Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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How is that wood siding working out?

Damaged wood sidingWood siding is extremely common in the San Jose area and Silicon Valley as a whole, both on condominiums & townhouses and also on houses.  (We do not see a lot of vinyl siding here, as we might in other parts of the country.) Water is the #1 enemy of houses – even more than termites!  It is necessary to control water intruding into the wood, because if it gets in, fungus and rot can get a start on your home.

How do you prevent  water damage, fungus, and dry rot on wood siding?

Exterior wood needs to be painted about every five years or it can crack, peel, and otherwise allow moisture intrusion. If the wood is kept sealed, it can do very well against water. Another big cause of expensive wood repairs outdoors is earth to wood contact.  If you have ever built a fence, or had one made for you, you’ve probably seen that the best practice is to put the wooden posts into concrete rather than directly into the dirt.  The reason is simple: soil gets damp and the wood will wick up the moisture, whether it’s fence boards, posts, part of a wooden deck, or the siding on your home.  If the siding or other wood comes near the soil, the recommendation is to separate them one way or the other. In the photo I’ve included with this article, the siding of this townhome complex was allowed to touch the earth.  You can see the results: expensive repairs needed! The old saying goes that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of curse”.  It’s especially true with caring for wood siding and other times of wood on the outside of your home or in your yard.   If you can remember to do a walk-around every few months, at least twice a year, you are more likely to find the beginnings of issues before they become thousands of dollars.  Keep a schedule for painting and make sure you do it before it looks like it’s needed.  If you wait until there’s chipping and cracking, you may already have trouble!  Watch for earth to wood contact, and rake away the soil or take other measures to protect your siding. This is true for owners of townhomes too.  It seems like decades ago, home owner associations were often responsible for siding, but in the last few years I’ve been finding more and more HOAs make that the owner’s responsibility, even if the HOA is in charge of the painting schedule.    Make sure that you have a look at your siding regularly so that you can stop fungus and dry rot in their tracks and prevent a small headache from becoming extremely costly. Finally, it’s a good idea to have a pest inspection (termite inspection) every 3 to 5 years to nip any issues in the bud. Related reading: What Is Cellulose Debris (in a pest or termite report)?

 

 

 

Avoid earth to wood contact

Earth to Wood Contact wood losesWhether you’re looking to buy your next home or a home owner now, it’s imperative to understand how bad moisture is for wood.  So many people assume that the worst thing that can happen to a house is termites, but most of the time, it’s water – and whatever brings water to the house, fence, deck, wooden retaining wall, mailbox post, etc.

This conduit for water includes soil   Earth touching wood will conduct water up to the wood, like a wick.

Often the earth to wood contact problems come in improperly installed or maintained fences, in which the posts should be put into a concrete base.  Have a look at the image on the right – the moisture from the ground has come up to the fence, damaging the wood and likely rotting it too.

Most properties in Silicon Valley have an abundance of wood elements.  It’s smart to check them periodically to make sure that they aren’t directly touching soil.  By keeping them apart, you’ll help to extend the life of that component.