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Unless you are in a funhouse, floors are generally supposed to be flat. And there should only be steps if you purposely put them there. So, if you feel like you are walking on a ship when just strolling through your living room, or if suddenly there is a step into your bathroom where there wasn’t before… you might have wood damage.

There are a few steps between some wood damage and tearing up your entire floor. Luckily, we are here to help. Many things can cause wood damage, but the main two culprits are termites and rot. You don’t want either of them, but how you deal with each of them will vary so it is helpful to know the differences in their damage and treatment.

Termites are nasty little things that love to burrow into your wood and eat away. The walls of your house are a veritable Golden Corral for the suckers. Look for swelling in the walls, flooring, or window frames as an early sign of a colony. They invite friends and so can expand the wood.

The outside of the wood won’t appear damaged right away. The ninja critters do their damage from the inside out. They create a series of tunnels, known as “mud tubes” and you will see a network of tunnels when you see the damage done. There is usually a main “trunk” of the tunnel that will lead to the ground, where they first began their feast. Termites also exude a unique odor—especially as they use their “waste” to line their tunnels. I hope you weren’t eating lunch.

There are many types of rot, but they fall into two categories: wet and dry. The dry rot isn’t dry at all, and both forms of rot are fungus-based. There is a long list of fungi, but they all do the same thing–eat up your wood. The fungus creates an acid that bores holes into your wood. If the rot is spotted early, it has a mossy appearance and takes on a mushroom, musty sort of smell. Rot affects the outside appearance of wood more than termite damage, causing the mossy appearance and then crumbling the wood as the rot does its work.

These are the ways you can tell the difference as you survey your damaged wood. Once you establish which type of wood damage you have, then the treatment can begin.

Termite Treatment
There are a wide variety of chemical treatments available that will bid farewell to the bugs in your walls. Ask around for references for pest control companies, especially those that specialize in termites. Real estate agents can be a wonderful reference for these kinds of referrals. They deal with termite inspections and damage all the time. They will point you towards someone they trust.

Rot Treatment
Treating rot, depending on how early it is detected, can be an in-depth experience. If caught early enough, it can simply be a matter of fixing the leak that brought the water to the wood and then pulling out a small chunk of affected wood. You will also want to treat the wood with boric acid to prevent insect damage to the weakened wood.

Rot can be pervasive and so you will want to investigate to ascertain the full extent of the rot. Pull off plaster, rip up flooring, keep exploring until you have found all the wood with rot. Then, you will be able to face the enemy. All the infected wood will need to be pulled out, and you should clean everything in the vicinity. The spores of rot are not dangerous to humans, but they can be stubborn. So, be thorough! Replace the rotted wood with treated timber. The insecticides in the treated wood will stop any re-infestations. As fun as that process sounds, I don’t think you’ll want to do it again anytime soon.

While telling the difference between the two kinds of damage can be difficult, the prevention of both treatments is the same. These two birds can be killed with one stone: Keep water away from your wood!

Water is the main culprit. It attracts termites and creates a recipe for mold. There are steps you can take to keep any damaging water at bay. Take a stroll around your house, and look for places where the water can pool. Standing water is a landing strip for termites and fungus. There are a few key things to remember for keeping moisture out of the equation:

  • Store wood away from your house. If you have firewood or extra lumber, do not let it lean against your home. That will trap moisture and invite trouble.
  • Check and clean your gutters regularly. Keep water flowing away from your house by re-routing the gutter spouts away from the precious foundations of the home.
  • Mulch looks lovely in flower beds, but give the foundation some space. Mulch traps moisture and if it is piled up against a foundation, then there might be trouble.
  • As you check the gutters, keep bushes and branches trimmed. They can create canopies that protect pools of water and keep them from drying up.
  • Caulk can prevent water damage, especially around doors, windows, and countertops, so make sure you apply—and re-apply—as needed.

Termites and fungus aren’t out to destroy your home, your wood floors, or your wood deck. They are just doing their job. Our job is to encourage them to find food elsewhere. Keeping an eye out for potential danger spots can go a long way in keeping your floors even, your foundations secure, and your repair bills low.