The Difference Between Dry Rot And Mushrooms

Have you got a musty smell in your house? White, black or brighly coloured fungus growing on your walls or timber? Cube-shaped cracking on wooden areas like skirtings, windows or architraves? Then it's time to look into it quickly; these are classic signs of dry rot.

First and foremost, dry rot isn’t a type of mushroom because it isn’t just a type of fungus. Instead, it’s a type of wood decay caused by an alliance between a fungus and bacteria that lives in the soil. For both to thrive they need water; and yet dry rot can infest dry wood. How can this be?

The reason lies in the latin name for dry rot: Serpula lacrymans. Lacrymans means 'weeping'; if you look at dry rot myceliem carefully, particularly under torchlight, you may well see little drops of water along it. This is why dry rot can be so destructive; it can actually carry water from a damp area to a dry one, which gives it nutrition to keep on spreading through the timbers of a building or other structure.

How to Tell the Difference Between Dry Rot and Mushrooms

Before we look at how to identify dry rot, let’s look at how to identify mushrooms. What are they? Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi that can appear above ground or below ground. The fungus lives below ground in a network of thread-like filaments called mycelium. If the mycelium happens to grow above the soil, mushrooms can form. If not, the mycelium will continue to grow in the soil, searching for food and a place to live.

Dry rot and mushrooms have a few key differences. You will also be able to see the difference between rot and mushrooms if you look at the patterns they form on the wood. Rot will form a honeycomb type of pattern, while mushrooms will grow in a more scattered pattern. Also, rot smells bad, and mushrooms don’t.

Where Does Dry Rot Come From?

Dry rot is caused by bacteria and fungal spores living in the soil. They enter your home and garden through the roots of plants, particularly those that are planted too close to the house. You can get dry rot in your home if you have standing water in your basement, or leaking roofs, rainwater systems or drains. When the infestation enters the wood, it begins to produce enzymes that dissolve the wood, and it creates channels for itself to travel through. As the wood decays it produces sugars that are attractive to wood boring insects, which can often compound the problem.

How to Treat Dry Rot

A major problem with dry rot is that the mucelium can be very thin and it can actually invade through solid brickwork. This mycelium is very hardy; it can live for a very long time and survice both high temperatures and low moisture (no problem about that; as we have seen it carries it's own water with it).

So; your first step is to remove the cause of damp; fix any leakages that may be the root cause. Do bear in mind that dry rot can travel a long way; it is not unknown for rot in a cellar to be caused by a roof leak several storeys above, and if this is the case the whole pathway must be exposed and treated. Then you must take out any infected timber and, preferably burn it. Bear in mind that even wood which appears sound can still contain tiny strands of myceliem so you need to be thourough in removing any timber at risk.

Any new timbers should be pressure treated with preservative, and protected against damp. Because dry rot prefers a warm and humid atmosphere you should breatly increase ventillation to the affected area.

Any visible mycelium must be removed and the area soaking in a proprietory dry rot killer but bear in mind that there may still be mycelium in nearby brickwork, so it may even be necessary to inhect rot killer into it under pressure.

Final Words: Don’t Panic, But Act Quickly

It is no exageration to say that dry rot can destroy a building, and it can do so very quickly, so you need to take action as quickly as possible. First find the primary cause; it may be poor building tecniques when the house was first built, or a leak that has occured since. Trat the affected timbers as above; but if in the slightest doubt call in an expert. Your home is probably your biggest asset so don't take risks with it.