Log Homes and Termites

By Log Home Builders Association

Many people erroneously believe that log homes are very susceptible to termite infestation and damage. In reality one could argue that log homes are less susceptible to such damage than stick framed homes - especially if preventative measures are taken during the construction of your log home.

Let's first look at the real reason that termites can cause so much damage to a stick frame home. With a stick frame home they can enter into wall cavities undetected. A termite infestation unseen is a termite infestation untreated. Once in the cavity the termites remain unseen, nibbling, chewing, breeding, and generally ruining your home. Over a 5 to 10 year span you might find many structural supports within an infected home to be significantly damaged and weakened. Often the first sign of such damage is when the homeowner goes to replace a piece of sheet rock during a small remodel - and that small remodel soon turns into a full scale renovation or even a demolition.

With log homes, on the other hand, if termites do end up getting to your wood walls they are immediately visible. Their point of entry will be obvious (a small bore hole and a little pile of sawdust will be clearly visible if a termite enters a log) and therefore homeowners will know to take immediate action! With a stick frame home, exterminators usually have to tent the entire structure and pump gas into the tent in order to kill termites. That is because the termites hide within wall cavities where exterminators cannot easily access or spot treat. But with a log home it is easy for an exterminator to spot treat just an effected area, eliminating or drastically reducing the homeowner's exposure to toxic chemicals. (who wants to walk into a home that had recently been pumped full of poisonous gas?)

But if a person builds their home properly, then it becomes very unlikely that they will ever experience termite issues in their home - stick frame home or log home. Here are some general tips and hints about building to avoid termite problems...

To begin with it is best to ensure that there is a good distance between dirt and first wood, eight inches at a minimum for most areas, and perhaps more would be wise in termite prone areas. Putting concrete (foundation) between dirt and wood prevents termites from getting to the wood because they have difficulty climbing up the concrete. They are also extremely visible when they climb up concrete, because they have to construct 'shelter tubes' to crawl up.

Do not bury ANY wood near your home during construction. It is important to know that in many jurisdictions developers / builders are allowed to bury a certain percentage of building debris on-site - often right up against the foundation. This could perhaps help explain why termite problems are often experienced in 'tract home' developments. This is an easy variable to control for if you are building your own log home, and substantially reduces the risk of future termite infestation. Buried wood quickly gets wet and soft and turns into an appetizer for termites. When the appetizer is gone, guess where they turn to for the main course? Straight up to your house!

Understand how termites might interact with the style of foundation that your home rests on. For instance, a slab foundation usually puts wood very close to dirt, and thus it is more vulnerable. A poured continuous concrete foundation often develops small cracks through which termites can enter your home (termites can travel through a crack that is 1/32nd of an inch). With a poured continuous foundation one should really also 'ring the home' with a 6-inch layer of barrier sand (known as "Termite sand" which is 10-16 mesh sand). Cinder block foundations are the least desirable in regards to termite protection since they often have large cracks and gaps which termites travel through undetected. Perhaps the most advantageous foundation is pier blocks since they provide a good distance from dirt to first wood and there is no basement through which termites can enter your log home (no cracks for them to travel through).

In termite prone areas, it is also best to always use a 'termite shield' on top of your foundation. A termite shield is a thin piece of sheet metal that goes on top of your foundation under your sill plate. It extends out from your foundation a few inches and is angled down (like a little downward angled wing, sort of, that goes all the way around your foundation). This operates similar to a squirrel baffle. Termites climb up the foundation, encounter the downward angled piece of continuous sheet metal at the top of the foundation and can't find a way to get around it to eat your wood.

The preventative measure of last resort might be to treat the soil around your home during construction. This involves impregnating the soil with a insecticide, so termites cannot approach your home. The reasons that this option is far less desirable than a sheet metal termite shield should be obvious - who wants to have their kids playing in a yard that has poison in the dirt?

Last but not least, a homeowner should conduct periodic visual inspections of their home. Look for telltale signs of termites, and also any other issues that occur in a home such as broken gutters, loose roof shingles, cracked patio bricks, et cetera. Such inspections will ensure that maintenance issues will be addressed promptly, which makes it a lot easier to deal home upkeep related issues.

So after looking at the termite issue it becomes pretty obvious that log homes are not more susceptible to termites than stick frame homes. In fact they seem to be less susceptible to termite damage. With log homes an owner will immediately see and treat an affected area whereas the owner of a stick framed home will be living in expensive ignorance until the damage is discovered too late. Also, there are many things a homeowner or builder can do to prevent termites from ever invading their home... from foundation selection to metal termite shields and proper disposal of construction waste.