Q: A number of wood-framed windows on our older home are showing signs of deterioration. My neighbor informs me that the wood is rotting and the windows should be replaced.
This would be a big expense for me to handle at this time. Is there any method of repair that I can consider instead of replacement?
A: There are two ways to deal with rotted wood. Replacement eliminates the rot but is an expensive option. Repairing damaged sections can save money, but if done incorrectly can actually promote further decay.
Dry rot is actually decay of the wood caused by a fungus growth that thrives in a moist environment. If damaged wood is not replaced or repaired quickly, the fungus will spread. If the wood is badly damaged, and it is possible to replace it with a reasonable amount of work, replacement is the best solution.
This is particularly true if the damaged wood is in a location that weakens the entire structure, such as supporting posts for a porch or deck, flooring, beams or joists.
Even if repairs are minor, it is important that as a first step you locate the source of moisture and take steps to eliminate it. Often, doorjambs and window sills get wet during damp weather, but they dry out thoroughly when the weather is better. If they don't dry out, you have trouble.
This problem can be caused by constant moisture dripping from leaking roofs; gutters and downspouts that are damaged or improperly installed to take water away from the house; bad drainage at the foundation; moisture collecting in crawl spaces; minor leaks in plumbing; or even poor ventilation.
Wood with interior rot may sound hollow, feel spongy and yield easily to the probe of an ice pick or awl. Sometimes the fungus is visible. It grows out of the wood surface, appearing as mottled white or brown patches. The wood may be white and spongy or brown and crumbly.
Window sills are a frequent target for dry rot. Because they are not that important structurally, they are often a good candidate for repair rather than replacement. This is particularly true in old houses, where ornamental wood pieces might be difficult or impossible to match or duplicate wood-frame windows are unavailable. In such cases, even the time-consuming efforts required for restoration make sense.
Repairing rotted wood is a tricky procedure. Special wood-patching products that are highly resistant to water must be used. Most rotted-wood patchers are two-part compounds that are mixed immediately before use to the consistency of putty. After the putty has hardened, it can be worked much like wood and smoothed or shaped with tools such as chisels, rasps and sandpaper.
Before these products can be applied, the wood surface must be properly prepared. Begin by removing loose pieces of rotten wood with a wood chisel.
If it is not feasible to scrape away all of the rotted wood to a sound surface, another product called a consolidant must be used. The consolidant, usually a liquid, impregnates and reinforces the wood fibers. It strengthens and solidifies the infected wood as it works its way through the structure and bonds with the remaining solid wood. If the wood is damp, be sure to let it dry completely before applying the consolidant or the repair won't work.
To allow the consolidant to penetrate the wood, drill a honeycomb pattern of holes using a 3/16-inch twist drill bit. Take care not to drill completely through the wood to be treated or the consolidant will run out.
Any accidental holes you make can be plugged with non-hardening clay, the same type used in kindergarten classes and available at art-supply and hobby shops.
There are many different types of two-part repair systems on the market, available through home centers and hardware stores. Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer's directions for the product you choose. There are specific methods for the mixing and application of both the consolidant and paste filler, and they vary according to the brand.
It is also important to observe all precautions. Some of these products are flammable and produce very strong vapors. Ensuring adequate ventilation, and wearing goggles and rubber gloves, are a few of the precautions that need to be taken when working with these products.
When working with rotted-wood putty, you will be able to shape it by hand to match the contour of the wood around the area to be repaired. Smooth the filler with a putty knife to reduce the amount of sanding you will need to do to finish the shaping.
Most of these putties have a limited working time--only 15 minutes, in some cases. Mix only as much as can be used in the working time period (as directed by the manufacturer), since leftover putty will harden and have to be discarded.
Use chunks of dry wood to help fill larger cavities. Spread the interior of the hole with wood putty, press in a block of wood that fills most of the gap, then cover with more putty.
When the patch has hardened to a smooth surface, blend the repaired area in with the surrounding wood using sandpaper. Remove sanding residue with a tack cloth before applying primer and paint. Hardened putty can be either painted or stained, but paint conceals the putty best.
Q: I spilled several drops of bleach on my beige wall-to-wall carpeting. The spots are not large, but they are glaring and white. Is there anything I can do to hide them?
A: A professional can be called in to recolor the carpet. However, there are several factors that determine whether carpet dying will be successful.
Carpet dyes take well on nylon or wool, but rarely are they successful on acrylics. The amount of damage to the carpet fibers is another factor. If you can tug on the carpet tufts in the bleached areas and the fibers are still intact--not brittle and no signs of disintegration--it is likely that they are still in good condition.
Bleach takes out color in stages, removing reds and blues first and eventually turning to white. If there still is a yellow tinge to the spotting, your carpet is in better condition than if the spot is white, which indicates a burning of the fibers.
If the rest of your carpet is relatively new and in good condition, your best bet is to call in a pro who can analyze your particular situation and make recommendations. A professional is equipped to mix exact dyes to match your existing carpet. Usually the matching dyes are mixed at the site.
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, Calif., 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.