Termites in Mortar

Termites in Mortar

In nature, termites are beneficial. They recycle fallen trees and other dead wood. However, when there are no fallen trees, termites often turn to the wood in homes for food.

Termites are soft–bodied insects. They are sensitive to dehydration, so they stay out of the light as much as possible. When subterranean termites must travel in the open, they make protective dirt tunnels. However, termites can often find cracks to use as entryways into the home. This allows them to travel from the ground without being exposed.

Many homes are built with bricks or concrete blocks. Bricks and blocks are commonly used in foundations. They are also used as bases for fireplaces and porches.

When the blocks or bricks are installed, they are assembled with mortar. This mortar is similar to cement. Like cement, when mortar dries, it often shrinks. As mortar shrinks, it creates tiny cracks.

People used to think that termites could chew through mortar. Scientists have learned that when termites find a tiny crack in mortar, they squeeze through it. If they find food, they use the crack to travel back and forth to their nest in the ground.

As the termites continue to travel, they gradually make the crack wider. This enables more termites to get through the crack. Over time, the termites widen the crack enough to allow several termites to pass through at the same time.

Homeowners are often surprised to find termites in their home. Termites enter through cracks in mortar in the base of the fireplace. They appear in the family room in the wall beside the fireplace.

Termites also enter through cracks in mortar in the bases of porches. Homeowners discover the termites in the doorframe or the sill in the doorway.

Treating termites in mortar can be challenging. They can remain hidden in tiny cracks and travel long distances. The mortar allows termites to attack wood that is a long way from the point where they entered. Sometimes the mortar acts as a shield to protect the termites from an application of liquid termiticide.

To treat termites in mortar, it is often necessary to apply a borate solution to the wood sill at the top of the foundation wall. The borate makes the wood toxic to termites. In this way, if the termites travel past the termiticide barrier in the soil, they will be impacted by the borate treatment.

Many homeowners have their home inspected periodically. Termite control professionals can recognize the signs of termite activity. If treatment is necessary, they can prescribe the most effective treatment.


Do Termites Eat Concrete?

Generally speaking, No, termites do not eat concrete.

Termites cannot derive any nutrition from concrete, so the only reason they may attempt to tunnel their way through concrete it is in order to get to lumber that may lay behind it.

Most concrete is hard enough that termites cannot chew through it. However, older degraded concrete is occasionally weak enough for termites to make their way through. The same has been known to be true with lime mortar which is common with brickwork. Termites have been known to make their way through the lime mortar between brickwork to get to the wood behind them.

Typically termites will not attempt to burrow their way through concrete without first finding a hole large enough for them to fit through. This does not really have to be very big. A hole just a bit larger than the termite’s head is enough for them to enter and begin tunneling, however, they prefer holes twice this size to allow for two-way traffic: in and out. Still termites are tiny so a hole the width of two termite heads is not very big and easy for termites to work their way through if the concrete or mortar mix is weakened enough for their jaws to chew into.

Can Termites Eat Through Stucco?

Generally, termites can also get through stucco for the same reasons that they can get through concrete—it only takes a tiny crack or hole for termites to find their way through the stucco to the lumber that may lay behind the stucco. However, termites won’t eat stucco for nutrition because stucco is not a cellulose material like wood, paper, mulch, etc.

Can Termites Eat Through Grout?

Again, termites can also get through grout when grout has tiny cracks or holes. You might find termites working their way through grout, like in this video above, when they’re trying to find their way into a house that may have lumber. But, again, termites don’t eat grout for nutrition because grout doesn’t contain cellulose.

Can Termites Eat Through Brick?

Do you think termites can find their way through bricks? Yes?

You’re right. Same deal here as grout, concrete, and stucco. Bricks can crack over time and when they do, termites can find their way through the cracks or holes.

What Kind of Termites go Through Concrete, Stucco, Grout, or Bricks?

Usually, it’s subterranean termites that make their way from below the ground (sub-terranean) up the foundation to the concrete, stucco, bricks, grout, etc. Theoretically, it’s possibly for drywood termites to find their way through concrete, stucco, grout, or bricks as well, but more likely than not, if you find termites have found their way through such places, they’re subterranean termites.


Are There Termites in Your House Foundation?

Every year, homeowners spend more than $5 billion repairing termite damage, yet 80 to 90 percent of them are not protecting themselves from this potential expense. This includes checking your home’s foundation for termite damage.

Termites are destructive insects, causing billions of dollars in damage and treatment costs each year in the United States. The most common damage-causing termite in the U.S is the subterranean termite. These termites typically gain access into homes and other buildings through gaps in the foundation. A termite’s appetite is restricted to wood and plant matter, so once in the home, termites will seek out wooden structures to feed on, potentially causing damage.

Here is a handy checklist to not only help you check your foundation for termites, but also protect yourself from infestation and damage.

Termite Self-Inspection Checklist

Are there visual clues?

Check for mud tubes along foundation cracks or behind your siding or baseboards.

