Many homeowners who own a property built of wood have had problems with wood-destroying organisms. In the United States, termites and decay fungus cause more than $2 billion in damage to buildings every year. They can cause severe structural damage to wood structures. This damage is not covered by any homeowner’s insurance. In order to protect a home from these organisms, homeowners need to know what to look for, how to treat problems that arise and how to keep their homes free of decay and termites.
Termites are categorized as "pests." They feed primarily on the wood, but can also chew through many non-cellulose materials like rubber and foam insulation, electric lines and plastics to reach cellulose. The most common type of termite we encounter in Louisiana, the Formosan subterranean termite, is capable of causing severe structural damage to a home in only six months.
The first step is doing a termite inspection on your wood structure in order to find the location and the type of termites. Crumbling drywall, sagging doors or floors, insect wings and small mud tubes are some of the more obvious potential signs of termites. But you might still have termites even if you don't notice any of these signs. A professional inspection by a licensed pest professional is the only way to ensure your home truly is free from termites and the damage they cause.
One important step you should take, once you discover termite damage in your home, is make sure the termite colony has been eliminated. It is important to remember that while a local or spot treatment would stop termite activity in the treated area, it will not stop termites from damaging other areas. For this reason, a long-term termite contract would be the best way to eliminate existing termites and maintain your home free from termites in the future. Many pest control companies can treat termites by using different methods such as repellent or non-repellent liquid termiticide application and termite bait systems.
After eliminating the termites, the second step is to assess and repair the termite damage. A qualified termite control specialist cannot assess the structural impact of termite damage. It might be necessary to get help from a licensed engineer to assess the structural impact of any termite damage if the damage seems severe.
Once you have repaired the damage caused by termites, it is crucial to maintain your home free from termites. A termite contract will help to a great extent. Also, pay attention to a few details, such as repairing structural and plumbing leaks, keeping gutters clean and keeping all mulch and landscaping back at least 6 inches from the foundation. Taking these maintenance steps will help prevent a termite infestation.
Decay fungus is a form of life that cannot produce its own food like most plants. Wood and other cellulose products are its supply of food. Brown and white rot are the two common types of fungi that cause structural damage to wood. The wood darkens, shrinks and finally it becomes dry and powdery. These fungi grow on wood where the moisture content is above 20% (making wood wet to the touch).
Decay can be controlled by removing the moisture source (fixing leaks, improving drainage, etc.) that helps fungi to grow. Once the moisture content drops below 20%, these fungi cannot grow. Also chemically treating the wood will stop decay. In some instances, it is impossible to eliminate the moisture source. In this case, decayed wood must be replaced with pressure-treated wood to avoid decay.
Termites and decay fungus can cause severe problems for wood structures. In most cases, they are difficult to notice until they become severe. The most important point during the treating and repairing process is eliminating the source in the entire structure before starting to repair the damage. By doing so, future problems could be avoided.
Writer: Emre Ergen, Graduate Student, University of New Orleans