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Wood Rot vs. Termite Damage

This is a comprehensive look into the two scourges of a house made of wood which are wood rot and termite damage showcasing how to prevent them and how to fight them off.

This is a close look at termites eating a piece of wood.

Whether you are looking at damage in your existing property or evaluating a new property, you may be concerned about the damage to wood that you have discovered. You may be wondering whether it is wood rot or whether it is termite damage.

Wood rot leaves wood spongy in texture. Rotting wood may show fungal growth and smell damp and musty. Dry rot causes the cubic crumbling of wood.

In contrast, termite damaged wood can look wavy or hollowed out due to the tunnels and galleries inside and will show pinpoint holes.

Although there is considerable overlap in the causes of wood rot and termite damage, they still must be tackled in different ways. It is therefore essential to be able to tell the difference.

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How to Distinguish Wood Rot from Termite Damage

This is a close look at a rotten red wooden exterior wall.

A fungal infestation causes wood to rot. It comes in two main types: wet rot and dry rot (also called brown rot).

Wet rot develops when wood stays above 50% moisture, whereas dry rot can develop between 20% and 30% moisture levels.

Wood rot, whether wet rot or dry rot, is distinguished by the following:

  • Cracking
  • A damp, musty odor
  • Discoloration of the wood
  • Soft, spongy feel to the wood
  • Mycelium (fungal threads)
  • Fruiting bodies resemble mushrooms when the fungus is mature
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Dry rot causes wood to break off in small, cubical bits and may not be immediately apparent as it tends to leave a surface veneer of undamaged wood.

Wet rot, on the other hand, will always show on the surface.

Wet rot is less destructive than dry rot, as it remains confined to the area of damp wood.

Dry rot will spread throughout the entire structure.

Termites are closely related to wood-eating cockroaches, despite a superficial resemblance to ants. They are sometimes called white ants.

They feed on anything containing cellulose, such as wood and paper, and can cause massive damage to your home.

You can distinguish termite damage by the following:

  • Tiny pinpoint holes in the wood
  • Wood looks hollowed out and sounds hollow when tapped
  • Wood gains a wavy appearance (distortion)
  • Darkening or blistering of wood
  • Cracked or peeling paint or discolored drywall
  • Squeaky floorboards
  • Slight odor, unless termites have invaded rotted wood
  • Small piles of droppings resembling sawdust
  • Wings discarded by swarmers, or the swarmers themselves, which people often mistake for flying ants
  • Mud tubes on the outside of the structure (only with certain types of termites)

Causes and Prevention of Wood Rot and Termite Infestation

These are termites on a rotting piece of wood.

Some of the factors that set your home up for wood rot are also factors that will make termites more likely to invade, so let’s look at what these factors are and how to prevent these problems.

Causes and Prevention of Wood Rot

This is mushroom and moss growing on  a rotting wooden plank.

Fungi growing on damp wood that does not dry out causes wood rot.

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Any source of moisture will cause wood rot, whether rising damp, leaking roofs or gutters, water leaking around exterior doors or windows, and wet rooms such as kitchens, laundries, and bathrooms.

Check rot susceptible areas annually. Poke the tip of a screwdriver into the wood. The wood should resist the blade. If the edge of the screwdriver sinks in, the wood has been affected by wood rot.

Certain types of wood, such as pressure-treated wood and hardwoods such as cedar, are more resistant to rot, but this does not mean that you will never have problems even with them.

Painting the wood with lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane will help to protect it against water.

Install a dehumidifier, hood in the kitchen, and exhaust fans in the bathroom to help to reduce humidity levels.

Fixing leaks and clearing gutters help to prevent the build-up of water in areas where it may sit on wood and lead to rot.

Causes and Prevention of Termite Infestations

These are termites eating the wooden parts of a house.

Termites thrive in moist conditions, such as damp soil.

Keep your yard dry by harvesting rainwater or at least diverting it far from the house, repairing water leaks, and repairing leaky AC units.

Firewood stored near the home can provide a haven for termites, as can mulch. Firewood poses an additional danger as unsuspecting homeowners may bring termites into their homes in the wood.

Keeping the yard free of loose wood will help prevent dry wood termite infestations, whereas keeping the soil at least 18″ away from your home will help prevent subterranean termite infestations.

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Both types of termites benefit from high humidity, and you should therefore keep dense vegetation away from the house.

Because of the optimal temperature and humidity conditions, termite infestations are more common in the southern states.

Due to the destructive nature of termite damage, have your home checked by a pest control expert every two to three years if you live in an area prone to them.

The same types of wood that are more resistant to rot (pressure-treated wood and hardwoods such as cedar) are also more resistant to termite infestations.

However, termites will eat almost any kind of wood given the opportunity, and you should still use other measures to prevent infestations.

Does Rotting Wood Attract Termites?

This is a close look at a rotting wooden wall of a house.

Home-invading termites generally prefer wood with high moisture content, as they require water as well as nutrients.

They prefer wood with decay, particularly wet rot, but may also be present in cases of dry rot. So if there is rot in your home, you have the perfect conditions for a termite infestation, and you may be dealing with both problems simultaneously.

Treatments for Wood Rot and Termites

A close look at spraying pesticide to kill termites.

Wood so affected by rot as to be soft is not salvageable, and you should replace it. Discolored wood that is still hard can be dried out and treated with a wood preservative containing copper or borate.

Dry rot will have to be treated by specialists. You will have to replace all affected wood and treat the entire structure, including masonry, with a biocide.

There are three standard treatments for termites, namely soil treatment, wood treatment, and bait systems.

  • Soil Treatment – the soil around your home is dug into a trench and treated with a termiticide. As subterranean termites have to return to the earth to nest, this effectively kills them.
  • Wood Treatment – you can use surface sprays and injected sprays and foams to kill termites in the wood of your home.
  • Bait Systems – bait stations are placed around the home and monitored on an ongoing basis for the presence of termites to prevent infestations.
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High humidity can predispose wood in your home to being attacked both by wood rot and by termites. In addition, wood that has been affected by wood rot is ideal for termites, and you may face both problems simultaneously.

There are several ways to prevent these problems from occurring, and if they do develop, there are options to treat them. Dry rot and termites will both require the services of an expert to treat.


Bobvila: Wood Rot

Bobvila: Termite Infestation

Bobvila: How to Fight Off Termites

Terminix: Do Termites Eat Pressure Treated Wood