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.