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French Quarter Termite Inspection

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Aerial view of the French Quarter
An aerial view of the historic New Orleans French Quarter.
The historic New Orleans French Quarter has proven to be a unique challenge in inspecting for and controlling the Formosan termites that have taken up residence. At the height of the termite population it seemed that the antique structures that comprise the Quarter were doomed to be consumed and turned into compost as we watched helplessly. Fortunately, Operation Full Stop was launched to study the Formosan termite and to demonstrate an area-wide control program centered in the French Quarter. This cooperative effort among state and federal governments, numerous universities, contractors and property owners was successful in greatly reducing the termite pressure in the test area and validated the area-wide treatment strategy for the control of the invasive Formosan subterranean termite.

However, there are still active colonies located in the French Quarter and many more in the surrounding areas that are ready to move in. Therefore, it remains very important to stay vigilant and keep on the lookout for infestations. Listed below are several examples of common things to look for.

Common Walls
Common walls connect these buildings together. Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Part of the problem in the French Quarter is the nature of the buildings themselves. The old construction style and materials make inspection and treatment much more difficult than with most modern buildings. Another problem is that many of the buildings are connected by common walls, which allow the termites to move freely from one structure to another. When inspecting these buildings, it is very important to have access to every room, closet and the attic.

Floor joists set in wall pockets
This photo shows a floor joist set into a pocket in the wall. Inspect these areas for signs of termite infestion like the termite "dirt" shown here. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Some of the most notable buildings in the French Quarter are true brick-and-mortar constructions. Modern “brick” homes typically only have a one-brick-thick veneer covering the structural wood in the walls. In the French Quarter, however, massive amounts of bricks three and four courses thick (or more) comprise the foundations and walls of these old buildings. When the masons reached the correct height for each floor level, large 4” x 12” wooden floor joists would be inserted into pockets within the walls spanning from wall to wall. Door and window openings were left clear with heavy wooden beams forming lintels imbedded in the masonry.

Part of the problem is that the mortar used to hold the bricks together is soft and loose. The termites can easily tunnel through this material and travel up the walls attacking any wood that they encounter.

Swarm castle in door frame.
Formosan subterranean termite swarm castles visible in the top of this door frame. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Like the floor joists, door and window frames are in direct contact with the friable mortar in the walls. Look for damaged wood and swarm castles, and tap the wood to listen for hollow spots.

Click here for more examples of termite damage in door frames.

Termite swarm castles in window frame
Look for swarm castles coming from the window frames.
Look at all of the window frames from the outside. It may be helpful to have a pair of binoculars to see the the higher levels. Also take a digital photo of a questionable area and then use a computer to zoom in the help identify termite activity.

Click here for more examples of termite damage to window frames.

Termite damage to wood floor.
This image shows termite damage visible in this wooden floor. Notice that the damage follows the grain of the wood. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Wooden floors can be damaged by termites. Damage will frequently start near one of the exterior walls then move out following the grain of the wood. Look for wavy wood and feel for weak spots.

Click here for more examples of termite damage to wood floors.

Termite damage to baseboard
The wavy appearance of this baseboard is an indication of termite damage. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Inspect all baseboards and trim moldings for signs of termite damage.

Swarm castle present at overhang.
Here a swarm castle can be seen coming out of the wood of the overhang.
Examine the wood in overhangs and balconies for damage and swarm castles. 

Shelter tube visible under stairs.
This Formosan termite shelter tube was located in the small storage room located under the stairs. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Underneath stairwells and other unfinished rooms should be inspected for signs of termite infestation.

Termites using gate as bridge.
Formosan termites were able to gain access to this home by traveling up the wooden frame for the gate. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Look around the structure for any wood that bridges the ground to the structure. Wooden walls and gates are commonly found attached to French Quarter properties.

Termites in a cabinet.
A Formosan subterranean termite shelter tube can be seen in the back of this kitchen cabinet. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Termites can pop up anywhere, so it is very important to be very thorough and inspect all accessible areas. Cabinets, closets and storage lockers are important places to check for the presence of termites. Termites can get into these areas and damage the contents if left unchecked.

Click here for more examples of termite damage in cabinets and closets.

Large nest in attic.
A large termite nest is visible protruding from the wall of the attic in this historic building. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
In working in the French Quarter, attics are one of the most important places to check for the presence of Formosan termite infestation. This is true for two reasons:
  1. As the termites enter a building from the ground, they typically move high up into the structure before spreading out.
  2. Attics are often the only place where exposed wood is visible and can be inspected for signs of infestation.

Damage and shelter tubes will typically be found radiating outward from the perimeter walls. Tap on the joists and rafters to feel for weak areas and hollow spots. Look for shelter tubes built onto the surface of boards. Termite "dirt" will often times be visible in the cracks where two boards meet; for instance, where the joists and rafters are connected to the top plate. In cases of very heavy infestations, larger nests can be found protruding from the walls.

Warning!! Attics can be very dangerous.

Click here for more examples of termite damage in attics.

Blacksmith shop
Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop was heavily infested with Formosan subterranean termites prior to its renovation. (Photo by Chris Dunaway.)
Any renovation project should include a plan to address termite treatment. Very often property owners miss a valuable opportunity to protect the structure.

Some possible strategies could include:
  • Pre-treating the soil prior to pouring concrete floors.
  • Drilling and treating exposed walls.
  • Using treated wood or applying wood treatments.
  • Installing ports in sidewalks and patios for termite baiting systems.

Here is a closer look at the damaged header.

Termite infested trees in the French Quarter
These trees along the street in the French Quarter are infested with Formosan subterranean termites. (Photos by Chris Dunaway.)

When viewed from above, an onlooker will see that the French Quarter contains a large and varied urban forest of trees. These trees are vulnerable to attack by the Formosan subterranean termite. Colonies located in trees can contain millions of individual termites that can also infest surrounding structures.

Click here for more information about inspecting trees for termites.

Above content by Chris Dunaway.

Last Updated: 5/29/2013 8:46:54 AM
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Morgan, Alan L.
Dunaway, Christopher R.
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