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SuzAnne asks about the termites in her tree and the ants in her pillars....
(Posted:  08/20/00)

I've read your web pages with much interest.

We have a large purple leaf plum tree within 3 feet of the front of our house that seemed to be dying.  On close inspection, we found holes fromtermites all around the base of the tree.  We called an exterminator who said just to cut the tree down and treat the house for termites.

Another said just cut the tree down and don't worry about the house.   And another said - I don't know what you should do...  

Can you give us some advice?  The tree wasn't rotten in any way that we could see, but just seemed to get an infestation of termites.  One of the exterminators said that our house had evidence of prior termites in the craw space in the quadrant behind this tree, but no active evidence.

Also, our house on the outside seems to have been invaded by carpenter ants.  We have 4 large wood pillars at the front of the house which have evidence of carpenter ant invasion - we have seen sawdust at the base of them and have tapped to hear hollowness at the bottom.  We also have 2 large wood pillars out back with the same problem.  These pillars extend to make a wood patio covering where we see evidence of damage also.

Finally, we have a wood deck which is about 8 years old.  The wood from what we can see is in excellent condition - no rotteness anywhere, yet we see evidence of carpenter ant sawdust.  We have a large tree out back which has limbs that extend over our house.  I've seen many, many ants crawling along the spout on the roof.  I worry that they may be under the shingles.  I've only seen 1 ant in the house in the upstairs bathroom.  We don't know where to begin!

SuzAnne P.

Here's my reply....

Hi, SuzAnn:

Interesting what the exterminators say, eh?  Door #2 is the one that's right:  Take care of the tree, don't worry about the house.  Door #1 just wants some money. Door #3 just doesn't know.  Stick with #2.

Termites don't attack live wood.  But they will attack dead portions of live trees. Your tree is probably nearing the end of its lifetime and this is the result.  Actually, you don't even have to cut the tree down.  It won't really affect, in any way, what happens to your house.  So I, myself, would tell you to do NOTHING.  Leave the tree, you'll still get pleasure from it, maybe for many more years.  Trees usually take a long time to die naturally.  

The posts that indicate "sawdust" might well be carpenter ants.  All outside wood, nowadays, should be pressure treated - everything.  So my advice would be not to worry about any of it, until you replace any of the posts.  Then do everything with pressure treated and you won't have to worry about it - at least in this lifetime.  If the carpenter ants are in there, they'll probably be quite happy in there no matter what you do, until the whole thing is replaced with pressure treated wood.  

And if all you've seen inside is ONE ANT - feel lucky - I see more than that in MY house (in the summer).

Live and let live, is the watchword.  Especially if they're not bothering you.  Most exterminators, shown the posts, will propose treatments.  Won't work.  You have to CURE the reason why they're in the post - probably not enough air circulation.  And once you solve that problem, you won't need ANY exterminator.

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.


Brett had an invasion of carpenter ants after three weeks in his house.....
(Posted:  08/20/00)

Thanks for the very informative web site.  I just moved from Michigan to Florida.  I moved into my new house three weeks ago, and I don't think I saw a single ant (or any other pest) for the first three weeks.  Then one night, my daughters room became filled with carpenter ants (I would estimate over a hundred, maybe more).  Most of them were winged and swarming.  In a panic, I called an exterminator who fogged the attic and sprayed all of the baseboards.  My question whether I should worry about any damage that might have been caused from such a large infestation.  I have checked the house pretty thouroughly for any type of moisture damage, but I have not found anything obvious.
Thnaks in advance for your help.
Brett P.

So I sent this back to Brett....

Hi, Brett:

Well, you probably didn't have to do anything.  You panicked.  Everyone does. And the exterminators just take advantage of this.  This kind of thing often happens with no real reason at all.  Next time, gulp down your panic, get out your shop-vac and take care of the situation yourself.  Bombing does nothing except empty your wallet.

Carpenter ants need moisture before they "do damage."   And the damage they do is often far less than the moisture.  And for you to be having damage from carpenter ants, you'd probably see hundreds of ants, every day, all year 'round, with no letup. Even then, you wouldn't have to use any insecticides, all you'd have to do is just cure the moisture problem.

I'll venture a guess that your ant problem was only weather related.  Hot and muggy? Ants!  No biggie.  Don't worry about it.  See LOTS, all the time?  Then is when you have to do something.  But a smart, methodical, poised person can do it as well as an exterminator.  Just remember - with bugs, NEVER panic.  And never call an exterminator when you are.  Unless you call me, that is.

And the guy you called SHOULD have been the guy that certified your house - shame on the exterminator that didn't tell you that so you wouldn't have to spend the money.  Oh, well, you'll know the right sequence next time.  Some exterminators are real sharks - watch out for those!

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.


Then Brett sent this back.....

Wow, I didn't expect the response so quick.  Thanks for the advice.  Hindsight being 20/20 I think the weather probably was what was causing it.  I also found this morning that a couple of sprinklers are spraying directly on a couple of windows and an external door (maybe some of the water is getting in around the sill.  I will be correcting these these problems ASAP.
Thanks again for the advice.  I wish we had folks like you down in this area!
Brett Poole

(Thanks for your compliments, Brett!)

Carole just bought her house one month, then the next.....
(Posted:  08/11/00)

Hi John,

Thank you for your site, I feel less anxious now.  Here is the scenario.  We bought a house in July.  It is a brick split-level, 40 years old.  After settlement, we went into the kitchen and I saw a area about four inches wide on the corner of  the kitchen counter that had been caulked.  It was over the dishwasher, next to the stove.  I touched it and it felt damp.   I pushed on it and it cracked in and a few big ants came out.  The wood or particle board underneath the laminate was soft and shredded.   At first we thought they were termites, but we looked up some pictures on the web and figured out that they were carpenter ants.  We did have a pest inspection, it was required by the bank, and they did not find anything. We have now figured out that previous owners had the spot covered up with a tea pot, but I think that the pest inspector should have looked there anyway.  I am not going to mention the other things that the owners were hiding from us, but we have very little recourse against them because they have left (fled)  the country and
have a trail of unpaid bills.  The sheriff has already been to our house trying to serve a civil summons on them.

Back to the pest inspector.  He came back and confirmed it was carpenter ants, did not suggest any treatments, but said that the owner of the company would be calling us.  Haven't heard anything further, (we figure that they are waiting for the 30 day warantee to expire), and at this point really don't want to deal with this company.  My husband said that the pest inspector commented that he did not know " how the home
inspector missed the problem".  Our realtor has not been much help either.

This really has me stressed because it is in the kitchen next to the stove, I am uncomfortable cooking or putting anything away in the cabinets.  We sprayed the area with a liquid for carpenter ants and a bunch of ants came crawling out, maybe about fifty.  Some through the top of counter and some from the side of the counter, next to the dishwasher.  A few more came continued to trickle out from under the dishwasher over the next couple hours.  It has been over a week and I have not seen any more live ants.  After reading your site, I am wondering whether we need to have any further treatment.  Do we just have to have the counter removed and replaced?  Not that this would be cheap because we would have to replace all of the counters to match.  My first guess was that water had spilled on the counter, but now I am wondering whether there is a problem with the dishwasher.  It is new, maybe a year old.

An inspector from a national company is coming out this evening.  I am really curious as to what he will suggest, but I am leaning towards no treatment. We have not seen ants anywhere else in the house except for two or three ants  in the hours  right after we sprayed in the kitchen.  Do we have to worry that the spray will have driven the ants elsewhere
in the house?  Within the walls?   What do you think?

Thank you for your advice.


My Reply to Carole....

(My reply to Carole came back "undeliverable" - maybe she'll see this.....)

