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Carl is having a problem with the roof of his log cabin....
(Posted:  09/30/01)

John,

Thanks for the great information on carpenter ants. What you've done here is one of the finest examples I've seen of the more ideal aspects of the web, i.e. the ability for normal people with interesting things to say to be published. Though it's clear this isn't the reason you put so much time into it, I hope that your efforts pay back some in the less ideal aspects of the web (commercialization).

If you have a few minutes I'd very much appreciate some advice. I've got a 60 year old log cabin in northern Michigan. I'm currently, patiently determining the extent to which I share residence with carpenter ants, but I see ants and frass regularly, and have some logs with some very smooth, pretty, circular holes bored into them. There is a strong correlation between minor roof leaks and the presence of frass. The roof will be replaced very shortly, and I want to do it right, hence this
email.

The roof is a fairly shallow pitch, and forms the ceiling for the interior. The original roof consisted of the internally exposed 3/4" pine boards, a layer of tar paper (I'm guessing), a layer of some kind
of decking (again, a guess), and finally asphalt shingles. No insulation at all, and never a leak in 40 years. Twenty or so years ago the design was changed to include a layer of 1" foam board insulation between the pine boards and the decking. This "new" design seems to have made the
carpenter ants very happy. The cabin isn't really winterized, so the insulation is a bit silly.

Here are the options I'm considering:

1. Strip the roof down to the interior pine boards. Throw away the foam and go back to the original, simple, design.

2. Remove shingles, use 2x4s on their broad side as firring strips, lay plywood on them, and shingle. Add ventilation at the ridge. The air space thus created will allow moisture to escape from the old foam/decking underneath it.

The question is, from the perspective of discouraging carpenter ants (and other insects, I suppose), does option number 2 strike you as effective? Cost-wise it's a wash, and the insulation isn't really
necessary, so I'll make this decision on which option best solves the insect problem.

Thanks very much for your time.

Carl E.



I wrote back to Carl....

Sure, Carl, got plenty of time....  And thanks for the compliments.

The short answer is I would go for Door #1.  After all, you know that works.  Like you say, the insulation is not necessary, and I think insulation, in a traditional log cabin, is ridiculous.

I think foam board insulation is the worst thing since cocaine.  I see so many problems with this stuff, in every situation, I can't think of any place where I could recommend it's use.  Certainly not in roofs of any kind, nor in crawl spaces.

Your #2 could also work - but you KNOW #1 works.

I am a bit troubled by the "holes" you see in the logs.  Is this only in certain logs?  I would paint over (or shellac) the area of the holes and see what happens.  You may well have some other kind of wood boring insect.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----John



Then Carl wrote back....

John,

Thanks for such a fast response on my cabin roof design dilemma.

> I think foam board insulation is the worst thing since cocaine.  I see
> so


Maybe that's why the ants like it so much? Could the whole foam board industry just be pawns of some giant queen carpenter ant somewhere? ;-)

> I am a bit troubled by the "holes" you see in the logs.  Is this only in
> certain logs?  I would paint over (or shellac) the area of the holes and
> see what happens.  You may well have some other kind of wood boring
> insect.


Yeah, it's just in one or two of them. Circular holes, 1/8 - 1/4 inch in diameter, smooth tunnels.  Seems to be correlated with places where there was major checking of the logs on the outside (water, I presume) or roof leaks.

The exterminator who visited pumped some insecticide into one of them. They took a fair amount of liquid without spitting any back, leading us to conclude that there was a fairly sizeable cavity somewhere behind the tunnel. A few half-dead carpenter ants straggled out over the next few hours.

I'll take your advice and seal them up and see what happens.

Carl



Bob writes in, relating this story....
(Posted:  09/30/01)

First I'd like to congratulate you on a great site. I looked for maybe a 1/2 hour before finding yours and I looked no more.

After reading your description about the ants, I can do two things, first relaxed (a bit) and second stop my wife from going to BJ's or COSTCO and buying a case of RAID XT or some other ant killer. I have cracked leaky wooden gutters in the back of the house. There are trees all around, and until recently coming into contact with the house. (Small branches). I know where the problem is and it's being scheduled to get fixed. (water damage, go figure!) I thought I'd relay an interesting observance though. While watching the little critters climb the gutters drains vertically, I noticed that coming down they were (looked) bigger. Under closer scrutiny I noticed that the larger ants were actually two ants. One with another in its jaws. When I "bugged" them they both dropped, but rejoined later on the ground. It appeared to be like the groom carrying the bride to their new house. (and luckily not mine). Always one up, and 50% of the time two down. I just found this odd. Again I'd like to thank you for the great information and candid comments on this website.

Bob Kane



So I wrote back....

Hello, Bob:

First of all, thanks for your kind compliments!  You can relax more than "a bit."

The movement of ants that you describe is common, actually.  Ants of many kinds will have "satellite nests" and often move between them this way.  Doesn't really MEAN anything, they sometimes do this for no discernable (to us) reason.

If you eliminate jammed or leaky gutters, that will eliminate some of the spots they like.  If I had a nickle for every carpenter ant nest I found in gutters, I'd have a few bucks, that's for sure.  Most of the time they don't matter, but sometimes, for whatever reason, a nest that close to a living area can cause a problem with occupants seeing individual foragers - and more.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----John



Here's Linda's ant problem....
(Posted:  09/30/01)

I am in Guelph, Ontario, Canada - southeast; 3 weeks ago, I saw ants go into the basement via the telephone wire; I also found 5 or six dead yellowjacket wasps on the basement floor; did all the wrong things (didn't read you website until today) - sprayed inside the basement at insertion point and packed with insulation then blocked hole at wire on the outside with caulking and (fibreglass) insulation but, opened up the hole again on the outside the next day for fear of forcing bugs  into my basement; (since fibreglass insulation kills wasps I though it killed any bugs) I have had a collection of small (unwinged)ants at the front steps of my house, just 6 feet from my front door and had ignored it; last weeked there was about 30 (one-half inch) winged ants on my front screen door;  I sprayed with an insectiside; I was already waiting for the exterminatior to remove the wasp nest from the garage eaves above my back door;  I told him about the ants and he said the wood may be rotting around the entrance door and they are attracted to the moisture; he also looked at the insertion point in the basement(after he removed some of  the insulation I had packed around that area); basement is open with all stud walls and insulation  up (it's under a building permit and  I can only afford to do one thing at a time); he said he didn't think I (message ends)

Linda Hughes



and my reply....

Hello, Linda:

Ants into the house on the wires.  Yes, it is common to see ants on wires, they do use these for transportation sometimes.  Have you had problems with ants?  How many are you seeing?  If you're not seeing any ants (or very few) I don't think you need to worry about ants traversing wires into your house.  Jeez, Linda, they can walk right up to it.  It's not like they're trying to "invade" - like an army or anything..... Don't forget, they were there first.  So unless you have a defined "problem," or see lots of ants, all the time, it's not something you need to worry about like burglars!

You saw 5 or 6 yellow jackets - dead - inside?  So what?  That's essentially background. Unless it happens every day.  Fiberglass doesn't hurt yellow jackets - or anything else, unless they eat it.  And nothing will do that.

Don't worry about ants 6 feet from your door.  Always FIX moisture-damaged wood by replacing (always) with pressure treated wood secured with galvanized nails and never sweat the outside ants, flying or otherwise.  It's not necessary to dump insecticides on the lawn or the ground just to kill outside ants.  They're SUPPOSED to be there.

Fix any holes you can see light through, with some kind of material that's removable by you (not animals).  Wadded-up insect screening (aluminum) and finish off with a coat of concrete is good.

Winged ants on your outside screen door?  Don't worry about those either, even on the inside, unless (on the inside) you see LOTS.

I didn't get what you said about he basement, you said you are covering the walls?  Is there a reason for this "covering of the walls?"

