Carpenter ants are one of the most productive and valuable insects on the coast of BC. They chew up rotting wood turning it into sawdust which helps return the nutrients in the wood back to the soil, thus helping perpetuate the environmental cycle. This process is great when these insects are out in the forest, but when they decide to take up residence in your home, the situation can become very destructive to your home.
When we cut down trees and then build a wood house, carpenter ants adapt very well and just move in to the wood in our houses. Once they have invaded your home, they will usually begin chewing away at the wooden features in your home very similar to an infestation of termites. The primary difference between termites and carpenter ants is that termites will feed on the wood’s cellulose while the carpenter ants tunnel through decaying wood to create space. They create these hollows to form their nests and given enough time the nests can eventually house tens of thousands of ants. And just like with termites, the damage from carpenter ants can be hard to notice at first because it takes place inside the wood.
How to Detect a Carpenter Ant Infestation
The most obvious indication of an infestation of carpenter ants is seeing ants inside in the spring. Because these ants go dormant over the winter, if you see them inside in the springtime it means they emerged from a nest within the structure. And if you are seeing winged carpenter ants emerging inside in the spring it means there is a nest inside, and the colony is already several years old. In the late spring and summer time seeing carpenter ants inside may mean there is a nest inside, but it may also mean the ants are just coming in to forage. In both cases carpenter ant activity inside definitely warrants further investigation. Since carpenter ants will burrow through the wood to make their nests but don’t actually eat the wood, two of the other obvious signs of their presence in your home are crinkling/scraping noises in the walls or ceilings, as well as small piles of fine sawdust where they push it out of their nest galleries. Finally, because carpenter ants do not actually eat wood, they must leave your house to feed. This means there will be a trail of worker ants coming back and forth to your home.
How to Prevent Carpenter Ant Problems
Since carpenter ant infestations can take years to notice, often creating significant damage to your home before you have even detected the problem, prevention is imperative. The best ways to prevent carpenter ants from setting up residence in your home is by blocking their entry and providing them with a less hospitable environment. To prevent an infestation you will need to:
- Keep branches and brush trimmed and away from your home – Ants can use the branches and leaves as pathways to enter your home through upper-level gaps and cracks that you typically can’t see from the ground.
- Keep firewood and lumber stored away from your home. Since carpenter ants nest in decayed wood, make sure that there are no outside nest sources for them that are close to your home. You will also want to thoroughly check the wood for ants before bringing it into your home.
- Prevent moisture problems in your home – Carpenter ants are attracted to moist areas where they are more likely to find rotted wood. To help prevent water damage make sure to clean gutters to prevent leaks from backups, keep attics and crawl spaces well ventilated, and address any plumbing leaks in the home immediately as they occur. If you have a leak in the roof or around a window, make sure the repairs are done promptly and that any wet wood inside the structure is replaced.
- Remove any stumps or dead trees outside on your property. Removing the carpenter ant’s preferred nesting habitat from your property is one of the most effective methods of prevention.
- Finally, you can try to block their points of entry. Gaps around electrical and water lines can be caulked, as can some gaps around siding and the foundation line. Don’t go too crazy with this method, because some types of home construction have thousands of ant sized gaps!
How to Resolve an Established Ant Infestation
If you find yourself with a carpenter ant problem, you will need to address the problem immediately to mitigate the damage. To remove carpenter ants from your home, you will need to:
Locate their nests. Listen to walls and ceilings for the rustling sounds the ants make, look for ants emerging from cracks and gaps, look for small piles of sawdust, and follow any trails of ants coming and going from your house. Remember that there is usually more than one nest, and it can be in the top of the attic all the way to the bottom of the basement or crawlspace.