Heritage, Summer 2004 Page: 24
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Tackling Termite Infestation in Historic Buildings
By Cheryl A. Carrabba
I am responsible for managW-_B^y
ing a historic house built
mostly of wood. I am worried about
a termite infestation; some of the
structure is clearly damp and rotted. What
should I do?
The best way to protect a structure
against insects is with prevention and
inspection. Upon discovering termites in an
infested historical structure, one need not
panic. The first step is to stabilize the building,
protecting the collection material, as
pesticides can damage collections. Warning:
Keep in mind the federal and state occupational
and health regulations for exposure of
persons using the building. It is good to realize,
too, that termite colonies cannot be
killed off completely, but they can be controlled.
A good rule of thumb is to remember
that dry wood never rots, and termites forage
for rotted material. To keep a building
termite free, it needs to remain dry, so
allow for unimpeded air spaces around and
under the structure, if possible. Termites
are beneficial insects designed to break
down decaying cellulose-containing materials,
such as wet dead trees, then return
the nutrients to the soil. Termites are
social insects that live in highly organized
colonies; they are able to digest wet wood
with the help of microorganisms that live
in their gut. Termites nest in the soil and
must maintain contact with the ground or
some other moisture source in order to survive.
They excavate to find weakened
areas in the structure or areas of direct
wood-to-ground contact. Termites build
earthen shelter tubes from the ground into
the structure that protect them from predators
and help maintain a moist environ
ment. Many times these tubes start 30
inches below the surface of the ground and
extend into buildings in the walls, leaking
pipes, or roof. A mature colony may be
several years old, have millions of workers
and several kings and queens before any
swarming is even noticed. Termites can go
undetected for years hidden behind walls,
floor coverings, and other obstructions.
Drywood termites generate small sand-like
pellets and tunnel across the wood grain.
Undetected subterranean termites tunnel
along the wood grain, causing the most
serious structural damage.
Termite treatment may involve any
combination of the following steps:
Mechanical alteration: Remove all cellulose
debris in or near the structure.
Eliminate wood-to-ground contact such as
stumps, dead wood, thick landscape
mulch, wood stakes (including wooden
steps and support posts), foam board insulation,
dense vegetation, shrubs, and trellises.
Provide proper drainage and landscape
grading to direct water flow away
from the structure. By installing French
drains or other systems, it is possible to
prevent water from standing at the base
of the structure. Adequate ventilation
prevents dead air pockets and moisture
buildup between plants and exterior
walls. Foundation areas should be accessible
Soil treatment: By trenching and rodding
along the foundation (and other
necessary areas), a vertical termiticide
barrier in the soil can be established
under and adjacent to the building. Safe
eradication of termites without contaminating
drainage systems is possible, but
there are strict specifications that should
Wood treatment: A termiticide is
applied directly to the wood and is injected
into the cavities made by termites.
Spray and brush application of the liquid
can be useful, but it is superficial.
Liquid treatment: This involves application
of a termiticide to the soil underneath
and adjacent to a building to create
a barrier that prevents tunneling, thereby
protecting the structure. Trenching
around the structure to create a continuous
barrier is necessary for optimal protection.
Baits/monitoring system: Baits are a
recent intervention in termite control. Its
success is engineered to the behavioral
habits of the termite. Communication
throughout the colony is done chemically
through a food and secretion exchange;
this is also the way that poison is transferred
from termite to termite as they forage
through the soil or the wooden structure
for food. Baits eliminate or reduce the
size of the termite colony by inhibiting
insect growth or by inhibiting the termite
from deriving energy from food. The use of
baits is safe but slow. It can be carried out
by a committed homeowner or caretaker.
Fumigation may be necessary where infestation
and damage is extensive. In the
end, there is only one solution with two
options: control the termites, either by
yourself or by hiring a trained and qualified
pest management professional.
For more useful information, check out
Carrabba is owner of Carrabba
Conservation, Inc. in Austin.
HERITA GE SUMMER 2004
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2004, periodical, Summer 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45373/m1/24/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.