Your crawl space is the most important part of your home because it supports the entire structure. Unfortunately, many crawl spaces are damp and have poor moisture control, resulting in extensive structural failure. This is especially true in Charlotte, NC where rain is plentiful.
The wooden parts of your crawl space are vulnerable in humid crawl spaces because of fungal infections such as dry rot. The resulting damage from dry rot can be so destructive that it changes the way you move about in your own home. Being able to spot the signs of dry rot damage is crucial if you wish to avoid the structural failure that comes with a decaying crawl space.
What Is Dry Rot?
Dry rot is a term used to describe wood decay caused by fungal infections. Fungi are microorganisms that eat organic matter and absorb moisture to survive. Wood, which is an organic material, is a good source of nutrition for many fungal species. Dry rot eats away at the wood on a microscopic scale, devouring the cells and weakening its overall structure as the infection overtakes the wood.
Outdoors, wood can defend against dry rot thanks to the bark, which is used as a protective shield so that the tree’s inner structure is safe from harmful elements. In your crawl space, however, the wooden joists and support posts have no protective shield. They are exposed to humidity, dirt, and bacteria, which is why they get infected with dry rot so easily.
What Does Dry Rot Look Like?
Identifying dry rot in your crawl space will allow you to act against the infection and protect your wood from structural collapse. Depending on how advanced the fungal growth is, you may or may not have a challenging time identifying dry rot on the wood in your foundation. This is because dry rot can be incredibly damaging in its initial stages while also being incredibly subtle.
In its early stages, dry rot starts off as spores. Spores are fungal cells that have yet to mature. Individual spores are microscopic, but if enough of them accumulate in a single spot, they look like red, brown, or orange dust. The immature spores will only grow if the environmental conditions are conducive. The temperature, oxygen, and humidity levels need to be exactly right, and there needs to be a lack of sunlight. Once these conditions are met, the spores begin to grow hyphae, which are white, individual strands that the mold cells use to grow and spread. A collection of hyphae is called mycelium.
Mycelium is the bacterial colony that appears as fungal growth, which slowly consumes the wood. It is primarily white and mossy and feels like cotton, though it can look like sticky mucus on the wood. Sometimes, it can go from white to a light tan color as it gets exposed to dirt and other bacteria. At this point, the fungus cannot reproduce, so removal of the dry rot during or before this stage is easier.
The final stage of development is a fruiting body, which appears once the fungus is mature and can release spores into the air. The fruiting bodies on the wood look like mushrooms with a red center, and it’s from this red center that the spores get released. The airborne spores land on a viable living surface and then, if the conditions are right, will begin to grow, and the cycle starts again.
Aside from the hyphae strands, mycelium cluster, and the fruiting bodies, dry rot damages the wood in another visible way. Because the infection is breaking down the wood, certain patterns may be visible after the infection has taken over. When decaying, wood will begin to crack, break, and flake off. The cracks will interconnect and form rectangular patterns on the surface of the wood.
Dry rot is sometimes confused for termite damage because of the way it breaks down after infection. If you’re unsure of whether your crawl space wood is breaking down due to termites or dry rot, contact your local foundation experts for an inspection.
Problem Signs That Lead to Dry Rot Damage
If you are unable to access your crawl space or deem it too dangerous to head down here and search for dry rot signs, then there are other indicators that point to dry rot damage. When the wood in your crawl space is damaged, the rest of your house suffers because of the structural failure. If the wood decay goes on for long enough, then the lack of support from the foundation structure will lead to structural damage throughout the rest of the house.
If you notice any one of these problem signs, no matter how minor or insignificant they may seem, it’s time to get in contact with a local expert. Dry Pro offers free, no-commitment inspections, so don’t hesitate to call if you detect the following problems in your home:
Floor joists are the horizontal wooden beams that make up the ceiling on your crawl space. They are a means to support the floorboards in your home. When infested with wood rot, the wood breaks down as its structural integrity is compromised. Because the wood is no longer strong enough, it can cause your floor to be uneven.
