Wood repair is one of the most common home repairs because your house has a lot of wood. Most (not all) wood rot occurs on your home's exterior when your home gets wet and water doesn't run off or evaporate. While some home repairs might seem optional, you'll save money by making wood rot repairs as soon as you find the problem.
Sadly a lot of wood rot occurs due to builder negligence. The siding above wasn't installed properly so water that got behind the stone veneer destroyed the walls from the exterior sheathing and framing, insulation … but it wasn't discovered in my home until the hot water heater exploded (per my renter). This problem wasn't isolated – it affected more than 30 condos (photos below) all constructed by the same builder.
Steps Involved in Wood Rot Repairs
You can learn a lot from my first hand “homeowner experience” although I was familiar with most of this having run a handyman business for eight years. The concepts and most of the steps also apply to other types of wood rot repairs covered in our series:
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Roof
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Siding
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Windows
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Doors
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Decks
- Water & Wood Rot Repairs – Exterior Trim
- Plus insight into how much these repairs might cost, Repair Rotted Window Sill & Estimating Repair Costs
Most of the photos in this article are from my New Hampshire home (here's the whole house). It shows “inside the walls” after the hot water heater exploded and the drywall that got wet was removed. You can also see a section of the wall (on the left) that's much darker than the others. The dark wood indicates there's wood rot and the white spot is where it started, because the wood is entirely missing and what you see there is the exterior siding.
It was a crazy Saturday after my new tenant called to tell me the hot water heater had exploded and there was about two inches of water on the basement (fortunately concrete slab) floor. I had to find a plumber willing to install a new hot water heater on a Saturday and fortunately knew people at Soil Away, a cleaning and restoration services company. Somewhere in the space of a few hours, I also found time to call the insurance company but held off filing the insurance claim until later that night.
Sadly it's rare that you or the home inspector can identify defective materials or installation defects. What most people don't understand is that home inspectors only inspect what they can see, so if there are problems lurking inside the walls, they won't see that.
My gut says the severe wood rot underneath the stone veneer siding was caused by sloppy installers who took too many shortcuts. And it wasn't just my condo – the problem and repairs have impacted thirty-one units. After walking around to check out the repairs being done to neighbors homes, I put together this list of requirements for wood rot repairs (only the last three steps are ones related to the hot water heater):
- Remove and dispose of stone veneer siding. You'll have to draw a line to separate my condo from the adjoining unit in the front of the house (under the stairs) and the back of the condo (behind the HVAC compressor).
- Remove and replace the rotted sheathing with 4 x 8 ft sheets of pressure treated plywood. Note: They discovered that not only was the sheathing gone, but many of the wall joists behind where the sheathing should have been, had suffered major wood rot and needed replacing.
- Remove and dispose of the insulation and house wrap that remains (that's what you see in the photo at the top of this article).
- Inspect risers on the front steps and replace those with serious wood rot (saw this was being done on some but not all of the condos in the back).
- Install the proper house wrap for the area (forgot to learn what they were using in back).
- Inspect and reinstall basement/garage windows not properly flashed based on what I saw being done for the other condos.
- Install new siding as follows:
- Vinyl siding on the back and side (photo attached showing material info).
- New stone veneer on front wrapping garage door & front steps (suggest matching what's being installed on the condos in back).
- Install new insulation in the walls once the exterior is complete and water tight.
- Install new drywall where it's been removed, tape & mud.
- Reinstall baseboard and door trim that was removed.
- Finish up by painting the walls in the basement room.
Now that you see the list of tasks required to complete wood rot repairs, you should realize that it's more complicated than it looks from the outside (read: Energy Savings & Your Home's Envelope). The condo is only twelve years old which is why the extent of the damage is so frustrating. Fortunately I have Homeworx Contracting there to complete the repairs, a company I know and trust because … they bought my handyman business years ago.
Minimizing Wood Rot Repairs Around Your Home
How can you save money? Wood rot is caused by wood destroying fungi that breaks down the wood cells which are a food source, producing wood rot or decay. When you repair wood rot, you are essentially removing the fungi which is causing the damage and replacing or repairing the damaged sections of wood. Until the fungi is gone along with the conditions (moisture and temperature) needed to support the fungi, more damage will occur.
Your home's exterior is exposed to the weather year round and many homeowners don't realize the most important role of exterior paint is to protect the wood from water damage. The wood trim that bumps out from your home is vulnerable to wood rot because it takes a beating from the weather, and if you don't paint frequently enough, water finds its way into the wood where it can support wood eating fungi and yes, carpenter ants which we found frequently in my handyman business.