If wasp nests are up and out of the way, don't worry about those, either.  Wasps and hornets serve a good purpose, they are predatory animals and catch all manner of other insects that DO harm us all the time such as flies, caterpillars and other common pests. Wait til the winter, knock them down with a pole of some sort.

I think I've covered just about everything, and from the looks of things, it doesn't look like you need much help from an exterminator.  A carpenter, your hubby or boyfriend, maybe, but not an exterminator.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.


----John



Alice asks about her "ant invasion...."
(Posted:  08/25/01)

I LOVE this web site.  You have managed to calm me down (not an easy feat) about my ant problem.   About a month ago we had a leak under the kitchen sink which went undetected probably for a month (or more).   Immediately after the water problem was fixed I noticed no ants.  It wasn't until about a month later when our weather turned hot and (HUMID)  that my kitchen starting being "invaded".   Well, rather than resort to chemicals I got very busy and deep cleaned my kitchen (pulled out the stove, refrigerator, etc.)  If the ants were coming in to forage they were finding quite a buffet!! While I still find an occasional ant, cleaning has made a tremendous difference. ( At the present time rainfall for our area is 7 inches below normal).   Is it fair to assume that were in fact foraging? and will leave upon the arrival of cooler Fall weather ( I live in Vermont)??

P.S.  I  have a beech tree that sits about l00 feet from my house that has an active colony (A pileated woodpecker spent the winter pecking away to get to them)

Sorry I'm rambling.....back to my original question.  I have a large perennial flower bed that dries out terribly every summer (my soil is gravel-like) and in order to retain moisture for the plants would like to mulch it.  Will this only add to bigger carpenter ant problems - what can I do????  The perennial bed is about l5 X 25 feet and is located on the edge of woods about  l50 feet from the house.

Thank you.

Alice



To Alice, I then replied....

First of all, thanks for your compliment!

Alice, 150 feet from the house?  Might as well be a mile.  That's PLENTY. Usually it's the mulch up against the house that causes the problems.  Don't worry about it.

The leak under the sink and the ants a month or more later were probably unrelated anyway. Cleaning is good, but the ants won't care.  And they'll find SOME food no matter how well you clean.  And you'll see ants when it's wet AND when it's dry! But as long as it's just the "occasional invaders," there isn't a whole lot you can do about it - nor should you.  The occasional ant, wandering through your house is not unusual, whether you realize it or not.  (They're nocturnal!)

They're called "foraging," when they appear, sporadically, "all over" - rather than you always seeing them in one particular spot.  They are always foraging, you can find them over a hundred yards from the nest.

As far as mulch is concerned, you can always use black plastic and eliminate mulch altogether.  To remove mulch just because you think you might sometime have a problem, I think would be silly.  I have mulch around my house, and I haven't had any carpenter ant problems in 32 years.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----John



Christine, from up Seattle way, thinks she may have a problem....

Great site!  Thank you so much for the best information of all the dozens of carpenter ant sites I viewed.

I just purchased a home in the Pacific Northwest in a very wooded area. In addition, the home is sited on what probably used to be a wetland before development (in the 1960's).  The crawl space is "nice & dry" according to my inspector, but she found two piles of frass under the kitchen eating area. There were no dead insect parts in the frass so she thought they might be old piles but she couldn't tell just from looking if it was fresh frass or not.  So the seller had the place sprayed, 12-15 foot perimeter, as she has had done 4x a year for the past 6 years!  Egad! And I want to dig an organic vegetable garden, but that's another story.

My question is, the house has vinyl siding on it, nice 1/2-inch cedar siding and wouldn't the vinyl siding provide the perfect moisture holding environment for all sorts of things to grow under it, like carpenter ant nests and mildew, etc.?

The house inside also feels pretty damp, like an unused summer cottage.  I know the plastic sheeting in the crawl spaces needs to be spread out better to the edges and I'm hoping this will reduce the amount of moisture that's rising to the inside of the house. Also, a local home expert advises sealing updraft locations, like attic access points, to reduce air movement from under to into the house.  Would removing the vinyl siding improve the interior dampness problem as well?

I think I need to have the right kind of ethical exterminator person come and explore for possible carpenter ant nests and to find out where there has been moisture damage and if it's still happening.  I have not seen any ants in the house yet, although there are always several tromping around on the concrete patio by the kitchen eating area. But I don't know if these are pavement or carpenter ants or what.

Another question:  What do you think of that Reflectix aluminum foil type insulation?  I'm thinking of using that to insulate the crawl space under the floor in the family room which has no insulation yet.  I was wondering if it might be a good moisture barrier to reduce the damp feel in the interior air, but on the other hand, will the Reflectix hold moisture under the floor which might attract carpenter ants?

Boy, this is really confusing and I'm learning a lot of new stuff!  I was even thinking about planting the kinds of plants that ants don't like, like garlic and pennyroyal and marigolds all around the house and sprinkling or spraying cayenne pepper everywhere 'cause I've heard that ants don't like that.  Ha!

I know that eliminating habitat opportunities is the way to go in pest control.  It worked to eliminate the rats living in the garage of my previous house.  So I want to make my new house unattractive to carpenter ants.

Please advise!  And thank you again for your wonderful site.

Christine in Seattle



My rather long reply to Christine

Hello, Christine:

First of all, thanks for your kind compliments.

The second thing I want you to do is relax - cool it.  It sounds as though you could easily be on the shy side of panic.  Which, in your neck of the woods, can happen easily.  There are a lot of carpenter ants up there.

Frankly, Christine, I don't think you should do ANYTHING - right now.  A good case could be made for not doing anything for a YEAR!  Yes, that's right, ONE YEAR. Then, you'll have a full year (all four seasons) to see what you've been up against. It will, most assuredly, give you much better insight and will help you to save money. And one year, for the carpenter ants, means nothing.  I mean, after all, you might go the whole year and discover that there's NO problem.  At the very least, you'll find out where potential problems are.  So resist the temptation to go in there in an all-out effort to shield yourself from some non-existing monster(s).  

In our great northwest, you're automatically going to have to see more carpenter ants than I do in my house.  No big deal.  You're not worried about the ones that wander in, you're worried about the ones that take up residence.  You probably won't even see those.  And, absolutely, fending them off by IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is the way to go.  For exterminators, IPM means finding non-chemical ways to solve problems.  With carpenter ants, it's really the ONLY way.  Sure, you may have to use chemicals to eliminate certain problems, but those are simple "spot treatments" with the use of only small amounts of chemicals, perfectly safe for you and me. Most chemicals are a whole lot safer than the trip you make to the 7-11.

Okay, the frass: Clean it up.  Put a piece of black (cloth, rag, tarpaper, shingle) on the same spot, check it at intervals.  What intervals?  After insertion, one week. Then, if nothing, a month.  Then, if nothing, 6 months.  Then, if nothing, don't worry about it. If you get "something," DON'T DO ANYTHING!  Keep watching. See how (and what) accumulates over what period of time.  Look to see if you can see where it's coming from.  If you can't (right then) see what's going on, let it go on, after awhile, you'll be able to figure it out.  When you do all of this, don't make any other disturbances - no spraying, no bombing, no nothing, just clean it up and insert your black detector.

THE SIDING, MOISTURE AND MOISTURE BARRIERS
Well, the very BEST siding is steel siding.  Steel siding is VERY expensive.  Next best is aluminum.  Vinyl comes last, as far as I'm concerned, but if you already HAVE vinyl siding, leave it there until or unless you have problems.  Or, if you have plenty of money, in which case, will you marry me?

