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Re: Termites in hearth

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Posted by Elsa on 16:04:36 4/5/2010 from

In reply to: Re: Termites in hearth posted by John Fasoldt on 5:16:29 4/4/2010 from

Jim was here today. He looked at my specimens in the jar and confirmed that they’re termites (workers and soldiers).

The foundation for this house (which was built about 1941) is poured cement (not cinderblock), and good and solid according to Jim (and others).

In the first garage (under the living room), Jim pointed out the small area of brickwork (in the wall) that corresponds to the chimney (my mother says there is a little door low down that leads into “the ash pit”, and I think I vaguely remember that door, but there’s stuff piled up there, blocking the view).

Jim said termites can travel both through the mortar between the bricks, or through any crack in the cement walls (if it’s at least as wide as a sheet of paper is thick).

When I first started reading about termites, I learned that the subterranean termites we have in this part of the country need to go back down to their underground home every day, from their workplaces in our houses.

I was imagining our termites traveling down through the crack in the hearth and into the floor joists under the living room, but then I would try to imagine them travelling down the wall of the first garage, across the garage floor and the cement driveway, and into the soil next to the driveway, and I just couldn’t visualize this parade of termites happening every day (because they don’t like light).

I had asked Jim on the phone whether the termites really do this commute every day, and it sounded to me like he was saying yes, but I still couldn’t picture it.

After his visit, I understand better that they could be travelling through the mortar between the bricks, and/or through some of the (relatively few) cracks we do have in the cement) and directly into the soil - without crossing such large expanses of cement.

Also, Jim pointed out a termite mud tube (or “shelter tube”) on the wall of the first garage, extending from the sill plate at the top of the wall downwards. The mud tube was only a few inches long. When I asked whether the termites travel down that tube each day and then down the rest of the wall (without any tube to protect them), he said it was probably an exploratory thing – they started building a tube and then stopped because they found a big expanse of cement.

I really think my problem was conceiving of the house as separate from the soil – I wasn’t thinking that there is in fact soil under the house as well as around it (as obvious as that seems now).

That misconception (plus the fact that I didn’t understand that conventional termite treatment includes not only mixing an insecticide into the soil around the house but also drilling holes in the basement or garage floor and putting the insecticide into them) was why I kept thinking that if I know how to get the termites to come to me (by leaving a plastic bag on the hearth), it would be easier to poison the termites already in the house than to “treat the yard”. (I’m saying this in case it helps anybody else who is likewise confused.)

Using some special kind of metal pole, Jim pounded on sill plates and rim joists and various other wood in the first garage and in the basement. (The door for the second garage is off its track and tied down, so he could only look in a window, and couldn’t tell whether something he saw near the chimney area in that garage was mud tubes or water stains.)

He said the wood all seems pretty sound, so we should do a termite treatment and it should be fine.

He gave me a written estimate of $900 for drilling holes in the cement floor around the inside perimeter of both garages and putting Phantom into the holes, and also mixing Phantom into the soil about one foot out from the house and all the way around it. The estimate also includes drilling and treating “dirt filled porches”. (We have two small “porches”, at the front and side doors – they’re really just brick steps – and he explained that they’re probably not solid concrete underneath, but filled with rubble, which tends to be a termite hot spot.)

An architect in Maine (I had sent him lots of photos of the house because he was thinking he might use it as a case study for his blog) has suggested we dig a trench all the way around the house and put in drainage pipes to manage the basement water problems, so the trench and the soil treatment would “compete” for the same space. My plan now is to get the new roof put on, then put in two basement window wells (where much of the water seems to be getting in), then reconsider simultaneously what to do about the (remaining) water problem in the basement and the termite problem.

Feeling a little better today, since Jim didn’t seem horrified by what he found. Resisting occasional comments from relatives about how we should just knock the house down, sell the land, and move on. It looks like it’s a good idea to keep the roof simple (as the architect has suggested) and put money into fixing the other problems we have.

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