Termites | Posted: March 2, 2023

Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot (with Pictures)

Responsible homeowners regularly check their homes for damage and perform routine maintenance, but sometimes that’s not so easy. A visible problem could have several causes and remedies, and it’s up to homeowners — and the professionals they hire — to determine what is happening.

Termite damage and wood rot can look similar and even lead to the same degree of destruction if left unchecked. If you see signs of damage to wood on your property, the first step in preventing further problems is evaluating what the problem actually is. Below, we will explain a few key differences between termite damage and wood rot.

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Signs of termite damage

If you know where to look, you might find many signs of a termite infestation on your property. These indicators can include evidence of the termite themselves — like their mud tubes and discarded wings — or the damage they have caused to your home.

Structural damage from termites can vary in visibility and intensity. If termites start to snack on your home’s joists or subfloor, you might notice sagging floors — or hear them creak more than usual as you walk on them. Similarly, termites eating away at wall studs and ceiling beams could cause the ceilings and walls to buckle. These could eventually collapse if the termite infestation goes unchecked.

If you notice what looks like horizontal or vertical lines of missing wooden material at baseboards or door frames, these maze-like lines of damage are commonly referred to as “shelving.” This kind of shelving is a tell-tale sign of termite damage.

What is wood rot?

Wood rot can happen in or around homes the same way it does in nature. The only problem? Decomposition in nature doesn’t affect people’s homes and livelihoods, but wood rot of personal property can yield serious consequences. Lumber for home-building and construction is typically treated with chemicals to prevent this natural process, but these treatments are not permanent. Prolonged exposure to moisture and sunlight combined with seasonal temperature fluctuations can gradually damage wood over time.

While decomposition is inevitable with any natural material, there are several steps homeowners can take to slow or even halt its progress and keep their home structurally sound.

What causes wood rot?

Like termites, wood rot (also known as dry rot) is caused by a different home invader: mold. These fungi break down logs and other plant life in nature and can unfortunately do the same to your property.

Mold thrives in damp environments. If a home’s roof or siding is not waterproofed, water can reach the house’s “bones” and spur mold growth. If the house sits on a lot with poor drainage in a moist climate, mold can grow on the bottom of the house, especially in poorly ventilated basements and crawl spaces.

Mold colonizes the wood within the home and breaks it down for nutrients, weakening the wood until it becomes loose, spongey, and more absorbent. 

Water absorbed into loose wood will also expand and contract with changes in temperature and exposure to sunlight, kneading the wood fiber until it is no longer structurally sound. If the affected wood is a significant support component of the home’s build, anything fastened to it will also be affected — causing major, widespread damage.

Differences between termite damage and wood rot

While neither is fun to find in your home, understanding what kind of damage you have found is the first step in repairing it — and ensuring the problem does not come back.

One of the first major differences between termite damage and wood rot is where the evidence is located. Wood rot is typically found in places where the wood could be or has been exposed to water: near seams in the structure, roof seams, window frames, and door frames. If you see water stains around the rotten wood, there is a decent chance you are looking at wood rot.

Wood rot also tends to look dehydrated, contrary to its cause. After being flooded with moisture and broken down by mold, wood rot tends to dry out and split into cube-like chunks. Think of a dried-up lake bed: as the water evaporates from the previously drenched silt, sections of the clay shrink from each other and split apart in an almost giraffe-print pattern.

Termites, on the other hand, will produce damage to the wood in “shelves” and tunnels. The insects’ tunneling will form long, thin tiers in the wood, or you may see small, termite-sized holes and tunnels. Termite-damaged wood will be hollow and weak but slightly less crumbly than dry-rotted wood. Due to the elongated nature of the termites’ tunnels, pieces are more likely to break off in long, thin pieces. Damage isn’t the only sign of a termite infestation, but it’s a good place to start if you’re concerned about termite activity. 

If you have determined that your home is suffering from wood rot and not termites, beware: wood rot can actually make wood in your home more appealing to termites in the future. If the wood still contains moisture, it has everything a termite colony could want in a new home. If the wood is no longer exposed to moisture, the weakened wood fibers are easier for termites to tunnel through and consume.

side-by-side comparison of termite damage vs. wood rot

How Dodson can help

Dodson Pest Control can help save your home, whether you are dealing with termites or wood rot. Both forms of damage rely on wood’s continuous exposure to moisture, and we specialize in identifying and removing moisture and its sources in the home.

Of course, if you believe your home has a termite problem, we offer a full range of termite treatments to kill the termites you have now and prevent them from returning in the future. Our qualified inspectors will help you confirm the presence of termites and work with you to develop a treatment plan that fits your needs and your lifestyle. Once the treatment has successfully removed any termite colonies in the home, a specialist will follow up to confirm the treatment’s success with another inspection.

Don’t spend time and money on treatments until you know what exactly you’re treating. Only qualified, trained professionals can tell you definitively whether you’re dealing with termites or wood rot. 

Contact us today for a free inspection.

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