Seriously, any siding will "hold" moisture in some place.  At least some moisture. Even wooden (natural) siding which tends to "breathe," will also hold enough moisture for carpenter ants.  You say the house feels damp?  Has it been closed up? If so, air it out and then make your assessment.  Remember, the "tighter" you make your house, the worse it can be!  True.  Actually, you really want as much air circulation as possible.  Of course, that would mean outrageous heating and electrical bills, but you're rich, aren't you?  So you have to have some kind of balance.  A friend of mine, a builder, built a house some 20 years ago that was so tight he had to have a fan system run continuously to circulate air.  He wanted to make his house cheap to heat.   It was, but the cost of the fans and air conditioning outweighed the problem. Another consideration, not known until recently, is the buildup of radon in a "too-tight" structure.

The crawl space, leave it alone for awhile.  Check it at certain stages: Check it NOW, then when (and after) it rains, then when it's dry, then in the winter, spring, summer, fall, you get the idea.  You're going to have to get up close and personal with your crawl space.  Knee pads, a woolen watch cap and a short broom to wipe and keep away cobwebs, a strong flashlight, and your reading glasses if you're over 40.  Check all frass for insect parts, move on.  When you're all done, make a little graph so you'll know what's going on later.

VAPOR BARRIERS AND INSULATION
They're usually never installed correctly.  It's easy to do.  You can use common, heavy duty tarpaper.  Lay strips long-way in the crawl, start from the middle, work towards the edges.  Overlap edges by a few inches, the last piece, the one along the edge, should leave the last 6,12,18 inches (it's variable) open.  Usually, crawl spaces should "breathe" and if you lay your barrier this way, you can adjust that last piece to give you as much or little exposure as you'll need.  So wait that year, and after all those inspections, and you'll know how much "lead" to leave around the edge.  Hell, you could even find out that you don't NEED a vapor barrier.  (I don't have one in MY crawl space.)

Do your own moisture barrier: Buy 2-3 mil CLEAR plastic sheeting.  Staple it up under the floor of the crawl, use double lap joints to join pieces together.  When it's clear, you can see what's going on up under there.  Be smart about the installation. Make sure you allow for the plumber to come and fix things up under there.  So you cut and install certain pieces so that it can be repatched easily.

DON'T insulate crawl space walls!  And, as a matter of fact, I am reluctant to put ANY insulation in crawl spaces with confirmed moisture problems.  When you insulate walls, you create a very large surface area that can easily support carpenter ants or (if you have them) subterranean termites.  And you can't SEE behind it, so you never know what's going on.  Leave it off, remove it if it's already there.

Insulation up under the floors of a crawl space is even more common.  Never use foam board, actually, you really don't need any kind of insulation.  The only heat you lose to a crawl space will be by radiation (heat rises) and that will be right around 2 percent - not very much to worry about.  Put that insulation in the (above ground) walls and the attic.  Forget the crawl - you want to be able to see EVERYTHING. Your exterminator will love you.  Give him/her a copy of this message.

You say you need "the right kind of ethical exterminator person" but you already have one.  You!  Or whoever it is that will be doing these regular forays into your crawl space.  Here again, even if you did need that "the right kind of ethical exterminator person," it's not going to be an easy find.  It's just so much easier for the homeowner to do this kind of thing because there is no need for chemicals, and HE'S the one that lives there, the one that has the easiest access.

Naturally, you won't have the "experience" that a regular exterminator (good or bad) might have, but after awhile, you'll get to know YOUR crawl space and that's all you really care about.  Besides, you have your own best interests at heart, and the exterminator might well have someone else's best interests at heart.  I've always felt that it was easier to tell someone how to do all this than it was to do it myself! Then, if they're repulsed by the idea, (many are!) I can do it for them and charge money for it.  At least, that's the way it should be.

HERBS AND SPICES
I've heard all the stories regarding the "garlic and pennyroyal and marigolds" - don't forget mint, bay leaves and tansy too - but most of that is just "stories."  There is no scientific evidence that any unrefined plant or animal extract repels ants, just anecdotal stuff.  Mostly, it is old wives' tales.  But the pennyroyal and marigolds do look nice.....

Forget the ants you see outside - anywhere.  That's just nature.  And you can forget about the "occasional invaders" you might happen to see inside as well. When you have a problem, you'll see LOTS.  Maybe 50-100 per day?  Anything up to even 15 in a day are no big deal, just as long as you don't see that many EVERY day, day in and day out.  THAT'S when you might have a "problem."  But if you've been in that crawl space a few times, you'll already know what's up.

Maybe even, you can find that "right kind of ethical exterminator person" you're looking for.  Let me know where you are, I know a lot of exterminators, a few, even, in the northwest.  Are you way out in the boonies?

Actually, I've probably given you enough information to set you up in business. You now know all the ins and outs of this (carpenter ant) business, in a nutshell, so to speak.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----John



Christine wrote back....

Dear John--

You are a genius!  I love you!  If I was rich and single, I'd marry you in a minute!

I will do exactly as you say.  I did go in the crawl space with my inspector and I do like knowing exactly what's going on in my house.

Yeah, you're right, I was pretty scared about carpenter ants.  I hope you'll post your message on the message board on your web site because it's really useful and you're funny and it's very educational.

I feel like I want to pay you for helping me so much--maybe there's a charity I could make a donation to in order to pass along your kindness?

When are you going to write a book?  Articles for Organic Magazine, etc.? Testify in Congress for pesticide hearings?  I hope you go far.  Your voice is so needed.

BTW, after ten years in Seattle (and 12 in New York City before that), I just moved to a suburb north of Seattle, lots of big Doug Firs, inside the only temperate rain forest in the world, here in the Pacific Northwest!

I send you many blessings,

Thank you again,

Christine



And I replied....

Christine:

Pay me?  Naaaah.  I'm rich already.  But a couple of months in that temperate rain forest would be nice.  You could take me away from all this.  

Write a book?  Hahahahahaha - when am I going to do that?  And you went from NY to Seattle?  Wow, that's a real change!

(Let us know how it all goes, so I can put in an epilog.)

-----John



Jim, from Cincinnati, has some questions....

Hi John,
 
Thanks for providing this useful site for all of us who panic due to the unknown.  I have a 1929 brick/stucco Tudor in which previous owners added a solarium to the side of the house above a garage.  Below the glass panels are some framed 3x3 panels (some kind of compressed board with the exterior texture of stucco-"synthetic stucco board") that serve as the exterior base of the solarium.  I noticed some water damage beginning ~ 4 mo ago and recently began to attempt a repair.  I removed the rotted board, the R14 insulation they used, and voila! - Carpenter ants.  Fortunately, I eliminated a nest, and there were only 2 rotted 2x4's that needed to be replaced.  The areas behind the adjacent panels seemed dry, but there were obvious tunnels/pathways constructed by the ants leading in their direction.  There are several tiny white larvae still present.  My plan was to repair the structure, then apply stucco (to match the rest of the house) and paint.  Here are my questions.
 
1. Is there any reason to use a bait, or treat otherwise, to remove any potential satellite infestation?
 
2. How would I successfully monitor/treat for re-infestation with a non-removable, stucco exterior?
 
3. The sound that comes from walls that are infested: how loud is it?
 
Thanks,
 
Jim from Cincinnati



I gave him these answers....

Hi, Jim:

Very common, your plight.  This kind of addition to a house frequently has problems with ants - doesn't have to be carpenter ants, either.  

The best approach, of course, is to rebuild it with this in mind.  You should use all pressure treated components, galvanized nails, yada, yada.

I'm not familiar with the material you're using as you describe it.  I will say this: If you use insulation, this may happen again.  Sometimes, insulation is not a good thing. If it traps moisture or creates dead air spaces, you are at risk of eventually having an ant problem.  It's the "love and marriage" problem.

So, if you rebuild with all this in mind, you'll have a good chance of solving the whole problem.  Depending on how this room is built and how it's sited, the effects of moisture might be different in different parts of the structure.  So if you have to leave insulation out of an area, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to eliminate it in the entire room.  You have to figure in about a million factors and then you'll have it exactly right.  Fortunately, you really only have to control three factors to solve 99% of the problems.  The three being moisture, faulty building practice, and dead air spaces.  The location of the addition, north, east, west, south, the prevailing directions of wind and rain.  Even how much or where the sun tracks.  It ain't easy, sometimes.

