Wood rot can make keeping your wooden structures beautiful and strong a challenge. While preventing rot entirely can be difficult in the Boston area especially, we have a few suggestions to help you protect the wood on your property.
The Difficulties of Rot
Rot is defined as a form of decay initiated by moisture. Microscopic fungi eat away at the fibers of wood and minimize its structural soundness. While rotting is a natural process, it does make things more difficult for homeowners. Even though wood is treated before it is used to build homes, fences, and decks, rot is a determined little pest, and if even a little takes hold, it can spread rapidly and dramatically.
Wood rot makes cleaning or painting your wood more challenging. Because it weakens wood, attempts to pressure wash areas with rot will only rip apart the fragile material. How can that fact gel with the understanding that you should pressure wash your deck or fence before you paint it? The latter is not a vehicle to remove rot either. Painting over areas of rot will not stop the spread, and you are very likely to end up with chipping and flaking paint, which exposes your wood to even more moisture.
Combatting Rot as a Homeowner
Before you power wash or paint the wood on your property, it is vital that you first check for any evidence of rot and take steps to remove it and repair the damage.
Identifying Wood Rot
The first step in addressing rot on your property is to know what to look for. This varies depending on the fungus’ stage of growth, but these warning signs are common:
- Growth that looks like cotton wool—In its early stages, rot resembles household cotton balls, white and wispy.
- Mushrooms—Mushrooms tend to pop up when decomposition is taking place. If you see mushrooms growing near your fence or deck, that is a warning sign that rot has already set in.
- Discoloration—Sometimes rot growth discolors the wood as it eats it away.
- Softness—If your fence is soft when you probe it with a screwdriver, or (even worse) if any contact punctures the wood, it is a sure sign that the rotting process is underway.
- Dampness—Look for areas of your deck or fence that are damp or experience condensation. Moisture is wood rot’s best friend, cultivating its perfect growing environment.
The most important places to check for rot are those where the moisture content is relatively high. These spots may include where your fence meets the ground and soaks up moisture from the damp earth (especially in the wetter seasons), underneath wet or dripping foliage, where grass or shrubs abut the wood, or near gutters.
Repairing Rot Damage
One of the challenges of dealing with wood rot is that the damage it creates is irreversible. You cannot regrow the cellulose that the fungi have devoured. However, depending on the extent of the damage, you can repair it. More cosmetic flaws—holes and grooves or channels—can be filled with epoxy to mask the imperfections and shore up the wood. If the damage is pervasive, however, you will most likely need to replace the compromised panels.
Preventing Rot to Begin With
The best way to protect the wood on your property from rot is to prevent fungal growth in the first place. This may require some specific landscaping choices and other housekeeping measures:
- Watch your plants—Where there are plants, there is water, and if you want to prevent wood rot, be mindful of where your plants contact or drip onto your wood. Trim back grass and bushes so they don’t lean against your deck or fence, and prune tree limbs back so they don’t hang over your wooden structures.
- Block the water—Your fence and deck should be designed to hold up well in the weather, but you can help them do so even better by sealing them. This is generally done one of two ways, staining or painting. Stains are absorbed by the wood, crowding out water’s ability to do so. Paint, on the other hand, sits on top of the wood and forms a barrier against water. Remember that you should pressure wash your wood before you stain or paint it so you don’t accidentally trap in the microbes you want to keep out.
- Caulk it up—Fences and decks are not the only wood that is susceptible to rot. The areas around windows and exterior doors are also at risk. The best way to prevent wood rot around your windows and doors is to seal those seams with an exterior latex caulk. If you already have caulk but it is old, dry, or flaky, it is time to replace it.
- Apply fungicide—If you notice rot development in its earliest stages, apply fungicide to thwart its growth. Borate is a fungicide that can be safely applied to wood without risk to humans or animals.
- Consider other materials—If you are just building your deck or fence or are considering a replacement, opt for pressure-treated wood. Such material is treated chemically in a pressure chamber to make it more durable and less prone to decay. If you want to completely avoid the risk of rot, build with something other than wood. Natural stone, vinyl, and ornamental metals all make great fences.