Dry Rot - Your Opinions, Please

TessieQDecember 1, 2012

Hello, Everyone...

My husband and I are in the process of purchasing a 50-year-old, one-story, ranch style house. The previous owner was an inept Mr. Fix-It who either didn't know about/understand/care about home maintenance and improvements.

As a result, our building inspector's report is a Russian novel's worth of problems that need to be addressed before we will close the deal.

Two of the biggest problems (from our point of view, at least) is the dry rot shown here and, in another Old House Forum posting I'm making today, an out-of-plumb post.

Here's what the building inspector's report said: "Rot damaged sill plate and subflooring at foundation wall under kitchen sink counter. It's old damage from prior leaking. What was leaking I can't tell for sure. Replace section of rot damaged sill plate and replace rot damaged subfloor boards and repair any adjacent damage to the bottom of wall if needed."

We're a bit disturbed that the building inspector says he couldn't tell for sure what was leaking. The area in question is directly behind the dishwasher and kitchen sink, so it seems obvious to us what leaked.

Frankly, my husband is more worried about this than he is about the out-of-plumb post (please see my other Old House Forum posting I did today...12/1/12).

Have any of you come up against this sort of issue? If so, how big of a deal did you think it was and how much did it cost you to have it repaired?

I would very much appreciate any information or advice you can offer.

Thanks so much for your help!



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Sophie Wheeler

Not that big of a deal. Just jack the house up and replace the sill. Then cut out the old subfloor and replace. A couple of hours of work. Easily doable by a handy DIYer.

If you and your husband are this concerned about the inspection report, then this may not be the home for you. And you need to realize that all older homes come with problems. You aren't buying new. But perhaps you should consider buying new. No seller is going to accept any offer that requires them to fix 3 pages of less than major issues.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 8:49PM
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As a result, our building inspector's report is a Russian novel's worth of problems that need to be addressed before we will close the deal.

Is it in the contract that the seller is obligated to fix all the problems? Don't be surprised if they decline to do so.

Can you walk away if you don't like the inspection report? You would be be better off buying from someone who wasn't, as you call him, "inept Mr. Fix-It".

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 10:06PM
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"Not that big of a deal. Just jack the house up and replace the sill. Then cut out the old subfloor and replace. A couple of hours of work. Easily doable by a handy DIYer."

So, it might not be obvious but I think hollysprings intended a slightly sarcastic, joking tone for this part.

Whenever I hear about sill work, I think about the Cary Grant movie "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." (spoiler alert) You see, he bought a house in CT, but then the workman comes along and checks it out and tells him what he needs. I believe it was along about the part where he tells him that the sills are bad that the decision to demolish and build new was made.

I always think about that scene whenever I hear about sill work.

And hollysprings, if you weren't joking, I want to know what kind of energy drink you use when you work on houses!

Keep in mind that the inspection report is focused on functional and safety, not cosmetic, problems. If it is a long list, the list of what you actually want to do to ENJOY living in the house will be much longer.

And any estimate in your head of what it takes/costs to do something, add a zero or two to the cost, and increase your time estimates by incrementing the units:

hundreds to thousands
thousands to ten thousands

change hours to days
days to weeks
weeks to months
months to years
years to beyond your lifetime/tenure in the house

Now, if you enjoy puttering around in a house like I do, you'll be fine. But if you have hobbies, like go to movies, entertain, take ski trips on the weekend, etc, this might not be the life for you. Me? When I was a little girl, they had a segment on 60 minutes about a man who had spent decades building his own castle. From digging the clay to forming bricks, construction, finish work--everything was the work of his hands. I saw that and was captivated--I thought he was the luckiest man on the planet. Think about your gut reaction to that story and shop accordingly. I cannot believe how much free spare time my condo dwelling friend has.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:03AM
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You usually jack it up in short sections, replace that section, then move on.

It is not actually not that hard, just dirty and time consuming.

Large timbers are used to spread the load on the basement floor (I have old sections of railroad tie just for this).
A ten foot piece to support 8 feet of lifting beam works well. A pair of 2x10s handles most loads fine.

You need to be clear about 24 to 30 inches from the foundation wall for working space.

Hang the 2x10 beams on the joists directly (plumb bob vertial here) above the timbers, then use jack posts at each end and the middle.

Then jack just enough to get the load off and old stuff out.

Maybe 1/8 to 1/4 inch of clearance is all.

It depends on how rough and flat the actual foundation top is at that particular spot.

Cut out the old wood, place new wood (pressure treated, sized as needed for height and width.
It should take gentle hammering to get it into position (snug but not overly tight).

Anchor the new wood to the foundation (this may require hole in walls above the spot near the floor), then lower the house onto the new sill.

You can anchor the house to the new sill with removable fasteners.

