Dry rot leaves home buyer in the gutter

Do-it-yourself tips on repairing fungus-infected rafters

Q: I bought a house that had been neglected. Please help me with a gutter problem. It seems the gutters were attached directly to the ends of the roof rafters. There is no fascia board. The gutters were never cleaned and water runoff has rotted the ends of some of the rafters. Now the gutters are hanging down because there is nothing to hold them to the rafters.

I have been unable to find anyone to do the work. How do I repair this? I can’t find any information in the home repair books. Please help.

A: Congratulations on your acquisition. Whether the house is home or a rental property, buying a fixer-upper at the right price and putting in some sweat equity is the best way we know of to quickly build value.

We should warn you from the outset, to do this repair correctly is a lot of work. We’re also confident that you can do it.

There are two ways to go about this job. You can do it the right way or you can jury-rig something that works for a temporary fix. With winter here, you may find that a temporary fix is what you need to get you through the wet season, but come next spring you may want to do the job properly.

You describe a case of fungus infection–more commonly known at dry rot. Something as obvious as rotten rafter tails should have shown up on the structural and pest control report that should have been done before you bought the house.

We recommend that a home buyer always spend a few hundred dollars to have a property inspected by a pest control contractor before closing the deal. This is true even if it’s an “as is” sale. At the very least you discover what “as is” means.

There may even be some leverage to bargain for a price reduction. The worst case is that the cost of repair is too high and the deal falls through. That’s better than being saddled with more work and expense than you want to handle.

If you had a structural and pest control inspection done prior to purchase, contact the company that did the inspection and ask that it repair the damage. If you didn’t have an inspection, it’s on to Plan B–repair.

Usually dry rot on rafter tails begins where the gutter is nailed to the rafter. Damage extends partway up the eave, leaving solid wood closer to the intersection of the wall and the roof.

The quick fix for a rotten rafter tail that’s not too far gone is to “sister” another piece of wood onto the rotten member. This works well if the rot doesn’t extend more than halfway up the rafter tail because the solid portion provides a good nailing surface.

Just cut a piece of two-by-four in the same shape as the exposed portion of the rafter and nail or screw the two pieces together. To help the new piece stay in place, apply a thick bead of construction adhesive to the edge of the new board where it meets the roof decking. Then nail the gutter into the new material. From an aesthetic viewpoint, this solution is rough as a cob, but it will hold the gutter in place until you can do the job correctly.

Next spring, or later if the quick fix is not too offensive, it will be time to rebuild the rafters. We’d suggest you include a fascia board this time around.

To repair the rafter properly requires some crawling around in the attic to cut out the rotten portion and splice on a new piece. Before starting to work on the rafters, you’ll have to provide some extra support for the roof. With a chalk box, snap a line on the rafters about four feet from the intersection of the wall and the roof. Nail a two-by-four along this line. At each end of the attic, at a 90-degree angle from the rafter, measure to a spot on the ceiling joists. Snap a line and screw a two-by-four to the ceiling joists. Don’t nail here; you risk damaging the plaster or drywall in the rooms below.

Over each ceiling joist, nail a two-by-four between these two boards. This is a “strong back” and will provide support for the roof while you repair the rafters.

Work on one rafter at a time. With a reciprocating saw cut the rafter about three feet inside the attic. Remove the eave end of the rafter. You may have to remove a piece or two of the blocking to make it easier to get the rafter out.

Then, cut a new piece of wood to splice onto the old rafter, replacing the rotten piece. Nail a piece of two-by-four to each side of the splice to hold the splice in place. Don’t skimp on the nails. Four or five on each side of the splice will do just fine.

At about a foot on each side of the splice, drill a hole through all three pieces of wood and install a 1/4-inch carriage bolt. This “sandwich” will provide structural integrity to the splice. Replace the blocking and you’re done with the repair.

Cut the new rafter tails longer than necessary and once they’re all in, cut them in place. Snap a line from one end of the rafter to the other and cut each rafter to length at any angle you wish.

You’ll probably find that the rot has extended to the roof decking, so you’ll have to replace some of that. Even if there is no damage to the decking, you’ll need to replace a portion of the roof in order to nail the decking to the new rafter material.

Attach the new fascia board, repair the roof, and you’re all done except for the painting.

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