Look for termite swarms. To tell the difference between termites and flying ants, take note of their antennae and wings:

Termites: straight antennae and wings of the same length

Flying ants: antennae bent at a 90-degree angle and front wings longer than hind wings

Listen for hollow spots in exposed wood using a flat-head screwdriver.

Are you looking in the right places?

According to Dr. Barb Ogg, extension educator at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, these areas are prime locations for termite entry:

Cracks in your concrete foundation

Cracks in the basement floor where it meets the side of the foundation

Where the garage slab and house are attached

Do you own a brick house?

A brick house doesn’t mean you’re free from termites. Check behind the brick veneer. Termites travel behind the brick veneer, so you may never see them.

The structure of your brick house is made of wood, so termites can damage the framing timbers.

Can I reduce the risk of termites entering through my home’s foundation?

Keep the soil around your foundation dry.

Use proper grading to promote drainage.

Clean your gutters and downspouts to provide good drainage.

Fix leaks immediately.

Block the termites’ access to your house by using cement, caulk or grout to:

Fill cracks in your cement foundation. Termites can squeeze through an opening as small as 1/32 of an inch, barely wider than a human hair.

Seal openings where utilities enter your house.

Keep wood away from your house and away from the soil. Researchers say that 90 percent of termite infestations start with wood in the soil.

Plant trees or shrubs at least 24 inches away from your house.

Store firewood, lumber and mulch away from your house and off the ground.

What should you do if you find damage?

Do not disturb the termites by spraying them with an insecticide—that’s a job for a professional. If you disturb them, the termites will likely move, making it more difficult for pest removal experts to evaluate the infestation when they arrive. You may not be able to locate the termites again until they damage more wood.

Contact your termite specialists for treatment. The technicians at Terminix can eliminate termite colonies and protect your home from future termite damage.

Ev >One of the most common signs of a subterranean termite infestation is mud tubes – muddy, pencil thin tubes that allow termites to travel between their food source and nest.

Homeowners should also be aware of swarmers, which are winged termites, and look for any signs of wood damage that have a dark or blistered texture, indicating the presence of active termites.

Termite Mud Tubes

Mud tubes can be easily detectable when they appear across a concrete foundation or are visible on the surface. These tubes are a major mode of transportation for subterranean termites. However, they are sometimes less detectable because they can be built beneath floorboards and behind the baseboards of a home. They are also often painted over if painters don’t know what they are.

Other Signs of Termites

There are other signs of termites that you can look out for, like discarded wings, hollowed or damaged wood and blisters in wood flooring. Since you likely won’t see the actual termites in your home as they eat away at your wood structure, these are important signs to keep watch for. A professional will be better able to help you spot these signs.

Termite Damage Costs

The cost of termite damage in your home can be dependent on several factors, including how much damage has been done (which is largely dependent on how long the termites have been active), where the damage has been done and how your house is built.

How to Treat Termite Damage in Foundation

Subterranean termites often access a home through its foundation. While there are DIY methods available, they can often fall short. A trained termite specialist will know the effective treatment methods needed for your specific situation.

Benefits of Professional Terminix ® Termite Treatment

Termite infestations can leave homeowners with expensive damage and treatment costs. An effective way to help protect yourself from the costs of termite damage is to schedule a free termite inspection. After scheduling a free inspection with Terminix, a specialist will come to your home and inspect for termites and signs of damage. Depending on what is or is not found, the specialist may offer a treatment or protection plan that is customized to best fit your needs.*

Termite damage costs can be overwhelming. You don’t have to wait until you start to notice the signs of termite damage to act. By the time you notice these signs, extensive and expensive damage may already be done.


Do termites eat through brick

An investigation with the Tiny Termite House shows how quickly and methodically these insects can destroy a home

The National Pest Management Association has revealed a high-definition, behind-the-walls look at the destructive nature of termites through the Tiny Termite House, a first-of-its-kind research study and video production. With support from the City of New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board, more than half a million Formosan termites, a voracious species of subterranean termites, were introduced into the soil surrounding a tiny, built-to-scale dream home in late-January.

A team of researchers documented and observed their behaviors and the incredible damage they leave in their wake.

Recently presented at the National Conference on Urban Entomology, the Tiny Termite House is verifiable proof of just how quickly and methodically termites can eat away at a structure if left unchecked, consuming critical support beams while tucked out of sight from the human eye.

As termites do not eat stone or brick, homeowners in houses with such building material may feel safe. But it is important to realize that there is a a lot of wood in the structure of any house, and that the termites will penetrate through hairline cracks to get at tehir food. So also here, pest control is needed.

The two-story Tiny Termite House was built to replicate an actual home in Anytown, USA and included many of the same features, such as insulation, plumbing and electricity. Other amenities included hardwood floors, a beautiful kitchen and a balcony overlooking an in-ground swimming pool. Like many American homes, the house was constructed on a cement slab. However, there was one big difference — this house was fully equipped with high-definition cameras throughout to study the termites progress from introduction to decimation.

