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Dry Rot: The Uninvited Houseguest

Written by Posted On Friday, 11 August 2017 14:28

One of the most serious threats to the health of your home, as luck would have it, can also be one of the most difficult to spot.

Dry rot, or "wood rot" as it's also known, can be inconspicuously lurking beneath floors, walls, siding, roofing, or wreaking havoc in the crawl space or attic. Unless you have x-ray vision, rot can be impossible to see without venturing into parts of the house that you had no intention of exploring, or without peeling away layers of your home.

Wherever moisture meets wood is where dry rot can take hold. And once it starts, it tends to CONTINUE on its path of destruction until action is taken to stop it. The end result can be devastating, particularly if the sub-structure (beams, joists, framing, etc.) has become involved. At that point, what would have been a relatively minor repair if caught early has likely turned into a major one--with expenses to match!

Even if you don't plan on staying in your home for long, that doesn't mean you should ignore a dry rot problem. Trying to sell when an inspection indicates the presence of rot can mean a big decrease in price--or worse, it could put an unexpected kibosh on the entire transaction! Unfortunately, dry rot is something that must be dealt with--and preferably dealt with EARLY ON--whether you'll be living in your home for weeks or for decades.

So What Is This Dry Rot, Anyway?

Dry rot is severe wood decay caused by a particular fungus. This decidedly inconsiderate organism eats away at damp, healthy wood until it becomes extremely brittle and eventually turns to dust. Imagine this happening to weight-bearing posts, beams, and sub-flooring in your home and you can see why dry rot is such a serious issue! In 2015, there was a well-publicized incident in Berkeley, California in which six people actually died when dry rot caused a deck to collapse.

Dry rot is more prevelant in damper climates like that of the Pacific Northwest, for example, than it is in, say, the relatively-dry southwestern part of the country. But since moist conditions can arise due to problems INSIDE the house as well as outside, dry rot can be found in homes everywhere from sea to shining sea. Leaking pipes, poor seals, and lack of adequate ventilation, among other things, can all create an environment in which dry rot can thrive.

Exterior factors leading to rot usually include situations whereby your home's protective barrier is compromised and moisture is allowed to reach the vulnerable wood underneath. Such is the case with faulty, damaged or worn siding, paint, flashing, shingles, or gutters, for example. But even areas of the house that appear to be in sound condition, where vertical and horizontal surfaces meet (such as a deck next to an exterior wall), are prone to develop dry rot.

Signs That Dry Rot May Have Invaded Your Home

Although rot isn't always overt about making its presence known, there are some things to look for that serve as clues:

  • Your floor has soft spots or "hills and valleys," particularly in the bathroom, kitchen, or some other room where water is present.
  • You notice wood that has cracked, become darker, and appears to be shrinking.
  • There are patches of discoloration on floors or wood surfaces.
  • The air in a particular area of the house smells damp and musty.
  • You spot growth resembling cobwebs, cotton, or mushrooms. (Tip: These aren't "mushrooms" you want in your salad!)
  • Inserting a sharp object (such as a screwdriver) into wood is much easier than it should be.
  • You step out on the deck to quickly find yourself waist-deep in it. (You laugh, but this actually happened to yours truly!)


The Key To Stopping Rot

The best remedy for dry rot is preventing it from forming in the first place. There are a few measures homeowners can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening:

  • Make sure your home is properly ventilated, particularly in the crawlspace and attic.
  • Seal floors in the basement and crawlspace to keep moisture out.
  • Keep gutters, drains, and downspouts free from debris.
  • Make sure there is proper flashing on the roof, sides of the house, windows, exterior doors, and deck.
  • Check to see that wood siding and trim doesn't come in contact with the ground, roof, or masonry.
  • Paint, stain, and caulk. Don't keep putting it off until "next summer!"


If the prevention ship has sailed and you suspect (or KNOW) that you already have a dry rot problem, your first priority should be to find a company specializing in dry rot repair to assess the situation. Don't just settle for the first contractor you see in the phone book--dry rot is tricky and many contractors simply lack the experience and know-how to deal with it adequately. In fact, many of them will sub-contract the work out to a known, reputable dry rot repair specialist like SFW Construction and then mark the bill up 20% or more for the customer. Better to hire the specialist DIRECTLY, save yourself some money, and communicate your dry rot issues with the experts themselves. Most importantly, hiring a dry rot repair specialist helps ensure that the rot and the SOURCE of the rot are repaired properly so that you're not facing the same issues a few years down the line!

No doubt about it, dry rot is serious business. But with prudent preemptive care and prompt repair work when called for, it doesn't have to be the uninvited houseguest that destroys your home.

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Norm Hundtoft

Norm Hundtoft is the Online Marketing Director and Copywriter for SFW Construction in Portland, Oregon. He writes articles related to various aspects of home repair.

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