Hello, Carole:

Sounds like you need to pursue the exterminator a bit.  Be a pest.  Call him and make him arrange an appointment to rectify or survey the situation.  Be persistant.  If he doesn't respond, DEFINITELY report him to the BBB.  Sometimes the mention of "lawsuit" is helpful, although this is always a last resort.  Tell the realtor if he doesn't help, you're going to report him to the Realtor's Association - find out the exact name and address of the association in your area.

From what it sounds like, you'll need to dismantle the area where the ants are, find out why they are there, (moisture problems?) and then fix any problems and put it back together.  Exterminators, actually, are rarely needed for this.  Even if you run across the nest, just suck them up with your shop-vac, (sound familiar?) and continue on.  Don't panic.  You don't need to "spray" - you need to fix the problem.

Your dishwasher might be leaking or improperly installed.  I see this a lot - ants in dishwashers.  Had two stops today with exactly the same problem.  Took me 10 minutes in each place, if you don't count the conversations with the panicky homeowners.  A couple of puffs from my bulb duster and that's it.  Easy.

It is beyond me why your exterminator didn't do that on the spot.  For free.  So instead of being a hero, he's a bum.  They'll probably come back, say it was "hidden" and you need some big "carpenter ant job" for a couple of hundred bucks.  Beg off, do all of this yourself - maybe with the help of an honest carpenter.  It's all you really need.

Nice to hear from you, Carole.  Hope this helps.


Roger has watched his carpenter ants closely....
(Posted:  08/08/00)

What an informative page on carpenter ants!  You have done a great job in explaining how they operate.  Now  let me tell you about my situation and your advice on what should be done would be appreciated.

For the past several years I have noticed the presence of carpenter ants across the  brick front of my house.  I have watched them go up the bricks and enter through cracks in the siding in the overhang.  We would even find a couple of ants a week inside the house.  Now after watching and studying them, I see we have more than ever on the brick, and entering the unfinished attic.  There appears to be no dampness or wood damaged areas that I can see from inside the attic.  This evening I followed these buggers on their nightly rounds and see that they are travelling from the overhang to a nearby tree in the hundreds(or close to It), or possibly the other way around.  What gives and what do you suggest I do?

Thank you for your time and help.


So I wrote back to Roger....

Hi, Rog:

What it sounds like you have, are carpenter ants that are either using your house as a pathway, or as a nesting area AND a pathway.  Maybe.  (Diagnosis over the Internet is iffy!)  What should you do?  Well, it depends on how much money you want to spend - or how far you want to get into it.  In any case, if you get the thrust of my web page, it does not require an exterminator.  And a couple of ants a week are normal.  Sort of like a 98.7 fever.

The most complete solution would be to dismantle the soffit where they're entering and clean it all out, try to discover the reason they're there. (Moisture)  Doesn't have to be much.  Overflowing gutters, and sometimes just because it's closed up.  Make sure the soffit has ample soffit vents - available in all sizes at Home Depot.  The ants might well have a satellite nest in several places, in addition to a main nest.  You never know for sure.   It is also possible for them to be in the soffit for years, and not cause any problem (damage) at all.  Next time you have a rainstorm, go out with an umbrella and see how your water handling system is working.  Make sure it works right, in the heaviest rain.

In the alternative, or in addition to, you could bait the ants, hopefully eliminating main and satellite colonies.  However, if the moist condition persists, and the tree is like every other tree, they'll come back.  The bait costs about $25 and might be cheaper (to start) than tearing apart your house.  It's just that, if it doesn't work, (50-50) you'll have to tear into the soffit anyway.

My usual advice is to forgo the chemical approach in the control of carpenter ants and concentrate on the REASONS they are there.  The detective work is good.  But remember, you only have one observation in a tiny slice of time.  Might be worse, might be the "worst."  More detective work is in order - you have plenty of time - they've been in there awhile.  Check the same areas under different climate conditions, and before you know it you'll be opening up an exterminating company!

In any case, if you decide to attack the soffit and run into any "nests" use the ol' shop-vac, (remember the shop-vac?) and don't panic.  Ignore the scattering insects, forget killing, look closely, nose-to-nose, see if you can detect a problem.  If you're into the soffit, leave it open a few days, paint the INSIDE with 2 coats of GOOD exterior primer, then 2 coats of finish.

Pain in the ass?  For sure, but it's the sure way to end a problem - without the exterminator.  Time, effort and elbow grease are what's needed here.  As far as I'm concerned, the chemicals are only an adjunct to the real cure.

The best bait to use, if you use any, would be Advance carpenter ant bait.  It is a consumer product and you may be able to find it locally, depending on where you live.  WIt looks like this:

                          UnExCo's OnLine Store

I sure thank you for your kind compliments on my website.  It is greatly appreciated.  

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.


Susan has a question about the ants in her shed....
(Posted:  06/17/00)

Three years ago, I had a wooden, pressure treated shed installed in my yard.  While raised a few inches off the ground, it probably is located over some very old and probably very decayed boards.

Every spring (or when I get around to it), I find small nests of carpenter ants in the most unlikely nooks.  Curled among styrofoam bubbles, hidden in the garden hose( very dry) and other assorted places.  I do have furniture in this shed and some untreated boards for shelves.  The boards have clearly been chewed on.  Once a year, I clean the shed.  The ants are clearly a highly motivating factor to do this regularly.  At that time, I use some spray from Home Depot or the Hardware store on all the small cracks..It apparently has some effect for in the fall there are a number of dead ants on the floor.

In addition, just found about three dozen in my bathroom windowsill.  The bathroom is an old porch over a crawl space and the frequent pathway for the yearly carpenter ant scouts that roam through the house in the spring.

Should I be doing any more about these critters?  I must admit, the one person who came and told me that a year's worth of spraying would genetically program all the ants in the neighborhood to avoid my house seemed a little too far fetched for me.  

Living with a few is no problem.  Allowing major damage to occur to my house would be.  Would appreciate any suggestions.

Thank you


So my reply to Susan....

Hello, Susan:

Had to laugh about "genetically programming" the ants.  I hope you laughed when you heard it.  I'll have to put that on my carpenter ant page somewhere.  I will say that a year's worth of spraying might genetically program the exterminator to come back and take your money for another year, because it won't do a thing for the ants, genetically or otherwise.

Susan, the ants like any kind of moisture.  They don't care if the shed's pressure treated, and even though you might think the garden hose is "very dry," it might not be.  What the ants look for, and why you find them in these strange places is that they like it where there's no air circulation and high humidity.  As an example, I have seen them, lined up like cars in a parking lot, in an aluminum window frame inside an aluminum Florida Room with nary a stick of wood in sight.

What you're relating to me is normal and natural.  If your shed is truly pressure treated, don't worry about it.  The ants are not going to hurt the shed and chemicals are not going to stop the situation.  I, personally, wouldn't do a thing.  No spray, no nothing.  That's right, NOTHING.  We're talking shed, aren't we?  Does anyone live out in the shed?  No?  Then don't worry about it.  I wouldn't, however, ever keep anything of value in a closed up shed.  Certainly not furniture - good furniture, I mean.  If it's lawn furniture that's something else, but don't keep upholstered furniture in a shed - even lawn furniture cushions.  There's LOTS of animals (which includes insects) that have easy access to your shed, even when it's all closed up, that will take advantage of this.  Mice will make a nice home in fabric or furniture.

If these shelves you're talking about are out in the open, I doubt if they have been "chewed" by carpenter ants.  They don't do this out in the open.  They don't really "chew" open wood items.  And they really only attack wood that has been damaged by something else - usually water.

I like to see these kind of sheds built up off the ground, suspended a few inches off the ground, you will have air circulation around all parts of the shed - this is what you should have.  The "old wood" under the shed might have some bearing on the number of ants you might see, but even if the shed were inches off the ground, you'd STILL see ants.  Again, normal and natural, just part of nature, certainly no reason to spray chemicals.

