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What is Wood Rot?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Wood rot is damage to wood caused by fungal colonies which settle on the wood and extend structures known as hypae into the substrate to take advantage of the nutrients and moisture in the wood. Around the world, wood rot is a very serious problem, and many people find themselves dealing with rotted wood at some point. It is also something which people routinely check for before they commit to purchasing real estate, as it can be expensive and time consuming to fix.

Any time wood is allowed to get moist and stay moist, wood rot can emerge. To prevent this, many lumber companies treat their wood so that it will resist moisture, often adding chemicals which harm fungi so that if the wood does get damp, fungi cannot settle on it. Proper ventilation of wooden structures is also critical, to keep fresh air blowing across the wood so that it stays dry, and wood-to-ground contact is generally to be avoided, as wood which sits on the soil will eventually attract fungi, causing rot.

This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “dry rot,” despite the fact that the wood involved is often in fact quite damp. The term “dry rot” is a holdover from the time when people distinguished between wood rot in treated timber and wood rot in untreated timber. Treated timber was said to experience dry rot, while untreated and raw timber was simply rotting when it was colonized by fungi.

Classically, wood rot causes the wood to become crumbly, spongy, or stringy. Sometimes the outer layers remain intact, and the rot only becomes apparent when catastrophic failure appears. In some cases, the fungi in the wood may put out fruiting bodies, making the problem readily apparent. While it may be tempting to scrape off the fruiting bodies and call it a day, the presence of fungus on wood indicates the need to address the underlying wood rot.

Rotten wood generally needs to be removed. People can repair wood rot by taking out and replacing rotten wood, or by removing an area of rot and filling it with epoxy or another wood filler. Addressing the problem which led to the rot is also important, or the wood will simply start to rot all over again in the future. Some common problems which lead to wood rot include improperly installed foundations which permit wood-to-ground contact, leaking pipes which spill water inside walls and under floors, and leaky toilets, showers, and fridges.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By mitchell14 — On Jan 20, 2011

Sometimes adding some sort of insulation to an area can also help stop wood rot, because excess air and extreme temperatures getting into an area can be a big part of the problem.

By aaaCookie — On Jan 17, 2011

Rotting wood can be pretty much inevitable in old houses. It can usually be replaced, but sometimes things like porches suffering from wood rot need to be entirely replaced, and cannot just be fixed in bits and pieces.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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