So if you can make those panels removable, do so.  You can hide joints with trim pieces or clever finish techniques.  Then you can monitor the problem and even remove or replace insulation or any other system you might want to hide.

I have a gentleman that used small muffin fans to ventilate an area that could not be accessed.  Of course, he was an electrical engineer, it might be difficult for you or me to do the same thing.  But any electrician ought to be able to do something like that, if necessary.  

The white larva should be the ant larva.  They won't be able to survive with out help from the ants, but you could vacuum them out.  I think spraying would be an over-reaction, personally.

QUESTION #1
I guess there is always the possibility of "satellite" nests.  Although the word is used for scare tactics more than anything else.  If there is enough moisture to support ants, what does it matter if they're satellite or not?  The ants will take advantage of any of those three conditions I mentioned, so that's what you have to look for and correct.

QUESTION #2
Hmmmmmm.  You probably can't.  Unless you just constantly LOOK for them. Why can't you make the panels (or maybe SOME of them) removable?  How 'bout VENTS in the panels.  Backed up by insect screening, of course.

QUESTION #3
How loud?  I guess it depends on the size of the colony and the substrates associated with the infestation.  Personally, I have never heard it, actually.  But they do make "sounds" that could be detected by some instrumentation, depending, again, on the size of th........  I know some exterminators that carry stethoscopes, (I don't) I think it's mostly for show.  A really good inspector, summoned and alerted to a problem, probably wouldn't need it.  Might be handy to have one on the truck, but there are just so many other things that I think are more useful to buy or wish for.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----john




Dave tells us about his ants, his cathedral ceiling, and all....

John,

I have been looking for a website like yours for the past few days.  Your information is great!

Well, here is the problem over which I have literally been losing sleep:

There is an addition on my house that has the kitchen downstairs with the master bedroom above.  The addition is post and beam construction with a cathedral ceiling in the bedroom.  This ceiling is composed of the interior planking, fiberboard insulation on top of that and then
plywood to which the shingles are attached.  It is all sandwiched together like the ceiling you speak of on your web page.  I have seen some sawdust and insulation on the beams spanning the ceiling, but mostly hear the crunching at night.  I have had the exterminator in several times and even drilled holes in the interior planking and had him spray upward. The crunching would quiet down for a day or two and then come back.  

I realize that the ceiling may need to be ventilated.  Do I need to have an air space between the interior planking and the insulation as well as one between the insulation and outer plywood?  If so, how does the air below the insulation escape in order to keep a free flow of air?

Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated as I want to do  this renovation correctly.

Thank you,

Sleepless in New Hampshire



This is one of those "Toughies" - here's my answer....

Dear Sleepless:

These are the ones that indeed can be a bitch.  Probably before you get into any extensive renovation, that you exhaust all the other options.  You said the exterminator "sprayed" - did he use a liquid?  A dust preparation is usually better in this case, there are several he could use.

It is often difficult to get the constant dimension air spaces needed to ventilate these areas.   Sometimes, the installation of a circulating fan (even a ceiling fan) can help to end these problems.

First on the agenda would be to make a concerted effort to do this the cheapest way - which would be treatment from the underside, using the drill and the dust. Sometimes you can seal off these areas the ants are using by paint, shellac or varnish.  The ants find the smallest places to get behind all this stuff to do what you hear and see.  And the longer (years) they are there, the more difficult it will be. And if the house has sat vacant for any period of time, the ants will get a head start. Cathedral ceilings need to have constant air movement, no dead air spaces, otherwise almost all of them will develop this problem, especially ones made of wooden planking with sandwiched layers of whatever.

How to make those air spaces?  It depends on each structure.  Builders and architects aren't usually considering insects when they design or build - the main problem.  And when confronted by their mistakes in later years, they usually lay the blame on the insects, not their own design flaws.

When constructing or designing a roof, you have to allow ventilation - regular roofs are designed that way, so should any roof.  The mistake that's usually made is in the sandwich.  As many layers in the sandwich, each one is a "roof," and each one, generally, has to have ventilation, unless it has NO airspace and is attached to the other substrate with absolutely no airspace for the insects to get in.

But even then, if there is any separation in the future......  Also, you can have a perfect "sandwich," but if the last layer (the one you see) is wooden planking, then just the normal expansion and contraction will offer these fellows a place to make a home.  In that event, sometimes a coat (or two, or three) of paint or shellac can seal off these spots so the ants can't get in.  We see this in those exposed beams (fake) that people use.  The ants get between the beam and the ceiling and you have the same thing happening.  We can usually end those problems by using dust in those areas the ants frequent.  But it is not a "forever" thing.  I have one customer with the exposed beam problem, we have been in her house for some 25 years, and we do the beams about once or twice per year, almost every year.  But we're only talking one room, about 6 beams, that we do from a stepladder.

Probably the best place to start would be to get the original builder of this addition involved, if you can.  You should probably make it clear to him that there is no animosity, that you're not suing, that you just want his help to get resolution of the matter.  Then you'll have to study and brainstorm the whole thing.  Maybe, if he's a GOOD builder, you'll get a break too.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions.

----john



Dave checked back, told us what happened....

Hi John,

Just wanted to let you know how we made out with the ants in the cathedral ceiling of our bedroom.

After checking into all our options, we decided to have the roof reconstructed allowing for a one inch air space between the rigid insulation and the plywood. We had Hicks vents and a ridge vent installed.  When the contractor pulled off the old roof, we found that the carpenter ants had tunneled all through the insulation at the peak, making it look like Swiss cheese. My wife and I peeled some of the vapor barrier away and discovered what appeared to be eggs in the insulation.  As a result, we had to have all of the insulation removed and new insulation installed.  Some of the plywood at the peak was discolored apparently from moisture.  

Since the work was completed, about 3 weeks ago, I have not heard any ant activity in the roof.  I did hear a little noise in the outside wall immediately after, but nothing since.  I'm hoping that the noise was from a few stragglers that were not in the nest at the time it was removed.  

Thanks again for your advice,

Quiet nights in New Hampshire

I thanked Dave for keeping us updated....



Kim has a few questions....

John,

Let me say I appreciate your straight forward and helpful site.

In 1998, my husband and I  bought a 1929 2 story cedar sided Colonial home in Seattle.  The house is located next to a 60 acre wooded city park, which is likely home to many carpenter ant nests.   The house on the left side of ours has a large tulip tree with a known carpenter ant nest, the house to the right has a utility pole with a carpenter ant problem (I see the ants going back and forth between tree and pole along the curb). The utility pole has wires that go to our house.  The house also has a small addition (25ft x 15 ft room) which was added in the 1950's. This addition has a flat roof.  When we purchased the house the flat roof was failing  so we replaced it immediately with another black torch down flat roof.  The addition area had a small awning covering the windows on the west side of it.  The windows on the east side of the room, which have no awning, have failed and have damaged wood near them.  The entire house, including the addition, had spray foam insulation put in the walls sometime in the 1970's.

We have suspected a carpenter ant problem in the small awning on the addition (actually it is 4 ft x 6 ft) because of the poor condition of the awning and some ant activity on that side of the house. But this spring we have also noticed ants near our front door and a few in the house (2 per week in the kitchen, 1 in the upstairs bathroom). Both these rooms are on the same side of the house as the addition. Yesterday we took the awning down and found a carpenter ant nest inside of it. Unfortunately we treated the ants with Raid rather than the shop vac.  But either way, we destroyed the nest.  We noticed a small amount of tunneling on good wood next to the awning, so we also treated the area with Drione dust.

