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Judging when water damage occurred based on nails and wood rot

(-----) January 29, 2008

My neighbor's gutters were clogged for a long time, and water poured into my basement.
Today is years after the fact (U.S. Court System).
So, her engineer says the damage happened long before 2003 (with no justification or evidence). My expert says that the nails are rusted, but not fully deteriorated, so it is reasonable to state that the damage started in 2003.

Can anyone tell from looking at a piece of rotted wood or nails in 2008 and determine that it rotted prior to 2003? (Certainly a piece of wood could show a lot of rot in 5 years)

Arlee Simpson
student - Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA

February 4, 2008

I find it humorous that your neighbor has the money to hire an engineer, but can't hire someone to clean the gutters. It would have been beneficial to you to have taken some photos during a heavy rain. I am not a wood rot or nail corrosion engineer, but it would depend on the rainfall/ snowfall amounts and the humidity in your area over the years. I don't think anyone could calculate number of years in this case. I do agree that the damage can occur in five years time though.

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Syracuse, New York

February 6, 2008


Perhaps I have not fully understood the case but I fail to understand what the state of wood or nails has to do with your first statement that the gutters were clogged (with leaves or moss)?

If the wood and nails are relevant, you need a lot more information before you can even make a guess.

What type of wood, was it treated or painted, was there standing water, was there insect damage allowing water into the wood, was there fungal decay? ... just for starters.

We have plenty of timber framed buildings in UK 500 years old. Permanently waterlogged wood can survive for thousands of years (e.g., bog oak).

Steel nails rust but the rate depends on... were they galvanised or bare steel, what type of wood etc etc.

Outdoor nails are expected to rust but the time to failure depends, among other things, on their thickness and the strain on them.

If your engineers are not asking (and answering) these questions, you could run rings round them in court. But go back to my first question; is it relevant?

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

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