GAINESVILLE, Fla.—Selecting the right construction materials and methods can reduce the need for pesticides as the first line of defense against termites, including the highly destructive Formosan termite now spreading throughout Florida and the Southeast.
“Instead of using the typical methods of controlling termites, builders can now help prevent pest problems before they start,” said Pierce Jones, a professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “It can be cheaper in the long run.”
Jones, who directs the Florida Energy Extension Service and helps builders incorporate resource-efficient designs, materials and methods into their residential construction businesses, said new homes that are termite-resistant are easier to sell in today’s competitive housing market.
He said the concept is being used in a “green” community in Gainesville called Madera where UF is participating in construction of the model home.
“Using concrete in the wall system, for example, can lessen the possibility of termites coming in through the outside foundation wall, which is a common entry point,” Jones said. “And, if the termites do enter the structure, the use of materials such as light-gauge steel framing and borate pressure-treated wood can help prevent structural damage due to termites.”
In addition, using materials such as the Termi-Mesh System, which is a fine marine-grade stainless steel mesh that’s installed, in part, around high-risk entry points of a house before the concrete slab is poured, is another product that helps build termite resistance into the structure, Jones said. When subterranean termites try to burrow through these points, they can’t get through the fine mesh. Termi-Mesh Systems Limited in Houston, Texas, manufactures the barrier.
Faith Oi, an assistant extension scientist in UF’s entomology and nematology department, said another effective way to stop termites is by using distasteful or impervious construction materials, including some types of wood that termites don’t like. However, she noted these materials can be expensive.
In the Madera development, the Florida Energy Extension Service is working with Juddy Carter, owner of Carter Construction Company in Gainesville, to use termite-resistant products in the model home.
“In addition to Termi-Mesh, the home is built with borate pressure-treated sheathing, sub-flooring and lumber from Osmose, Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and U.S. Borax Inc.,” Carter said “We achieved additional termite protection by using light gauge steel framing in the interior walls and poured concrete in exterior walls.”
Carter said the concrete is poured between Eco-Block insulated concrete forms, creating walls that are termite-proof and wind-proof, he said. The forms, which are made of expanded polystyrene, are used to build reinforced concrete walls for both residential and commercial buildings. Once the forms are erected, concrete is poured in. After the concrete has hardened, the forms stay in place and become the insulation for the walls.
Steel framing is also termite-proof and is as easy to assemble as conventional wood framed walls, he said.
Use of these building materials greatly reduces risks from termites, but it does not totally eliminate the possible need for pesticides in the future, Carter said.
“However, building termite resistance into the home can certainly give the homebuyer some assurance that their homebuilder knows the threat of termites is real and they are making good decisions to protect the structure and the homeowner,” he said.
The National Pest Management Association estimates the cost of termite damage, repair and treatment is around $2 billion each year.