Is Dry Rot Caused by Termites?

Dry rot

No homeowner wants to hear that their home has termite or dry rot. But is dry rot caused by termites? Let me share some research I’ve done on termites and dry rot. 

Dry rot is caused by fungus secondary to moisture, not termites. You don’t need termites for dry rot. However, termites can make the problem worse. Likewise, the presence of dry rot can encourage termites to invade.

As you’ll see, ”dry-rot” doesn’t mean what everyone expects. In fact, these days, many professionals refer to “dry-rot” as “brown rot.” 

In the sections below, I share with you why understanding dry rot is so important. We will also cover how to prevent both rot and termites.  

What is Dry Rot? 

Before we jump in too far, we need to discuss dry rot. Many professionals sound the alarm on this term. Why? Well, a few dishonest contractors can take advantage of homeowners by telling them that their home is plagued with “dry rot” and that the only solution is complete removal and rebuild. 

Here’s the problem: Dry rot requires moisture. In addition to this, dry rot is caused by fungus – not termites. For this reason, many contractors have taken to renaming dry rot and call it brown rot instead. 

Why Do They Call it Dry Rot? 

We’ve already determined that dry rot isn’t truly caused during dry conditions. But why then is this rot referred to as ‘dry?’. 

Well, let’s take an example. You’ve found a rotten corner on the floor of your dining room. However, there is none of the typical moisture. In fact, it appears that everything is perfectly dry. What’s going on here? 

Most likely, there was a leak underneath your kitchen sink. It may have taken several months for you to notice and call a plumber. During this time, water trickled to the wall and traveled to your dining room, where it pooled and began to rot the floor. 

However, the rot could not continue its destruction once the plumber fixed the leak and the moisture dried. 

Once the moisture is taken away, the rot can’t continue – even if it has already begun. 

So, this is partially where the term “dry rot” comes from – rot that has lost its source of moisture and dried out. 

Note: This is also common in outdoor items, like campers. For a time, the camper was stored outside, where the floor or walls began to rot. However, the camper is then stored indoors, where this rot then dries, leaving “dry rot.”

How Do You Spot Dry Rot? 

Dry rot needs less moisture than other fungi to survive. However – it still needs moisture. So, the process for finding dry rot also applies to finding regular rot. The sections below will discuss how you can find termite damage and how it compares to finding rot. 

Rot is usually spongy and moist (unless it has dried). There are several tests you can perform to figure out if you have rot: 

  • The poke test. Literally, start by poking the wood with your finger. If the wood feels soft and spongy, there’s a good chance you have rot. Look around for a water source. Rot is caused by a fungus, and the fungus needs moisture to survive. 
  • The pry test. Take a small folding knife or a screwdriver and try to pry at the grain of the wood. If the wood is rotting, the knife won’t pry up much material – it will be like prying at butter. But, if the wood is good, you should be able to pry up little splinters. 

So, these are some of the common tests. However, maybe more important is knowing what is not rot. Unfortunately, many homeowners frantically call for help when everything is okay. 

Here are a few “dry rot” imposters: 

  • Sun damage. An area of direct sunlight will often cause paint to peel and fade. As a result, homeowners often assume the siding of their home is rotting. In these instances, perform the poke test. If the wood isn’t rotten, all you need is a new coat of paint. 
  • Wood erosion. Similar to smooth stones in the ocean, wood can be eroded by mother nature. If there’s an area of your home that sustains a lot of foot traffic or someplace that takes the brunt of water, it could appear rotting. 
  • Termites. We will talk about termites in the next section. However, termites can certainly mimic rot. Termites tend to chew tracks into the wood; however, the wood won’t usually be spongy like rot. 

Commonly misinterpreted as dry rot. 

How is Termite Damage Different than Rot? 

Termite damage can go hand in hand with rot. If you’ve had wood originally damaged by rot, this could be more susceptible to termites. 

Termites feed on wood, and not all of them are alike. Some termites live underground, and some do not.  

Termites are like piranhas. They can begin to devour a home with speed. 

You must stop termites as fast as possible. The first step is to identify them. Then you can plan your attack. 

Signs of termites: 

  • Wings. Termites have wings and will use them when they swarm to begin a new colony. Once the termites have landed in their new location, they will drop their wings in a pile. Look carefully for these wings. 
  • Mud tunnels. Termites will dry out and die without constant moisture. As a result, you will rarely see them crawling around in the sunlight (if ever). To travel, termites will construct elaborate mud tubes. The tube will be about as wide as a pencil, and it might travel up the side of your foundation. 
  • Termite droppings. As termites eat away a structure, they will deposit droppings behind them. This will almost appear like sawdust. Look out for this at the start of your foundation and basement. 
  • Wood damage. Sometimes, it’s hard to spot the damage to the wood, as the termites tend to eat away at the inside of the structure—unfortunate to many homeowners. 
  • Professional termite inspection. If you live in an especially humid area, it’s probably worth hiring a professional termite inspector to ensure you aren’t missing anything. Termites can cause thousands of dollars in damage! 

Now, let’s talk about the options for preventing rot and termites. 

How to Prevent Rot and Termites 

Preventing rot and termites comes down to one main thing – preventing moisture. 

The good news: Rot tends to arrive before termites. So, if you can eliminate rot, you’re halfway there for eliminating termites. 

Here are several ways to prevent rot and termites

  • Keep gutters clear. It’s funny how one problem leads to the next. If water leaks over your gutters and spills into your walls, that’s a recipe for rot and termites. 
  • Watch foundations. Termites are more likely to invade if your foundations are close to ground level. If you’re planning a new structure, think about giving yourself some space on the foundation. For your current home, keep the area around your foundation clear. Rotting stumps or lumber will attract moisture and termites. 
  • Repair leaks. Be vigilant about looking for water damage. Even a small leak can grow into a huge problem. Especially ensure the outside of your home is secure – look around garden hoses and AC units. 

Okay, now let’s look at several options for repairing rot and termite damage. 

How to Repair Termite Damage

Once you’ve sustained damage from rot and termites, it’s stressful to plan the rebuilding process. However, there are several ways to repair and mitigate rot and termite damage. 

Termite repair options: 

  • Stop moisture. If you hire a handyman, the first thing they should do is assess the source of moisture. If they say, they don’t need to, “because it’s dry rot,” go with a different handyman. As you’ve already learned, even “dry rot” requires a source of moisture. 
  • Repair the damage with termite and rot-resistant material. If you have an area of your home or property that is especially susceptible to moisture, consider using rot and termite-resistant materials. Modern technology has made these materials more accessible to homeowners. 
  • Hire an exterminator. Make some phone calls to a good exterminator. Often, they can destroy the termites using advanced methods. Also, a termite expert will be in the best position to assess your situation, giving you the best advice about how to proceed. 

When it comes to termites and rot, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Taking steps to prevent rot will greatly reduce the likelihood of expensive repairs. 

Final thoughts on Dry Rot and Termites 

Dry rot is caused by a fungus that begins to work within the wood fibers, causing decay. Termites do not directly cause dry rot; however, termites will make rot worse. 

These days, professionals often refer to dry rot as “brown rot,” a more accurate representation. 

Always keep your eyes open for signs of rot and termite infestation. Discolored paint, soft spots on the floor, and mud tubes should all raise your eyebrows. If you stop rot and termites in their tracks, there’s a chance you could prevent a major repair.