Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MIKE HOLMES: Termites can eat a home from the inside out

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Living on Canadian soil has its benefits, such as world-class resources, a robust economy and workforce, and nature's playground in our own backyard. Another huge benefit -- especially as a contractor and homeowner -- is something our soil doesn't have: a lot of termites.

That's not to say we're termite-free. But for now, termites aren't a big issue for the majority of Canada. They are in the U.S., and the farther south you go, the worse it is. So any affected areas in Canada are going to be pretty close to the border.

There are some areas in southern Ontario (including Toronto), Winnipeg, southern Alberta and southern British Columbia -- including Vancouver -- that have been known to have termites. But you need to do your research. Every area is different.

I always say never ignore your environment. If you're building in an area that's known to have termites, there are construction measures you can take. In fact, according to most local building codes, these construction measures are a must.

First, all stumps, roots and wood debris need to be removed to a minimum depth of 30 centimetres (12 inches) under the building. Then, there should be a minimum clearance of 45 centimetres (18 inches) between structural wood elements and the ground below them.

If you live in an area where foundations are insulated, there needs to be a metal or plastic barrier between the insulation and finished materials. This stops termites from passing through or behind insulation.

Structural wood supported by anything directly touching soil needs to be PT, or pressure-treated, with a chemical that's toxic to termites. If the vertical clearance between wood elements and the ground is less than 15 centimetres (or six inches), they need to be pressure-treated with a preservative that makes them resistant to decay.

The same goes for any wood exposed to precipitation, allowing them to accumulate moisture. BluWood is a good example of a product that protects lumber from moisture, mould, rot and -- you guessed it -- termites.

It is important to make sure wood elements are resistant to decay because termites -- and other insects, such as carpenter ants -- need soft wood to tunnel through to create passageways and nests.

But unlike carpenter ants, termites will actually eat the wood, and not just wood. They'll feed on all cellulose-based material, including books, boxes, furniture and drywall. And because termite colonies are hard workers, working non-stop 24 hours a day, they can do a lot of damage in not a lot of time.

The damage termites wreak on homes is a direct result of their eating habits. The products we use to build homes just happen to be on their menu. But homeowners rarely see the damage happening because termites eat wood from the inside out. So you usually don't know you have a termite problem until it's really serious. But there are clues.

For example, if you find wood in your home that sounds hollow when you tap it, there's a pretty good chance it is hollow. Termites make wood look like swiss cheese on the inside until there's nothing left but dust, or at least what you think is dust. Ever wonder what termite poop looks like? It actually looks like sawdust. Makes sense for something that eats wood. By the way, the technical term is frass, not termite poop. (I don't want to get more angry emails.)

You should also keep a lookout for cracked or bubbling paint and mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams or in crawl spaces. Also look for discarded wings. Some people are surprised to know that termites have wings. But they drop them once they find a good place to nest.

Also be careful of any swarms of winged insects that disappear after a while. It could be termites looking for a place to nest. If the swarm is followed by a lot of discarded wings, you know they've found one.

If you think your home could have termites, your best bet is to call a professional pest inspector. They know exactly what to look for and how to find it. They'll use a combination of probing, tapping and listening techniques to find termites -- some even use fibre-optic scopes that can peer inside walls. They'll also check decks and fences for any damage.

Termites love moisture, so call a professional to repair anything that's leaking, including faucets, water pipes and air-conditioning units. Keep your gutters and downspouts clean. Keep your vents clear and open -- adding screens to outside vents is also a good idea. Remove plant materials, leaves and mulch around your home that could attract these critters. And store firewood and lumber away from the foundation or any crawl spaces.

Your next job is finding a qualified contractor who has plenty of experience dealing with these kinds of pests. They'll block access routes by sealing up cracks where bugs might enter. That includes openings around pipes and heating ducts. They will make sure water is diverted away from your foundation. And any structure they need to repair or replace should be done with materials that can stand up to nature's demo team.

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right, premiering Oct. 16 at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For information, visit . For more information on home renovations, visit .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 F2

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