Major damage from carpenter ants?  I don't think so.  Before this would happen, you would have to have SERIOUS water problems to major areas of the house and you'd easily see hundreds of carpenter ants, per day, in your house.  As long as your problem is a "few" there's absolutely nothing you can or should do.  

So, my advice would be to not worry about any ant problems in your shed, just disregard any (individual) ants you see, and forget the chemical applications, either by you or an exterminator.  Cleaning it out every year is good - wish I could do mine every year - or even every ten years.  But don't do it for the ants - they don't care!

Don't be distracted by the ants - this is just nature.  If people could see how many ants there really are out there, they'd wonder why they don't see a lot more of them.  

Get back to me if you have more questions!


Margi describes her ant problem....
(Posted:  06/15/00)

I just read your web page on carpenter ants and found it very enlightening.

We have had a problem with ants coming in every spring - we spray inside and out and then they're gone.

Last year we replaced our patio doors and found carpenter ants in the wood - our wood trim has moisture and some spots are rotting - we sprayed and thought we had it under control.

The last 3 weeks we have found what we believe to be carpenter ants in our house - the kitchen and adjoining room on top of the desk and by the front door.  We sprayed outside and pulled back insulation on top of the foundation inside and sprayed.

I was going to call the exterminator today but then I read your web page.

Short of replacing all of the wood trim on our house, do you have any suggestions?  I would appreciate it very VERY much.


Here's my reply....

Hi, Margi:

You didn't say how many ants you are seeing.....  If they're only in the springtime, it might just be weather related.  And the deteriorating trim around doors and windows is natural.  It would happen even if the ants weren't around.  The ants are just taking advantage of the water-softened wood.  Have the trim replaced with pressure treated components.  Even trim is available in pressure treated now.  And if you can't get it pressure treated, paint it, on all four sides, before installation, with at least TWO coats of GOOD exterior primer and then TWO coats of finish.  Install the trim with SCREWS - so you can get it off in the future.  It's only trim, use just a few screws - carpenters tend to install trim with a multitude of nails.  I've seen 20 nails in a four-foot piece of trim - a bit much.

You can try and repair the damaged trim with plastic wood - it works pretty good and will hold for awhile.  

If the ants in your house are seasonal, and you see them "all over" it's just a sign that they're entering "all over," and will wander around until they find their way out or you catch and kill them.  If you have a problem, (nest inside) then you'll see LOTS of them, all the time, in that area mostly.  The "every spring" is normal - I've seen them in my house over the past couple of weeks.  You don't see me running around with a spray can, spraying everything in sight!  Haven't sprayed my house in a couple of years, last time for the damn cat, with fleas.  That's his name, BTW, "Damn Cat," as in, "Where's that damn cat!"  Sometimes he gets called worse.  It's okay, he lives better than I do most of the time.

Hope this helps.  Get back to me if you have more questions!


and Margi replied....

Hi John,

Thanks so much for replying so quickly to my email.  You're probably right about the seasonal issue because we have only found them in the kitchen area and the room right off the kitchen (about 20-25 total) and we believe we know where the nest is at the corner of the house so we are going to deal with the outside issue and that should take care of it for awhile.

Thanks for the suggestions on the trim, it does have to be replaced and I'm sure the ants are loving the rotting wood.   Just thought you'd like to know, we also have a "damn cat".  His name is Rocky (as in Rocky and Bullwinkle) because he leaps and flys at everyone and is also called worse names quite often.

Will let you know if any other developments arise with our "situation".  

Thanks again,


Al writes in with a carpenter ant problem on his boat....
(Posted:  06/11/00)

I enjoyed and profited from your discourse on carpenter ants at your web site.  Thank you for your very inciteful comments.

I discovered a very interesting problem last weekend when I picked up my 19 ft. inboard motorboat from the marina.  Along with a handsome bill, I was presented a rather large plasic bag filled with sawdust which had clogged my bilge pump and thereby contributed to my needing a new starter motor (the old one had become submerged).  Carpenter ants, I was told.  They're the culprit!

Now, I have learned that the best way to eliminate carpenter ants is to illiminate moisture problems.  How do you eliminate moisture on a boat which has a mooring cover and which, therefore, becomes constantly warm and damp?  Have you come across this situation before? If so, how did you solve the problem?

Your reply is eagerly anticipated-

Thank you in advance

Albert F.

And my reply....

Hi, Al:

Indeed, it would sound as though you have a paradox.  Actually, however, battened down tight would tend to hold just the right conditions for carpenter ants.  Most of the time there would be no carpenter ants on board, but when they are on board, the conditions would be perfect.

So I don't really think you need to do anything - there's a good chance it will never happen again.  But then again, knowing Mother Nature as I do, it could happen the very next time!

If you did anything, use carpenter ant bait when you leave it stored and sealed tight.  It's available at our OnLine store.

UnExCo's OnLine Store

Most of the time I think this stuff is mostly worthless, but in a case such as yours, it might be just the ticket.

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.  Let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


(Al sent back a nice thank you note!)

Pam S. writes in....                  (Posted: 04/09/00)

Our home was built 4 years ago.  It is totally of wood (log siding outside) and all out walls, floors and ceilings inside.  We heat with wood and our "guilty" of storing a small amount of firewood inside.   This spring we have been finding carpenter ants, some with wings and some without.  The question is, how do we know if there are nests of them in our walls or if they are simply hatching out of the wood that we bring in from the outside?  This is scary.  Thank you for your help.

And my reply....

Hi, Pam:

Just careful vigilance.  As a test, put the firewood in a tightly sealed plastic bag, so you can hold whatever is in there and examine it.

With carpenter ants, it's the NUMBER of ants you see.  If they're just a few, and you see them "all over" as opposed to a certain room or place, don't worry about it - the flying ones either.  They're just coming in because the population is so high on the outside.

Make sure you fix any moisture problems, (leaks,etc) and you should be alright.   Improperly built log homes are the ones with problems.

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.  Let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


David, from Florida, writes in about his ant problem....    (Posted  03/18/00)

Great web site.

We have just purchased a home July 1st, and have a home that is truly "infested" with carpenter ants. The home was built in 1995, concrete block construction, single story, with concrete tile roofing.  There was a lot of overgrown landscaping directly around the home which we removed the first weekend in July.  While doing so, I noticed several ants entering the exterior through small holes. The pest company came and sprayed into three of the locations, and hundreds upon hundreds of ants came out. Ther continued spraying those three locations and the ants disappeared.  I then found another entrance location near a soffit.  At the same time we were seeing 50-100 ants inside the home daily. Lots of large winged ants, but all different sizes, more at night as you indicated is normal. We have a second pest company, that has come weekly, (only one fee, they guarantee results!) and they have dusted the attic with Ficam, left bait, MaxForce, and dusted and sprayed around the baseboards, etc.  After a month and a half, we are STILL seeing lots of ants, but it has been reduced to one general location, the master bedroom area.  Last night, I saw about 10-15 in about 1 hour, and at least half were large winged ants. (very large).  The pest company says they think there is one more nest somewhere, but we are unable to locate it.  We have not been able to see the ants come in, but we just walk in and they are there.  Our interior has become a killing field of dead ants, they come in, they die, but we can't locate the nest!  We are very frustrated, we can't sleep in our master bedroom as we have had ants walk across our faces in bed at night...and we are concerened about the level of pesticides building up in our home. (We have two small children).  Although I appreciate your wonderful information as to the harmlessness of the ants, (the pest company says the same), I want to be able to use all my home!  

Do we remove the tile roof to see if there is a nest under the tiles?  It was suggested by someone that carpenter ants in Florida often nest between the tar paper and the tiles..

How do we find where they are coming from?  We have baited the attic heavily with Max Force...no use..should we try Advance?

Any information would be apprecitated.

David in Florida

So I sent this back to David....