An uneven floor is difficult to detect with a naked eye when it’s first developing, especially if you have carpet flooring. With floorboards, any irregularities in the evenness should help point you towards the damaged area. You can always test how uneven your floor is by dropping a ball or pencil and seeing if it rolls around. A more conclusive method is to use a level ruler.
An uneven floor usually indicates that multiple parts of the floor support system are deteriorating. So, even if the floorboards aren’t damaged, you should try to get your crawl space repaired as soon as possible.
When a floor is sagging, there is an indent on the floor regardless of whether there is any heavy object on that spot. The indent points to the spot in the crawl space where structural deterioration occurs. The bigger the indent, the more wood that is damaged.
Once a year, you should check for sagging areas in your floor. It’s important to move any furniture and check under it as well, since hidden problem areas are difficult to miss if you don’t check thoroughly.
If you step on a specific part of your floor and it feels bouncy instead of firm and stable, then you have structural problems. A bouncy floor usually indicates the start of wood decay. Wood is flexible, so it’s capable of straightening itself after bending a bit. However, long-term floor bounce can lead to broken floorboards and floor joists. The more the wood flexes, the more warped it becomes.
Wall and Floor Gap
When your floor support system is failing, the floor becomes uneven. Depending on where the damaged wood is, the floor might even separate from the bottom of the wall. Even if you don’t see the gap between the wall and floor, some early signs that indicate that there might be one in the future are baseboard cracks. Baseboards are the decorative pieces of wood that skirt around the bottom of your walls.
The support system in your crawl space isn’t just there for your floor but also for the rest of your house. If the wood in your crawl space is decaying, then this will influence the walls as well.
Cracked walls always should be seen as a sign of foundation failure. The cracks usually start low on the wall and then creep up as the dry rot gets worse. If you have a large crack on your wall starting from the bottom, then you need to get in contact with foundation experts fast before the crack grows larger.
Broken Tiles and Floorboards
When tiles and floorboards break, it’s not because they are of inadequate quality. Tile and floorboard breaking is a sign of foundation problems. Before you go out to try to replace the tiles and floorboards, hire a local inspector to look at your foundation. Otherwise, your floor will continue to experience structural issues if the true problem is not addressed.
Why Is Dry Rot a Problem?
Besides the structural damage, dry rot is a major problem because of the health risks. Dry rot is a type of fungus, and, like many microorganisms, it can be harmful to our respiratory system.
There are many types of fungi in the world, and the most dangerous ones are those that produce airborne spores. Because of how easy it is for these spores to spread around and for us to breathe them in, having them in your crawl space is terrible for your health. When we breathe in spores, they affect our lungs until they are either sneezed out or until they die (since human bodies are not ideal for dry rot growth). You can tell when spores have affected you when your nose, eyes, mouth, or throat get irritated after having been exposed to dry rot for a short amount of time.
You may think that fungal growth in your crawl space isn’t a problem because it’s out of sight, but you are still in danger of getting mold poisoning even if you never enter your crawl space. Because of the stack effect, the fungal spores in your crawl space infiltrate the air in your home and trigger allergies. Long-term exposure to fungal spores is what leads to permanent damage to your respiratory system, so if you do have dry rot in your foundation, it’s not an issue you want to ignore.
Can I Get Rid of Dry Rot Myself?
If you’ve cleared mold in your home before, then you might think about getting rid of the dry rot in your crawl space as well. However, there are multiple reasons as to why this is a bad idea, especially in a crawl space. The first reason is that the extent of the structural damage is unknown, and you might be putting yourself in harm’s way by entering the crawl space.
The second reason is the chemicals you would be using to get rid of the dry rot. Dry rot is incredibly resilient. In fact, it’s called dry rot because it will not die even when there’s little moisture in the air. It was believed that dry rot could survive without any moisture at all, but we now know that dry rot can pull moisture from afar, which is why it’s able to survive under less-than-ideal conditions.
