Wood Decay Fungi
Brown rot, white rot and soft rot are three classes of fungi that are listed according to the type of decay they cause. Wood decayed by brown rot fungi looks like dry leather and breaks easily into small cubical pieces. The strength of the wood decreases as the growth spreads. Most of the damage to structures is caused by brown rot. Wood decayed by white rot often assumes a bleached appearance, frequently has black lines through it and feels spongy. The strength of wood attacked by white rot decreases gradually with little loss in strength during early stages of decay. If caught soon enough White rot may be treated by spray of a bleach and scraped away. It is important to correct the moisture problem that caused the wet wood in the first place.
Soft rot fungi looks like brown rot but the affected wood softens gradually from the surface inward developing cavities (invisible to the naked eye) within the wood cell walls. Soft rot occurs in situations where wood is wet over a long period of time, such as an earth-to-wood contact.
Some types of decay fungi colonize only when some event such as a roof or plumbing leak brings wood that is below the fiber saturation point into contact with water for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, we cannot always see an event. Other types create root like strands, called ÒrhizomorphsÓ, which can wick water from wet portions of the wood to dry portions. Decay begins when dry wood reaches the fiber saturation point. Under certain conditions, rhizomorphs have been known to travel 25 ft. and break out again. They needed a long term source of moisture; an earth filled porch will do it. If you cut off the moisture, you stop the invasion and keep it from spreading throughout the house.
One of the most frequent assaults on my sensitive nose and allergies is the odor of mold and mildew. Frequently, when called by a client to estimate recommended repairs by a termite company, the most important tool turns out to be my nose. The odor of mold inside a home is a sure sign that a moisture problem exists.
We have encased ourselves against the elements in structures that attempt to create a comfort envelope against the elements. Condensation on the skins of this envelope is caused by temperature differentials and can lead to dry rot in flooring to paint discoloration from mold growth.
Prevention of Condensation
One way to eliminate condensation is to increase the thickness of dead air space between heated/cooled spaces and the varying temperature outdoors. Many styles of insulation come with a built in vapor barrier that helps keep humidity (the ability of air to hold water) down indoors. As humidity decreases (dry air) we feel more comfortable at lower temperatures.
Cold weather condensation can be prevented by placing moisture barriers on the warm side(inside) of insulated walls and ceilings. Warm weather condensation can be treated by increasing the air flow by use of fans and by decreasing the humidity of crawl spaces, by use of adequate ventilation, soil drainage, soil covers and mechanical dehumidification. In theory warm weather condensation should also be treated by placing a vapor barrier on the outside (warm) of insulated walls. However, research has shown that an impermeable moisture barrier installed over studs will cause problems with sidings in areas of very hot moist conditions. Walls wrapped with permeable membrane(ie; Tyvek house wrap) out performed less permeable materials such as 30# felt, because they allow the moisture laden air to escape.
When mold and decay occur over broad areas not associated with a specific source of water (like a plumbing leak), the problem is either water conducting decay fungi or conventional decay fungi growing on wood that has been wetted by condensation. In the latter case the fungal growth will feel powdery or stringy. Water conducting fungi feels leathery and can often be peeled off in sheets. Unfortunately the only way to get rid of molds and decay fungi embedded in wood is to remove the piece. Frequently extracting a rotted structural piece can be an expensive proposition. Prevention is far cheaper.