Hello, Dave:

I'll have to agree, it certainly sounds like a problem.  Most I get, BTW, aren't.  I guess one or two out of every 50 are actually problems.

I think, Dave, you need to search for a moisture problem here.  Maybe in the master bedroom area.  And yes, sometimes it is impossible to find the problem without entering or opening the area - which could be destructive and/or expensive.  So you want to find a reason to do this before you do it.  

One thing to remember is that these carpenter ants are nocturnal.  So maybe a couple of inside/outside search, at night, with a strong flashlight are in order.  Pick a nice muggy night, no wind.  No killing here, you just want to follow them, see what they're doing and where they're going.

Also, if you just moved in, you had an inspection before you moved in, and this exterminator should be enlisted to help you out.  It might also be the cheapest since you should have some sort of a guarantee.  You might also call your real estate company, and also the agent, find out how they can help.  Make sure you always check all your choices with the Better Business Bureau.

Pest control (chemical treatment) on a weekly basis is not something that I feel is necessary - or even prudent.  Once per month (normally) is about all I could recommend, except in unusual circumstances.  I would stop any pest control efforts using a compressed air sprayer, using broad-spectrum insecticides inside your home on a regular basis.  Precise, focused treatments to the areas of suspicion are more effective than regular pest control as most people know it.

I am not familiar with tile roofs and carpenter ant problems.  I do know that carpenter ants will be wherever you can find moisture, so if you have a leak somewhere, it could well affect various components of the roof.  I would seek the assistance of a roofer familiar with tile roofs and their repair.

Hope this helps.  Get back to me if you have any more questions.


Laura and her husband are considering a house, but it might have a problem....

What a great site, and I couldn't have found it at a better time!

Hubby and I finally found "our" house after months of  looking.....4 br, 3 car garage ranch with full basement, right across the street from daughter's school. Seller is a widow, and I'm certain a lot of maintenance hasn't been done as it should, but the roof is only 2 years old, furnace & water heater are new, etc. All the house really needs is some TLC, or so we thought......

The exterior finish is rough wood, I think cedar, and all the windows are wood-framed. We noticed that on the east side of the house (BTW: we're in Iowa, right on the Mississippi River) there are 4 windows to the sunroom that the trim is badly deteriorated. This side of the house is shaded, and my dad assumed that the wood dry-rotten due to a combination of always being moist, and not being properly painted/sealed. We thought, no problem, we will just replace the windows, as we plan to put vinyl siding on the house immediately after we close. We got the termite inspection back yesterday, and there it was..."evidence of carpenter ants". The seller had it treated, somewhere around $200. Inspection said that he found "body parts" in the header beam above the garage door on the exterior of the same side as these rotted window frames. This house has a double corner lot, and there are flower beds surrounded by railroad ties around the entire perimeter of the house and in several outlying places in the yard. My dad says we need to remove the railroad ties, especially the ones right next to the house, but I'm more concerned that we are getting ourselves into a serious ongoing problem. As much as I want this house, I don't want to make a mistake I'm going to regret for years. From what I've read on your site, I feel a little better, but my main question is this....if we don't find the source of the problem, will we be making it worse or "covering it up" by covering the exterior with vinyl siding? We are set to close the day after tomorrow (1/28/00) and I'm so confused I could scream!

Some people are telling us it's no big deal, others are telling us we're fools if we still buy the house. HELP!!  and thank you for the valuable information!


And I replied....

Hi, Laura:

Sounds like a GREAT house, Laura.  Phooey on the ants!  Ants are never the problem, moisture is.  And I don't think the vinyl siding is a good idea until you have been in the house for awhile and know the house a little.  I usually tell people not to "do anything" to their new (old) house until they've had it for awhile.  Preferably a year or more if you can stand it.  Then you will have gone through all 4 seasons, discovered most of the warts and handled them.  By then you'll probably have changed your mind about a couple of things and might be in a better position (mentally, financially) to make even better decisions.

In that time period you'll also know if you really have the kind of moisture problems that attract the ants.  People always worry about the ants, but they're not the problem - moisture is.  Laura, I've been in this game for 35 years, our company inspects over a thousand houses a year and I see real ant problems rarely.  Usually they are unconventional construction.  So you always want to stay away from log homes, homes built on slabs and cathedral ceilings.  Full, unfinished basements are best and it's usually best to keep them unfinished.  You can't see what's going on in a finished basement.  Crawl spaces are okay too, just no slab construction.

So, from the sound of it, I don't think you have a problem, really.  Exterminators, nowadays, are much more prone to demand treatment for stupid stuff like a few dead bodies here and there.  I attend seminars where exterminators are told to do this - mostly in self-defense - so they won't get sued at some later date.  I think this is bad.  That kind of thing gives license to inspectors to charge what the traffic will bear - and this industry never had a shining reputation to begin with.  Pity.  Hardly anyone knows anything about bugs, is mostly afraid of them, and if exterminators handled things correctly, we could all be heros.

Don't worry about these either.  Unless you don't like them for some reason (other than ants) and want to take them up.  As an example, several years ago, I arrived at a house, for a termite inspection for a settlement, and had to park across the street because there were a dozen or so railroad ties piled up at the curb, I guess ready for the trash man.  I walked right by the ties, made my inspection (found no problems) and as I was leaving, the owner asked me about termites in the railroad ties.  Seems that his neighbor had told him that if he left his termite-ridden railroad ties in the ground, for the inspector to see, that I would make him pay for a termite job.  What a shame this man had to go to all this trouble - termites in railroad ties are not what we're supposed to inspect for.  Termites in the STRUCTURE is what we're after.  I don't even care if the railroad tie, with termites, is a foot or two from the house.  It ain't the house.  So that's my take on RR ties.  BTW, I have railroad ties all around my house, and patio, and yes, some surely have termites, but I'm certainly not worried about it.

No, I really don't like this stuff either.  Why?  Too soft.  Too easily torn, broken or marred.  Not only that, but I have had OUTRAGEOUS problems with squirrels chewing this stuff to get inside houses.  Not too often, but if the local squirrel populations discover they can enter that easily, you're in trouble.  There's a neighborhood around here, about 10-12 houses, where most of the owners have had to re-side their houses because of this problem.  I think you'll be better off with aluminum or steel siding.  I know you'll pay more, but it's better.  The aluminum siding on my house was 15 years old when I moved in 30 years ago.  Still looks pretty good.  Oh, it "chalks" and back then they only had "white," but I'm not replacing or painting it until it falls off.  I really like steel siding the best, but it's the most expensive.  Stay away, if you can, from vinyl except for soffits and trim.

My advice?  Don't sweat the ants.  Move in.  Don't do ANYTHING for awhile.  When you decide to do something about the windows that have deteriorated, take them apart slowly, watch for an ant problem.  If you find one it will be because of a moisture problem.  FIX the problem, forget the sprays, and put the window back in.

Keep me posted.  If you do buy, send me a picture!  And, of course, let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


Ron has a question about ants living with termites....     (Posted  03/18/00)

Do ants and termites live in the same mound?  Are termite mounds likely to be found along the edges of sidewalks?  If you break open a mound and there are black or dark brown ants scurrying about are the winged ones in the midst of them really ants,or termites or is it necessary to get close enough to see if their bodies are segmented into three or less parts?

These are questions I formed after breaking a mound in front of my home and wondering if the termites are getting ready to swarm.  We have two large oak trees out there and wonder about getting rid of those.

I would appreciate any enlighenment provided, thanks.

Ron H.,  Pasadena, Texas.

And my reply......

Hi, Ron:

Termites around here (where you are too) don't make mounds. And they aren't multi-colored. You probably have citronella ants.  No big deal. They won't hurt the trees or the sidewalk. You can just leave them alone, it's just nature.  Don't worry about them!

Nice to hear from you. Hope this answers your questions.  Get back if you have more.


Ron wrote right back....