There were more than 300 ants in the nest, and round white things that I believe were larvae. Near the nest we also saw an ant with wings. Question #1: Was this the main nest or a satellite? How can I tell?  How close together do main and satellite nests form?

Question #2: We saw ants entering the house under the siding of the house about 10 ft from the awning and on the other side of the addition. How do I know they were headed for the nest we found?  How far under siding do ants travel to get to a nest?

Question #3 What is the best way to find out if I have any other nests in the house? At this point I am a bit paranoid that there are nest all over the addition, including in the sprayed-in insulation. Our plan is to have a pitched roof put over this addition area, with an overhang to act as protection for the windows (which we will also replace). But we want to make sure we have fixed the ant problem and we don't seal it in with a new roof.  What is the least destructive way to search for another nest?   Assuming we fix the moisture problems, do the ants just pack up and leave?

Question #4: The ants we have just started seeing on our front porch are likely living in the wood columns there. These columns are original to the house and very decorative.  What is the best way to treat a nest in a porch column without damaging the column?

Question #5: Now that I know more about carpenter ants and realize I live in a carpenter ant paradise, is external spraying around the house on a regular basis recommended? Do I need to be on a constant vigil against another infestation?

Sorry to crunch some many questions into such a short note.  Your advice and help is very much appreciated.

Kim B
.



Lots of questions?  We're used to that....

Hi, Kim:

And thanks for your kind compliments.  On to your problem

Flat roofs are the ones you have more problems with, it's the nature of the beast. There are, however, many flat roofs that never have a problem.  It's hard to say.

As to your first question, how far apart can satellite nests be?  Quite some distance if you want to say "how far."  But it's usually much closer, a few feet (10-20) or so, but again, it depends.  As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter.  I consider it to be a separate nest actually - so do the ants, if you know what I mean.  Whether or not it's a "satellite" doesn't matter - it's there.

#2 Question:  You don't know where it's heading.  And are you talking "lone" ants, or a trail?  Ants go under siding all the time and it won't mean too much.  And, after all, you're not even seeing that many, are you?  You said a few a day.

#3 Question:  How do you find "other nests?"  The only way I know, it to take everything apart.  Not an option in most cases.  Sounds like you're gun-shy (or ant-shy) after discovering all those ants.  Except that you have to remember that this discovery of yours is common.  Almost every house has this kind of thing, sometimes going for years and remaining undiscovered until something else shows up.  (Renovations, additions.)  Ants pick up and leave?  Well, let me put it this way....  If you have a moisture condition that is causing the ant problem, you'll never get rid of the ants if you don't (or can't) solve the moisture problem.

#4 Question:  Depends on how the columns are built.  If the ants are in there, (common) sometimes a few well-placed holes (with a drill) and a few shots of Drione are appropriate.  BUT if the colummns are getting wet, or have a constant water problem, the ants will be back.  Sometimes you can install soffit vents, the small one inch ones, to help vent the areas that get wet.  It's an individual thing. Study those columns!

#5 Question:  You live in a carpenter ant paradise?  So do I.  Everybody does.  It's hard (unless you live in a desert) to live somewhere where they aren't!  That's why I tell people not to worry about a "few" wandering ants in your house.  And regular spraying?  HA!  Let me put it this way:  I have lived in my house for some 32 years and I have NEVER sprayed it for carpenter ants.  Do I see some?  Certainly.  Do I worry?  No.  Does my wife worry?  Of course, but I don't tell her.  Constant vigil? Not for ants.  Maybe for the moisture problems, especially over long periods of time.

Just make sure that ALL repairs, to the outside, are made with pressure treated wood and galvanized nails.

Nice to hear from you.  Hope this helps.  Let us know how you make out.

----john



Kim thought of a couple of more questions....

John,

Thanks for your speedy reply. I've noticed a greatly reduced amount of ant activity around my house after the nest was destroyed, but I still I'm still seeing ants around, I have some suspicions.
 
I have two more questions...

#1
The ants I'm seeing go under the siding are going in at the two locations (one of the entry points is about 6 ft up the side of the house, the other is just above the fondation).  I just don't understand if this was another way in/out of the nest I destroyed or if it's another path in/out of another nest.  I'm seeing maybe 4-6 ants a day go into each of these locations, but these have been afternoon or early evening observations. I'm still suspicious, especially about the ones that climb the side of the house, they appear to be following a scent trail.
 
#2
After doing some more investigation last night, I began to suspect I may have some ants living below my front door, between the framing of the house and the concrete porch.  My husband sprayed foam insulation into this gap and put a weather strip over it last fall, but we suspect water was getting back into this area before these steps were taken.  We've eliminated the main water problem, but I'm curious if the foam insulation holds enough moisture (maybe pulled up from the ground) to sustain ants. Any experience or advice with ants living in insulation? Suggestions on how to treat? Would dust be a good treatment into foam insulation? One additional note: we have also noticed some settling around the front door (screen door no longer fits jamb, jamb is not square anymore). This might be the result of the recent earthquake, but maybe damage to the support under the door.
 
-Kim



So my answer for Kim was....

Kim, are all the ants (Question #1) going into exactly the same spot?  And, if they are, what if you (try it!) stuffed some insect screening (hell, just some wet kleenex will do, just block it off) into the area where they were entering, what do they do then?  And how many are we talking about.  If you had a nest, I would suspect multitudes of ants.....

On the #2 question, it's best not to use that foam insulation stuff.  No, it doesn't absorb moisture, but the ants like it - they can hollow it out very easily, and make a home in no time, and expand it quickly.  So I tell people to stay away from the stuff, especially in situations concerning insects.  Not only that, but when you fill a void with this stuff, the insects can almost always find a way around it and you have made it too tight for the exterminator to get to.  If you can, remove the foam and inspect. And if you ever replace the door, make sure that all components are pressure treated wood (or metal) fit correctly, and you use ample flashing.  A steel door is best for exterior doors.

----John

(Kim wrote back, thanked us again.)  You're quite welcome, Kim.




D.S. writes in, to ask about the ant problem in his new house....

I found your site interesting.  I would like to get your thoughts on my situation.

I recently purchased a house that I discovered carpenter activity in.

I had a pest inspector come to look at the place. He pointed out several areas in the garage that were infected. The ants can be seeing coming and going through the door sill. Because of the moisture around the garage, that doesn't surprise me much. The garage is old and needs major repair anyhow - so I'm not too concerned about it.

What does concern me is the house. Over the last two weeks I see, on average, about one or two ants a day in the house on the first floor (any room). I haven't seen any winged ants, inside or out yet. But, the pest inspector pointed out various areas of frass in spider webs in the basement. I don't know how old the frass is, but it is there. So I fear there the house is infested.

The basement is damp, but I can't find any soft or rotted wood in the house. Do I need to start ripping out good wood to find the nest?

I followed a couple of ants to a hole just above the foundation in a piece of trim. I thought I would start by taking that off.

The back yard of the lot does not get much sun, and is usually damp. I have begun some improvements to help this, but I know I will never be able to eliminate all of the moisture.  Is there some kind of treatment for controlling the ants in damp environments?

I sure wish the previous owners would have disclosed this to me.  Have you heard of any lawsuits related to carpenter ant infestations?

Sorry about the long winded email, but I look forward to your reply.

D.S.   Ants@BestBloodyMary.com



This is what I told D.S. to do.....

Hello, Dan:

Ok, we'll forget about the garage for now, I guess it's obvious what the reasons for that is.  So in your house, you're seeing one, maybe two ants a day?  So what? That's certainly no big deal, no reason for chemical control or legal maneuvering. That's background.  Certainly in the spring, in certain areas, at certain times.  

Frass in the basement?  Dan, I can go into almost any house over ten years old and find the same thing.  I'll virtually guarantee that your pest inspector didn't tell you that.  Nor did he tell you that whatever "problem" you have, that it certainly wasn't an emergency.  Nor did he tell you that what you should do, is to clean up the "frass," note the date, and re-inspect on several future inspections.

