Water damage can continue for many years before a customer realizes there's a problem. Many of the jobs my handyman company handles start out repairing a “small” water problem, and it quickly turns into a much bigger job. Siding replacement may be one the top of the remodeling projects (highest payback when selling a house), but often home owners are replacing siding because they have to, not because they want to.
Customers have a tough decision to make when we find wood rot. After we've reviewed the situation with them, they must decide if they want to replace the siding on their entire home or make repairs until they can fit new siding into their budget. A handyman company can handle repair of all structural damage, replace siding as needed while a company that specializes in replacement siding is more practical when residing your home.
Spotting Wood Rot
There isn't one simple, easy way to inspect your home for wood rot. You can't take a casual walk around your home as many vulnerable pieces of wood trim are above your head or blocked by shrubs planted around your foundation. That said, you should inspect your home annually to avoid major problems. Where you see any type of discoloration (brown, yellow or white) on the wood's surface, a thorough inspection of the area should be done.
You can test the wood by pressing your finger to see if the area is soft and spongy, what I like to call the “sponge test.” Do not be surprised if the wood crumbles or breaks off into small pieces. An alternative approach is to use a thin, sharp object like a pencil or the tip of an ice pick. If the wood crumbles or an object can easily penetrate the wood, you have a problem which should be addressed immediately.
Here's one approach to inspecting your home for wood rot:
- Use binoculars to scan your home's exterior for signs of discoloration, especially black or brown spots. Review wood trim below the roof line (vertical fascia boards & horizontal soffits) and all wood trim that sticks out from the house like the corner boards.
- Continue your review of covering all windows and doors. This is better done up close as window sills and door thresholds are common problem areas. A good time to review your windows is when you clean them each year, as you're opening the windows and can easily inspect the outside trim.
- Any area that appears to have potential damage should be inspected using the sponge test described above. Poke at the wood carefully as you don't want to cause more damage, i.e. it's common for large chunks of wood to disintegrate or fall off the house when you poke at rotted wood.
- Check exterior doors by hand every year. Test the kick board underneath the door, make sure the threshold is firm and doesn't move and check the lower sections of the trim around the door – the exterior casing, the door jambs that face the door and the inside casing as sometimes this is the first place where water damage will become visible.
Most Common Exterior Water Problems
Water damage should NEVER be deferred. The load bearing wall under the sliding door below (lower left) was almost totally gone after 20 years of ongoing water damage. The most common exterior water problems My Handyman deals with include:
- Rotted door thresholds that were not installed properly.
- Decks not flashed properly when attached to the home.
- Rotted window sills that are not cleaned and painted frequently enough.
- Rotted trim boards that are not flashed properly or painted often enough.
- Masonite siding which doesn't hold up to moisture (information on masonite class action lawsuit).
The most important message here is that water damage, once it starts, will continue to travel. This means that deferred repairs will cost more, so it is always better to make the repairs as soon as you discover the problem. Every repair involving water damage involves 2 steps:
- First you need to identify the source of the problem and correct it so that no more water damage will occur.
- Second you need to repair and/or replace the materials damaged by the water. If you are lucky, the damage will be more superficial and you can dig out the rot, fill the void with an epoxy mix, sand, prime and paint.
- There may also be interior water damage that needs repair. Minor ceiling damage may only require a coat of stain block sheet rock (also called drywall) may need to be replaced on the ceiling and/or walls. One of the worst examples I've seen (and fixed) is a kitchen ceiling that fell down due to unseen roof leaks, and the kitchen was on the first floor of a 3 story house.
If you do not complete both repairs, the moisture causing the damage will continue to travel and the scope of the repairs will increase over time. You must remove and replace all rotted (and moist) wood to maintain your home's structural integrity.