Thanks for the reply.  That gives me a better comfort level.  We had some extensive wood damage last year and don't know if the repairs and treatment got rid of all the problem.  No visible activity yet, but I'm now paranoid about watching for signs with the warm season already here and spring not far off.  It's expensive and messy to knock out walls and replace window sills, frames, and doorjambs.  Such is life, though.  

Thanks again, Ron H.

Corey, from South Carolina, logs in.....        (Posted  03/18/00)

John ... found your site this am .... my good fortune ...

i live in south carolina where it is generally hot and humid ... one side of my house has had an ongoing termite problem which i believe is now in control (put new chemical barrier, fixed moisture problem, replaced damaged wood).

found another problem this morning, as i was checking window sills, etc. in preparation for new paint job this spring.  siding (masonite) was soft in a couple areas and revealed black insects when prodded...  thought on no... here we go again with termites

found your site, and it appears that they are carpenter ants.  it is apparent that termites were (are) there but i did not see any that matched your pictures

a couple of interesting things that i would hope you would comment on

1) there is dirt and mud behind the siding that these insects live in
2) though you say carpenter ants don't bite....these did... actually raising a pimple like that from a fire ant.

i am back at work trying to cure the apparent moisture problem I have in this area (around a brick chimney)

other suggestions?

thanks for a great site...you have calmed me down but i know i have work to do...

pls email me at my work address (omitted)  this one the kids use.

best wishes

Corey H.

And my reply....

Hello, Corey:

It sounds as though your problem is directly related to the moisture problem from the chimney.  We see a lot of that.  As you probably read at my site, you should solve the moisture problem first.  Usually chimneys will have flashing that is used to keep moisture OUT.  Since we see so many failures of flashing around chimneys, I would have your roof and chimney flashing checked by a reputable roofer.

The ants are secondary.  They won't stay if you fix the moisture problem.  And it is entirely possible to have termites and carpenter ants.  Oftentimes, ants will come in before, during or after the termites.  So it is possible for you to have two problems.

I would do this.  Fix the moisture problem by tearing the area out until the problem is found.  If you find carpenter ants, use a vacuum.  If you find anything that doesn't look like an ant, SAVE A SAMPLE(S) for the exterminator.  For exterminators, go to your local BBB for a recommendation and stay away from the biggies.  If they say you have a 'real problem' or try to scare you, get back to me.  

And don't worry about it!

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.  Get back with any questions.


David just purchased his house on Friday, and on Saturday he has problems...

First of all.  Thank you for a great website.

Now to my situation.  We just purchased a house in Southern California.  The Wood Destroying Organisms report lists dry wood termites in one corner of the building and Fungus or dryrot in one of the soffits and in the underlayment of the bathroom where it butts up to the bathtub.  So, we closed escrow on Friday, 2/11/00 and begin remodeling the bathroom on Saturday.  There were many ants coming out of the exterior wall of the bathroom.  After removing all the drywall, plaster and cement on the walls and the bathtub, we discovered the source of the ants.   They were in the wall cavity between the tub and the outside of the house.  Underneath the tub, there is a large mound of what looks like dark, fine sawdust.  In the walls, there are structures that look like dark strips of wood loosely woven together.  Several of the studs in this bearing wall are completely chewed through.  There is just papery wisps left.  There is no mud in the holes in
the wood.

An inspection by a different company says that they are carpenter ants and should have been discovered by the original inspectors.  I don't know what kind of ants they are.  They are 1/4 inch long.  Red and black.  Look like sugar ants but larger.  They emit a very strong odor of formic acid when squashed.  Their bite feels like a very mild pinch and does not leave a welt.  I have only seen these ants in old trees before.  We would call them "piss ants" when we were kids because they smelled so bad when they were squashed.  Are they carpenter ants?  If not, do you know what they are?

Thank you for your time,

David G. R.

And my reply....

Hi, Dave:

Sorry for the delay - we have been having mail problems - again.

Sounds like citronella ants to me.  They have a strong odor when crushed, like citronella.  If they are, they are not the ones "eating" your beams.  I don't know what the "dark strips" are, doesn't sound familiar to me.

You might have had termites and/or carpenter ants at one time and now the ants have come in.  Carpenter ants are usually black and don't smell like the citronella ants.  The fact that the problem is near the tub may mean that, at one time, it may have been leaking.  This might help cause the problem you are experiencing now.

It's hard to say whether or not the first inspectors should have found the problem.  Sometimes it's not that obvious.  But you should call them in and see what they will offer.  If you have any problems with them enlist the help of the realtor (or lawyer) at your settlement.  If they give you any static, report them to the BBB and make sure you tell them that you intend to do that.  They should work as hard as they can to HELP you.  They made the inspection for YOU!  

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.  Let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


David's next reply....


Thank you for your quick response.  I will be doing just as you suggested tomorrow AM.  Wish me luck.  And thank you again for your great web page.

David R.

I quickly wrote back....

Dave, just get things going quickly.  Don't let your certifying exterminator put you off.  Keep records of all your contacts, phone calls or visits.  Ask for paperwork, business cards, get things in writing.  You might, if you haven't already, read my Realtor's Page.  It's kind of aimed at the realtors around here, but the gist is solid.  This is the way it should be.


And if you have any questions, get back.  Let me know how things go.


Then David had some pictures of the crime scene....


Thank you for all the help.  We posted some pics at:

(Pictures have been reproduced below)

After having the receptionist at the Exterminator's office give me a really hard time, I got them to come out.  Gentleman immediately drilled and sprayed the studs ... no questions asked.  What a relief that was.  He said he had never seen anything like the pics above.  We pulled the "nest" out of the wall and there were little white grubby things in there (nice description, I know.).  He also said that the mound below the floor was insulation ... odd how it got there but it is believable as the house does have cellulose insulation in the ceiling.

My realtor also stopped by.  He is really great.  Which means a lot to me as I have a strong dislike for realtors.

I can already fell my blood pressure dropping.


Below are the pictures that David had posted
(To view pictures full-size, switch to 1024x768)

Thanks for sharing your pictures, David!

Joe Marcoccia has ants in his cathedral ceiling....

John, Thank you for your refreshingly honest web page!  I hope this is the appropriate email address to use for questions.

We have wood cathedral ceilings throughout our entire house, meaning that the uppermost layer of our ceiling is actually our roof (covered by shingles, of course). I'm pretty confident we have carpenter ants, and especially where our ceilings meet the outside eaves, I can hear the chewing sounds late at night, and can see evidence of course sawdust.

On very cold winter nights (we live in new england) I can tell that they advance away from the eaves and further up the ceiling (where it is warmer - I assume).  At this point these signs are occurring (as far as I know) in two places in the house, and (surprise, surprise) in the places where we had some excessive tree shading/moisture problems).  We have dealt (as far as we can) with the moisture problems.

What I would like to do is to inject that Drione dust in between the wood planking in our ceiling, since that is the only way I can tell (by noise & sawdust) where they are. At this point gravity is working for me because I can tell they are active just above where the sawdust falls to the floor.  However, in the solution, gravity seems to be working against me because, since I will be attempting to inject dust in planking crevices (less than 1/16 ") running up the ceiling, and over my head - most of the Drione dust will probably fall on me - and not in the crevice and those little buggers will be laughing. Somehow, though, this seems more feasible than removing shingles on the roof, looking at wood that always "seems" sound to the touch and sight, and yet knowing that there are ants "in" the wood ( I am told that they leave the surrounding wall of the wood intact and carve out channels in the interior). So.... here are my questions:

Would you approach this through the ceiling (indoors) or through the roof?

If you used the ceiling approach, would you recommend the drione dust, or some other "sticky" form of the stuff that will work against gravity?

If I used the dust, will either of your duster models work (or will your "el cheapo" model work just as well in this situation?)

Thank you for your time and for this valuable public service!


