Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dry Rot - The Joys of Owning Old Property

Apologies for long silence on this blog. We have had dry rot. Invasion of the body snatchers. The curse of old houses everywhere. Dry rot was a late introduction to Britain and came in on imported timber in, I believe, the nineteenth century. If I could find the grave of the man who first imported it, I would dig him up and kill him all over again.
The spores lurk in the structure till conditions are just right. Then they germinate, and set off in search of water, through whatever happens to be in their way, stone walls in this case. When they find wood, they suck it dry (much like a Doctor Who or Star Trek alien) and continue on their merry way in search of more. The big 200 year old oak lintel over one of our windows was badly infected and had to come out. One end was like cheese. Unfortunately, the other end was rock solid and took forever to remove. The whole corner of the downstairs study had to be opened up, the infected wood removed - the stuff looks and smells alien as well as causing so much damage - and the walls treated with fungicide (and a blow torch, just to make sure!)
The only saving grace was that the chemicals are much less noxious than they once were and don't smell at all. Was this introduced for the benefit of humans? Not on your life. It was because dry rot treatments were adversely affecting bats. Call me old fashioned but I'd put human health before bats any day, but hey, what do I know?
We thought for a while that we would also have to dismantle our son's room - only just redecorated - but because ours is a very old cottage, with a great deal of space inside the walls, it wasn't necessary.
I think if I were starting all over again with this house (heaven forbid) I would open the whole thing out, taking much of it right back to its original stonework, which is beautiful. It would make a much bigger house, and there would be nowhere for the dry rot to hide. But since we have neither the time nor the money to do that, we'll just have to work with what we have. Even as I write this, my husband is starting to attempt to rebuild that corner of the room, and the window. And when he's finished what will amount to three week's intensive work, the room will look pretty much as it did before. Soul destroying or what?