Termite damage vs wood rot

termite damage vs wood rot

How to Spot Termite Damage: 13 Steps with Pictures – How to Spot Termite Damage. Each year, termites cause significant damage to structures and crops in subtropical and warm, arid regions of the United States. Homeowners spend billions of dollars annually to treat infestations and repair

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Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot: What’s Eating Your Termite damage and rotting wood can be absolutely detrimental when it comes to the structure of your building. However, because both causes of wood decay have similar looking effects, it can be difficult to distinguish what is actually going on. Knowing what

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Termite damage vs fungal decay or wood rot. How to tell the difference…

The difference between fungal decay and termite damage is obvious for the experienced termite inspector. In simple termites, fungal decay (commonly known as wood rot) is the degradation of timbers as a result of a fungus, which in most cases, is simply caused by excessive moisture.

Many timber items end up with decay as a result of poor drainage, leaking guttering or downpipes and timber in direct ground contact. Timbers which are designed for outdoor use are treated, or use specific species of timber, which are more resistant to decay, but at some point, all timber will decay if exposed to excessive moisture. For example, jetty or wharf timbers are a specific species, and will last for years submerged in the ocean, whereby untreated pine timber, such as skirting boards, or architrave timbers wouldn’t last 6 months without being significantly affected.

Fungal decay, known as wood rot

Common places inside the home where fungal decay is common, is to the ensuite or bathroom doorjambs. These areas are adjacent to a wet area, and if waterproofing practices have not been correctly undertaken, then moisture may get into the timbers and cause decay to occur.

Window reveals and sills are another common place where decay occurs. Incorrectly sealed or flashed windows, windows left open over an extended period of rain etc.

Moisture affected timber-Fungal Decay

Externally, patio posts, pergola timbers, barge and fascia timbers and fences are all common items which are often affected by fungal decay.

So, looking at the physical identification of fungal decay, you’ll notice that the timber may be wet, or damp. Depending on the level of decay, you may find timber fibres simply falling off the timber, or larger more linear pieces will flake away from the main timber member. Once the timber is dry, the damage comes away more easily and with soft pieces falling away in a dusty fashion.

Decay can be treated with a variety of fungal treatments, but most times, the affected timbers are simply cut and removed, to be replaced by suitably treated timber.

Termite Damaged timber looks different, and usually, physical gouging or a ‘venetian’ style pattern in the timber will expos termite galleries and workings. different termite species cause different styles of damage, and at different rates. Most termites which cause damage in Australia will leave a ‘speckling’ pattern on the effected timbers.

The difficulty with identification of decay and/or termite damage happens when termites attack decayed timber. Termite damage by itself is quite easy to identify, but when there is excessive moisture, the decayed timbers become a mess of mushy timber and unclear staining. A key identifying feature of termite damage is the speckling, which can look like ‘cork’.

The corking effect is made by termites transporting the consumed cellulose products, mixed with the termites gut protozoa, which removes the cellulose from the timber being consumed. Termites transfer food between themselves, and back to the nest by regurgitating it, and by defecation (yuck!), and wherever the food makes contact with the timber galleries, it leaves a mark. The food regurgitated or defecated is also responsible for creating the termites workings. The workings are used to conceal the termites from predators and from light, but in close to the nest, the workings are used to create galleries which channel humidity, and help to regulate the moisture content and environment inside the main breeding areas.

Most times, on a termite inspection report, there will be reference made to ‘Termite workings and/or termite damage. This refers to the byproduct used to create the nest and protective tunnels. Termite damage may not be identified for some time, even when termites have been consuming timber for an extended period. Termite damage normally occurs from the inside, often leaving a paper thin exterior skin which is hiding a hollow and weak timber.

So when your termite inspector next tells you that your exterior patio posts are decaying, you might be able to positively identify the cause. If he tells you it’s termite damage, then take note, and make sure you have a current termite barrier or termite baiting system installed.

We know someone who might be able to help with this!


Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot: What’s Eating Your Business?

Termite damage and rotting wood can be absolutely detrimental when it comes to the structure of your building. However, because both causes of wood decay have similar looking effects, it can be difficult to distinguish what is actually going on. Knowing what problem you are actually dealing with is critical to resolving it. Here’s an overview and distinguishing features of both types of damage:

Wood Rot:
The common type of wood rot you may encounter and what is often confused with termite damage is dry rot. Dry rot is caused by fungi that attack wood and destroys its interior structure, hollowing it out from the inside. Despite its name, dry rot requires moisture to start decaying – and fungi will carry water to the interior of wooden structures.

