Dry Rot, Dry Rot, We All Fall DOWN!

Dry rot.

If you aren’t currently the owner of a 100-year-old wood frame house, then those words don’t strike fear in your heart the way they now strike fear into ours.

We used to think dry rot was some flaky crap you scraped off the siding on your house before you repainted. We now know that dry rot is a MONSTER THAT CHEWS THROUGH YOUR DREAMS AND DEVOURS YOUR SOUL AND THEN DEPOSITS IT IN THE BACKED-UP STINKING TOILET OF HELL. Kinda like that one toilet in Trainspotting

Ewan McGregor crawling out of the toilet in the movie Trainspotting.

Yep, kinda like that.

Ha ha. I’m just kidding. It’s not that bad.


We bought our house knowing it had some dry rot issues. Visible dry rot issues. We made some big decisions right away to deal with the dry rot: replacing windows and doors, and we made the very big decision to rip the deck off and just throw it away (along with some siding around it). Start over.

And I knew when we did those things, that we might find some surprises. On a separate note, the MOST IMPORTANT thing on my list of immediate improvements was a complete seismic retrofit for the house (remember this?). And I knew that, too, was probably going to reveal some more dry rot. But hey — we had to start somewhere.

But oh, we had no idea how far down the toilet of hell the house intended to take us.

As soon as our building permits came through, the contractors ripped the deck off the house and tore it down. And when I say “ripped,” I mean it. Like, they pretty much RIPPED it off with their BARE HANDS.

Not a good sign.

The structural engineer who designed our seismic retrofit called for the back wall of the house to be opened and sheared, so before new deck construction could begin, that logically had to take place. So with the deck down, Randy, Travis (his son), and the rest of the guys stripped the siding off the wall (some of which showed signs of rot anyway and went straight to the trash) and discovered this:

The interior of the back wall of our house, completely rotten.


You know what that is?


That wood is so rotten, you can literally push your finger into it in places. And look real carefully at the upper left corner of the photo…



I mean, I could go on and on… On top of it all, the deck was attached to that wall… The deck wasn’t footed properly in native soil, either… The whole thing was rotting and pulling and sliding and JESUS. People lived in this house for years, oblivious.

Most importantly, this all happened because some idiot — probably some idiot homeowner — had built the deck wrong in the first place. If you’re thinking of ever building a deck, learn this right now: you CANNOT just attach wood to wood. You MUST put a FLASHING between your deck’s ledger board and your house to keep water from running in that crack and basically SOAKING THE F#@% out of the side of the house.  Water is the enemy of wood and if you fail to do this, you will be the enemy of me. I am now standing up for poorly-constructed decks everywhere, dammit.

So, I’ll put away the all-caps now. Many people questioned my decision (which quickly became OUR decision, because Trent is a SuperHusband and we stand-side-by side for all the big stuff) to play it conservative and spend so much money up front on big structural things instead of new furniture and appliances and the fun stuff. But am I glad we did all this now?

Uh, yeah.

I am ALSO glad I hired the contractors I did. Because instead of holding me over the barrel, they’ve been tremendous in getting this mess fixed and keeping the project moving forward on schedule and on budget. I would be in that toilet up there with Ewan McGregor right now if it weren’t for them (and I love Ewan, but I’d prefer to be on a beach with him in Southeast Asia, or in a good pub in Edinborough getting sloshed — let’s be honest).

In fact, as of today, the wall is completely rebuilt, closed up, and pretty much ready for inspection. Once the inspector comes, we can put the new siding on and get on to building the new (well-flashed) deck.

Exciting progress pics taken by Travis…

Construction on our back wall in progress.


Construction on our back wall in progress.

Check out that new wood! And insulation! Not janky-ass!

Construction on our back wall in progress.

The new deck will now be screwed into those nice, NOT-ROTTEN beams.

Construction on our back wall in progress.

Ta da! Super-snug shear walls to prevent earthquake disaster, too.

Oh, and that bigger hole around the French doors reflects where our new, NOT ROTTEN bedroom doorwall will go eventually. 🙂

So, the moral of this story is…

All the decorating can wait. Start with the foundation and work your way up, even if it feels boring and expensive. IT’S WORTH IT.

And if you need a new deck, in my opinion (and I’m not just saying this because I come from a long line of contractors, although please — fill my friends’ and family’s coffers) it’s really best to hire a professional. Screwing up a deck is a bad, bad, bad, thing to do. In fact, I’ve got some really good contractors for you — in both Michigan AND California now. Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll hook you up so we don’t end up enemies.

Wanna see the whole 3675 progress story in pics so far? Check the Flick: here.

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13 thoughts on “Dry Rot, Dry Rot, We All Fall DOWN!

  1. Dicky says:

    Wow! The house IS keeping you busy. Can’t wait to see it 🙂

    • Cathy Cardinal says:

      We all have these issues with 100-yr. old homes: In Michigan it was moldy rot and it’s “dry rot” here. Tis the nature of century-old wood framed homes. The beauty is, as you have pictured, it’s replaceable, fixable and restorable and, in the long run, it’s well-worth it because you’ll have restored a century-old home! To me, that’s worth a lot of dry or wet rot!
      When we moved to Northville in ’85 we had g.d. carpenter ants in both dormer windows. I layed awake at night fretting over this. Poured a whole box of Borax down into the framing and got a couple new windows. Forgotten now. Restored.
      Decorating? Forget-about-it until you get these structural projects done. They will be out of the way before you know it and you’ll be onto more artful/decorating interests when the time is most right, which is not now. You need to live in a home for awhile before you can decide what you really need/want and how you want it to look anyway. Be patient.
      Just sayin’. love you. cath

      • lisatemp says:

        Word, Cathy! Also, I am going to put g.d. in front of everything that pisses me off about the house now. It just makes it more satisfying.

  2. I second that, Cathy! A house built on a strong foundation will last forever. You can always do the fun stuff later. I am amazed that you have taken on this project and are successfully bringing it to conclusion. Of course, I should have known, coming from a long line of builders and engineers. It must be in the gene pool. Me? I would have run screaming in the other direction. Hence, the reason I am now renting. And hiring a professional is definitely the way to go. Unless you are a glutton for punishment. And what the heck is going on with that guy in the toilet!?!??! Love, Mom

  3. Marlene says:

    Doin’ it right. Right on. And we’re almost neighbors. I’m so glad to have you East. Go Lisa go.

  4. Kristy Russell (Fleming) says:

    Lisa. I love your posts!!! I haven’t commented on them before. But you crack me up!! What a journey you and Trent are on!!! Keep up the great attitude and humor. Can’t wait to see the finished product!!!!

  5. This calls for Holmes on Homes!

  6. […] put in a deck and left out the FLASHING BEHIND THE LEDGER BOARD, totally turning the back of the house into […]

  7. […] out, getting a new roof is gross. Not quite as gross as, oh, say, a dry-rot ridden wall from hell, but it’s way freakin’ grosser than I was […]

  8. […] 1. That time we found out the entire back of the house was EFFED: […]

  9. […] home ownership horror story (well, at least, the very first home ownership horror […]

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