Building Maintenance Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

By Sheldon Stewart
The British phrase “penny wise and pound foolish” alluded to British currency where a pound was worth 240 pennies (pence) are now worth only 100. Today, the phrase has come to be used for those that tend to be very careful about unimportant matters and careless when it comes to the really important ones. One item you do not want to be foolish about is wood rot. Each year we see numerous cases of wood rot that looked relatively minor from what drew our attention. But when we removed the face panels or exterior shingles, what we found underneath was years of neglect and thousands of dollars in repairs that could have been prevented. Any coastal property is a prime breeding ground for wood rot. Frequent fog, summer humidity, winter snow, general rain and our famous Nor’easters, all help moisture to seep into tiny cracks in a paint job or into the natural wood shingles that are so famous in our area. What appears to a business owner as a little cracked paint, gone unchecked can become thousands of dollars in replacing sheathing, framing, joists or complete windows or doors.
What are the signs of wood rot and how do you find it?
You’ll need to use sight and touch for this task, as well as a screwdriver and maybe a flashlight. Keep in mind that the rot you are looking for may be easily visible and in plain sight, but quite often it will be hidden behind cracked paint or underneath siding. One thing to bear in mind is that wood should not be soft when you press on it. Use a screwdriver to probe for rot in your business’ wooden structure. Be on the lookout for any sign of soft, brittle, or crumbling wood.
• Look for any discoloration, as this may be a sign of fungi and rot.
• Peeling paint that feels damp, may actually be a water leak behind the spot. Investigate further and fix any leaks you find.
• Check any painted or sealed wooden surfaces on the exterior for cracks in the paint or sealant. Any crack, even a small one, can allow water to seep into the wood, resulting in rot.
Can wood rot be prevented?
Not really, but you can try to detect it early and get on top of it quickly. There are a few areas where it’s most commonly found. One is at the end of rake boards because they haven’t been covered with roof shingles and it’s easy for the moisture to get into the end. Window sills and side casings of windows are very common for rot. Corner boards where downspouts are attached is another especially if you don’t clean your gutters. Water overflows, saturates the downspout, moisture gets trapped in the downspout and the wood deteriorates. Even if your exterior is aluminum or vinyl, there could still be wood rot because they still likely have wooden framing, plywood, and trim so be sure to inspect those areas as well.
Wood rot should not be taken lightly.
Sometimes people say, “Oh, it’s not that bad. I’ll take care of it next year.” But if moisture is getting in, it ends up behind the shingles and gets into the sheathing. At least a dozen times a year we see someone who thinks they’re just going to have a simple $300 windowsill replaced, and it ends up being thousands of dollars because we have to replace all the sheathing and sometimes even the framing underneath the window.
How do you repair it?
For small repairs, you can dig out the rot and apply clear hardener to the boundary or border of the leftover wood. Then you would apply the wood filler. We recommend a two-part wood filler, which is going to hold up the best. A lot of times people just use a Spackle, but that’s not really designed to fill rotten wood and we strongly advise against using it. The best way to repair, is to replace the whole board length. Wood filler in place of the rot still leaves a margin similar to tooth decay. You’re creating another seam that can be compromised at a later date, and then you’ll be back into filling another area. The good news is that Azek molding, which is made from PVC, is being used more in building and repairs so we should see less wood rot in the future. No business owner wants to spend more money but be penny wise when it comes to wood rot. Because, as an old television commercial used to say, “you can pay me now, or pay me later.”