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Subterranean termites are the most commonly found termite species throughout Texas. These pests live in colonies under the soil and feed on the cellulose material that is found in plant cells as well as wood. Like fungi, they eat away the inside of the wood, making it hollow and weak. Cracks in foundation and walls allow termites access to wood, where they chew tunnels inside existing structures.

Spotting the difference:

Think you know which one of these images is termite damage, and which is wood rot? Here are a few hints:

  • Decaying wood due to wood rot is often spongy and stringy in texture and breaks off into rigid, cube-like patterns. Pieces of the wood that are not decayed break off in long slivers.
  • On the flipside, termite damaged wood may appear normal on the outside but has chewed-through tunnels and galleries on the inside.

If you guessed that the termite damaged wood is on the left and wood rot is the right, you guessed correctly!

In either case, it can be hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and the damage is done. Both types of damage can cost your business a significant amount of money in repairs. Termite damage, though, costs businesses and homeowners roughly $5 billion in repairs annually across the United States. A pest professional can help you confirm if termites are present, and will help you take the next steps to resolving any issues. Many times, both problems are present, as termites are even more attracted to wood that is already softened by decay and moisture.

Holder’s Pest Solutions is the expert when it comes to termites in Houston. We implement what we call the “EIR” Termite Advantage:

  • Experience: Years of experience inspecting and treating commercial structures for termites – we know how commercial facilities work and will get our job done with minimal disruption to our clients.
  • Innovation: Using the latest, most progressive and innovative termite management technology and treatment techniques.
  • Reliability: Holder’s highly-trained and experienced technicians and inspectors know termites and how to eliminate them.

Don’t let your business suffer the consequence of termites. Contact us today for more information. You can also download our e-book, The Impact of Termites on Commercial Facilities, here.


How Can You Tell Insect Damage From Wood Rot?

By Chris Williams on May 19, 2014.

When I was opening up a wall in our basement, I discovered a slow plumbing leak and wet wood that has some kind of damage. The wood is soft and crumbly. Is there any way to tell if that is old termite damage (I don’t see any insects), or if it’s wood rot?—M. W., Clinton MA

You really need to contact an exterminator who can immediately answer your question. Wood that is rotted or decayed can easily be confused with wood that has been damaged by insect pests such as termites or carpenter ants. To confuse the issue, you often find both decay and insect damage together. That’s because both termites and carpenter ants like to tunnel in wood that has already been softened by decay and moisture. Here are some characteristics of damaged wood:

Decayed wood is darker or lighter in color than normal wood would be. White rot causes wood to have a white, bleached look. Brown rot causes brown streaks on the surface or end grain of the wood. Surface molds can be a powdery green, black, pink, or orange. Insect-infested wood is the same in color as other sound wood.

Decayed wood is spongy or stringy, or breaks into cubes. You may have already used a screwdriver to dig at the damaged wood. Wood that is not decayed will lift up as long slivers. Decayed wood breaks into short slivers or breaks across the grain without splintering. Brown rot causes wood to crack into cubes. Insect-infested wood doesn’t break into cracks or cubes and is not spongy or stringy. On the outside, the texture may appear normal, but inside insect-damaged wood you will find tunnels or galleries.

Decayed woodmay have fruiting bodies that release spores. These look like tiny mushrooms or shelflike brackets. There may be cottony growths, or threadlike strands or fan-shaped mats of mycelia on the wood surface. Insect-infested wood does not have fruiting bodies or mycelia.

Emergence holes

Decayed wood does not have round or oval holes on the surface. Insect-infested woodmay have emergence holes if beetles are infesting. Wood under attack by termites or carpenter ants does not have emergence holes, but carpenter ants can leave slit-like openings in the wood.

Frass or Sawdust

Decayed wood does not have frass (fecal pellets that look like powder) inside or underneath. Insect-infested wood may have frass inside tunnels or underneath exit holes if infested by beetles. Carpenter ants dump shredded sawdust and debris out of their nests through slits in the wood. Their galleries inside the wood are clean and smooth. Termite-damaged wood has tunnels and galleries lined with a muddy paste produced by the termites.


Termites or Dry Rot? How to Tell Wood Damages Apart

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So you’ve found something fishy in one corner of your house, decaying wood that used to be a solid part of a room. And you ask yourself, is this caused by termites or dry rot?

