Dry rot is one of the most potentially insidious problems that may befall a property. Given a little moisture, a wood-eating fungus can take form and slowly feast upon the walls. Though it starts off innocuously enough with a little moisture, it can rot away the core of a home, potentially bringing an entire section of the house down with it. For a homeowner paying off a mortgage, they can pretty much consider their day ruined at that point.
Here’s how to recognize the signs of a dry rot issue, navigate the sometimes ambiguous insurance stance on dry rot scenarios, and minimize the risk of dry rot taking hold in the first place
How to deduce the cause of a dry rot problem
Whether you’re trying to ascertain the extent of dry rot damage or prevent it from occurring in the first place, prompt detection and awareness of this hazard should be considered a homeowner’s responsibility. Most of the time people have enough problems going on in their life to keep them from actively seeking new ones, but keeping eyes peeled can save you from far worse in the future.
Step 1: Identify dry rot hotspots. Dry rot tends to appear in badly ventilated, relatively cool areas where moisture has been allowed to seep in. For the majority of homes, the go-to hotspots in this case would be basements and attics.
Cloistered parts of the house with piping may be seen as high risk as well if the house plumbing has shown signs of leaking. If you haven’t found dry rot yet, make a mental list of areas in your home that might fit this criteria and inspect them.
Step 2: Spot the symptoms of dry rot. What are the symptoms? Water stains and warped wood are common visual indicators, but many first discover the problem by the odor of rotting wood and mold. Wood that has been affected by dry rot will usually appear darker than normal. In particularly advanced cases, the wood may crumble upon merely touching it.
- Tip: It should be made clear that the perceivable symptoms of dry rot are seldom an indicator of the full problem. Rot can extend inches into the wood, resulting in the need to sometimes remove and replace entire segments of wall.
Step 3: Deduce the cause from the source of the growth. Assuming you have found a dry rot problem, the immediate vicinity should give you some idea as to how this problem was created in the first place.
While humidity and poor ventilation are necessary for dry rot to thrive, it typically takes form due to a leak of some sort. If you have found dry rot in the attic for example, chances are that the leak is sourced to a roof issue. Figuring the cause has a great deal to do with whether or not you’ll be able to get it covered by your insurance policy.
- Tip: Because the source of the leak isn’t always apparent, getting a professional to look at the problem may be helpful. The insurance company will also be able to send someone in this capacity.
Step 4: Kill off the dry rot fungi. Whether there’s extensive damage or you’ve managed to find it in its early stages, you can make quick work of the dry rot fungi using fungicide.
You shouldn’t wait around to figure out the insurance situation for this; dry rot fungi are very slow with their digestion, but killing them off will prevent any more damage from occurring. While you won’t be able to do anything immediately about the damage that already occurred, relatively early detection can make all the difference.
What circumstances will insurance cover repairs?
The question of coverage has to begin with a different one: What caused the dry rot in the first place? In the majority of cases that do get coverage, the dry rot wasn’t the direct problem in of itself, but rather a by-product of another, more apparent issue. A leaking roof or burst pipe might both conceivably result in a parallel dry rot problem.
If the dry rot was caused by a home problem you were already insured for, you won’t need to worry about this being covered. Just make sure you kill the fungi and report it as soon after discovering the problem as possible; that way they’ll have no reason to accuse you of negligence.
Home insurance policies will at least a significant portion of the expenses if the problem was caused by something reasonably out of your hands as a responsible homeowner. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for dry rot to be written off as a preventable issue. The onus is on the homeowner to keep the home in a reasonably well-maintained state.
Routine maintenance on the homeowner’s part as well as an awareness of what to look out for (see: Part 1) should conceivably eliminate the risk of not getting your proper coverage. Contact your insurance representative if you’re not sure what the homeowner expectations are.
Dry rot repairs are typically quite costly and time consuming. The rot often extends deeper into the wood than the surface, exponentially increasing the difficulty. If you’re worried about dry rot and plan in advance, you should be able to get a free homeowner quote to insure the timber materials in your house.
Minimizing the risk of dry rot in your home
Step 1: Prevent the problem with fungicide and a dehumidifier. Fungicide and dehumidifiers are your friend when it comes to stopping dry rot. Some houses may not have this problem at all, but if there are certain rooms that are always musty, addressing the moisture will prevent dry rot from taking hold. Of course, in the case that a fungus pops up anyway, it’s good to have a fungicide at hand.
Step 2: Take home maintenance seriously. It hopefully goes without saying; if you’re a homeowner, you should be putting in the work that your primary asset deserves.
Make a point of checking out your attic and basement at least once every couple of months. Checking the integrity of your pipes every one in a while can’t hurt. Having your roof inspected every three to five years by a professional can minimize the risk of a leak taking hold.
Step 3: Fix dry rot as soon as you can. Because of the potential expense involved in a dry rot repair, some homeowners will let the issue go unaddressed for a period of time outside of using fungicide. Even with the fungi eliminated, the weakened wood structure can make a much worse problem if it’s allowed to fall apart. If it’s within your means, try to resolve the problem as soon as you can.
Step 4: Consider the circumstances of your property. Do you live in a moisture prone area? Your region and proximity to water determines your risk - coastal inhabitants be warned! The age of the house also weighs against it; older wood materials are less resistant to decay, and the risk of old pipes bursting increases the risk of a leak.
Because dry rot is notoriously tough to repair and appropriately expensive to reflect that fact, insurance companies can be hesitant to dish out money for repairs if they deem the problem to have been reasonably preventable by the homeowner. While honest accidents are a valid excuse in their eyes, negligence of regular upkeep won’t likely be given leniency.