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Wood Rot or Insect Damage in your Crawl Space? How to Tell the Difference

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No one wants to realize that the wood support system under their house is damaged. It can be scary to think that the wood that essentially holds up your house interior is rotten or damaged. Though it is a serious issue, it is one that is fairly common and easily repaired. However, knowing the cause of the problems is essential for planning the repair and prevention of future issues.

What causes damaged wood?

There are a few things that can cause rotten or damaged wood, typically a combination of environmental and biological factors. The common ingredient in all of the causes is moisture. Whether the moisture is from a plumbing leak, or from water intrusion during heavy rains or saturated soil, the effect is the same. Excessive moisture is absorbed by the wood, which causes it to swell, warp, and eventually decay. Once moisture is present, some of the other causes of wood damage are free to move in. Some of those causes are:

Fungi and Mold: Wood rot is caused by fungal growth that thrives in a moist, humid environment. Mold and other fungi that feed on wood need moisture to grow, so wherever there is moisture, you will find fungus that is feeding on wood. Given enough time and the right conditions, the fungus will grow enough to cause significant damage to the wood.

Insects: Wood-boring insects are also culprits for damaging wood. Termites and carpenter ants are common in the Charlotte area. They bore into the wood to feed on it, creating hollow spaces that weaken the wood. In turn, this weakened wood is left susceptible to rot and decay.

Is it Wood Rot or Insect Damage?

So how do you tell whether your wood is damaged by fungus or mold, or by insects? There are a few telltale signs to look for for each culprit.

If your wood has been damaged by termites or ants, you will see small holes or tunnels in the wood. You may also notice sawdust near the damage where the insects have burrowed into the wood. Termites construct mud tunnels that leave distinct channels in the grain of the wood, and you may see actual live or dead insects near the damaged area. Because insects burrow and create hollow spots in the wood, the damage is often not noticed until it is significant.

This wood shows holes and weakened wood caused by termites
Termite trails are often mixed with sawdust particles from where the insects have burrowed into the wood
Termites leave mud "trails" along the wood
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A severe case of mold. Notice the white fuzzy spores.
White and yellow deposits are mold/fungus
A fairly mild case of mold that will progress if left untreated
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Wood damaged from mold or fungus will appear as discolored and decayed, and you may see a fuzzy or powdery substance on the surface of the wood. Rot begins on the outside and moves through the wood, making it easier to see in the early stages of decay.

How do you test for damaged wood?

Besides a visual inspection, when specialists in our industry or structural engineers check for damaged wood, we use a #2 flat-head screwdriver and push against the wood with moderate pressure. If the screwdriver goes in further than 1/4 inch, most structural engineers will recommend it be replaced. Of course, when probing, you have to use common sense. With enough force, you can embed a #2 screwdriver 1/4 inch deep into new wood in the hardware store. The key is that the screwdriver goes into the wood with little resistance. That, along with tell-tale visual signs, is confirmation that the wood is damaged enough to need replacement or added support.

wood rot check
If a screwdriver goes is more than 1/4 inch with little effort, wood is considered damaged enough for repair or replacement

Knowing the cause of wood damage in your crawl space is essential for implementing the correct course of treatment. If you are unsure of the cause of the damage, it is best to consult a professional who can identify the responsible organism and suggest a repair plan.

At HydroHelp911, we can repair the structural support system in your crawl space no matter the cause of the damage. We will make recommendations for solving the moisture issue first and foremost, either through a crawl space drainage system or crawl space encapsulation, or a combination of the two. Our consultations are always free of charge, and we will thoroughly inspect your crawl space and provide you with a detailed report. Call us at 704-741-9737 or fill out our form to get started.

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