House infested?  One or two ants a day?  Dan, if your house were truly "infested," you'd be seeing HUNDREDS a day, every day, winter, summer, all year 'round. THAT'S an "infested" house.  I have a few of them.  They are, without exception, structures that are (1) Home-built.  (2) Log-style cabin types.  (3) construction nightmares.  Disreputable pest control salesmen commonly use the inconsequential legacy evidence of insects to strong arm people into needless treatments for long-past or nonexistent problems.

Frankly, Dan, when someone calls me with a carpenter ant problem, I get into all these things beforehand, and most of the time, I can figure out what's going on over the phone.  Then, if the customer describes an unusual problem or one that I know requires an exterminator, I'll get into it.  What I want to eliminate are the panicked calls from homeowners that see a few ants (occasional invaders) and go nuts. Neither me nor my men have the time to do silly things like pressuring homeowners into needless services for occasional invaders.  Yet I know one local exterminator that "specializes" in carpenter ants.  Now, what kind of jobs do you think he does? You only get one guess.

Take off the trim to look?  Ok, but why don't you just LOOK for awhile - on your own?  You plop yourself down in a lawn chair, maybe with a bloody mary or something, and wait and watch.  Remembering that carpenter ants are nocturnal, you could also get a better idea of what's going on if you do it at night.  'Course, for one or two ants a day, I think this would be silly, myself, with the possible exception of the bloody mary.

Lawsuits?  Forgedaboudit.  Only the lawyers will win.  They'll whip you into such a frenzy, carry it on for years, and then tell you that what you're getting (probably not much, if anything) is a good thing.  Whatever you spend on lawyers will be more than what it takes to fix the problem.  You won't get a good night's sleep the whole time, and the buddy-buddy stuff that goes on in and out of the courtroom, between the lawyers, judges, and hangers-on, will have you wondering if you didn't just jump out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Can you tell I'm a cynic?  The good part is that I'm also an optimist and I really think that most REAL exterminators are not like this.  I know enough "good guys" to know that they're out there, it just takes some looking.  And you have to look in all the corners - the exterminators out in the open, using half-page ads in the Yellow Pages, and the ones you see on TV are the ones that are trolling for the suckers.

So (to borrow a phrase) I'm sorry for the long winded email, but sometimes it's necessary to explain why I think the way I do.

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.

----john



I checked with Dan about 6 months later and he reports the following:

"Nothing much new in the ant world.  I may see an average of one or two a week wandering around in the house.  After talking with you, that doesn't concern me too much.   I haven't located a nest yet, and I haven't seen any of the winged ones yet either."



Gary's got these ants pegged pretty good....

John,

We discovered some carpenter ants in my daughters second floor bedroom a couple nights ago.  We vacuumed up around  20 or 30 of them.  I went to the internet and found your web page and decided to wait a while before I called the exterminators.  Yesterday I went to the basement trying to figure out how or why they were in the house.  I started removing the insulation that was up around the sill area and discovered a nest.  It is in the corner of the basement, which is surrounded outside by a porch.  I found some bore holes that seem to go out and possible into the dirt area under the cement porch. The ants also go up into the stud wall through a hole I drilled to run speaker wires in the living room above. There were thousands of ants, I did what you said and vacuumed as many as I could, as they ran out of the hole, I must have had an inch of ants in the bottom of my shop vac.  Now what I did next may not have been the right thing to do,  I sprinkled some sevin dust up around the area where they were.  They walked though it and took it into what I think is the nest.  When I came back later, there were may more dead ants that had fallen on the floor. and not very much action around the hole.  I vacuumed for another 15 mins or so and called it quits.  This morning I found a few more dead ants on the floor and only a couple moving in and out of the hole.   Did I make a mistake of using the sevin dust?  I want to make sure the nest is dead, what should I do now?  There is no signs of moisture damage in the house, it is 7 years old and this is the first time ants have been in the house.   Could you e-mail me at both my home and work address?

Thanks for your great help !!!!

Gary U
.



My answer to Gary was....

Gary, sounds like you have the situation in hand.  Don't think you needed the sevin, but since you used it.....

I would give it a week or so, see what happens.  Don't put that insulation back there, you know it'll be a problem in the future.  In fact, hang a trouble light down there, let some heat and air circulation take care of the dead air problem. Oftentimes the ants just need a dead air space, not real moisture.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



Christine has a couple of questions....

Thanks for the great website.  
 
Every spring I have ants in my house.  Not hundreds, but a daily dozen or so. My sister tells me that I should remove my greenhouse that is built against the south side of the house.  I find this a little drastic.  The ants leave of their own accord by the middle of summer.  They arrive as soon as the weather gets warmer, which around here is early April.  I have no idea how theyare coming in, but from your site I don't feel  that panic is in order.  I will try to find where they enter.  Do you think I need to remove the greenhouse?  Is it a problem if they are leaving of their own accord by mid-summer?
 
Thanks for your time and consideration
Chris



Here's my answer to Chris....

Chris, if these ants come and go as you describe, don't do anything.  They're just the normal foraging workers and you could spray a gallon of "stuff" per day and STILL see these critters.  It's just Mother Nature and you are right - no panic or intervention is in order.  Just saw one on my desk less than an hour ago.  He deserved barely a look - it's raining outside and he's just looking for a dry spot!

Don't worry about it!

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----John



Lynn details her problem with ants....

I have a 45 year old home with 4" thick cedar walls on the inside and rigid foam insulation under board and batten siding. After hearing ants in the walls from outside on the deck, I took down the siding and found tunnels hollowed out in the rigid foam to the roof. Several years ago, I had a new roof put on my house but (darn it) had the roofer leave the old roof thinking I would just have better insulation value. My thought is that the ants are nesting in this old roof. I don't think there's leakage now but the old roof was wet at one time and perhaps is soft there. Occasionally, over the years, I have seen some wood shavings and insect parts below natural knot holes in my cedar ceiling. My big concern is that woodpeckers are pecking my siding everywhere! I must have 30 holes so far and I'm thinking they are after the ants in the siding. Do you think?

I'm thinking if I apply (or pay someone)to dust (Diaxinon sp?) into the air space between the old roof and the new one (8-12") then perhaps this will kill the ants. I don't like harsh chemicals and I have animals that live with me but I just don't know what my alternatives are.

Do you think the woodpeckers and the ants are connected or is there two separate problems? I also have a lot of lady bugs infestation - is this connected?

Sorry this is so long but I wanted you to get the full picture. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Lynn A. Varin



This is what I told Lynn to do.....

Hello, Lynn:

Woodpeckers after the ants?  Hmmmmmm.  I shouldn't think so.  There are many more (and better) things for them to go after.  Not that they wouldn't EAT a carpenter ant, they might.  But I don't think this is a major food source for woodpeckers - at least not in a house, anyway.  The two events might just be incidental to each other.  It seems that woodpeckers sometimes do this just to bother us homeowners.  Staple a patch of hardware cloth (you can paint it the same color as the siding) over each of their holes, as soon as you see them settling down to one spot.  They DO quit after awhile.

Sometimes "insulation value" is not good.  You should always have good air circulation in any house, and older houses were not too much of a problem - they leak air like a sieve.  Only modern houses, built tight for "insulation value" or older houses that have been "modernized" or changed structurally in such a manner as to restrict their air circulation.  And foamboard is notorious for supporting ant colonies of many types, especially under dead air conditions.  Insulation enables the ants to almost create their own atmosphere by channelling out the foam core and adapting it to their own conditions.

If there's a space between the two roofs, this might be a candidate for dust treatments - but only if dry.  Wet conditions will render dusts useless.  And the concern you have for chemicals shouldn't be the reason you hold off from any professional correctional treatments.

