Wood rot is a widespread problem for homeowners in Huntsville, Alabama, (and Alabama as a whole, in fact). As well as being unsightly and potentially smelly, wood rot damages the structural integrity of the wood overall. This is bad enough when it impacts furniture, but it can be positively disastrous if it infects support beams, joists, and your property’s flooring.
Understanding the causes and contributing factors that lead to wood rot and learning to recognize the problem signs when they first present themselves can be hugely beneficial for homeowners. Like most issues, wood rot is easiest to deal with when it first takes root. If you can spot wood rot and nip it in the bud before it spreads, you could save yourself a huge amount of time, money, and stress.
What is Wood Rot?
While it is thoroughly inconvenient in a home, wood rot is a necessary process in nature. That’s why it can be so hard to prevent in your home. In nature, wood rot is fundamental in decomposing dead wood and turning fallen trees, branches, and logs into soil that is both nutritious and full of life. In a home, it is much less beneficial and can cause homeowners an understandable degree of worry, or even panic.
Broadly speaking, there are two forms of wood rot: wet and dry (though both are forms of fungal decay). However, wet rot can be broken down into two further categories: white rot and soft rot. While none are ideal for your home, dry rot is by far the most damaging kind due to the speed at which it can spread.
Dry rot, sometimes also called brown rot, is the most serious form of fungal decay that can be found in a property. Both of its names refer to the appearance of affected wood, which will be dark brown in color and visibly dry. The fungus that causes this form of rot often leaves deep cracks across the grain of the wood and will eventually cause the wood to be brittle and crumbly.
The damage done by dry rot is usually restricted to the timber itself, but there are some cases in which large, mushroom-shaped, fruiting bodies can break through plaster or paint when the rot becomes very advanced. Dry rot thrives in mild climates where the temperatures are typically between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it has taken root in a home, it can spread through the whole structure in a matter of months.
Wet rot is far more common than dry rot in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and takes two main forms: soft rot and white rot. Soft rot is the slowest moving of all wood rot because of the nature of the fungus that causes it. Soft rot fungus takes more time to mature and spread than brown rot and white rot fungi, but it is also tougher and can thrive in temperatures that the others cannot. In fact, soft rot can survive in temperatures from 0 to 110 Fahrenheit, making it incredibly durable. It is also most commonly found in fallen logs and trees, but it can impact homes. Soft rot leads wood to take on a spongy texture and may cause a honeycomb-like appearance.
White rot, like brown rot, thrives best in temperature ranges of 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike brown rot, white rot does not affect the cellulose in wood, but the lignin. This leads to the cellulose being left behind (which causes the telltale white coating on the wood). Wood affected by white rot will be soft, crumbly or spongy, and slightly slimy to the touch.
The most important details for most people are just what wood rot is a problem sign for in the home and what kind of damage it can lead to. These issues are the most immediately pressing for your home.
Wood Rot: The Problem Signs
Learning to spot the signs of wood rot is incredibly important for homeowners who want to avoid serious damage to the structure of their whole property. These problem signs will help you to recognize wood rot of all kinds early so you can act accordingly.
Musty odors in any part of your property are a warning sign that you should not ignore, especially if a thorough clean makes no difference to the smell. If the smell gets worse when you move into less-inhabited areas of your home (like the crawl space), then it is very likely that wood rot is a part of the issue.
There are other potential causes of a strong and unpleasant smell in your home. Mold formation, for example, and pest infestation can also cause strong, musty odors on your property. Depending on the pest in question, the odors can be vinegary or urine-like rather than musty in nature.
Visible fungal growth of any kind on a wooden surface or beam is one of the most definite signs of wood rot of any kind in a beam, joist, or section of flooring. While seeing this growth can be alarming, they are actually helpful. Fungal growth like this is most often found in areas where wood rot is concentrated and advanced.
Some of this growth can be dramatic and mushroom-like, while others are more like a slight fuzz on the surface of the wood. Please keep in mind, however, that simply scraping away the fungal growth will not slow or stop the spread of rot on a wooden surface. If you see this growth, be sure to check the ceilings as well. While we think of wood rot as an issue that affects flooring most of all, you should remember that heat (and moisture) rises.
