How to stop wood rot
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.
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.