And ladybugs too.  My, my, you do have a few problems.....  The ladybugs you can't do too much about, unfortunately.  They aren't very responsive to chemical treatments because of their numbers.  Fortunately, they are cyclical, so you may not have as many next year.  Of course, you could also have more.....

And if all else fails, maybe your local torching service?  (Just kidding.)

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



Audrey has a question about the ants she's seeing inside, in the winter....

Your web page on carpenter ants is just great. I live in Massachusetts and right now we're buried in about three feet of snow. For the past couple of weeks, I've been finding an occasional ant in the house, usually in the living room. This past summer I had a slight problem with ants but isn't it unusual to see them in the winter? What would a carpenter ant look like, or what stage would it be in, at this time of year? Could they possibly be coming in on my dog? Thank you very much for whatever advice you can give.

audrey



And my reply to Audrey....

Hi, Audrey:

First of all, thanks for your kind compliment!  On to your problem.

Ants in the winter, on the inside, means you probably do have a nest - very close - maybe in a wall, floor or something like that.  Might also be on the outside, in close proximity to the inside.  That happens too.  Usually, if this is so, you only see a few, and when the snow is gone you don't see any.  Well, maybe not "any" - but certainly a lot less.  Hard to diagnose over the 'Net.....  But these are common problems, and as long as you have the time and energy, you might be able to find them and handle the problem yourself.  

A strong flashlight and nighttime vigils will help you too.  Park yourself where you see most of them and don't KILL - FOLLOW!  You might have to do this several (many) times, but they are nocturnal, most of their activity is at night.  Wander around, (you can do this on the outside too - watch out for the neighbors, they'll think you're nuts) see if you can see them other places.  After awhile, you get a handle on their activities and are more likely to discover where the nest is.  If you find it, suck 'em up with a vacuum, see if you can see why they're there (moisture) and fix the problem.

Insulation and ants are generally BAD - they use it to their advantage and you can't see the nest - only the ants.  The stages you see out and around will always be adults - females, foraging for food and generally wandering all over.

And don't forget - onsies or twosies - anytime - CAN be normal.  EVEN in winter, sometimes, especially if the nest abuts your house and snow is outside.  Then inside is where they go.

I would tell you to wait until the snow is gone - if the ants disappear, the nest is probably outside - but close.  And depending on the totals of ants you see in a year, (20-30 or so are perfectly normal) I would tell you not to worry about it. Otherwise, you get out the ol' flashlight, a chair and maybe a martini, and wait and watch.  Besides, if you need an exterminator later, you'll be up to date on what's going on, and can tell him.  Keep a log, on your calendar, with the weather and the amount of activity you saw on what days.  Sometimes it's not easy, but it's cheaper than any exterminator.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



Ian puts it pretty succinctly....

I am a homeowner (In Oregon) who is getting steadily more bewildered as a series of exterminators traipses through my house giving me bids on controlling a subterranean termite problem.  We have also directed each of them to an area of our deck, where longstanding moisture has rotted out timbers.  The timbers are full of borings in the rotted portions and the soffit that covers the underside of the timbers is littered with sawdust.  No ant bodies, dead or alive.  So far only one guy has concluded that there are not ants, the others have put the borings and sawdust together and declared and active infestation that we need to treat for.  My interpretation of the situation is that the sawdust is construction debris from the rebuilding of the deck  years before we bought the house, and there aren't any ants to worry about.  Is it possible to distinguish ant frass from power tool sawdust?  I would think that two such different sets of tools would produce distinctly different sawdust.
 
I loved your carpenter ant page.  We got led down the drill and spray path on a rural property several years ago, until I finally relaxed and went after them with the shopvac.



So I wrote back to Ian....

Hello, Ian:

Hmmmmmmm.  Sounds like you've been down the primrose path a few times....

Carpenter ant frass usually has bits and pieces of black (dead) carpenter ants. Active infestations will accumulate more frass after it's cleaned up.  The amount of time it takes tells you how active it is.  Frass from the carpenter ants is generally of finer grain than drill or saw tailings.

If you actually have carpenter ants bad enough to produce this frass, you ought to be able to see the ants.  Go out at night, (they're nocturnal) with a strong flashlight, on several nights, and see if you can see anything going on.  Plop yourself down in a lawn chair, with your flashlight, (and maybe a martini) and see what's going on. Don't kill, just observe.

Usually you're better off with the smaller exterminators - ones without salesmen. Although sometimes the smaller guys are just as hungry and just as tempted to blow things out of proportion.  And different exterminators will have their own way of doing things, (this is an expertise, not a science) so if you have enough exterminators come through, you'll get thoroughly confused.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john




BobbyK, an exterminator, sent the following email in, and started his message by quoting from my carpenter ant page, where I have detailed just how to find a good, honest exterminator.

And here's BobbyK's scathing message....

"And for all you exterminators out there, reading this, and wondering why in the world I would tell people to do this, please go here."

I'll tell you why... Because you are so hard up for a job that you try to make the consumer think that all exterminators are out to rip the public off! Hmmm??   Wonder why....Maybe a guilty conscious??  Any Proffessional who would go through a scenario as to how to call a pest control firm and lie about a pest control problem, and then tell them that if the exterminator wants to look at the problem first he is just trying to rip you off and to cross the firm off the list.  You call yourself a proffessional? A Proffessional wants to make sure that the problem is not carpenter ants or termites.. or maybe its a pharaoh ant problem??  the last thing you want to do is spray a pesticide if it is!  Your site just goes to show you that there are bad exterminators out there and you sir are the worst! Did you ever hear of a free inspection?  We proffessionals (and your not one!) provide a service to the public. When someone calls for a pest problem it is usually because they don't want the problem.  If they just wanted free advice they could go to home depot!  Apparently you have a lot of time on your hands.  Not looking at the problem leads to mis-diagnosis you idiot!  If I called the doctor and told him I was having chest pains I would cross him off my list if he tried to treat me over the phone. Do yourself a favor and get a new job!  Maybe a politician or something.  What a self rightoeus web site you have!  I may use some of it on mine and let them know what to0 expect if they call United!



And my tempered reply....

Hard up for a job?  Do we look hard up for a job?  Hardly.

Actually, Bobby, I look for good criticism.  But when I get a note such as yours, full of bad grammar and misspellings, it just makes me wonder, exactly, who is the idiot.

So, are you one of those guys that goes in and rips people off?  Shame on you if you are.

----John

BobbyK wasn't finished there.  He also posted a message to our message board, too, just in case you want to see what he said, and what I said in reply.  As of this writing (06/16/01) we have not heard from BobbyK again.  I checked at his ISP, in Maryland, I believe, much too close to our nation's capital.  I don't think we need too many more looneys in Washington.

We also wanted to see if BobbyK was a real "proffessional," so we checked.  Under his name, he is not now a member of the National Pest Control Association, nor is he a member of the Maryland Pest Control Association either.  Usually, a true professional exterminator would belong to both organizations.



Liz is worried.  Says she's seen three ants already....

Hi there.

I live in the Pacific Northwest (BC) and have just bought a 1958 wood frame house.  It was inspected, but the amount of junk in the basement prevented a very thorough inspection and we don't do insect inspections here.  I have been here for only 10 days and have seen a single carpenter ant on three occasions each time around 4pm (dusk at this time of year).  Killed each of the three ants and then thought, hmmm, maybe I should have done something else.  Having read other pages on the Internet I am determined not to panic and call an exterminator as you suggest (the other pages all say that seeing carpenter ants in the house in the winter indicates a nest in the house and require immediate extermination inside and out).

Living in the Pacific Northwest is very moist and I have found one rotten piece of wood in the house (no ants there however), but do I really have a more severe problem because I am seeing them at the tail end of December?