Sadly some homeowners remain in denial like the woman in Salem, NH who didn't believe her house was infested with carpenter ants (photo at left). It wouldn't surprise me if her home is condemned because she refuses to deal with the Masonite siding problems that are destroying all the load bearing walls holding her house up (learn about the Masonite class action lawsuits).
So where should you be inspecting your home to find wood rot before it gets bad?
- Wood trim just below the roof line, both the vertical fascia boards and the horizontal soffits.
- On the gable ends of a house, there's also wood trim and gable vents. My handyman business replaced many gable vents, and one homeowner who insisted on wood vents, had us install metal vents about 6 months after we installed new wood vents (we tried to warn her).
- Corner boards that bump out from the house, which are one of the more common wood rot repairs my handyman business handled.
- Window trim and especially window sills have lots of wood rot, making them a top home repair. Even though the sills are sloped down for runoff, fine silt from the air collects in the corners and traps water … and you know the rest of the story.
- Wood trim around doors, and the door itself, suffers wood rot damage when not painted often enough. A common problem is not realized doors have 6 sides that have to be painted.
- Vertical board just below exterior doors (front door, side doors and sliding patio doors) is one of the worst for wood rot because rain hits the step and splashes back up onto this board.
- Columns and other decorative trim around your home and especially near the ground (splash back similar to the front door) is prone to wood rot.
- Decks attached to a house using a ledger board, are another common home repair that's very stressful for homeowners and your handyman. When do-it-yourselfers install their own decks, they don't understand how critical flashing is to keep water away from the house.
Different Ways to Repair Wood Rot Damage
This article isn't meant to scare you. This article is to open your eyes to potential wood rot projects you want to prevent, or when they do happen, motivate you to make required repairs right away. There are numerous options available and they're gaining more visibility via YouTube. Here are factors to consider when deciding if you're going to handle wood rot repairs yourself, or hire a professional with lots of experience.
- Do you have the tools and experience working with the materials needed for the job?
- Can you reach the area in need of repairs from the ground, or will the work need to be done from a ladder?
- Most important, is there potential impact to the structural integrity of a window, door or a load bearing wall that supports the weight of your house?
Running a handyman business for 8 years involved lots of wood rot and rotted window sills so everyone I interviewed had to explain the tools, type of window sill they'd install and the steps to get the job done.
There are lots of great videos on YouTube. They don't always tell the whole story, so if you don't know what a sawzall is, or what window sill nosing looks like, then you should find someone who's done more than 20 window sill replacements. If you want to learn more, here are 2 videos I liked.
- How to Fix Wood Rot with 2-Part Epoxy, from This Old House.
- How to Repair Shutter with Wood Rot, from RonHazelton.com.
You made a great point that I may have trouble finding the materials and tools that I need to repair a lot of the wood rot around my home. It may be better for me to hire a professional home repair service to fix it up rather than do it on my own. I recently inherited my mother’s home and with how old it is, there’s quite a bit of wood rot and termites in the wooden sidings. It looks like a lot of it will have to be replaced. Hopefully, I can find a good home repair service that can help fix it all up and find any problems I’ve yet to be aware of.
Good luck Tammy, as people because they’re spending more time at home, are finally fixing up their homes … but take your time & find the right repair person as it will save you time, money & stress in the long run.
Hi, I bought my house 4 years ago & did not know it was wood as it look like all the other townhouses. I’m the only one with wood siding. I can’t afford siding the whole house. Can I just put siding on the rotten wood parts? Until I can afford the whole house? Thanks, Yvonne
Yvonne, You absolutely replace individual rotted boards but … depending on the extent of the damage, the sheathing behind the wood siding may also be rotted. These unfortunately are 4 x 8 ft sheets of wood (or OSB) and also need to be replaced. Hopefully you can identify the source of the water causing the damage. Is it splash back from the ground bouncing back up to cause the lower pieces of siding to rot? Are there windows that weren’t flashed properly that are now sending water behind the siding from above? Figuring out the cause will help you come up with a plan for replacing the minimum now, until you can afford to replace all siding.
Be aware that new wood won’t match the color of what’s on your house. The trick here is to take existing wood from less visible places (behind your house, below a deck, etc) to replace wood on the front of the house. Then new wood can go where you’ve removed the boards.
I’m glad you mentioned that wood rot is fairly common for doors, since a lot of people don’t realize doors have six sides that need to be painted. My husband and I recently moved into a fixer-upper, and some of the wooden doors are in need of repair due to rot. After we have them repaired, I’ll make sure we seal all six sides with a fresh coat of paint.
