Here in Hawaii as in many parts of the mainland termites are a big threat to homes. A large colony of Formosa Termites also known in Hawaii as Ground Termites, left unchecked can cause enough damage to bring down a building in as short as two years.
In Hawaii every home falls under one of three categories.
- Those with termites.
- Those that had termites.
- Those that will have termites.
Several years ago my brother Russ built what he called a termite proof house. He used building materials that termites are known not to like. He designed the foundation in such a way that there were no entry points in the home. He used masonry and cedar. Termites are known to not like cedar or redwood. All of the cabinets were custom made from cedar. It was a beautiful duplex house. He lived upstairs and I rented the lower floor for a few months when I first moved back to the islands. He was so proud of his home. He designed and built it himself.
One day I was in one of the cabinets and saw the signs. Termite droppings in the six month old termite proof house. How was this possible? He took every precaution. He designed a foundation they could not penetrate. Termites don't like cedar right? Wrong! If there is nothing better to eat they will eat event cedar.
How did they get in it?
We began to walk the property and there it was. They could not get in through the foundation so they made a mud dam up the side of the house in into the cabinets through window frame. Creative little buggers aren't they?
In those days the answer was to pump Chlordane in the ground and hopefully poison the colony. The problem is the poison, a carcinogen works its way to the water table and we wind up drinking it years down the road.
Soon Chlordane was taken off the market and replaced with new chemicals that are breakdown and are less hazardous to people. Chemicals were still being pumped in the ground in large quantities. They were also not as effective, causing them to be used more often. A better solution, definitely not the desirable one we are looking for.
Some forward thinking folks came up with the idea of a bait station. Bait stations are placed in the ground surrounding a property with juicy pieces of wood that will make termite's mouth water. They are checked on a regular basis. If you get a hit you replace the harmless bait with treated bait. It is designed not to kill the termites right away. They will take it back to the colony and eliminate the colony or at least dramatically reduce it over a period of time.
The first advantage is that all of the chemical goes to the colony and not pumped in large quantity in the ground. The second is that the technology used to kill the termites is greatly improved and not as harmful to the environment.
There is more than one type of bait station systems available. The two most commonly used in Hawaii to replace liquid chemical termiticides for pre-treatments are:
- Sentricon® colony elimination system
Two other products used in bait stations are Termitrol® and Fristline®. These two products are not considered suitable to replace conventioanl termiticide pre-treatments.
One of the newest and best solutions for preventing subterranean termites is an ENVIRONMENTALLY ACCEPTED BARRIER.
This new system is being used in Hawaii. No chemicals are needed. This is particularly effective in new home construction. The barrier is made up of a 4 inch layer of a granular material that is placed under the home. The secret is the size of the granules and hard and dense they are. The following specs were taken from the University of Hawaii website:
"A minimum of 60% of the granules in the barrier must have at least one dimension measuring between 1.7 to 2.4 millimeters. The granules should be very hard and dense. Granules with these characteristics form a barrier which the termites cannot move, cannot chew through and cannot penetrate. The granules, in Hawai'i, are currently being manufactured from basalt (BTB). Basalt has almost ideal characteristics for this type of use."
You can retrofit existing construction by digging trenches around the home and placing the termite barrier in the trenches.
There are many other construction techniques that have been developed to minimize entry points for termites. By combining the barrier with known best construction practices we can build homes that are environmentally safe while addressing concerns of potential termite infestations.
Here is related article: The Termite House