Wood Rot in the south east US – Are Houses Just Supposed to Rot?

I repaired a lot of wood rot in the Memphis area, as well as here in Tallahassee. It doesn't matter about the size or the cost of the house, it seems like they are all susceptible to wood rot.

It also seems like homeowners just accept that this is a given- houses in the south east just rot.

And the logical process is a spot starts to rot, then the bugs get into the soft wood, followed by squirrels and rats, and then the raccoons. Wonder what that thumping is in the attic? No, it's not Linda Blair.
But IS it "just a given"?

Not in my experience. Wood rot always starts with a source of water, if only just a slight dribble during a hard rain, contacting raw wood. The more water the faster the wood rots. The source of water is inevitably a small (or large) crack in a shingle, over an eave fascia for instance, or an improperly sealed joint between two pieces of raw wood, such as around a window. An example of this would be a wood window when it is installed. It is raw wood, untreated. It is installed in a new house. It gets a slap-dash caulk job to seal it. Ideally it gets primed first, but finally painted. Any possible crack for water to seep in will start to rot the window. Over time the caulk dries out, hardens and cracks away from the wood, allowing more water in. And so you get the problem of the base of windows rotting where the brick molding meets the sill- a very common wood rot problem.

With fascias a worst-case scenario is where the wood is installed completely untreated, the gutters are installed, THEN the fascia is primed and painted, or just painted. This is a disaster waiting to happen. The gutter is installed on raw wood.

What is unique to the south east is the level of prep that is required in the building of a house. In a dry climate such as California or Arizona builders can get away with practices like this. Here all wood that will be exposed to the elements should be primed, then caulked thoroughly, then painted.

More conscientious builders will insist that their exterior trim carpenters either back-prime (prime the front AND back of all trim to be installed) all fascia boards and trim, or use composite or PVC trim.
Don't even get me started on Masonite particle-board siding (great for a dry western climate, not so good here.)

The solution for your existing house? If you are considering having your house painted, go to the extra expense of having the entire exterior THOROUGHLY sealed with caulk around all windows, trim joints,etc.
What I like to use is a paintable silicone from 3M you can get from the big-box hardware stores. Unlike exterior grade caulk, it never dries out or cracks. You do have to prime it with an exterior latex primer before painting however.

And of course, before caulking and painting, have all wood rot repairs taken care of by a reputable repairman.

Finally, make sure your shingles are in good shape around the edges of the roof. If you see any wood rot on the fascia chances are you've got some damaged shingles above it.

To end, it is not a given that your house will just rot, but it is that you must go to extra lengths to ensure that it doesn't.

Wishing you a happy & healthy home,

Mike Wreggitt

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