To completely clear the wood of dry rot, you would need extremely strong chemicals. Spraying these chemicals around in an enclosed space is dangerous, so it’s something you’ll want to leave up to the professionals.
Dry Rot Damage
Assessing The Damage
The first thing you should do when you realize that there’s decaying wood in your crawl space is get in contact with your local foundation repair company. This is because the foundation needs a thorough look over before anything can be decided. Foundation experts will be able to tell if the wood in your crawl space needs to be replaced or if it can be repaired. Being able to tell is important since replacing tends to be a lot more expensive than repairing.
If the wood can be repaired, then the mold will be cleared from the wood. Because dry rot is so difficult to kill, experts will have to use extremely strong fungal-removing chemicals. The wood will be coated with a special epoxy or wood preserver to fill in the damaged parts and give the structure some strength. If the joists need to be supported, then support jacks will be installed, and the floor will be evened out.
IntelliJack™ Crawl Space Support Jacks
IntelliJack™ is a support jack that is meant to stabilize failing floor joists and aid them in supporting the floor. IntelliJack™ is made of solid, galvanized steel, meaning that it will not succumb to corrosion. To install IntelliJack™, foundation experts will mark where each support jack needs to go. Then, they excavate a hole where the jack will be installed, engineering fill is poured down the holes, and the support jack is put into place.
The advantages of having IntelliJack™ support your home is that it does not get infested with dry rot. However, once the support jacks are installed, the job should not be considered finished. IntelliJack™ can stabilize your foundation, but it cannot stop water and humidity from entering your crawl space and wreaking havoc all over again. To truly keep your foundation stable for years to come, you need a proper waterproofing solution in place.
Once the dry rot problem in your crawl space has been dealt with, you need to consider investing in waterproofing solutions so that you never have to worry about dry rot in your crawl space again.
Crawl Space Waterproofing
Crawl space waterproofing is an important part of preventing dry rot due to how persistent dry rot can be. It’s capable of pulling in moisture from afar and the microscopic spores make it difficult for you to truly know if growth can be prevented. However, you need to remember that dry rot does not grow unless the conditions of the crawl space are perfect.
Waterproofing solutions make it so that it is impossible for dry rot to get the moisture it needs to survive. When speaking to experts, a lot of the waterproofing solutions may seem excessive, especially for a crawl space (a part of the house nobody visits). However, crawl spaces are built partially underground, meaning that the foundation is constantly surrounded by groundwater, making it easy for the fungus to stay hydrated.
To prevent wood rot in your crawl space, you need to be able to keep the moisture levels inside the crawl space as low as possible while also preventing water and water vapor from entering the space. For interior solutions, a sump pump and perimeter drainage system are necessary. With these two solutions, standing water will be a thing of the past in your foundation.
To prevent moisture in the air, a vapor barrier can be set up in the crawl space. It’s a thick sheet made of polyethylene that can prevent water vapor from seeping into the crawl space through the concrete walls and through the soil. To keep the moisture levels as low as possible, a dehumidifier (which can be connected to the sump pump for easy drainage), is the cherry on top.
Do You Have Dry Rot Problems? Dry Pro Is Here to Help.
If you’re struggling with structural issues due to dry rot, then Dry Pro can offer you the best solutions for the problem. With thousands of homes repaired since 1999, we are the leading foundation waterproofing and repair experts in Charlotte, NC. Our solutions come with nationally backed warranties and a professional, award-winning service you will never forget.
To schedule a free inspection with one of our field experts, call us or fill out our online contact form. Not only will you receive a same-day quote, but also you will get a production timeline and a thorough explanation of what is going on with your foundation and what it needs to function properly.
Once the job is done, you can always get in contact with us for our annual maintenance service. While the repairs are important, checking the status of your foundation every year ensures your home remains safe.