By Brian Reid, operations director at Wise Property Care
TIMBER frames have many advantages for buildings. They are cost-efficient, easy to construct, and great at locking in temperature. In many refurbs original timber frames are desired for their rustic appeal.
As a natural material, timber also has a lower ecological impact than some other building materials. However, there are certain measures that construction industry professionals need to follow in order to ensure its longevity and structural integrity, and to prevent the natural wood fibres from being damaged by weathering, parasites or rot.
Here are some tips for treating and preventing some common ailments that can impact the life of wood timbers in building projects.
Wood rot is a common cause of timber frame structural defects, particularly when allowed to develop undetected, and it can take the form of either dry rot or wet rot.
Dry rot is a form of timber decay caused primarily by fungal growth, and it is also one of the most damaging conditions you can encounter in a property. It severely impacts structural integrity as it aggressively spreads from one area of timber to the next.
Contrary to its name, dry rot needs moisture to flourish and grow. This moisture could come from many sources such as a drip from a leaky pipe, rain water from the roof, damaged gutters or down pipes. It is hard to identify because it often grows where people do not look, such as under floorboards, in lofts or behind plaster.
Affected timber can be brown in colour, have visible grey streaks in it and orange spore dust may collate on the ground too. In extreme circumstances dry rot fruiting bodies could be visible – which will look like severe mould to the untrained eye. These mushroom-like fruiting bodies occur when dry rot can no longer feed on the timber it is attached to and needs to pump spores into the atmosphere to begin a new lifecycle.
Wet rot is not as serious as dry rot, but it can still cause substantial damage to your property. Wet rot attacks timber in damp conditions, making it a common cause of structural defects, particularly when allowed to go unchecked.
When excess moisture infiltrates timber it can allow fungal spores to germinate and grow, this eventually leads to the timber losing its strength. Wet rot can by identified by a damp musty smell, the cracking and softening of timber or noticeable discolouration of the wood.
In order to treat rot, the source of the moisture needs to be identified and fixed before the damaged timbers can be repaired. Replacing whole timbers can be an expensive and time-consuming process, however, depending on the severity of the damage, it may be possible to repair damaged beams through splicing or bolting-on new timber.
Woodworm is the generic term used to commonly describe the larvae stage of wood boring beetles that are typically seen emerging between April to October. As timber accounts for up to 70% of the materials in a house, woodworm can be a very common problem – particularly during the summer months. In Scotland, the most common beetle larvae found is the ‘Common Furniture Beetle’ which can get into any home through open doors, windows, fresh air vents and gaps in the eves.
While it is difficult to spot the bugs themselves, they leave behind some tell-tale signs:
• Small round holes in your woodwork similar to the holes in a dart board
• Fine, powdery dust around these holes (this is known as frass)
• Crumbly edges to boards and joists
Treating woodworm can be as simple as a chemical spray. However, it can also be as complicated as replacing structural timbers within a property.
Timber plays an important structural and aesthetic role in most buildings, so some care and attention is important to prevent damage and maintain a property’s value.
A professional survey is the first step towards identifying the extent of any damage caused by wood rot or woodworm.
With the right help, timber repairs and the associated remedial issues that often come with it can be a much easier and more cost-effective process.