And my rather long reply... (I'm famous for this)

Hi, Joe:

And thank you for your nice compliment, and it doesn't really matter what address you use, it all comes to the same place!  On to your problem.

Cathedral ceilings are what present the most problems to exterminators - and homeowners.  Because they're way up out of the way, they have higher moisture concentrations and also because there's no accessible "buffer zone" between the roof and the living area.  Most houses, of course, have an attic or something like that.  So a house with a cathedral ceiling is kind of like a house with a slab - exterminators hate both, by the way.  So when you have BOTH a slab AND a cathedral ceiling.....  Suffice to say, there can be even bigger problems.

To answer your questions, it kind of depends on exactly how the house (roof) was constructed.  Usually there's SOMETHING between the roof and the shingles - sometimes it's rigid foam insulation, sometimes it's some other kind of material.  After a period of time you can get separations of these layers.  Then, what the carpenter ants do, is to exploit those tiny spaces between those items.  The ants are driven to the higher elevations of your room(s) where the moisture is highest, bringing them into contact with the planking, which, because of the nature of the beast, will always have small cracks and crevices.  The result is what you see, (sawdust) filtering down from the spots they use to eject the waste materials from their colonies.  So the sawdust usually contains little (black) pieces of ants along with the sawdust.  Look for this, it's a sure sign of an ant infestation.  Normally, they don't really do a lot of damage - remember, they don't eat wood, they burrow into it - but they can cause the problem you mentioned.  And they don't even have to be carpenter ants.  I have a customer with the same cathedral type of ceiling, with those exposed beams, where the ants get between the beams and the ceiling - they are not carpenter ants either.  Several times a year we are called over to dust that tiny space between the beam and the ceiling.

The best avenue of attack is always the easiest.  So you begin with the inside.  Hopefully, you won't have to go through the outside - that sounds like an expensive procedure.  As far as my recommendation of the material and tool to use, here again, you start with the cheapest.  Which would be Drione dust.  Drione dust is a combination of pyrethrum dust and silica gel.  Both are insecticides for insects.   Silica gel is a desiccant, pyrethrum is actually a "flushing agent" which tends to drive them out (and kill) from where they are.  Silica gel is not toxic to warm blooded animals, pyrethrum has little toxicity (for us) either.  So it won't matter if some gets on you.  It can make you sneeze, and larger amounts will drive you away too.  So you might, if you want, wear a dust mask or respirator.  It isn't necessary, I don't use one for this.  However, if you were going to be working with it over a several hour period, it might be helpful to wear one.  Besides, you won't be as precise as an experienced technician might be.  Over a period of time you'll see what I mean, and you'll get better at it.

Unfortunately, there is no "sticky stuff" that I know of that would be better than the procedure I mentioned above.  And Drione dust comes in a plastic squeeze bottle, so you don't really need any applicator.  And you don't really need a lot of this dust to do the trick - even tiny amounts of this powder is effective, assuming you can get it into the areas where the ants are residing.  You only need to puff small amounts into these areas.  So you inject, (fire for effect) and wait a few minutes for the reaction.  If you have hit a "good" area, they'll come tumbling out pretty quick.  So you mark the spot for future reference, and go on.  You might have to do this over a period of time until you get a feel for the ants and the areas they inhabit.  Remembering, of course, that these will be the areas that might also be a problem in the future.  Sometimes, depending on the construction, and the substrate you're working with, you can use paint, shellac or some kind of coating to prevent them from entering again.  Be aware, however, that you might have to do the whole ceiling in this manner.  Even then, there might be places where the coatings fail and they will be able to enter again.  

So, having a bit o' Scots blood in me, the only thing you'll really need is a squeeze bottle of Drione.  And I would start with one bottle and see how it works.  It's pretty cheap stuff - sometimes you'll be able to get it locally - it is not a restricted chemical.  The applicators I have on my supplies page are both useful if you have to do this over an extended period of time.  Usually, however, I will use the Drione squeeze bottle alone - it works pretty well and it's in its own package which makes it cheap.  If I'm using the applicators it's because I have mixed several insecticides for my attack.  Oftentimes I will use a combination of pyrethrum and diazinon dust.  Diazinon is a chemical which is restricted, but depending on local laws you may be able to get or not.

Check and see if you can get the Drione dust locally.  If you can't, you can get it from us.  Just send me your postal address and I'll send you a bottle, I'll put an invoice in the package and you can send me a check.

A little off the subject here, I see you're from Providence, Rhode Island.  My daughter just moved away from there, she is now working with Pfizer.  Her (and her husband) are both microbiologists, getting their degrees from URI.  Her husband got his PhD from URI and is now going for his law degree.  (I guess he just likes to study!)  So I guess at some time or other I've probably been near you!

Hope this helps.  Let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


Joe wrote back with this nice compliment....

John, Thank you for your speedy and thorough answer.  I would like to try the Drione dust and since I have no idea where to start locally, and would like to support your business - please go ahead and send me a bottle and invoice.  My home address:   (I left the address out)

Hey also, I've gotta' tell you that I am also a business owner (consulting in plant & soil sciences) and have been enrolled in business management courses; and whether you realize it or not, your marketing (through the web page) really represents the "textbook" example of a company differentiating itself from the competition through service.  I went through at least 20 of your competitor's web sites (and I knew very little about the pest extermination business) before arriving at yours and immediately saw a difference -  from your public service through education about insects and the "business," through people's grateful responses to your correspondence, and the non-hype tone of the website. This is an imitatable and attractive model to follow (I think I'll bring it up in class next time), and I would like to think that you are being rewarded with a loyal customer base.  Keep up the good work!

P.S.  I also went to URI before going on to UMass-Amherst.  Those were good years.  For such a small state, Rhode Island has a lot of connections.


To which I replied....

Hi, Joe:

Again, many thanks for your nice compliments.  When I first started my website I was convinced that "something different" was necessary.  I didn't have too many models when I started - there were very few exterminators on the Web in 1995, so I decided I would just stick with my own business model, the one that I have been working with, and the one that I am most familiar with.  That meant an absolute low-key approach, no B.S. and, in the vein of the old country doctor, help to any and all without regard as to whether it lines my pockets or not.  I figure it all comes out in the end.  It's kind of funny, I went to many different schools, lived in many cities and states before I got out of high school and as a result, have friends scattered in all of those cities to this very day.  The Internet, and my website, have definitely expanded that even more, and I am now sure that this is my only path to take.  Your email and your comments are rewards beyond all measure.

I have your Drione all sealed up and ready to go in tomorrow's mail.  I'm afraid I don't have an invoice ready to enclose, I am up to my ears in Y2K work - I have some 200,000 lines of my 1970's code to go through before the end of the year hits.  Your invoice will go out in the next day or two.

Let me know how you make out and get back with any questions.


Marc's carpenter ant problem...

