible wood decay, you should carefully inspect the deck, including underneath the decking when possible. Avoid walking on the portion that has been affected and begin replacing the affected wood as soon as possible.