In our last blog we mentioned the while at a Rehoboth Beach, Delaware home inspection a customer mentioned wanting to treat his own mold problem. We thought it necessary to follow up with a blog on wood destroying fungus which many times gets mistaken for mold, leading to even more serious problems for the homeowner. Sussex County home inspectors run into this issue quite often.
When dealing with bio-growth in your home it is of the utmost importance to be sure to test the fungus to determine if you have mold or a wood destroying fungus. While both are serious threats, wood destroying fungus can actually jeopardize the structural soundness of your home. Wood destroying fungi causes more damage to structures than all the fires, floods, and termites combined!
Wood decaying fungus requires four fundamentals to survive which are oxygen, favorable temperatures, water, and food. However, since fungus is a plant that lack chlorophyll, it is unable to make its own food and so it feeds off of cells in the wood. The fungus secretes enzymes that break down the wood into usable food. Fungi will significantly reduce the strength of the wood, if untreated for a long period of time.
Once you have determined whether your home is suffering from a case of mold or a wood destroying fungus you can then proceed to treat. If you do find out that it is simply mold, you are not out of the woods yet. It must be treated immediately as the presence of mold indicates moisture levels sufficient enough for the growth of a wood destroying fungus. (Tips for treating mold)
There are different types of wood destroying fungus, each with identifying characteristics.
- White rot – breaks down all major wood components and commonly causes rotted wood to feel moist, soft and spongy, or stringy and to appear white bleached.
- Brown rot – leaves a brown residue of lignin and the affected wood is usually dry and fragile, and readily crumbles into cubes. Brown rot is generally more serious than white rot.
- Soft rot – typically occurs in wood of high water content and high nitrogen content. Soft rot fungi look like brown rot. They are most commonly found in rotting window frames, wet floor boards and fence posts, etc.
Treatment of wood destroying fungus requires borates. Borates are highly destructive to all wood destroying organisms and, unlike other wood preservatives, they are non-volatile, odorless, and are less toxic than table salt. They do not discolor the wood, are non-corrosive, environmentally safe and effective in controlling more than 45 different species of wood destroying fungi.
After treatment has been completed the fungi will begin to die and dry up. Occasionally the dead fungi will emit an unpleasant odor as it decomposes. This will only last a couple of days and may be minimized with the circulation of fresh air.
Although borates will kill wood destroying fungi, it will not add strength to the damaged wood. The most effective and common method for moderate to severe damage is to replace the damaged wood. However, if only a small area is affected, borates and reinforcing the damaged wood are a cost-effective alternative.