close up of rotting door frame

Wood Rot: What Does Deferred Maintenance Really Cost?

By: Steve Hembree
May 18, 2017  | 

Over the last 15 years as an inspector, I have seen firsthand the effects of deferred maintenance on a home. Here at Management One, we believe wholeheartedly in maintaining properties to avoid the pitfalls of deferred maintenance.

Every house has costs: Cost to buy, property tax cost, and cost to maintain, these are the big three on the list. The first two are what they are. The cost to buy is negotiable, the property tax is not (save for choosing where to buy), but the maintenance is by far the most malleable, and far and away the most overlooked and least thought about. Thus, we have deferred maintenance on the very thing that provides us shelter and a place to call home.

What needs maintaining in a home?

  • The Plumbing
  • The Paint
  • Flooring
  • Yard
  • Any of the other 3300 items.

For this article, we’re really directing our focus towards wood rot, preventing it, and how the cost can rise quickly when the maintenance is deferred.

Wood: The Bones of Every Home

Many homes are stick built, meaning they have wood frames and internal members on a foundation, be that foundation a basement, slab, or crawl space. Even brick houses have elements of wood, such as eaves and fascia boards, as well as porches, patio covers, and window and door trim. Additionally, the roof trusses are usually wood as well.

But my house is stucco.

Yes, and that stucco is applied either to brickwork, or more commonly, a wood frame covered in felt, which is then covered with chicken wire, followed by an application of stucco. The stucco sticks to the wire mesh of the chicken wire.

My house has Masonite siding.

Yes, over a wood frame in most cases.

The point is: wood is a widely-used building material, and it is so for many good reasons: It’s durable, it’s workable, it’s cheap, it is replenished, and it’s traditional.

Common problems with using wood for building materials in a home

As great a material as wood is, it does have drawbacks.Wood rot is one drawback, as is termite and other wood boring insect damage. Wood rot and insect damage are very much alike, in that they weaken the wood’s load bearing ability, and they make the affected areas unattractive. Termite damage is easy to recognize but cannot always be seen; however, wood rot can easily be spotted, provided some bad actor has not covered it with putty and painted it, that is. We have seen this, and it is not the proper way to repair wood, and in the long run it compromises your property and ends up costing the property owner more money to fix later.

Wood rot almost always begins once paint has worn away.
Wood is a natural material, and as such it nearly always must be protected from the elements. Sun, rain, trees and bushes in the wind, and debris, can strip away the layer of protection that had been applied, be it a seal or paint. Once this seal is compromised ambient moisture and sunlight combine to be begin decomposing the wood.

The Best Defense is to Protect.

For painted surfaces, the need will arise over the years to repaint, and when it does many times it is a more cost-effective solution to paint a whole house rather than just the worn wood bits, but not always. If there is serious degradation to the paint, such as peeling under the eaves, generally a whole house paint may be the best solution, but this must be judged on a case by cases basis.

A whole house paint generally runs about $1.00 per square foot of the house (and attached garage if attached). A 2000 square foot house with 480 square feet of attached garage would then be about $2500 to paint the exterior.

That’s a simple base line to use for comparison. However, this price can be effected by such things as major prep, such as removing a lot of peeling paint. This time period also gives you a great opportunity to change up the color to that which is popular at the moment, which then increases the value of your home in a semi intangible way. Example: A blue house will generally thrill only 6% of the population. Not many people will like it, in other words. That applies to all blue homes and other houses with blue trim.

Insurance Companies HATE wood rot.

Wood rot on the outside of a house is a solid indication of other deferred maintenance, regardless of whether it exists or not. Generally speaking, however, after the author having worked in that industry, there is a correlation. The underwriter will either raise the policy holder’s rates, or cancel the policy as a bad risk.

As important as all that is, wood rot will cost you more to repair the longer it exists. What may have been a $200 paint job spirals quickly to a $1200 wood replacement, and guess what else? Paint!

Bottom line is that deferring maintenance is a bad idea in every aspect.

Don’t forget about wood patio covers and pergolas
These areas are easily overlooked, as they sit in the back of the house, meaning the resident does not see them every time they leave or pull up to the house, looking at these items only when they use the back yard.

Ironically this comes to the attention of the resident most often when it rains, otherwise they are largely blind to it. See the same thing every day and you lose perspective, as it were.When a patio cover goes bad, you’re looking at that $700 of paint that would have prevented becoming $3600 for replacement.

Aluminum covers are a better solution
Generally when it comes to a badly rotted wood patio cover, most people find that an aluminum cover, such as Alumi-wood, are long term cost effective investments. A wood patio cover may last 20 years with continued maintenance, but aluminum needs little maintenance, although the entry cost is usually a little higher.

Bottom line, what does deferring maintenance on your house cost you?
Beside higher insurance rates (or possibly having your homeowner’s insurance policy canceled), permits for replacing wood structures, replacement of wood and the like, you can expect to lose thousands of dollars. Perhaps more important, it costs you your long-term peace of mind for the price of short-term savings. If your car needs oil, put in oil. Same thing with your property. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.

Here at Management One, we conduct annual inspections of your property and provide you with a detailed report of our findings. We will offer suggestions has to what maintenance should be taken care to avoid the pitfalls of deferred maintenance.

I grimacing woman holding her head

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