Timber remains a crucial construction material in the UK and millions of properties rely on wooden beams to uphold their structural integrity. Wood is a building material found just about everywhere in the home, from roofs and ceilings to walls and floors. There are many benefits to building with sustainably sourced timber as it is easy to handle and work with and once complete can be aesthetically pleasing.
However, timber can be susceptible to damage caused by the UK’s damp climate. With temperatures dropping and more rain expected over the winter period, home and property owners may notice problems with their timber.
Repairing structural timber
Wet and Dry rot can often decay or weaken timbers, which will then need to be removed and replaced. The most vulnerable sections of timber are usually those that bear into the external wall structure, as these are the points where wood is most likely to absorb moisture. This means in many cases it is only the ends of the timber which will need to be replaced.
The traditional method to repair structural beams is to splice the timber with new sections using steel plates or bolts, and timber connectors fixed through the wood. While this is effective, the steel plates can be quite unsightly if they remain exposed.
For large section beams, an alternative is to use epoxy resins to carry out structural repairs. This is an aesthetically pleasing and economical method – repairs can often be carried out relatively quickly, without having to cut out large areas of the existing timber. It also causes minimal disturbance to the surrounding structure and negates the need for unsightly steel plates.
The warning signs of dry rot and wet rot
To avoid significant structural repairs to your property, it is important homeowners stay on the lookout for any signs of damage, especially Dry and Wet rot. Contrary to its name, Dry rot needs moisture to flourish and grow, and it can be hard to spot because it often grows out of view where people do not readily have access, such as under floorboards, behind panelling, in lofts or behind plaster away from light.
Affected timber will be covered in a white growth of fungal strands (mycelium) on its reverse side and have large cracks about 50mm square across the wood grain called ‘cuboidal cracking’. Orange or red spore dust may be present when the fungus produces a fruiting body (mushroom) on the affected timbers. Of most concern is the fact that Dry rot can spread many metres away from the original source of moisture.
Wet rot on the other hand is not as harmful as dry rot, but can still cause substantial damage. It attacks timber in much wetter conditions, making it a common cause of structural defects, particularly when rainwater ingresses into a building and if allowed to go untreated. The fruiting body produces fungal spores and when these germinate they produce enzymes which break down the cellulose in timber, leading to the timber losing its strength.
Wet rot can be identified by a damp musty smell, smaller cracking across the grain than Dry Rot, softening of timber and noticeable discoloration of the wood. Wet rot will only occur where the moisture source is high enough to support an outbreak whereas Dry rot can extend much further away from the moisture source.
Do you need help from timber repair specialists?
There is a wide variety of timber repairs available but it’s important to correctly identify the issue to ensure the right treatment is applied. If you’re unsure whether the timber beams in your premises are affected by damp related conditions, contact property experts who are experienced in the identification, removal and treatment of damaging rot.
By Richard Walker, National Technical and Development Manager at Peter Cox