Termite Damage vs

Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot

Termite damage and a specific type of wood rot, known as dry rot, can not only be confused, but both can cause extensive damage to structures. The two forms of damage look similar to one another and might not be noticed right away. Being able to differentiate between the two is important for treating the potentially disastrous problems.

Dry Rot

Dry rot is a form of wood rot in which the wood is weakened by an infestation of certain types of fungi. These fungi consume the components of the wood that make it strong and stiff. Because the fungus has an interesting ability to move water from wet areas to dry, it can develop in fairly dry wood.

Subterranean Termites

Damage left by subterranean termites and the fungi that create dry rot can be confused. However, subterranean termites are small insects that live in colonies beneath the soil, only surfacing to eat and dig tunnels. They are efficient and highly destructive, consuming the wood from the inside out by feeding on the cellulose in it.

Appearance of Damage

Dry rot often resembles dry bricks or blocks because of the way in which the fungi consume the wood and transport water. These activities create channels in the wood. Subterranean termites also create channels, but in different ways. They dig shelter tubes, also known as mud tubes, from soil particles, water, saliva and fecal matter to transport termites from the soil to the wood in search of food. Channels may be branched out like a tree, with a main «trunk» leading to the ground. The two types of damage can be differentiated, however, by the detection of live termites and/or termite channels and galleries. Termites also usually pick wetter wood.

How They Got There

Dry rot caused by fungi and termite damage can occur due to a common reason: contact with the soil. This can happen with foundation cracks, in particular. Ironically, dry rot is usually caused by wood having too much contact with moisture; it’s the fungi that transport the water to drier spots, making the wood «dry rot.» Because subterranean termites live below the surface, foundational cracks give them an opportunity to find a fresh, readily available food source in wooden structural supports.

Treatment Options

Mild cases of dry rot can be controlled by eliminating moisture sources, such as leaky pipes or leaks in basement foundations. If the dry rot is more extensive, the wood is treated. Commonly this is done with boric acid, or borate, which can also prevent insect damage.

Subterranean termite damage is treated with termiticides, or insecticides that target termites, applied to the soil, along with termite baits. Before the 1980s, these insecticides were highly toxic, but as of 2010, lower toxicity organophosphates and pyrethroid insecticides are available.


Battling Wood Rot & Termites With Borate

Renewed interest in borate as a bait toxicant has grown with the increased threat of Formosan subterranean termites, which destroyed this window sill in the Southern Regional Research Center Library. (Photo: Scott Bauer)

For a forest, wood-destroying fungi and insects are part of nature’s cycle as they decompose fallen trees. The same decay agents, though, can attack the wood in your house.

Thanks to borate, a nontoxic salt that combats a host of house invaders, such damage is easy to prevent. Borate’s advantage is that it acts across a spectrum of wood destroyers-from termites, anobiid beetles, lyctid beetles, and carpenter ants to brown or white wood rot. Another plus is that it migrates and reaches moist areas where insects or fungi are active.

The reason you may not have heard of borate is that until the 1990s toxic chemicals were the standard means of treating termite outbreaks and wood rot problems. For prevention the most commonly used methods were pressure-treated green lumber and ground poisoning. Yet, well before then borate proved nontoxic and successful in preventing problems when it was field tested on important restoration projects such as the 1850s Pontalba Building in New Orleans. Research and the experience of pest-control operators have shown that borate can be just as effective with far less health risk.

Wood treated with toxic chromated copper arsenate (CCA) requires a mask for cutting and cannot be burned, but you won’t have to worry about wood protected with borate. It’s as harmless as table salt. Like salt, though, borate is water soluble, which means rain or contact with the ground can allow it to become mobile. You or your pest-control operator have to take measures to keep the borate from leaching out of the wood. With the help of water repellent, paint, and special precautions for in-ground use, borate becomes a great protector, and our buildings are lucky to have such an environmentally friendly ally.

Borate for wood protection comes in a number of formulations. There are borate powders, granules, poultices, and gels-each is designed to deliver the borate to the site where it will do the most good. Borate powder-and-water formulations (such as Tim-Bor, Board Defense, or Spectracide Terminate) are common for typical applications such as spraying. Glycol-based solutions incorporate this thick, liquid alcohol to allow the borate to more effectively penetrate seasoned wood. Borate gel is designed to be injected into small, predrilled holes in wood. Yet another form of borate is fused plugs that release the preservative when they dissolve in the presence of moisture.

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Borate, a nonspecific herbicide, inhibits fungi growth. It can be injected as a gel in porch and other post bottoms or used with epoxy consolidants. (Photo: Courtesy of Jecta)

What Is Borate?