Identifying dry rots is crucial for every homeowner. Being able to tell them apart from termite damaged wood, not only gets you the proper treatment and services from the right professionals. It also saves you all that worry and a lot of money.

Dry rot can appear anywhere, including this door frame right here. CC Image courtesy of David Schott on Flickr

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What’s dry rot?

Dry rot is wood decay caused by specific fungi species, Merulius lacrymans and Meruliporia incrassata. These fungi cling to moist wood and digest parts of it making it rot, crumbly and weak.

According to Do My Own Pest Control, these fungi send small threadlike structures called hypha through the wood. These threads decompose the wood’s fibers. The result is wood with cracked and brittle areas that can sometimes be mistaken as the work of termites.

Often, people refer to “dry rot” as not the effect of these fungi but the fungi themselves. The name also points to how damp wood appears to look like when infected with the fungi, dry and powdery.

How does wood get dry rot?

You’d think that since the name is “dry rot”, it wouldn’t need water. But really, this wood condition is caused by excessive moisture. It pops up here and there mainly because of water.

Combine that with fungi spores (which can be found virtually everywhere in buildings and houses), oxygen, the right temperature and the wood itself, and you’ll have the best recipe for dry rot.

Poor ventilation in some areas in your house also put up the best condition for the fungi to grow.

How can you tell if it’s dry rot?

Most of the time, you won’t ever have to ask yourself whether damaged wood is caused by termites or dry rot because the latter has distinct looks that you can recognize pretty easily.

Do My Own Pest Control and Advanced Integrated Pest Management cite how you can tell the rots apart just by looking at the color and the texture of the damaged wood.

Generally, there are two kinds of dry rot. Here’s what they look like:
  • ​White Rot clings to hardwoods. The wood has a yellow or white appearance, and it’s spongy and stringy.
  • Brown Rot happens to softwoods. The wood is dark brown and is split across its grain. It’s also very dry and powdery.
But we also have these to look out for:
  • Cubicle Brown Rot is a kind of brown rot that looks like a cube. The wood affected by this turns to powder when crushed.
  • Soft Rot has very large root-like extensions.
  • Surface Fungus blooms white lines on the surface of the wood. This rot is mostly found under deck boards or wood used as an underlying or supporting structure.

What’s the difference between termites and dry rot?

By now it’s clear that the two are completely different. But if you need more clues to tell whether that corner in your house was destroyed by termites or dry rot, here are ways to examine the wood.

For Team Nancy Jones, it’s easy to tell them apart. All you have to do is to gently pull off the damaged wood’s surface and look inside. Look for termite tunnels, a small network of tubes that seem like they’ve been pierced by needles. Some termites work along the grain while some work against it. Whatever the case, if these tubes are present, then it’s obvious that you’re dealing with termites. Otherwise, you have dry rot in your hands.

If you can’t remove the top part of the wood, look for frass. For drywood termites, their frass are small brown pellets that pile underneath or inside the infested wood.

Subterranean termites, on the other hand, don’t eat the hard part of the wood. The springwood part of the lumber would have cavities while the summerwood would have very little damage.

Another way of telling if it’s dry rot is to look for square-shaped patterns on the wood’s surface. These shapes are created because the wood expands and cracks as it holds in more water. According to Termite.com, this is called “alligatoring”. That’s because the squares look like alligator scales.

And if you’re really unlucky, you might find that both termites and dry rot present in the same wood. Dampwood termites love moist and decaying wood. So, it’s no surprise that you can find them where dry rot is.

How do you treat dry rot?

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options for dry rot.

One common way to repair it is by caulking and painting. If the dry rot only claims only a small portion of the wood, you can remove the damage bits, caulk it and apply paint. There are plenty of products in the market that offer fungi killing and fungi repelling qualities.

And if that fails, you can always replace the entire wood. Obviously this is the more expensive option. It’s also more labor intensive. But hey, you won’t have recurring problems on dry rot with that part of the house anymore. It might even be wiser to invest on a permanent solution than to stick to temporary answers.

How do you prevent dry rot?

We’ve mentioned previously that moisture plays a big role in dry rots. So if you want to protect your house from this problem, you have to control moisture. We’ve already had an indebt discussion on this topic in another post. Here are the best ways to get rid of excess moisture in your home.

Being able to tell whether a damaged wood is the consequence of termites or dry rot is a huge deal. With it, you can settle for the best course of action, and you won’t have to do guesswork and spend a lot of money for inspections.


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