„On the surface, the house appeared to be in good shape with minimal clues about the presence of termites. However, it was what was happening inside the walls and under the floors that showed the real story. This termite colony got right to work, forming mud tubes and turning this dream home into a danger zone,“ said Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist for the NPMA. „We were surprised to see that the termites acted much like they would in a true-to-size home, finding vulnerabilities in the structure first and then quickly began making their way up from sub-flooring and joists and into the walls.“

Key Findings:
1. The subterranean termites required moisture to survive and were most attracted to moist areas around the home.
2. Upon introduction into the soil, the termites immediately found the structural weaknesses of the foundation, specifically at the corners of the home where the wood came together.
3. Mud tubes, pathways constructed by termites to reach a food source, were built inside the walls on the studs, but not on the outside of the sheetrock, making them hard to find.
4. Once the mud tubes were built, the termites attacked the floor joists before moving up to the wall.
5. The termites introduced moisture to the areas inside the home where they were feeding, which caused the floors and walls to buckle.
6. During the final tour of the home, researchers found that practically all the floor and wall joists were eaten away.


Can Termites Eat Their Way Through Your Concrete Foundation?

When termites enter a home, it may seem like they’re getting in everywhere, including through the house’s foundation. This has led many homeowners to believe that the hordes of tiny, wriggling insects have the ability to tunnel through and digest concrete, a material that’s supposed to be pest-proof. Although there’s almost no truth to this fact, your house’s foundation can actually be an entryway for termites.

Termites Don’t Eat Concrete, but They Can Infiltrate It Easily

The termite species we have in Canada thrive on cellulose, the organic fibrous material naturally found in wood and plants. In their natural habitat, termites take their nutrients from dead or fallen trees, decaying stumps, and even grass, but in urban areas, where we clean up our landscapes, they must make do with whatever they find – and that’s often our homes and offices.

Most buildings today are built with concrete, and concrete holds no particular appeal to the termites in our country. It has no nutritional value, and their digestive systems aren’t equipped to break it down, so they do not seek it out as a potential source of food. However, concrete often stands in the way of termites finding and chomping on their favorite meal – wood – and they will stop at nothing to get at it and start eating.

As hard and stable as concrete may be, it’s not flexible and also tends to crack, sometimes as soon as the newly-poured foundation starts drying. To get inside a structure, termites can squeeze through cracks as small as 1/32 of an inch – barely wider than a human hair. If the foundation is weak, partially damaged, or made from a softer type of material, termites will even excavate individual bits of sand and other materials to gain access inside.

Some foundations are better at resisting termite infestation than others:

  • Poured concrete foundations are most resistant to termite attacks, but only if walls have no visible cracks.
  • Hollow block foundations are at risk for two reasons: first, cracks often result as the foundation ages, permitting termites easy access to the inside of the structure, and second, it allows termites to travel vertically into the house almost undetected.
  • Slab foundations run the highest risk of infestations because they are close to the soil, which enables termite entry into the structural part of the house. In this type of construction, lumber is often nailed to the slab, which weakens the slab and creates cracks that permit termites’ easy access to wood structures.

Especially vulnerable are also brick homes on concrete foundations, a fact that most owners are unaware of. Because the structure of a brick home is made of wood (baseboards, furring strips behind drywall, interior stud walls, etc.) termites can damage the framing timbers just as easily as other houses’, and they often do it undetected by traveling behind the brick veneer and up inside the structure.

Vulnerable to termites’ attacks are also structures that have expansion joints and untreated hollow spaces between bricks. Larger commercial buildings such as warehouses or residential buildings such as multi-unit apartment complexes often have expansion joints at regular intervals, letting termites in even if the joints are filled with felt or other construction materials. Slabs wrapped in Styrofoam are also an invitation for termites, not only hiding the insects from view but also insulating them from local pesticide applications.

Dealing with Termites Should Be Left to Professionals

The greatest problem with termites is that you can never really know the exact extent of the infestation. Called “the silent destroyers” for good reason, termites have the ability to create a great deal of damage long before you realize you have a problem. If your concrete foundation has cracks or hollow spaces where the floor meets the wall, termites can use them to travel up into the house without any apparent signs of mud tubes and build a network of tunnels that can compromise your house’s substructure.

Getting rid of termites on a property requires several skills. Extensive knowledge of building construction is often needed to locate potential entry points for termites, many of which are hidden or hard to access. Effective termite control also utilizes specialized tools such as drills, pumps, soil treatment rods, and other equipment. In severe infestations, a typical treatment may require hundreds of gallons of termiticide to be injected alongside the foundation, inside walls, and in other critical areas.

An effective termite control strategy conducted by a specialized company begins with a careful inspection of the house to detect signs of termite presence and structural damage. Upon identifying signs of termite activity, your pest control professional may have to drill holes in the foundation wall to reach and treat all potential entry points. Monitoring stations are often installed to provide an early warning of termites making their appearance on your property.

While termites are not at all interested in munching on your concrete foundation, they will certainly take advantage of your house’s vulnerabilities and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. Having a pest specialist by your side to detect termites’ hiding places and seal potential entry points will help you prevent these highly destructive pests from causing substantial damage to your house and property.

About the Author

Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.


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