Hi Tina. My husband and I just discovered that we have wet wood rot that’s located under a large office window and the rot that’s visible is along the floor boards and joices (spelled joists) in the basement.
What or who would be best to hire for repairs? A window replacement company, general contractor? I am sure that if I am seeing this just by looking up torwards the unfinished ceiling in the basement that there is extensive damage. Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.
Renee, Window replacement companies won’t be able to handle this job. You’ll need an experienced handyman or remodeler. It will depend on the extent of the damage as it can get tricky of the rim joists between the foundation & wall framing have to be replaced. Good luck & jump on this now because it will only get worse.
I have wood repairs needed under my eaves on the house. Do I hire a roofer, handyman or carpenter? Thank you
Val, If you’re sure it’s the wood under the eaves (fascia boards and/or soffits), then I think a handyman with lots of exterior, wood rot repair experience would be best.
Roofers know how to replace the roof deck (learn about your roofing layers) but rarely deal with problems below the deck surface.
Dee Dee Nance
My insurance company completed an inspection and have found dry rot in our house. They won’t renew out homeowners insurance until all repairs are done. My question – what kind of expert do I look under to come out and give us some quotes. Do I just look under Handyman, Carpenter, Contractor? I’m totally lost on where to even start looking.
Dee Dee, I need more information before I can give you a recommendation … and apologize for the delay in my response.
First I’d like to understand what prompted the insurance company inspecting your home? Did they find a small area of wood rot? Did they document what they found & give you a copy? Did they suggest where the water came from that caused the wood rot?
With my handyman business, most large wood rot problems were associated with the improper installation of a deck where the ledger board that attaches the deck to the house wasn’t flashed properly so water got behind the board & into the house. You can learn more about wood rot in my articles on this topic, starting with wood rot & decks.
Given the insurance company’s reaction, if I had to guess … you’ve got wood rot affecting the structural integrity of your home, where there’s a possibility of a wall collapsing & causing extensive damage. On the other hand, I’ve met insurance representatives at houses and the repairs haven’t been that serious and all they want to do is deny the claim as the problem isn’t new but rather due to a lack of home maintenance over many years.
This article provides more information about fence and deck
Hi Tina, I am buying a house and we have discovered wood rot on the sills of the Andersen 200 series windows. The windows themselves are in great shape otherwise and the house is stucco so replacing them is not ideal. Is it possible to just replace the wood sill that has rotted?
Meg, Replacing rotted window sills was one of the top 10 projects for my handyman business. It is possible to replace just the window sill if the rot hasn’t extended further, so check out this article on estimating repair costs for rotted window sills.
I have wood rot around the side door. We had been getting away with painting it but now need to actually fix it. We received estimates from several handymen and each suggests a different solution. One person wants to leave the rotting wood as it and put metal capping over it to stop additional rotting. Is this sufficient? I am nervous mold and things getting into my home.
Sarah, It’s not unusual to learn about several different solutions. The most important thing is that all of the wood rot absolutely needs to be removed because any moisture that remains is subject to additional rotting. So let me try to organize my thoughts:
Hope this is helpful in picking the right solution & good luck.
Goodness. It never occurred to me to check for some of these issues. I know what I’m doing this weekend!
Good luck & hope you find minor (but no major) problems so you can fix them quickly.
Lots to consider when you own your own home. However, the emphasis there is on OWN…so it is yours and that is reason to celebrate
You’re right Mardene, that owning your home is what it’s all about. Just read this article in today’s NYTimes, that talks about the wealth homeowners build in comparison to renters. It’s so important & a message I need to focus on more, much more!
Aduke @ Aduke Schulist
These are great tips. We have a termite inspector that comes out yearly for checks. They keep track of any signs of wood rot or termite infestation.
Where do you live? As I’m not familiar with annual termite inspections …
My very first home that I bought was a fixer upper, and I had to replace floor joists. A lot of work. It seems that when you own your home, there is ALWAYS something to fix!
Wendy, It does feel that way for a few years but ultimately you should catch up & be able to turn your focus to home improvements to personalize your home to fit your lifestyle. Have fun & know you’re building equity as you fix your home up.
We have had so many issues with wood rot in our home. It was built in 1925 and seems to have held up pretty well til we had an issue with our porch garage. It has cost us many thousands so far and I hope it is finally rectified.
Athena, I too hope your wood rot problems are behind you, so you can enjoy your home more.
I will have to look into these. We just bought our home and it is only 3 years old, but you never know. I know our deck already needs some work.
