This is something you never want to happen when you’re renovating, but will doesn't seem to be enough to keep it away. Recently, we found rot when replacing the front door. A small project that is the cherry on the top for a much bigger renovation. But where do you stop? Replacing a door can become a much bigger project.
I have some rules of thumb that I follow so I don't get carried away. These are the questions I ask myself to decide whether to keep uncovering, or whether to clue up the project and move on to the next thing.
Does it fit the scale of the project? If you have all of the clapboard off the house and are staring at rotten sheathing (the stuff under clapboard) replace it. It’s unlikely you’ll get another opportunity in the near future. If you’re just replacing your front door (like us) and find a rotten sill, keep going down this list of questions.
Is it wet? That’s a good way to know if water is actively coming unto the house, or “penetrating the envelope.” If a piece of wood is wet, it needs to be replaced. This is also a good indication that you need to investigate what caused the water to get in. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in these situations and think that you now need to do a big scale renovation. That’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s as easy as adding a piece of flashing.
Is it structural? Is that piece of wood keeping something up? If the whole wooden piece is crumbling, it probably needs to be replaced, but if there’s a tiny hole, you may be able to get away with patching it or leaving as is. There are a few different types of structural elements—a vertical piece that holds something else up, a horizontal piece that transfers the load to other vertical pieces, and something that provides what’s called lateral stability. This is usually plywood sheathing, or in older houses—boards.
4. Is it within your project area? Try your best not to let the project balloon, or ‘scope creep’. That’s one of the most common reasons to blow a project’s budget. This can be tough because a house works as a system, one thing affects another. When I’ve gotten in over my head I haven’t had the space or resources to make responsible decisions, it feels desperate. In the case of the door project, we found the rot extends well beyond the door area. So we did our best to understand the extent of the rot, finished installing the door for now and are making plans to tackle the larger issue when we’re ready.
These guidelines can take some educated judgement. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a builder, architect or designer. It’s not unusual for me to come to a project and give a client a quick opinion. I’ll add a post on social media too, if you feel like you need help, head over there to ask a question.