You then loosen them to work on the adjacent section of the sill.

Take everything down and move to the next section.
Repeat as required.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:22AM
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Hi. I'm message board surfing tonight and thought I'd add a little. Here's a couple things I quickly learned when I first bought my old house.

1. Expect only health and safety issues to be repaired by the seller.
2. Some contractors will see that you are new to old homes and take advantage of that. I hade a guy come for an earthquake retrofit quote on a 1200 sq. ft. house. He came up with $10,000 worth of work that included an extensive fan system in the crawlspace and never even mentioned the 3/4" dip in the dining room floor.
3. Like others said, if you don't love the home with it's quirks, you might just be happier in a new home.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 11:29PM
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Looking at the pics brang back an almost exact similar situation I had. Dry? rotted subfloor under a shower. Well it looked simple enough except the subfloor was 2X8 Tongue-N-Groove (or dressed and matched?) and at the lumber store it turned out 2X8's T&G were no longer made. Only thing available was 2X6 T&G. Plus the 2X8 were really 7-1/x" and the 2X6 were 5-1/x" wide so there was some unexpected fitting and piecing to do. So it wasn't all that simple was it? I do recall muttering "durn" or words to that effect. This was in 1981 on a house built in 1963.

Was 1963 all that old? Basically yes because it was built the old way by an old timer. Well our new house built in 1981 had almost totally different construction, plumbing, everything. And I fixt the 'old' place before we sold it because I won't sell something defective.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 11:26AM
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I forgot- You can bet there is rot inside the wall above that floor plate. One or more studs may be rotten up a foot or more. They'd have to be gotten at and fixed or at least checked. That might mean pulling the sink maybe part of the counter too and some of the kitchen floor to just get at it. If there is wood sheathing that too.

The floor problem I mentioned in my preceding post required an entire tiled shower to be removed to fix the walls.

With that in mind your rotted floor doesn't look like such a trivial problem. There is potential for much more than meets the eye.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 12:16PM
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Dry rot is a very serious issue and can cost thousands of pounds to repair.

However the most important thing is that you tackle the source of the moisture. If you don't the problem will just return! You should bring in a preservation specialist who will be able to tell you exactly where the source of moisture is coming from and how you can fix it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dry rot treatments

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 7:26AM
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That bit of dry rot--and any that might be covered above-- certainly wouldn't deter me. As long as the price was right, i.e., you factor in the cost of repairs, hassle and lost time before you have full use of the home.

The off-plumb wood post in your other thread is a minor correction.

Whenever I buy an old house I automatically assume replacement of lots of service components--furnaces, plumbing, roof. And moreso if there have been the usual array of incompetent "improvements" over the years. A contractor friend of mine likes to say that there should be a licence before anyone is even allowed to buy a nail!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 12:08PM
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First step: You need to bang with a hammer and probe the wood to learn the extent of the rot. Cannot tell from photo. Might just be cosmetic...

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Here's an interesting discussion of a repair-in-place method for rotted sills. I am currently using the ConServ 100 and 200 products on a church sign restoration project and I really like working with them. part of the reason I volunteered for the project is that I wanted to play around with the conserv products and become more familiar with wood restoration in general. Since this is relevant to the thread I'm throwing it in

Here is a link that might be useful: sill restoration technique

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 12:56PM
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Better make sure that epoxy is rated as a structural element, especially in field mixed and applied applications.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 1:08PM
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Dry rot is probably a term feared by most homeowners. Dry rot can very well result in the growth of other more toxic moulds such as the black mould. There had been instances when whole structures were burnt down due to extensive dry rot that resulted in an uncontrolled black mould plague.

Here is a link that might be useful: Homeowners should watch for home-wrecking fungus poria incrassata

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:17AM
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Thanks for the reminder that so many building problems are local!

The house cancer fungus, as it is often called, is rare in the North, though infected lumber is always a source. When I was buying cottages I was amazed at how many were built with "recycled" lumber pulled from who knows where infected with who knows what.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 7:52AM
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I think this is something that should be taken care of immediately. Not only is it annoying, but it is dangerous as well. Dry rot can affect the structural integrity of a house. It is not something that should be played with, and I would call a professional company to look at it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kansas City Wood Rot

    Bookmark   February 6, 2015 at 4:35PM
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and this is for you:

    Bookmark   February 6, 2015 at 4:53PM
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Joseph Corlett, LLC

"... is a Russian novel's worth of problems..."


I fancy myself a bit of a writer. I get paid to write a column and I'm taking a Creative Nonfiction class online. I am going to steal your quote unapologetically. That is gold. Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2015 at 5:51PM
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It rings truest if you've read at least one!

1 Like    Bookmark   February 14, 2015 at 5:39PM
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