How to stop wood rot

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Mois­ture is part and par­cel of camp­ing. It is also a nui­sance

It’s not the end of the road if your car­a­van picks up wood rot – it can be re­paired. You can fix small small patches of rot your­self, but if it’s spread over a large area of wood, you’ll need to call in the pros.

The prob­lem usu­ally starts at joints, mostly when wa­ter leaks past rub­ber seals and alu­minium strips in your car­a­van’s roof and win­dows.

Sun, wind and rain causes the rub­ber to harden, which means that even­tu­ally, it won’t seal prop­erly any­more and wa­ter and mois­ture can seep through. Rusty screws un­der seals cre­ate tiny gaps for mois­ture to creep into pan­els and frames. Han­dles are also a prob­lem area, es­pe­cially when the plas­tic starts to wear away.

Re­mem­ber, the outer hull of your car­a­van is made of alu­minium, and the in­ner shell of ply­wood with a plas­tic coat­ing. There­fore, the hull is wa­ter­proof, so once the mois­ture gets trapped in­sude, it stays in the wood. The more the wood rots, the eas­ier wa­ter will seep in and the rot will spread.

IS IT HERED­I­TARY?

Most lo­cal car­a­vans are sus­cep­ti­ble to wood rot. Some of­froad car­a­van man­u­fac­tur­ers use al­most no wood in their prod­ucts, but the ma­jor­ity of car­a­vans on our roads are at least par­tially made of wood.

Even some of the off-road car­a­vans are some­times made of wood; and although you might see alu­minium fin­ish­ing on the out­side, the side pan­els, roof and floor in­side could still be made of wood.

WHAT DID THE DOC­TOR SAY?

A va­ri­ety of fungi that break down or­ganic ma­te­rial can cause rot. Just like the virus that your youngest picked up on the play­ground is break­ing down his im­mune sys­tem, the mould is break­ing down the or­ganic ma­te­rial (wood) in your car­a­van.

The mould needs food, wa­ter and oxy­gen to flour­ish. The cel­lu­lose and lignin in the wood serves as food, but if the wa­ter evap­o­rates and the wood gets dry, the fun­gus will die. Un­for­tu­nately, chances are a few spores will al­ready have set­tled in other places in your car­a­van by then. Th­ese spores will lie dor­mant un­til the con­di­tions are favourable, and you’ll have the same prob­lem all over again – even if it seemed as if your trou­bles were over.

HOW DO I KEEP MY CAR­A­VAN HEALTHY?

Reg­u­larly re­move the alu­minium strips. Ap­ply an oil-based sealant – such as Pow­er­ma­stick – un­der­neath. Re­move the old sealant with a scraper. If this doesn’t work, try a bit of petrol on a cloth. Lu­bri­cate the holes. When you ap­ply the sealant, make sure you spread it over the screw holes. When you screw the strips back in place, the pres­sure will en­sure that the sealant spreads evenly un­der the strip. Re­place the screws. The screws un­der the rub­ber seals should be re­placed ev­ery two years. You’ll be sur­prised how much dam­age mois­ture can cause to screws. Cop­per or stain­less steel ones last longer. New rub­ber. The rub­ber trips can be re­placed ev­ery two years. Make drainage holes. Drill a few holes in the alu­minium strip un­der the door so that any wa­ter that gets in can seep out there.

HOW DO I KNOW IT’S SICK?

Keep your ser­vice book up­dated. Have your car­a­van ser­viced once a year, and ask the work­shop to check for mois­ture in the pan­els. Look at this. Check the joints at the alu­minium strips on the roof, and the parts arond the win­dows (es­pe­cially around the top ends), first. Be care­ful of wrin­kles. If the in­te­rior pan­els seem un­even, as if the wood is start­ing to ‘wrin­kle’, there’s trou­ble brew­ing in there. ... and cel­lulite. You may not be able to de­tect wood rot with the naked eye, so you’ll have to feel around for it. Start on the in­side of your car­a­van and press the pan­els with your thumb. If some ar­eas feel softer than oth­ers, it may be rot­ting in­side. Take it to the doc­tor. To have your car­a­van checked with a mois­ture me­ter, pop in at your near­est Jur­gens Ci deal­er­ship. A test takes about 30 min­utes. They take mea­sure­ments on the pan­els in­side the car­a­van. If the me­ter gives a green light, ev­ery­thing’s hunky dory. An orange light means some moisutre might be form­ing, but if the me­ter goes red, your car­a­van prob­a­bly has wood rot.

HOME REMEDIES

Cut it off. Use a car­pet knife to cut the rot­ting wood away. You’ll prob­a­bly have to scrape the poly­styrene clean where the panel was glued to it. Get a new panel Buy a new panel sim­i­lar to the in­side panel of your car­a­van at a deal­er­ship (pan­els for car­a­vans built be­fore 1988 are hard to come by). Cut it to size. Glue it. Use wood glue and panel nails where nec­es­sary. Fill the joint with sil­i­cone. Make this neat and tidy or use an alu­minium strip. If you need to re­place a part of your car­a­van’s frame, cut the rot­ten part out en­tirely. Re­place it with a new piece of wood and set it with a splint.

WILL IT NEED SURGERY?

If you pre­fer to take your car­a­van to a work­shop to get rid of dry rot, it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg.

On av­er­age, mild dam­age will cost be­tween R6 000 and R8 000 to re­pair. But if you al­low dry rot to get a real grip on your Exclusive, you could be look­ing at re­pair costs of up to R40 000.

De­pend­ing on the scale, re­pairs can take any­thing from three to 12 weeks. It also de­pends on the avail­ablil­ity of spares.

go! Drive & Camp says Chances are you won’t be able to see or smell wood rot be­fore it’s too late. But with a mois­ture me­ter like this, a dealer will be able to quickly de­ter­mine what the prob­lem is.

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