Borate is a naturally occurring salt mined in geological saline deposits from Death Valley and Chile. Borate has been used by consumers for decades in the form of laundry additives and boric acid-often spread as a bug killer. The salt is safe enough to use on food preparation surfaces so there is no risk to your family’s health.

While borate is not poisonous to mammals, it’s toxic to insects and can wipe out whole colonies-an especially important characteristic for termite control. Subterranean drywood termites, the pests threatening houses in the Southern states, the Southwest, and California since the 1940s, have been bad enough. Colonies of a few hundred individuals can do great damage by building mud tubes from nests in the ground to the wood in buildings; however, the voracious Formosan termite-a variety of subterranean termite and a recent import-swarms in colonies called cartons. Each carton can have a million individuals, and they need no contact with the ground. Wood treated with borate will be guarded from both kinds.

Unlike poison, borate doesn’t kill instantly. Instead, termites swallow a small amount of the borate, along with the cellulose they’re ingesting, then bring the food back and feed it to the others in the colony. Eventually, the borate inhibits enzymes produced in the termites’ guts. Researchers call borate a bait toxicant, and as such, it’s in line with the integrated pest management you may be using in your garden.

Borate has been so successful that the Southern Building Code Congress International (the building code body in the South) even says that homes built with borate-treated framing lumber don’t need to be ground-poisoned. For the old-house owner, there are many ways to use borate as a preventative or remedial treatment for existing wood.

When the 1827 Dominguez Rancho Adobe in Carson, California, was expanded from kitchen quarters to a comfortable six-room house and chapel, the builders placed wood beams next to the ground, leaving them prone to undermining.

How To Use Borate

Here’s how borate might work in practice. At the 175-year-old Dominguez Rancho Adobe in Carson, California, termites had infested veranda pillars, ceiling beams, and floor beams. A no-no in today’s construction, the wood in this section of the six-room rancho was in contact with the ground. «The original floor was 4×6 beams covered with 1x oak boards that sat on earth,» says Andre Ocampo, vice president of South Shore Exterminating in Huntington Beach, California. «A lot of it had subterranean termites, and it was starting to buckle. As the contractors replaced damaged flooring, we treated the beams with borate products.»

The new section of the house had been built over a crawl space, and the crew was able to apply a borate product (Tim-bor) to the floor joists. The crew used the same treatment in the attic on the building’s original rafters that were infested with termites. On the exterior sill plates, where wood was damp, and on some damp floor joists, they applied another borate solution (Bora-Care).

«We did the treatment a year and a half ago, and there’s no sign of new infestation or rot,» Ocampo says. «Our next project is one I’m really excited about. We’re going to treat all the wood at Mission San Juan Capistrano.» One of the advantages of borate is that it allows homeowners to keep on top of termite infestations or incipient rot without having to use toxic substances. Borate is nonrestricted, which means anyone can use it.

It’s important to know which product to use and how to apply it. To treat an entire house, you’ll probably want to hire a trained operator who has the equipment and know-how to apply the product correctly. For a small infestation or a follow-up treatment, you could do the work yourself.

To halt damage from termites and wood rot, David Ocampo of South Shore Exterminating treated the floor joists of the Adobe with the borate product, Bora-Care.

If you find an infestation of termites in a door or windowsill, for instance, you could inject a concentrated borate gel (such as JECTA) into small, pre-drilled holes. You don’t have to strip the paint first. The borate will diffuse under the paint film and begin protection immediately, even if the wood is wet. Gel is also good for protecting the bottoms of posts, which are subject more to rot than termites, as long as there’s no ground contact.

Where to Use Borate

Let’s say the unpainted risers beneath the back porch steps show signs of wood rot. A glycol-borate mix might be the best bet. Checks and weathering in unpainted wood actually improve penetration. If the wood is wet to the core, the borate moves toward the moisture.

If you want to reduce the risk of swarming termites in your attic, you can have the attic rafters, joists, and sheathing treated. The same goes for basements. As long as the sill plates and band joists haven’t been painted, liquid borate will provide protection.

You can’t lose with borate because it’s relatively inexpensive. The cost is $95 to $120 per gallon, and you can treat about 800 board feet of wood, the equivalent of 150 2x4s, 8′ long, or the average amount of lumber in an unfinished basement.

If your house is built with balloon framing, you may be able to finesse a paint brush up into the wall cavity by working from the basement. The ideal is to protect all wood within 3′ of ground level. Even so, you should be able to brush or spray liquid borate on the band joists and mud sill. Outdoors, use a garden sprayer and treat the foundation wall and bottom of the siding. Don’t go overboard because borate is a nonselective herbicide and toxic to plants.

