Homeowners assume after a few years, that they've learned how to care for houses. Home maintenance might be similar when you buy a home with similar characteristics, in the same part of the country but there are many differences between homes in California and New England — different siding, different weather, different amounts of rain!
This homeowner story reviews the wood rot problems found and how they were solved. Was there a way to avoid the problem? Probably, if the new homeowner had participated in the home inspection before they bought the house. They could have learned about the problems early, gotten advice from the inspector, possibly negotiated repair costs into the sale and made repairs after closing to minimize further damage.
Wood Rot a Top 10 Problem in New England
There were 2 things that masked the wood rot problem when these new homeowners bought their 18th century farm house in Epping, NH. The seller built a large deck on the back of the house (shown above) and just prior to sale, the house was painted and they removed the gutters and unfortunately didn't reinstall them. This hid any early signs of water damage .
xxx Responsible painters will explain in their estimates that only minor repairs are covered and major problems like this one, will cost more. It's also common for painters to have the skills to repair/replace wood rot, or a network of carpenters who can do this work for their clients.
The homeowner called my handyman company to address what they thought were minor siding repairs. What we found when we reviewed the job grew to be a 5 day project and that excluded parts of the job that the homeowner did to contain the added costs. The problems included:
- The deck was not flashed properly when installed (common when homeowners build their own decks).
- There were no gutters to direct rainwater away from the house, the deck and foundation. There was evidence that there were gutters previously so at some point, the homeowners knew there was a problem.
- The extent of the problem was hidden until the siding was removed, although the damage occurred over multiple years.
- The wood rot went through the clapboard siding, and required new plywood sheathing, insulation and sill plate (6 foot section) in addition to the siding.
xxx Exterior wood rot is most common where there is excess water due to splash back or standing water. Splash back is common where rain water bounces off decks or the first step below doors (see our series of 6 articles on Water & Wood Rot).
This was a tough lesson for the homeowner who could now see that “… in California all the houses have stucco siding. Gutters are optional, and the only consequence of not havinggutters is you get wet when you come out your front door. Wood rot is a totally new concept for us.”
The Solution: Minimize Water Splash Back
Our homeowner now understood that in New England, gutters are not about convenience. Gutters are needed to keep your home dry by directing the flow of water from the roof to the ground, and away from foundation and vulnerable places like doors and decks. We recommended that the homeowner look into seamless gutters for his house, and not just to protect the deck.
We also explained how home construction includes numerous techniques to minimize water damage. Home professionals who work in construction every day learn these techniques but do-it-yourself homeowners often miss some key tricks of the trade.
- Flashing is a key construction tool that protects water from getting into seams where materials meet. You have flashing where a chimney meets roofing shingles, at the edge of a roof to stop water from curling back under, etc. The ledger board that attaches a deck to your house needs flashing to stop water from getting between the ledger board and the siding.
- House wrap provides a weather resistant barrier as another layer of protection on top of your plywood sheathing, to prevent water from reaching the siding. Installed correctly, this barrier acts like a raincoat and sheds wind blown water to the ground. Otherwise, wood would get wet and create an environment that supports things like mold, carpenter ants, etc.
The Solution: Replace Structural Damage
While not the cause of the problem, the sill plate is a key structural component in every house. The sill beam sits horizontally on top of the foundation wall. It should be at least 6 inches above the finished grade and today is typically made of treated lumber to lower the risk of termites. The sill plate supports the floors and walls above it, so more damage can result (sagging floors, cracked plaster walls, etc) if not repaired.
- Replaced the rotted sill plate, which fortunately was limited to the corner of the deck that got the most rainwater.
- Replaced the damaged insulation and plywood sheathing. Added Tyvek for protection.
- Replaced the clapboard siding that was damaged.
- Replaced the deck ledger board and flashed properly when installing it along the full length of the deck.
- Replaced several deck boards that were also damaged due to excessive water.