I have inspected all the unfinished area of the basement and haven't found anything that looks suspicious (of course I could be missing it since I can only inspect 1/4 of it - the rest of the area is finished and I don't really know what I am looking for). My firewood is stored away from the house (but only by a few feet). I haven't yet checked out the attic or the dishwasher, but with only three ants how exactly do I figure out whether they are coming in from the outside or are already here?

Any comments and suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.

Regards,
Liz



So I told her.....

Hi, Liz:

Three carpenter ants?  That's not a whole lot.  Certainly nothing to panic about. And if you call an exterminator, he's going to have to hunt down the problem or use shotgun tactics to attempt to end the problem.  Both will be expensive and may also not end the problem.  Don't forget, you've only been there a short time.  I would wait and watch.  Nighttime is their most active time, so if you're up at night you might see more.

You didn't say where you saw these, were they all in one place, or were they each in completely different areas?  I would advise you to "wait and watch" - see if you can determine where they are coming from.  Next time you see one, don't kill him, FOLLOW him.  See where he goes.  Then, follow the next one too.  If they are all in one place, or one room, this is where you concentrate.  If your ants are being found "all over" and not in any special place, it might mean absolutely nothing.

Just use a little common sense (no panic) and if you really have a problem, eventually you'll find out why.  Carpenter ants don't really do a whole lot of damage, they are more a pest than anything else.  

I once had a lady with, more or less, the same problem.  A "few" ants, every once in awhile - that was it.  Well, after about a year, we (she actually did) found them in a hollow (inside) door to her kitchen.  One puff with a bulb duster ended the problem.  That was over 5 years ago, we still see the same property occasionally, and the problem has not returned.  She laughs at the concern she had in the past. She kept asking me, "Are they going to eat up my house?"  Hardly.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



Liz writes back....

John:

First off, thank you for responding on New Years Day - your customers are lucky to have you.

I have only seen one more ant after you emailed that just seemed to be wandering - same as the others - he appeared (magically of course) in my hallway and disappeared from my living room when I wasn't paying attention.

I will continue to watch, but perhaps they just liked the smell of the Christmas tree (which is gone now).

Thanks again for the words of confidence.

Liz



So I had to thank her....

Liz, thank you for your kind words.  If you really have a problem, they won't stop. And you'll probably see much more than a "few" - so relax (for now) - get back if you discover something else.

----john



Andy writes in about his problem....

Hello,

First let me say that I  now know I've found the source for information and answers regarding insects and insect related problems. Here is my dilemna, I have a 20 or so year old cherry tree planted about 5 feet from the foundation of my house. Recently I noticed a large number of carpenter ants making their way into the house (moreso than usual). Upon going out to the base of the cherry tree I found that tell-tale sawdust from their burrowing.Unfortunately, I had not yet read your web pages , and thus proceeded to treat the tree with a healthy spraying. Well, just like you said in one of your paragraphs,they migrated right into the house!! Hundreds if not thousands!!  They were then vacuumed up as quickly as possible. My concern now is how to rid the tree of these pests. I know that you said severe infestation was an indicator as to the trees waning lifespan. Is there any way to extend the life of the tree (as it is so beautiful when it blooms) while also eradicating the ants. How about a holistic or purely natural method? I've read that tobacco is a natural insect repellant and could possibly drive the ants away. Could this work? Would it possibly hurt the tree? How about a brew of tobacco leaves showered over the tree or fed to its roots? Or is it inevitable that the tree must come down in order to eliminate the ant problem. I appreciate the time and energy required to both read and respond to this query.

THANK YOU  !! I anxiously anticipate your suggestions.      

Respectfully,

Andy G.



My note back to Andy....

Hi, Andy:

Your poor cherry tree!  Not because of the ants, but because of you!  The ants won't hurt the tree, Andy, my advice is almost always to leave them alone - they'll be quite happy in the tree.  Ants and trees are like mites and people - we always have them and they don't really hurt us, they're just there.

A "natural" method of control?  Not one that works consistently.  All those products (cures) you mentioned have some basis in fact, but they usually won't do the trick.  I would keep the tree pruned as necessary, and as far as extending its life, tree surgeons do that, but they're almost as expensive as regular surgeons!

I like trees.  Even old, diseased trees.  So I resist cutting them down unless it's absolutely necessary.  The trees and carpenter ants live in sync with each other, so I say, leave them alone.  The fact that you're seeing more is probably just weather related - hot, muggy weather increases their populations, and also their foraging.  If they continue, you could use a carpenter ant bait - but this will be temporary, and you'll probably see just as many next year.  It may give you some relief, however, this year, maybe enough so that you won't see any.  It's not expensive, (we sell it for about $25) so it isn't something you have to re-mortgage your house for.  You may be able to find it locally too. Look for the Advance brand:

                    UnExCo's General Store

Also, read my comments about this material, I have conducted my own informal tests on effectiveness.  As I said, the good part is that it is not that expensive.

Nice to hear from you.

----john



Cecy writes in from Miami....

Hi John,

You have a great web site and, like others who have written, I really appreciate your refreshing   approach to the subject of carpenter ants.

A little background information:  I live in Miami, Florida where we have heat and high humidity most of the  time and frequent rain during several months of the year. I'm sure carpenter ants love it here! The main part of my house has a pretty low pitch and I have a flat roof over my garage.  I have a CBS block house built in the early 1950's.

I definitely have a carpenter ant problem.  I found a pile of  "sawdust"  on a top shelf in my garage, i.e., the shelf closest to the beam ceiling.  I looked closely at the ceiling above the pile and found a stained place on the horizontal ceiling board where it meets the upright board of the of the interior wall.  (This is not the wall attached to the house, but a wall with a door in it leading to the outside.)  When I pushed against the stained area with my finger,  it gave to the pressure (clearly rotten) and about 15 carpenter ants immediately emerged from the crevice  where the two surfaces meet.  Also, I have noticed that every time I open the outside door in the
same wall, several  carpenter ants (maybe 25)  appear at the base of the door and begin frantically crawling about.

I did have a pest control salesman  come to look at the situation and, wonder of wonders, he told me that if I get rid of the moisture, the ants will go away.  He said I didn't even have to worry about replacing any rotten wood.  He also said that the my door to the outside is a hollow core
door and should never have been used as an outside door.  His suggestion for that was just to replace the door with a solid core door.

After reading your site, I feel pretty fortunate to have run into such an honest salesman.  However, I'm not sure his advice was totally accurate.  I am planning to replace my garage roof  which should take care of any leaks and, presumably, any further moisture in the ceiling boards..  (This is not just because of the ants, but because I've had  about four leaks repaired in the past 1 years or so, and now I have another one!)  Also I am going to replace the outside door.  Do you think I should also open up the rotten ceiling area and try to suck up the ants with my vacuum?  Should this section of the board be replaced?  Could I puff some Drione Dust into the rotten area and not worry about replacing the wood?

I would really appreciate any advice you might have. Thank you!

Cecy



My reply to Cecy....

Hello, Cecy:

First of all, thank you for you kind comments about the website, true payment for effort.

Wonder of wonders, indeed.  Glad to hear you had a "good guy" - I know they're out there....

I agree with everything he said.  I would, however, investigate the rotten wood problem.  Sometimes it DOESN'T have to be replaced, but sometimes it does.  If you can determine how rotten it is, you'll have your answer.  Wood that retains it's full structural integrity does not need to be altered.  If the leak has been over a long period of time, there is a danger that the wood is weaker.  Replacements or reinforcements should be made with top-grade, personally chosen, pressure treated wood.  

If you discover ants in your repairs, resist the temptation to use insecticides, just use the shop-vac.  Make sure you can cure the moisture problem, refrain from finishing the area before you have seen that it doesn't leak again.  I don't think Drione dust is appropriate in this context, the mere disturbance and elimination of the nest by vacuum will be sufficient, I'm sure.

Flat roofs are always more cantankerous, and the ones that continue to have problems are usually those with construction anomalies, and generally the root of the problem.

Nice to hear from you.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



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