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Termite damage case study: this article provides a detailed case study of a termite inspection that found insect & rot damage:photographs, inspection advice & visual clues that led to discovery of severe hidden structural damage to a building.
These include house damaging mold or fungus, termites, carpenter ants, powder post beetles, & other wood destroying organisms in and on buildings.We are also concerned with choosing mold and insect damage repair and prevention methods which avoid unnecessary application of chemicals or other environmental impacts.
Preventing these problems by good design and by building maintenance is preferred to simple chemical applications around a property. When use of pesticides is required, there are some important choices.
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We provide a sequence of photographs showing the course of our termite inspection and what we found.
Article Series Contents
Termite trouble signs begin outdoors
The first sign of trouble was that pile of wood flooring and debris by the garage door (photo above), outside the home (photo above left). We later looked through this pile and found it was full of termite-damaged wood flooring.
If we had examined it at first, and had we confirmed it came from this home, we'd have known the story before ever entering the house.
But as you'll see (below) the termite damage "repair" was horrible: it was a cosmetic-only repair intended to sell the home, leaving not only extensive termite damage in place, but the conditions that caused the termite attack had not been addressed nor had a professional termite treatment been performed.
A second sign of high risk of termite damage is shown in our photo above. Aluminum siding came right down to ground level in an area that increased the bug risk by combining roof spillage and in-slope (towards the foundtion) grade. That the owners never raked leaves away and had plantings growing right up to the siding increased the appeal of this home to termites still further.
Add to that risk the observation that when siding touches the ground, insects entering the building behind that siding will remain hidden from view, and we figured this home was sending out an engraved invitation to both termites and carpenter ants.
Examples of outdoor clues that suggest attack by termites or other wood-destroying insects
Question: Do wood forms left between a footing and stem wall increase the risk of a termite attack on the building?
I have inspected new construction home last week. There were some 1x4 wood forms left in between of footing and stem wall.
(Left over footing forms) Is this creating structural or pest problems in future?
Please let me know if I need to do some actions before the house close. Thanks - T.N.
Reply: Yes in many instances. Best practice is to remove wood forms close to or in contact with the soil around a building. Don't leave wood buried around a building.
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem including evidence of present or prior wood destroying activity at a building (termites, carpenter ants, powder post beetles, carpenter bees, other wood destroying insects (WDI)) or an experienced inspector can cite construction details that increase the risk of a termite or other WDI attack in the future.
That said, for your building and based on the photo you provided (above left) does not look too risky in that there is good visible access to the lower foundation wall to observe any future termite mud tubes or other signs of insect activity.
Watch out: while we have several feet of clearance between the soil top and the top of the solid concrete foundation wall where the first wood framing appears, there could be other termite-attack risk factors not shown in the photo at above-left, including:
Outdoor backfill that is higher on the wall, bringing siding close to ground surface (less than 8") or even below ground level
Voids in the concrete can provide an insect attack path, more-so if no termite shields are used atop the foundation wall, moreso if the the sill plate lumber is not treated wood, and moreso if the area is one where there is frequent termite activity.
In general, I agree that leaving wood forms around footings, slabs, and foundation walls increases the risk of a termite attack.
Our own foundation form photo (left) shows wood forms placed around plumbing drains at a Tucson AZ building site in preparation for pouring the concrete slab. Leaving those forms in place after the slab has cured increases the risk of termite attack, particularly in this location where there may be moisture present around building drains.
Notice the close proximity of plumbing lines that penetrated the floor slab in this area?
Ultimately we tracked this termite attack to a combination of forms left in the concrete slab and a heating system leak that sent water into the ground below.
Certainly any wood buried around a building increases the risk of a termite attack - after all, that same approach, burying wood in soil close to a building, is used in the termite bait trap as a method to control termite activity at a property.
The risk of insect attack on a building will be greater if one or more of the following is true:
Incidentally, burying foam insulation close to wood framing or siding can also increase the risk of insect attack on the building as some such as carpenter ants will happily cut through the foam to reach wood materials.
If you can send me photographs or a sketch of the particular wood forms and construction you are asking about I can research further and offer further opinion. Use the CONTACT link found on any of our web pages.
Follow-Up on wood concrete forms and termites:
I spoke with building official this morning and inspector told me that it is ok to buried forms as long as pressure treated. Attached is the picture of foundation footing and stem wall with forming wood in between. I guess this became standard for new construction. - T.N.
That's an interesting position and while it is defensible,
I note in your site photo (above left) at the right hand arrow that there is a blue tag appearing to be stapled to the end of the piece of wood - perhaps indicating that the wood is pressure treated and insect resistant, though quite frankly it looks to me as if the tag was added after construction as it 's clean and it's in a position where surely it would become coated with concrete during the footing pour. Take a closer look at the wood for evidence that it was pressure treated.
In sum, in my OPINION leaving the wood forms in place may be "OK" or "legal" with your local code inspectors, but that doesn't mean it's the best practice, nor that you should guarantee the building owners that there won't be a future insect attack through that avenue.
We were on red alert for insect damage before ever entering the home.
Watch out: if you are renovating a building where there has been termite damage, be careful not to disturb and breathe in dust from chemically-contaminated wood. Find out what type of treatment was performed, by whom (was it a qualified licensed pest control company), and where.
Continue reading at TERMITE SIGNS INDOORS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Articles about Rot, fungus, Termites, Carpenter Ants, Powder Post Beetles, Leaks and Water Entry Damage in Buildings