House & Home

DIY: Repair, Don’t Replace, Rotten Wood

Posted August 9, 2014 10:45 a.m. EDT

Wood anywhere in your home is vulnerable to decay in the form of either wet or dry rot (both of which are actually fungal infestation). A rotten wooden door, floorboard, section of trim, window sill, or column, may be just the beginning of potentially serious problems to your home. As a fungus, rot can and will spread rapidly unless you take care of the trouble right away. Although replacing damaged wood is often a major hassle, not to mention the strain it puts on your wallet, cheer up! A complete replacement is often unnecessary for non-structural-support woodwork. Instead, you can build up the weakened area with the help of several easy-to-use products. Here's how.

1. Eliminate the cause. Missing or loose roof tiles, plumbing leaks, poorly fitting doors and windows, inadequate stone pointing, and condensation, among other sources, admit moisture into your home and allow rot to develop. Signs of dry rot (which, despite its name, actually requires a moisture content of at least 20 percent to develop) include discoloration, splitting, crumbling, or flaking of the wood, and an unpleasant mushroom-like odor. Wet rot, which occurs in very damp areas with at least 50 percent moisture content, usually shows itself as black fungal growth on wood that is darker than normal, combined with a soft, spongy, damp texture. After you have fixed the origin of the problem, if it is indoors, open as many windows as possible and ventilate the room using fans and dehumidifiers.

2. Remove the rot. Once you've identified rot anywhere in your home, getting rid of all the affected wood is essential before you begin to repair. Cut out the rotted section only of your wood – a 5-in-1 painter's tool or a sharp putty knife is ideal for this job. Use a vacuum cleaner to tidy up any sawdust and other dirt.

3. Purchase a wood hardener and a filler – either polyester or epoxy – that are low odor and free of hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Wear rubber gloves when you work with these substances.

4. Use a small to medium brush to spread the hardener onto the surface, filling in cracks and completely covering the wood which surrounds the area where the rot was found. This will solidify and strengthen it, in order to protect its structural integrity.

5. Next, mix up a batch of wood filler; it should be about the consistency of peanut butter when ready. Apply the substance generously (any extra can be sanded off later) with the help of a putty knife, shaping it to roughly the appropriate shape and size. For large repairs, you may wish to construct a form to help mold the filler. Wood filler will dry fast, especially on a warm Southern California summer day, so follow the lead of skilled San Diego handymen and work as quickly as possible. As the filler hardens, apply a second, and if desired, a third coat. After all coats have completely dried, sand them and clean off any dust that is left behind.

6. Prime the repaired section and then paint it to match the rest of the object. Use anti-fungal paint for the best results in guarding against future problems.

Laura Firszt writes for

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