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The Workbench: Preventing and replacing trim damaged by dry rot

  • Cracks in trim like these are signs of dry rot. Often dry rot can result from poor construction materials or lack of proper priming and painting. (TOM WILMER)

Dry rot is not inevitable but it is common on many homes, apartments and other structures with wood siding and trim.

The first key to avoiding dry rot is to select quality wood. But a second vital component is proper priming, sealing, painting and flashing when applicable.

Unfortunately, the quest to maximize profits on the part of builders, especially spec builders, often tempts them to use materials (such as exterior wood trim) that are vulnerable to dry rot.

Not to mention eventual twisting, warping and cupping — that also enhances the potential for dry rot.

An all too commonly used, inexpensive exterior wood trim material is called Hem-Fir, and the attraction is its low cost.

For example, a 1x4, 8-foot-long piece of Hem-Fir costs around $2.99, whereas a quality, treated and pre-primed board costs around $8.25.

The total cost savings just by using Hem-Fir on a new home project can add more than a $1,000 dollars to a builder's pocketbook.

Unfortunately, it will be five to 10 years before you, the homeowner will pay the price — a second time — to repair and rectify the problem.

Whether you are commencing a new project, or repairing the wood trim around windows, doors and vertical corners, the following recommendations will serve you well.

The problem with Hem-Fir is not that the wood is inherently bad. Even though Hem-Fir is vulnerable to dry rot, this propensity can be limited and it can be a serviceable material if properly prepped, and equally important, maintained.

But I personally never recommend or use Hem-Fir on any of my jobs.

A common oversight in the installation process of any exterior wood-trim is when the painter fails to back prime (in addition to the edges and front surfaces) before installation of the trim.

Back priming limits the intrusion of moisture through the wood, which lessons the progression of dry rot and serves to equalize the penetration of moisture, which will subsequently lesson the wood's propensity to warp or cup.

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