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Biggest Causes of Wood Damage in Old Homes

One of the primary complaints from owners of old homes is the amount of work and money involved in the upkeep, especially where wood damage is concerned. Whether you’ve lived in your older house for years or it’s a recent purchase, you’re probably already intimately familiar with the effects of time-worn, poorly treated wood. 

Who or what do you have to thank for your hours of labor and seemingly unending repair costs? The following are the biggest culprits for damage to wood throughout your home.


Moisture is the most significant contributor to wood damage in old homes. It sets off a chain reaction of other harmful conditions in the interior and exterior of your residence. 

Rain and humidity wear down the protective layers on outdoor wood, exposing it to insect infestation. At the same time, moist conditions, plus warm weather and oxygen, create the perfect environment for fungus spores to take root and multiply. 

Cold weather does not provide an escape from possible damage since moisture trapped in wooden decking can freeze during a cold snap, causing the water to expand and hurting the structural integrity and appearance.

Your wood floors inside are also at risk for water damage from consistent damp conditions, leaks or spills, which can cause stains, warping or rot. 


Sunshine, or UV light, falls just behind moisture as a culprit for wood damage. These rays will completely change the tone of your wood floors, decking, siding and more over time. The sun creates a cellular reaction, causing the wood to weaken and discolor. Dark woods like cherry typically get darker, while lighter woods like birch will bleach. Stains, sealants and paint can help protect your home as long as you maintain it. 

Older homes see this process more frequently than newer builds simply because they’ve weathered the elements longer and had more exposure to the sun’s damaging rays. 

Household Spills

One glorious aspect of old homes is the sheer amount of craftsmanship in the interior. You find real wood cabinets, flooring, doors, paneling, trim, stairs and decorative features. However, the downside is that life’s little spills add up over time. 

You’re battling decades of roof leaks, dripping sinks, cooking splatters and children’s sticky fingers. Oils and other substances build up through the years and discolor, stain and mar the finish on your beautiful wood surfaces.  

Wood Rot

Moisture is the inciting factor for wood rot, a significant cause of concern for any homeowner, especially those with older, predominantly wooden homes. Both forms of wood rot, dry and wet, need four things to grow — wood, air, heat and water. When all these conditions are present, the fungi responsible for this damage can take root and multiply. 

Your first sign of a problem will be reddish brown dust, which is the spores. They can sit on a wood surface for a long time, just waiting for the other conditions to be suitable for them to grow. Once one of these strains of fungus takes root, it’s tough to stop — it will continue to multiply and branch out. 

Wood rot creeps slowly but can be challenging to spot, so you must always be on the lookout. Many owners of old homes don’t realize there’s a problem until their foot goes through the floor or something collapses. 


Several insect species are responsible for the wood damage found in old homes. 

Termites are the most well-known and potentially the most destructive. They reproduce rapidly, thanks to their queen, who can live for 50 years and produce 30,000 eggs daily. Unlike other wood burrowers, these nuisances use your wooden home for food. Also, since most swarms reside in their tunnels, they can go undetected until it’s too late — they’ve already destroyed the lumber’s structural integrity.  

Carpenter bees, carpenter ants and wood-burrowing beetles dig into the wood as a safe place to lay their eggs. Once they hatch, the young dig their way back out. Their systems of tunnels can be quite extensive and damaging — however, they’re typically less significant than termite infestations.

Lack of Ventilation

Poor ventilation goes hand in hand with moisture damage. This problem most frequently occurs on the exterior of old houses. When shrubs, ivy and other greenery cover your home’s surface, water gets trapped behind and sits on the wood. The moisture can create issues, including rot and insect damage. Climbing vines may be an aesthetic choice, but their presence could lead to extensive problems down the road. 

Wood Damage Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

Most of these causes are interrelated. For example, most wood-damaging insects prefer to bore into already rotting or moisture-ridden surfaces. If you don’t attack the root of your problem, it will keep returning, costing you more time and money. 

Your best bet is to replace damaged pieces and take the time now to protect the rest of your old home. Paint, stain or seal exterior wood against moisture. Keep your gutter clear and in good condition, and repair any roof leaks immediately. These measures will improve the outlook of your wooden structure’s future.

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