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Borate has proved practical for spraying or brushing on heavy timbers in historic structures, from log buildings to totem poles. (Photo: Richard Sexton)

In a heavy-timber building, such as a log cabin, the volume of preservative required is greater than the surface spraying that will protect a normal home’s 2x framing. Treatments that can be brushed on or sprayed (Tim-bor, PeneTreat, Armor-Guard, or Shell-Guard) are the least expensive option, but for maximum penetration of wood that is already showing signs of rot or infestation, you might be better off with the glycol-treatment. Glycol makes the borate soak into dry wood more effectively, and glycol seems to make logs more resistant to termites. This was the treatment the National Park Service chose for totem poles in Alaska. Initially it darkened the wood, but after a few days the glycol volatilized, and the wood returned to its normal color.

Because the ends of logs absorb moisture, it’s a good idea to provide an extra dose of medicine beyond brushing or spraying borate. Inserting rods made from concentrated, fused borate (IMPEL Rods) will spread fungicide through the wood’s fibers when the moisture content rises above 30 percent the level at which decayed fungi become active. The borate protection remains in place even if the wood dries out, and it becomes active again if the moisture level rises.

With precautions, borate treatment can even protect wood in contact with the ground. The key is to provide an ongoing source of borate to replenish any that leaches out, to reduce or eliminate any source of oxygen (which is necessary for decay), and to protect the wood from water. One method is to paint gel on the surface of the post and wrap the post in plastic before putting it in the ground. The plastic cuts off the supply of oxygen and will retard wood rot even if water does reach the post. (Plastic made for this purpose is sold by borate suppliers.) Last, top the post with a zinc or copper cap to prevent water from entering.

Defeating Water Migration with Borate

Because borate follows moisture, it’s particularly effective against subterranean termites. The insects’ mud tubes are moist, and the borate goes right to them. The bad news is that if the wood dries out, the borate dries, and it rises to the wood’s surface where it can be washed off by rain. (It may also diffuse into the soil if there’s ground contact.) That’s why it’s important to keep the wood that you’ve treated from getting wet.

Ambient moisture isn’t a problem. Borate can go through unlimited cycles of wetting and drying as long as the moisture remains on the surface of the wood and isn’t washed off. In attics it should last indefinitely. Even log homes generally have enough of an overhang to prevent borate from washing away with rain, but if you treat a shake or shingle roof with borate, make sure to follow up with a water repellent. The water repellent and borate product must be compatible. Some glycol-containing products may keep the water repellent from drying properly. Check with suppliers before buying, or do a patch test. (Make sure to wait until the glycol is dry before you apply the repellent.)

The termite problem is so severe in the South and Hawaii that you’ll find the future of borate in borate-treated lumber. Two companies that make borate-treated lumber products have retooled nine of their 200 factories, but in the next few years the availability of these materials will spread. Advance Guard dimension lumber is treated with sodium borate, and SmartGuard sheathing, siding, and cellulose insulation is treated with zinc borate, a form of the salt that doesn’t diffuse as easily as others. This zinc borate also functions as a flame retardant. Costs run about 30 percent higher than comparable building products.


How Wood Rot Can Cause Termite Damage

How Wood Rot Can Cause Termite Damage

Extreme Termite Damage!

Termites are nasty home invaders that have no interest in bothering humans. Their lives are completely separated from ours. They don’t need our food scraps, our bodies, or our pets but they do love wood rot. That’s the problem with termites- you never know they are in your home! You will find out quickly if you have bed bugs, ants, fleas, or cockroaches but termites may be feasting on your home unnoticed for years.

Video on Termite Damage and Wood Rot Repair

We recently visited a home who scheduled a siding replacement but upon inspection it was found the home had wood rot and been a termite food fest for quite some time. The unnoticed nature of the infestation caused extensive repairs to be needed. The damage was so bad, termites began eating the foot of a wooden chair after they made their way through the subfloor!! Below we will explore (with pictures and video) the causes and extent of termite damage and how to repair.

Wood Rot Attracts Termites

Wood is rich in cellulose, the food source of termites. The attractiveness of the wood is increased by the presence of moisture which causes wood rot. Removing moisture away from your home- especially the foundation- can help you prevent termite problems. In the home we repaired, there was significant wood rot that attracted the termites which were caused by two major factors:

1.) The foundation was too close to the ground

2.) The slope of the yard was not significant enough.

