Structural damage to your home or building is the last thing any property owner wants to deal with. However, if it occurs, the cause must be determined for an effective treatment strategy. In this guide, we differentiate two prevalent causes of damage to wooden structures – termite damage and wood rot.

Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot

Considering the effects of wood rot and termite damage are the same, it may be hard to tell them apart. We have compiled all the differentiating details of these two conditions so that you will be sufficiently prepared to deal with either.

Termite Damage

Termites, just like fungi, eat away wood from the inside, leaving hollows that eventually weaken the wood. Normally, termites live under the soil in colonies. The main food source for termite colonies is cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls. Cellulose is also found in wood, a popular building material.

Termites tend to access wood through cracks in the foundation or walls. These pests are good at chewing through wood and can damage a significant section of your building structure without you noticing. The most notorious of the wood burrowing termites are subterranean termites. This type of termite is native to the United States.

What Is Wood Rot and What Causes It?

Wood rot is the most common type of wood decay. Damp conditions induce much of the structural damage associated with this problem. Excess moisture can cause rot damage to the wood. However, in most cases, this excess moisture will attract fungi and cause further damage. Just like termite damage, wood rot causing fungi burrows into the wood. In turn, causing significant damage in a very short time.

Dry Rot vs Wet Rot

Dry Rot

The most common type of wood rot is dry rot. This type of wood rot is characterized by a type of damage that originates from the inside. As the fungi burrow deep into the wood, it carries moisture to the interior, causing decay. Any wood that has a moisture content of over 20% is vulnerable to dry rot. Dry rot is known for spreading quickly and can overtake a complete structure in relatively little time. Signs of dry rot include:

  • Damp or musty smell
  • Cracks along the grain of the wood
  • Fruiting bodies that look like mushrooms
  • Brittle wood; crumbles in your hand

Wet Rot

Wet rot requires a much higher moisture content than dry rot. While dry rot can grow with as little as 20% moisture content, wet rot grows in timber when the moisture content is around 50%. The main causes of wet rot are leaking pipes or gutters. In most cases, the affected by water damage/wet rot will need to be replaced. Signs of wet rot include:

  • Cracking wood
  • Soft, spongy wood
  • Discolored or distorted wood
  • Damp odor

Types of Wood Decay Fungi

When wood decays from moisture, wood rot occurs. This can lead to the growth of fungus and cause serious structural damage as well as costly repairs. The most common types of fungi that cause wood decay are brown rot, white rot, and soft rot.

Brown Rot

Brown rot is the result of a certain type of fungus enters the wood and breaks down the wood’s cellulose. Eventually, brown rot leads to cracks in the wood and splitting wood. Brown rot is similar to dry rot because the wood that is infected becomes dried out and crumbly.

White Rot

Similar to brown rot, white rot causes damage to the cellulose in wood. Damage to the wood’s lignin will also cause the wood to have white spots, hence, white rot. When wood becomes infected with white rot, the wood will become soft and spongy to touch. Out of all of the types of wood-decaying fungi, white rot is the most aggressive. Decomposition can occur very quickly once the wood becomes infected.

Soft Rot

Soft rot is usually found in places that are too hot, too cold, or too damp for brown rot and white rot. Because soft rot needs perfect conditions to grow, soft rot is the most uncommon type of wood rot. Wood that is infected with soft rot typically decomposes at a slower pace than other types of fungi.

How to Differentiate Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot

How can you differentiate the two burrowing conditions that appear to be similar? Here are a few strategies you can use:

Feel the Wood

Wood infested with termites will feel rugged and dry. Contrarily, wood suffering from rot will feel squishy and wavy.

Pay Attention to Surface Structure

If you don’t pay much attention when evaluating your wood, you will miss some differentiating surface details. However, if you give it your sharp eye, you will see that wood infested by termites will appear hollowed out. On the other hand, wood rot will leave a surface that looks cracked.

Check for Organisms

You can check if there are any traces of growing fungi for wood rot or if there are termites. Note that these organisms will often be found deep into the wood. Therefore, it can help if you do some burrowing as well.

Other Differences

Rotten wood will break off into cube-like sections. This is an indication of an underlying problem. Wood that is not decayed tends to break off in log slivers. As for dry rot, the affected wood will appear dark brown, yellow, or white. This is different than signs of termite damage, as termite infestations barely affect the normal color of the wood.

Is it Possible to Find Termite Damage and Rot on the Same Wood?

In short, yes. There are burrowing termites called dampwood termites that inhabit moist and decaying wood. So if your wood is suffering from damp and rot problems, it is not a wonder to find active termites also.

Treatment Options

If you are unsure of what problem you are dealing with, you should work on it as soon as possible before it becomes a menace. A professional pest control technician can easily help you determine the problem.

Termite Damage Treatment

For termite damage, you’ll definitely want to reach out to termite control experts. The pest control professionals will arrive with highly effective pesticides to eliminate and prevent termites.

Wood Rot Treatment

You can handle a wood rot treatment procedure on your own if you know what you are doing. First, you will need to eliminate the source of moisture. If there are sections with dry rot, you can use a fungicide and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to treat it. Don’t hesitate to repair or replace components that are severely damaged.

Types of Fungi

When wood decays from moisture, wood rot occurs. This can lead to the growth of fungus and cause serious structural damage as well as costly repairs. The most common types of wood decay fungi are brown rot, white rot, and soft rot.



Don’t let your property suffer from the effects of termite damage or wood rot. There are no excuses now that you know how to differentiate and deal with the two. Remember, if the conditions are left unattended they can cost you significantly. Always respond to any signs of structural damage you observe on your property before it gets out of hand and calls for extensive repairs and replacements!

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