High Humidity and Condensation
It is somewhat deceptive to call high relative humidity and condensation problem signs of wood rot because they are far more likely to be contributing factors to its spread and formation. However, humidity and condensation are the easiest to spot early warning signs when it comes to several issues.
Wood rot, mold formation, pest infestation, and structural damage can all be connected to increased humidity levels and condensation in a home. As such, you should view humidity, dampness, and condensation as general signs that your home may need some professional attention and help.
Dark Patches of Wood
If you have some exposed wood in your crawl space or your home as a whole, you can monitor it for signs of wood rot by considering the color of the wood itself. Dry rot, in particular, will cause discolored patches of wood that are darker than the healthier wood around them. However, wet rot will also discolor wood.
As well as the more dramatic white coating that wet rot can cause, you may be able to see a yellow-ish sheen on wood experiencing soft rot with a strong flashlight. Finally, there is a chance that dark spots in wood are the result of the wood being damp or saturated. In this case, you should still act. This level of damp is sure to lead to rot.
Soft, Crumbly, or Spongy Wood
While it is not always easy to test the texture of wood, you should take the opportunity if it presents itself. The texture of wood is one of the most telling signs of its health, and wood that is being impacted by rot is more likely to become soft, crumbly, or brittle in texture as a result of its decay.
You can also look for visible cracks in the wooden surfaces that you are concerned about. These will generally follow the natural grain of the wood. Given enough time, wood that is subject to rot will start to crumble and buckle under its own weight.
Sagging floors are a very common problem sign when it comes to the spread of hidden wood rot and decay in a property. This is because flooring tends to be wooden and will be supported by wooden beams and joists. If you are paying attention, you could well catch this damage before your floor starts to sag.
Flooring should be firm and steady underfoot, no matter where in your property it is. As such, if you notice a slight springiness or bounciness underfoot in your home, this is a sign that the floor is unhealthy. While wood rot is a very likely cause, there are other potential causes so please do contact a professional.
If you see any of these warning signs in your home, you should act quickly. Calling in a professional to assess the damage and suggest repair solutions is vital to prevent avoidable issues in your home.
What Can Cause Wood Rot
Wood rot requires two basic things in order to flourish: moisture and fungal spores. What most people do not realize is that there are fungal spores everywhere – in fact, there could be as many as five million types of fungi in the air around us at any given time. Many of these spores are helpful or benign (like yeast and mushroom spores), but some (like those that cause wood rot) are destructive.
As for moisture, a flash flood is unlikely to cause wood rot if you take appropriate measures to drain and dry your crawl space. Moisture must be persistent and severe to allow the fungi that cause wood rot to really take root and flourish. As such, you are more likely to experience wood rot in your home if you have:
- Persistent plumbing leaks
- Poor drainage
- A flooded foundation
- Structural damage
These issues are far more likely to create the conditions needed for the rapid growth and spread of wood rot in a property. Because of this, there are areas in your home that are more likely to experience wood rot than others. These include, but are not limited to: windows, outdoor decks, exterior doors, wet rooms, roofing, basements, and crawl spaces. Areas that are already damaged are more at risk than those that are healthy. Either way, it is important to contact a professional when you have concerns about the health of your home.
As homeowners, we take many things for granted, from the evenness of our walls to the stability of our flooring. In the grand scheme of things, springy flooring might not seem like a huge issue, but you should worry if you notice this.
Springiness or bounciness underfoot when you walk over a floor is a sign of damage, that much is certain. The source of the damage can stem from multiple things. One of the most common issues that can cause springy or bouncy flooring is damage to your property’s joists or support beams. These supports can be damaged in a number of ways, from dampness to defects.
Defects in the wood, such as warps, large flaws, or flaws in the design and installation of joists can lead to overspan. Joist overspan occurs when the flooring or joists are not so much damaged as overburdened. This will lead to the gradual deterioration in the stability of the flooring and could even cause it to collapse over time. More worrying, however, is the prospect of wood rot.