These two issues combined to cause excess water during storms to flow towards the house and soak the wood at the base of the wood. It was a perfect storm for wood rot and an all-you-can-eat buffet for the termites!

To Prevent Termites

Follow these basic steps to prevent wood rot and eliminate moisture from your home:

Even brick houses aren’t safe!

  • Divert water from foundation
  • Make sure gutters and drains are clean and work properly
  • Repair any leaking pipes, faucets, or A/C units
  • Seal any possible entry points for water around pipes and utility lines
  • Remove potential food sources from around foundation (firewood, stumps, etc…)
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Repairing Termite Damage

The first step to repairing termite damage is to remove the colony from your home. To do this, call a professional in your area. The job requires the use of many chemicals that should only be handled by those certified to do so. After the termite colony has successfully been exterminated, wood rot should be removed and replaced. In some cases, such as the video below, damage occurs on main support joists of the house. The wood on these cannot be removed due to the support they provide. An alternative in this case is to provide additional beams along the termite damaged wood to improve the strength of the support joists.

In the home we fixed multiple areas were affected by termite damage. Damaged wood had to be removed and replaced in the following places:

Stages of termite damage repair

  • Band board (added rot and bug resistant PVC)
  • Framing
  • Main support joists
  • Sub flooring

As you can see that is a very extensive repair, so keeping an eye out for termites is a good idea! Keeping reading to learn how to identify a termite infestation.

How to Spot Signs of Termites

If you may be worried you have termites, there are a few simple cues of an active termite colony. A quick survey of your property should be able to tell you if you have an infestation but as always, contact a professional to take a look if you aren’t sure. If you notice any of these issues, you may have termites:

  • A swarm of winged insects in your home or in the soil surrounding your home
  • Cracked or bubbling paint

Termite mud tubes- a sign of an active colony

Treatment for Termites

I hope this post has shed some like on the silent home assassins. If you notice any of the warning signs in your home, contact a professional exterminator immediately to stop any further damage. If you have noticed any wood rot but have thankfully been saved from termites for now, then call a local home repair company like ProMaster at 513-724-0539. We can replace the wood rot and fix the cause so you keep your house dry and insect free! Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments about termites please share them with us below!


Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot: What’s Eating Your Business?

Termite damage and rotting wood can be absolutely detrimental when it comes to the structure of your building. However, because both causes of wood decay have similar looking effects, it can be difficult to distinguish what is actually going on. Knowing what problem you are actually dealing with is critical to resolving it. Here’s an overview and distinguishing features of both types of damage:

Wood Rot:
The common type of wood rot you may encounter and what is often confused with termite damage is dry rot. Dry rot is caused by fungi that attack wood and destroys its interior structure, hollowing it out from the inside. Despite its name, dry rot requires moisture to start decaying – and fungi will carry water to the interior of wooden structures.

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Subterranean termites are the most commonly found termite species throughout Texas. These pests live in colonies under the soil and feed on the cellulose material that is found in plant cells as well as wood. Like fungi, they eat away the inside of the wood, making it hollow and weak. Cracks in foundation and walls allow termites access to wood, where they chew tunnels inside existing structures.

Spotting the difference:

Think you know which one of these images is termite damage, and which is wood rot? Here are a few hints:

  • Decaying wood due to wood rot is often spongy and stringy in texture and breaks off into rigid, cube-like patterns. Pieces of the wood that are not decayed break off in long slivers.
  • On the flipside, termite damaged wood may appear normal on the outside but has chewed-through tunnels and galleries on the inside.

If you guessed that the termite damaged wood is on the left and wood rot is the right, you guessed correctly!

In either case, it can be hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and the damage is done. Both types of damage can cost your business a significant amount of money in repairs. Termite damage, though, costs businesses and homeowners roughly $5 billion in repairs annually across the United States. A pest professional can help you confirm if termites are present, and will help you take the next steps to resolving any issues. Many times, both problems are present, as termites are even more attracted to wood that is already softened by decay and moisture.

Holder’s Pest Solutions is the expert when it comes to termites in Houston. We implement what we call the “EIR” Termite Advantage:

  • Experience: Years of experience inspecting and treating commercial structures for termites – we know how commercial facilities work and will get our job done with minimal disruption to our clients.
  • Innovation: Using the latest, most progressive and innovative termite management technology and treatment techniques.
  • Reliability: Holder’s highly-trained and experienced technicians and inspectors know termites and how to eliminate them.

Don’t let your business suffer the consequence of termites. Contact us today for more information. You can also download our e-book, The Impact of Termites on Commercial Facilities, here.


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