Today the exterminator was due to arrive and begin the drilling phase of a $725, 15 month process to get rid of my carpenter ants.  I say "was due to arrive" because luckily I found this site the day before yesterday and immediately called and canceled my appointment! Talk about a close call!!
I'm writing not only to thank you profusely, but also to run my particular scenario past you and get your opinion on my situation.  I moved into my house one year ago and up until a couple of weeks ago I hadn't seen more than the occasional spider or ant inside.  The house is brick, well constructed (built like they used to), and has an attached screened deck/carport.  It also sits on a fairly heavily wooded lot and I have noticed lots of ants outside since we've been living there.
I live in the northeast and we have had drought conditions for months now with a lot of hot and humid days.  A couple of weeks ago we started noticing ants around the front door and here and there in the lower level rec room and kitchen.  At first there were a handful but it did seem as though we were seeing an increasing number as the days were going by.  One night I went to take out the trash and was surprised to see about 40-50 big black ants on the door stoop and the outside frame of the door!  Well, as you can imagine, at that point I thought this is getting out of hand and at that's when I called the exterminator who came by for a look.  You know the rest of the story from there and I'm just doubly lucky he couldn't send anyone out for a week.
What's interesting to me is the fact that since that night I have been seeing progressively fewer ants.  Last night there were 3 or 4 on the Kitchen sink and a few in the rec room but not nearly as many as just a few day's earlier.
There were a couple of events that I think may have had something to do with it.  One thing is that we finally got a couple of hard rains just prior to me seeing the sudden increase.  We also had a LEAKY FAUCET in the rec room sink replaced about two weeks ago!  I've put a fan on under the sink cabinet to make sure it dries out thoroughly.  
I guess my real concern at this point is that we live in this older home which has baseboard hot water heat throughout the house and I have three small children who leave generous amounts of crumbs and spill plenty of juice most everywhere. I'm sure that despite our best efforts to clean thoroughly, there is plenty left over to feed little critters!  I'm a bit worried that some "foragers" have found fertile feeding grounds and have spread the good word that they have found "ant utopia" (you do need to see Antz if you haven't) I may never get rid of them.  Do you think it may be worthwhile to take some preventive measures under these circumstances?  I realize I'll never plug every hole in the house to keep them out but maybe I should at least try to discourage them somewhat.
Well, thanks again for starting your page.  It's good to know there are people out there who won't do "anything" for money and have the courage to tell people the straight story.  If you ever leave the bug business would you please, please consider getting into automotive repair!!  ; )
Best regards,

And another of my long-winded replies....

Hello, Marc:

First of all, I'm happy to have saved you that kind of money.  A $725 invoice would screw up my budget something terrible, as it would most people.

Now on to your situation.

Forget the outside!  Whatever goes on outside is of no concern.  You are only concerned about the inside.  Your "inside" concern would include, of course, the "outside" parts of your house.  But your garden, yard, trees - whatever - that's outside, not inside.

Carpenter ants are nocturnal - so you will see more at night than you would in the daytime.  Where you saw the ants on (near) the door, do this:  A few nights in a row, go out there with a strong flashlight and see what's going on.  Pull up a lawn chair, plop yourself down (never mind the neighbors talking) and see if you can see where they're going to or coming from.  After a few nights you should get some sense.  If they're just in the dirt, or the ground, it's up to you.  If they're in the door frame or trim, or maybe the concrete or wooden stoop, you might want to do something.

Regardless, the thing you DON'T want to do is panic.  Take things nice and slow.  Wherever they are, they've been there for awhile and a couple of weeks (or even months) isn't going to make any difference.

If they're in the dirt, or mulch, and even the door frame, you can fix the problem yourself, you don't need a $700 exterminator!  Any chemicals you need you can get locally or I can sell them to you.  As a matter of fact, most of the time you don't need ANY chemicals!

Good that you fixed the leak - that eliminates one spot.  As far as the kids dropping crumbs, don't worry about it.  You could have NO kids and you'd have the same problems.  You might have a lot less "kid" problems, but you'd still have the ants.

Do you need preventive methods?  Let me put it this way:  I don't use any preventive methods in MY house, and I have access to any chemical known to man and some that aren't!  In the 30-odd years I have lived in my house (like yours, 80 years old, built the good way) I have NEVER treated it for carpenter ants.  And I have two, HUGE trees, with lots of carpenter ants, and I do see them in my house, almost every year.  Sometimes I can see 10 in one day!  But I know they are just passing through.  I don't even try to get them (unless under orders from the wife) and then I just use a kleenex to dispense with them.  No big deal.  

Some people just don't (can't) understand this.  I once had a neighbor (thank goodness he moved away) that used to bug me about the fact that he saw a few carpenter ants in the summer.  He wouldn't believe me when I told him I did too.  A while later he showed me a $1100 bill from Orkin as "proof" that he had a carpenter ant problem.   ("A fool and his money are soon parted")

You said you were in the Northeast - your service provider is in Virginia so I'm assuming you're down there.  I'm in New Jersey, across from Phila.  We have had a terrible summer - you too, I know, my son lives in Fredericksburg.  This definitely has an effect on the ants.  Just about every other call we get, lately, is for some kind of ant, so the larger population you may see is a "normal" high too.  And since you have only been in the house for a year, you don't really have that much of a history either.

Naturally, if you find a crack or hole it is to your benefit to plug it.  But, as you said, you'll never get all of them, so just remember this each summer.  If you find a preponderance of ants in one room, there may be an easy avenue for them from the outside.  In the alternative, there may be a moisture problem - or both.  In this case, you do the detective work with a flashlight before you wield a sprayer or a duster.

If you have mulch around the outside of your house, mulch is intended to hold moisture.  For that reason, it is fertile ground for carpenter ants.  And, if they're THAT close to your house, wouldn't you expect to have a few visitors?  Sure you would.  If you do have mulch, you can treat the mulch yourself, and eliminate one of the areas.  If so, and you want to do this, get back to me and I'll tell you exactly how to do this.  It's not expensive or harmful to anything except the ants and certain other insects that live in the mulch.

Yeah, I know what you mean.  Luckily, I have found an honest one.  He's been working on all of our trucks and cars for over 20 years.  He's GREAT!  So if your ever up here, and need car work done, I'll personally guarantee he'll never rip you off.

Well, I think I got all of your questions answered....  If you think of any more, just let me know.


Here's Christine's story....

Thank you for taking the time to post this site, and the opportunity to read the comments and  response page. You have set a high standard for ethical business practices in pest control and for that I thank you too.  

Here is my carpenter ant story: We purchased our 30 year old home in 1995.  In the spring of 1998 we replaced the original roof that had developed a leak. This leak allowed moisture to trickle down all 3 levels (water stains on ceilings). That winter carpenter ants appeared for the first time.  I hired an exterminator. They sprayed all around the foundation of the house, and they treated along the floorboards on the interior. They sprayed the upstairs bath with "suspend" in the crevices where I saw them entering and I haven't seen them again upstairs.  Now they keep reappearing in the kitchen.

The exterminator came for the first time in 2/99, again 4/99, and again 5/99. The ants came back again in June and this time he used "albemectin" and brought his supervisor with him to better determine the problem.  Now it is about 8 weeks later and the ants are back.  Yesterday I eliminated 50, this morning I got another 25. It is not unusual for me to see at least 10-12 a day. This summer we replaced the deck where they used to live and there is no current moisture problem that we can find. However we do need to replace some punky window sills on the north side but the exterminators never saw an ant problem there. The exterminator speculates that they are jumping off a tree and he recommended trimming the tree way back. I don't want to do this because it would disfigure the tree, and because of the expense.  He also said that I should think about replacing the fiberboard siding because they might be behind or in the siding (the siding appears fine). He also said they might be entering through the garage. This company says they determine the nest sights and will eradicate them, but that I need to eliminate problem areas (ie: tree, siding, small dry hole in garage soffit ). If I don't eliminate these problem areas the ants will keep coming back.  Today the exterminators are coming back and will apply yet another
chemical. I feel like I'm being strung along with promises of better, stronger chemicals and yet the warnings about my siding, the tree and garage make me feel like I can never get rid of the "source" without tremendous expense. Have you ever heard of someone re-siding their house for about $20k because of carpenter ants? If I did all of what he suggested I would be out $23K!  I have been enlisted for the year round service plan (quarterly visits) with this company and yet the ants reappear between the scheduled visits. The in between visits are called "emergency calls". This amounts to about $500. a year. The ants are only on the south interior wall of my
house. I believe there is a nest inside this wall somewhere because they keep reappearing and because I also saw 2 winged ants (I was told these were queens) in the kitchen. After reading your article on carpenter ants and the questions and responses page I think I can treat the problem myself. Would you please recommend which product to purchase along with purchasing info from UnExCo?

