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The Wood Rot—Termite Connection

By Chris Williams on April 21, 2015.

We recently discovered that we have a corner in a bedroom where there is a problem with wood rot. The wallpaper was peeling off and when we removed it we found wet wallboard and rotted wood underneath. Now my friend says that we probably have termites too. Is that true? B. T., Nottingham, NH

Wood rot on windowsill

I doubt if that’s true…but it could be. Now that you’re confused, let me explain that there is a well known connection between termites (and most other wood-destroying insects) and rotting wood. Termite infestations in a home usually start in an area where the wood is decaying or is wet due to condensation, or a roof or plumbing leak. The reason is that insects prefer to chew into softer wood and that is where wood rot helps them out. Even if the leak is repaired and the wood is now dry, it remains softer and more desirable to wood pests.

Termites Prefer Decaying Wood

Subterranean termites have a high requirement for moisture, both in their surrounding environment and in their food. They are most attracted to wood that has been partially decomposed by fungi. Termites actually ingest the wood and studies show that they thrive on a diet of decaying wood. They typically eat the softer spring wood and leave the harder summer wood, resulting in a honeycombed appearance to the damaged wood. Although they often start their infestations in decomposing wood, they can move into perfectly dry wood as well.

Fix the Leak; Replace the Wood

This doesn’t mean your home is now infested with termites or any other wood-infesting pest, it just means you should take precautions. The important thing is that you have discovered the rot and presumably corrected the source of the moisture that caused the wood to rot. If you’ve also replaced the rotten wood, you’ve done what you can to reduce the risk of termites, but I would still recommend a professional inspection for termites. An exterminator can also treat the replacement wood and nearby wood to help protect it from attack.

For more on wood moisture and pests, and on how to find moisture problems in your home, check out these blogs:

Photo credit: infiniti9977 / Foter / CC BY-SA

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