Wood is a complex material with chemistry and components that can change over time. From the moment a tree is felled the composition of the wood or eventual lumber created from it continues to go through slow changes. This includes things like changes in moisture content, lignin chemistry, and other subtle permutations that occur gradually.
When it is processed into lumber for home building, it goes through even more changes. This might include things like rapid kiln drying, or chemical treating. The goal being to make the lumber as resilient as possible throughout the passage of time.
Once that wood is used as building materials in your home it is as sturdy as it is ever going to be. Yet time, moisture and the forces of nature can still affect it. Two of the most insidious things that can affect lumber and other wood products are mold and dry rot. Though it can be hard for the average layman to tell the differences between the two.
If you’ve noticed some changes in the lumber used in your basement, attic, or crawl space, you may be wondering if mold or wood rot infestation is threatening your home. If this sounds familiar, then read on, as we guide you through understanding the difference between the two and what your potential options are.
What Causes Dry Rot In Homes?
One of the interesting similarities shared by both conditions is that wood rot and mold are both caused by fungi. Though the type of fungal species, affecting the wood is a defining factor that makes one far more destructive than the other.
What Is Mold?
Technically, the term “Mold” is used to describe a broad spectrum of fungal species that release spores into the air to propagate their colonies. There are thousands if not tens-of-thousands of mold species living in the natural world. A handful of them are known to be toxic to humans, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, which is often referred to as “Toxic Black Mold.”
Mold needs moisture and humidity to germinate from a spore to a colony, and to eventually propagate that colony. This makes moist areas like basements and crawl spaces so inviting to mold. Not to mention attics with an unaddressed roof leak that lets water in with rain and snowmelt.
You might be surprised to hear that mold can appear in a spectrum of colors ranging from black, to white, orange, green, and even purple. In many cases mold is often mistaken for it’s cousin mildew.
What Is Wood Rot?
The relationship between fungi and wood rot goes back millions of years to the Carboniferous era. It was a time when trees evolved to colonize the land, and when they died, there was nothing to process them back into their constituent components. Dead trees would simply become covered by erosion to eventually transform into coal. Fungi were the first things to take advantage of dead wood and exploited dying trees as well as any other plants that contained lignin. Eventually, the most aggressive strains won out and went on to form a symbiotic relationship with trees and dying wood.
The fungi that cause wood rot thrive in damp and humid environments. Though they tap into their evolutionary ability to essentially digest the wood it affects, rather than live on it. This type of fungi has evolved the ability to spread and reproduce remarkably fast. Left unchecked, it can cause significant structural damage to a home in a shockingly short amount of time.
How To Tell The Difference Between Wood Rot & Mold
In the early stages, it can be hard to tell the difference between mold and wood rot. Though as the two fungi progress the visual and physical differences between are more notable. Once it has established a presence, wood rot clearly looks like decay, whereas mold takes the form of discoloration on the surface of the wood.
While mold is a real problem, it does not have the severe consequences for the structure of your home that wood rot does. Though that doesn’t mean you should ignore the presence of mold on the wood in your basement, attic or crawl space. Many times, mold is an early indicator that wood rot is imminent, as both fungi like the same kind of conditions.
How To Identify Dry Rot Mold
Mold has several key indicators that go beyond the potential impact mold sports and airborne mycotoxins can have on your health. Signs of a mold problem in your basement, attic or crawl space include:
- Discolored splotches
- Musty or earthy odors
- People coughing & sneezing more
- Flare ups in asthma and respiratory allergies
- Bubbles & blisters in paint or wallpaper
- Signs Of Wood Rot
One of the problems with wood rot, is that it tends to occur in less seen and less used places, like basements, subfloors, crawl spaces and attics. You might not be able to see it, without crawling around in some tight quarters with a flashlight. Though there are some potential signs that wood rot has started to affect your home. This includes things like:
Bouncing Floor Or Loose Flooring
The term “Bouncy Floor” is usually used to describe floors that move or give away when you walk across them. This is usually a result of wood rot releasing the fasteners that hold the floor and subfloor together. Left unchecked wood rot can even start to affect the joists causing the compromised floor to eventually give way.
Localized Musty Odors
Wood rot also gives off odors that can be concentrated. Especially in places like basements, crawl spaces and attics where ventilation tends to be poor or non-existent. This usually manifests as a sort of stale, musty or earthy odor.
Visual Signs Of Decay
In a severe case of wood rot, you might notice visual changes in the wood. This can include cracking, or wood that crumbles easily when touched. Unfortunately, this level of wood rot is usually expensive to repair as the affected wood often needs to be replaced.
How To Prevent Dry Rot
Many of the ways to prevent dry rot are the same as what you need to do to prevent mold infestation. So, it is a little bit of a two-for-one strategy. This includes some of the following things:
Repairing All Water Problems
Moisture is the key ingredient that any fungi needs to establish a presence. Repairing roof leaks, cleaning gutters, replacing failed gutters, and addressing even the most minor of plumbing problems will go a long way toward preventing the water problems that mold and dry rot need to thrive in your home.
Manage Humidity In Sensitive Areas
If you know that there is poor ventilation in your basement, attic or crawl space, then you need to take proactive steps to reduce the humidity in these areas. Especially during the summer when temperatures are warm and humidity is high. This might include simple things like strategically placing a room dehumidifier or properly maintaining your home’s HVAC system.
Calling In The Professionals
With a more significant dry rot problem, you likely won’t have access to the professional tools, techniques, and training to properly repair the problem yourself. In a time like this, it’s best to call in the professionals, who have years of experience and access to commercial-grade equipment designed to deal with dry rot and the presence of mold.