Thank you, Christine

And my reply....

Hello, Christine:

Thanks for your compliments.  And please excuse my delay in answering - our mail server has been down for the last 24 hours, but it appears we are back up.

Christine, you might not need to purchase anything (from me) for your problem!  You might be able to get everything you need locally.  And yes, I think they're stringing you along somewhat - although they also seem to be trying....  And no, I don't think you need to replace the siding or even trim the trees.  Yes, carpenter ants can come from your trees, but this is not normally a good, constant avenue for them.  It's always nice to have properly trimmed trees, but you can have trees overhanging your house and have NO problems with carpenter ants.  Large, overhanging trees can make "foragers" more numerous at certain times of the year, but it's seldom THE answer.

And $500 per year for pest control service sounds a bit much.  The idea of quarterly service, (at least around here) is that the exterminator comes out quarterly and the in-between visits are no charge.  And all the places they are spraying are not eliminating the source - they're just getting the wanderers.  Besides, Christine, you could do all of what they are asking you to do and STILL have the ant problem!  THEN what are you (and them) to do?

When you replaced your roof, did you actually replace it or did you have them install another roof over top of the old one?  Doing it like this (two roofs) can cause problems.  Two roofs are not good - it is usually cheaper to do it this way, but it can also cause moisture and carpenter ant problems.

With carpenter ants, remember that they are nocturnal, so look for these fellows at NIGHT with a strong flashlight.  Follow them, see where they are going to or coming from.  A girl in our office even had them in her TOASTER - so look carefully - it's mostly detective work.  One thing that could help would be some Drione dust.  It comes in a plastic squeeze bottle and you puff it into where the ants are - it is a flushing agent so in addition to killing, it tends to chase them out, so sometimes, if you inject it into an area where they are, they can come tumbling out almost right away.  I use this when I'm suspecting or looking for a problem.  Drione dust is not a restricted chemical, you can usually find it locally.

                UnExCo's General Store

If you can't find it locally, it's one of the products we can ship to you.  

Naturally, it is always better to find and eliminate the source.  Use that flashlight, inside and outside, several nights in a row, see if you can get some sense of what is happening.

You might be better off cancelling your contract and trying yourself.  Most of the chemicals they've applied are like "shotgun exterminating" - where you try everything, in the hopes of curing the problem.  What I consider uppermost is to to see if you can search out the source.

1.  What chemicals have they applied outside?  (if you know)
2.  Do you have mulch (or dirt flower beds) around the outside of the house?
3.  Do you see the ants "all over" or just in one room or area?
4.  Where do you live? (city, state)

You said that you eliminated 50 and then the next morning another 25.  Where in the house was this?  Have you seen them in your dishwasher?

And finally, when you had that leak, and all that water damage, I certainly hope you called the insurance company - they pay for the damage, but you pay for the roof!

Okay, see if you can answer those questions and get back to me and we'll see what we can do about the ants.

I hope I didn't forget anything.


Here's Bill Schwartz's problem....

Great carpenter ant web page! Here's my story.

When I revovated my home several years ago, we came across several large carpenter ant nests, which we destroyed. All were near major structural building flaws allowing water in, which we corrected. I do not believe there are any further moisture problems in the house. Two years ago the house was completely re-sided (with white cedar shingles) by an excellent contractor who addressed any remaining problems with flashing, etc.

However, for the past year or so I have noticed that the ants are back. At night with a flashlight I can see them coming and going out of the house. A high granite foundation makes locating their routes easy. I suspect they are nesting in fiberglass insulation in my basement ceiling, but I'm not sure.

We put up Tyvek under the floor joists to contain the fiberglass insulation and keep it from raining down on our heads, so I suppose it is possible that moisture is somehow getting trapped up there. But Tyvek is supposed to "breathe," which is why I used it, so I'm not sure.

I would like to do something about the ants, partly because they do tend to enter the house itself, particularly in the Spring, and partly because when I resell the house I don't want buyers to be alarmed (and you know how pest inspectors can alarm people!).

My local pest company wanted to do one of those massive drill and spray jobs, which I don't want. I read about the new carpenter ant bait product (Maxforce Gel) and am considering giving that a try since I know just where the ants are travelling. I am reluctant to start opening things up again to look for ant nests, having recently completed all the stressful renovations. Even taking down the Tyvek would be messy, but of course it could be done.

Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

Bill Schwartz

and my reply....

Hi, Bill:

Many thanks for your compliment!  Now on to your problem.

Bill, I'm not too hot on those carpenter ant baits.  Mostly because if you don't eliminate the reason the ants are there, then they come back.  The best time to use them is in conjunction with physical alterations to eliminate moisture problems.  The physical alterations are the most important.  In fact, if they are done correctly and completely, you don't need the baits at all.

Usually, fiberglass insulation holds enough moisture to support carpenter ant nests and Tyvek doesn't breathe enough to eliminate moisture.  My suspicion would be that the ants are able to nest in these areas regardless of the Tyvek.

My usual suggestion to both homeowners and builders is to skip the insulation under floors in basements and crawl spaces.  This is because of the above reason.  Actually, insulation UNDER a floor really lends hardly any insulating values to a house anyway.  Most heat is lost by convection (UP) and very little, only about 2%, is  lost by radiation (DOWN) so you don't really need the stuff under floors.  And especially when you're having problems with carpenter ants.

I had an email from a gentleman in Connecticut, I believe, who has (had) much the same problem as you do.  He had insulation in the floor and carpenter ants.  I advised him to remove the insulation to solve his problem.  He did, and said he was pleased with the result.  I have not yet put his letter up on my website as yet, I am currently working on a second "antstory" page which will include his letter and this one too.

My suggestion would be to remove some of the insulation nearest the point of entry for the ants.  I know that this may be a big project, but perhaps it will give you some relief without spending time and wasting money on baits or insecticides.  If you do discover carpenter ants, use no insecticides, just use a shop-vac to get rid of them.

If you leave the insulation out of these areas you can use borates to help eliminate the ant problems in the future and this will also allow you to inspect the area(s) in the future.

You are correct in refusing the drill and treat procedures proposed by the exterminators - this is usually just a make-work project designed to dazzle you into spending the money.  Seldom does any insecticide penetrate to any area that really helps - especially in structures that have insulated walls.  You would have to drill holes every few inches all over the place - not a viable solution in my mind.

To help eliminate ants from around the outside, a far better solution would be to use a granular insecticide around the outside of the structure, in the spring, when you notice the problem.  People (me too) tend to use mulch around the outside and this will bring the ants much closer to your house.  Instead of mulch, use ROCKS - which will help keep them away.

(I also detailed a way for Bill to use the granular insecticide to help with his carpenter ant problem.  It's different for every situation, so I have not included it here)

Hope this helps.  Let me know how you make out and get back to me if you have more questions!


Bill wrote back....

Thank you SO much for your advice!

I agree with you 100% about basement ceiling insulation. I would never do it again. Instead, I would invest the money in weatherproofing the basement itself if heat loss was a worry. All that fiberglass is messy, toxic, falls on your head (hence my Tyvek), and it blocks access to all the house systems in the ceiling. Not to mention the ants!

Perhaps I will take your advice and try removing some of the insulation to see what I find. I will keep you posted.

Thanks again. People like you are the true citizens of the web!  --Bill

I replied back....

Hi, Bill:

The real problem with most basement construction, is that they are hardly ever designed and built to be finished.  To do it the right way, you really have to use 18 inch block, using pilasters every 10 feet, with french drains on the inside AND the outside, along with other applied waterproofing coatings to the inside and the outside.  Even then, you're always in danger of moisture entering somewhere.

I'm also against insulating inside basement walls of any type for the same reasons.  So if you do have a leak (or a flaw, or settlement cracks) you'll never see the termites until it's too late.

My two cents.  Let me know how you make out.


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