Coralie, Use your deck problems as a learning exercise, and it will pay off for years to come … and congrats on being a homeowner.
I read your blog with my dad and then we checked all around the house! Thanks for sharing!
Good for you Olivia, and best to check every few years …
Last summer, my hub had to replace 3 pieces of new wood planks on our deck. Great tips and helpful info.
Great tips. I will have my husband read this article so he can see what needs to be looked at.
This is really helpful when it comes to home maintenance. I feel lucky that i haven’t dealt with wood rot before but thank you for this guide!
Great tips on wood rot repairs. We’re in the process of closing on a home and today is the inspection. Hoping nothing too crazy is wrong with the house because we got a really good deal on it.
I wouldn’t have thought some of these would need replacing. I need to check around my home.
Great reminder to check the house….especially now going into summer, we tend to use more water around the house both in and out.
Great to keep in mind. I hope we don’t get wood rot, but it might happen. Our fence might eventually need to be replaced.
Our fence has wood rot on it due to neighbors over watering their grass. It needs to replaced soon.
Tara, That’s too bad so when you do replace your fence, I suggest adding drainage or use a non-wood product that won’t rot. But remember that the support posts need to be wood so maybe you can put them on concrete posts that are exposed a few inches, so the water doesn’t damage them.
There are plenty of wood repairs needed in our home but I keep putting them off. Thanks for reminding me that I need to start working on them. I’m specially bothered with our floor wood parquets, some parts are already missing.
Donnabeth, You will spend more if you delay wood rot repairs. With your parquet floor, I would suggest figuring out what has caused the problems (it’s likely they’ve just reached their end of life as that trend is pretty old) and fix those before you replace the floor.
The wood trim around my front door is actually rotting right now. I called a handyman to replace it, but he’s booked out a few weeks, so I am patiently waiting.
I think if I asked myself if I had the experience and tools to fix it myself, I would fail. I think this job requires a professional. looking at some of the damage, it seems pretty spread out and old.
Skylar, Great observation that homeowners who want to handle more repairs, need to act quickly while damage is minimal. Cleaning out & filling a small hole in a window sill, and then painting is quite manageable. Replacing a window & the rough opening is not for thos who have little to no construction experience.
The outside deck on my house was inspected for wood rot and several decking 2×6 wood decking. The inspector suggested replacing them. The damaged area are less than 2 sq. pinch. Instead of replacing can it be repaired with epoxy?
Stan, Fascinating question & while I’m not an expert on this, I can share some ideas. With my handyman business, we used Bondo to repair small instances of wood rot on window sills, but only if problem was caught while holes were small, e.g. wouldn’t try to replace half the sill. With decks I might be more nervous if the area needing repair is a high traffic one, e.g. will people walk on the repair? There’s also the matter of finding a wood filler that can be stained/painted to match your deck finish or you won’t be happy with the results.
I’m in the process of finishing my basement, and decided to remove old fiberglass from my rim joist and replace with rigid foam. (My contractor and I parted way bc he keeps asking for money,yet my work is 3-4 wks behind schedule) but anyway I decided to take this downtime and do a little upgrade when it comes to a moisture barrier. While removing the old fb batts from the rim joist, I encountered rotten wood/sheathing/ plywood. This area is right under my front door/stairs at the front of the house.
I bought this house a couple of months ago, and when it was inspected, I was told to have owners seal around the front stairs where it touches the vinyl siding. But if he saw possible water leakage from the outside, don’t you think he should have checked the area in the basement adjacent to this for possible leak? Granted the basement ceiling had insulation up. But all he had to do was remove the insulation.
What is my next move? I can see straight from the basement to brick concrete stairs to the outside of my house.
Natty, Step 1 is to open up the space so any moisture remaining there can dry out, as the organisms causing wood rot need both water & a food source (the wood). You’ll need to replace any insulation that got wet & you’ll want to get 3 estimates for repairs. Ask people to list out required & optional repairs, as you really need to make your decision on who understands the problem & solution best – this is too important to go for the lowest price, which often results in mediocre work.
As for the building inspection, it might help to send a letter back to them asking why they didn’t find the problem inside and you’re absolutely right, if the interior space wasn’t finished they should have pulled enough insulation out to see the problem … as I’ve seen them do this but it depends on the person & their schedule. I would approach this positively and ask them to contribute, say half their fee towards repairs … and only if they don’t respond in a professional manner, then give them a review on their Google business page & Yelp.
PS Be sure to take photos before & after to support your claims.