If your property’s flooring has become bouncy or springy in places, there is a very real chance that the wood that makes up the floorboards, or that supports the floorboards, has started to rot. Wood rot is one of the most damaging issues that your home can face. It will damage your floors, causing them to sag and even collapse.
However, the most worrying prospect of all is that the wood rot will eventually spread to other areas of your home. This is very possible (in fact, it is expected when it comes to wood rot) and will result in much more widespread damage to your home. Believe it or not, wood rot that starts in your crawl space can spread all the way to your roof if left unchecked.
Wood rot and mold are intimately connected because of the conditions in which they both thrive, and they can both be dangerous. However, these issues are dangerous for very different reasons.
Wood Rot Damages Your Home
While it would be less than ideal to ingest them, the fungal spores that cause wood rot (whether dry rot or wet rot) are not detrimental to your health. They might make you feel ill if you have prolonged and direct contact with rotting wood, but they are most dangerous to the wood that acts as their host.
The problem is that this wood is very often responsible for the safety and security of your home. When wood rot spreads through flooring, beams, joists, and roof structures in a property, it drastically increases the likelihood of structural collapse. This is incredibly bad for your home, but also for your health and well-being in the most serious cases.
Mold Damages Your Health
Mold and wood rot are often co-occurring. This makes sense because they rely on the same basic conditions in order to thrive. Unlike wood rot, however, mold is very rarely harmful to the structure of a home, even when left to grow unchecked. Equally unlike wood rot, mold spores can be actively and directly damaging to your health and well-being.
Most species of mold are benign and will cause little more than hay-fever-like symptoms in those who are exposed to them, but there are others that are toxic. Black mold, for example, can cause migraines, respiratory problems, dizziness, fainting, skin irritation, eye and nose irritation, and even serious infections. Unpleasant for those who are healthy, these side effects can be lethal for those with underlying respiratory issues like bronchitis and emphysema.
Unfortunately, getting rid of wood rot can be a fairly lengthy, complex, and costly procedure (depending on how widespread the issue is). Even when the rot is not widespread, wood rot fungi are notoriously hard to get rid of.
A Three-Step Approach
The problem with wood rot is that you need to essentially approach its removal in three steps. First, you must deal with the conditions that allow it to thrive. Then, you need to kill the fungus, and finally, you need to repair the damage and prevent its recurrence. This means finding out just where the moisture that allows the wood rot to thrive is coming from and repairing the damage. This can entail repairs to your plumbing system or windows, covering your vents, or even foundation repair.
Once the source of the moisture has been discovered and dealt with, the wood rot can be dealt with. This requires special tools and chemicals (which are very toxic). As such, it is necessary to have a professional take on this work for you. Investing in waterproofing can help prevent the issue from recurring at a later date. Waterproofing your crawl space will protect it from dampness but has other benefits.
Call a Professional
Whatever you do, we urge you not to take the path of DIY. Removing wood rot is incredibly difficult and complex, and the chemicals used can also be actively toxic when handled incorrectly. This means the stakes are much higher than simply increasing your repair costs when you make a mistake. You could end up with chemical burns, rashes, or serious respiratory issues that require medical intervention. Professionals have all the tools, training, and protective equipment to take on the work properly and safely.
From dealing with the sources of moisture to implementing waterproofing and encapsulation post fungal removal treatment, experts give better results and have access to the best products and tools. For this reason, professional services are considered more cost-effective, even if they seem more expensive in the moment—DIY simply cannot offer the same guarantees.
Choose AFS for Expert Crawl Space Repair
If you have noticed signs of dampness and wood rot around your home, don’t hesitate to AFS foundation & waterproofing specialists. Our team has been helping homeowners in and around Birmingham restore crawl spaces to full health since 2000. We understand that homeowners want all the information before they make a choice—that’s why we offer free inspections.
You can book your free inspection appointment online, or by calling us directly. Either way, we will send a certified technician to your home to assess the damage and provide you with a tailored solution and estimate.