Termites: CASE 001 -- Termites After Major Foundation Repairs

Southeast Williamson County, Texas

BACKGROUND: Put yourself in this man's shoes. You have lived in your modest, single-story, 3-bedroom 2-bath home, in a sleepy suburban subdivision, for over ten years. One day, you realize that your home's monolithic slab foundation has begun to shift. You first notice the seams in several exterior walls have split, and that a couple of interior doors won't close. Worse, the split seams and balky doors are on opposite ends of the house. That tells you the home's foundation problem is major, and involves the entire slab. When you inspect the house more closely you find ominous cracks--not hairline ones, but wide cracks that separate sections of flooring whose surfaces are no longer on the same plane--in the floor of your garage. You realize fixing this will cost money you don't have in your budget and don't want to spend. You talk it over with the wife, and she agrees; you can't spend the money right now and since the house isn't falling down you decide to watch and wait. Over the next year, however, the cracks just get bigger and bigger.

This is a serious problem that won't go away. It's also one that you cannot fix yourself, so you call in a very reputable foundation repair company, and make arrangements through your bank to borrow enough, in the form of a second mortgage, to pay the tab. The repair company uses jackhammers to punch holes in the foundation. Then they sink steel rods down to bedrock, and jack up the foundation until it is level again. Then they pour reinforced concrete piers under the holes, and patch them with fresh concrete. Now all the wall seams are back together, and taped, floated, and repainted. All your doors close perfectly, just as the repair company promised. The job is finished. Or is it?

UNINVITED GUESTS: Between 24 and 36 months later, you notice an odd clump of dirt on an inside wall of the garage--the wall between the garage and the dining room. Your first assumption is that you or the wife accidentally got the wall muddy after the last rain, but that was months ago, so you look closer.

Case 001 Termites after Foundation Repair, tube in garage

The garage floor is about six inches lower than the main foundation, so there is a step up, on that wall, from the garage floor to the wall board. The photo below shows what the clump of dirt looks like. It measures over four inches high, and at its narrowest is almost two inches wide. Its broad base sits on the garage floor, at the junction of one of the concrete patches the foundation repair company had made over one of its new support piers. The lighter concrete--in the foreground and lower right--is part of the concrete patch, while the darker concrete at the lower mid-right portion of the photo is part of the original garage floor. The wallboard in the upper portion of the image forms a straight line across the image where it ends at the surface of the main foundation. The jagged line below the wallboard, which ultimately crosses over the top of the clump of "mud" at mid-photo, is the lower limit of the original concrete skirt, a light-colored thin layer of cosmetic concrete that once smoothed out the original slab surface (the darker concrete below the jagged line, at its right and left extremities). It isn't unusual for such skirting to spall away from a poor bond (and skirting often bonds poorly to the slab), but it makes no sense for a clump of mud from a boot to be plastered on the wall like this.

THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIED: Reaching down, you push on the mud, and with a little effort it comes away from the wall. You turn the base of the clump upward and examine it with a flashlight. That's when you see them. Little yellowish-white ant-like critters with antennae that look like strings of pearls. At once you know that this isn't an ordinary clump of mud. It's a termite shelter tube.

CASE 001 Shelter Tube interior

As a matter of fact, your contract with the foundation repair company mentioned that termites might show up some day. Concrete patches in a monolithic foundation bond imperfectly to the original slab. Tiny gaps, impossible to see or predict, often enable termites to travel from the soil under the house, through the gaps in the patch, and into the wooden structure of the home. If that happens, the contract said, the foundation repair company would not be responsible.

Of course, you considered hiring a termite control company to treat the foundation and the soil under the patches while the repairs were being done. You even got some estimates for the work, but the cost was too high for your budget, and the termite control company was using some pretty exotic stuff. When you read the technical writeups on that stuff, it left you troubled. You and your wife are sensitive to lots of chemicals, and the missus has a history of cancer in her family.

But now you're in a completely different kind of pickle, and you begin to doubt your earlier wisdom. Had you been too miserly with your money? And--as if such a thing is even possible--were you being too cautious about your health concerns? After all, won't it cost even more now? And with an active termite infestation, one so active in fact that it is making shelter tubes that look like eight-lane superhighways, won't the termite control companies apply even more exotic chemicals to make sure these little devils don't come back? How can you possibly avoid being exposed to chemical termiticides at this point? You feel like you've been painted into a corner.

          That's when you call me. I had taken care of a rogue bee hive in one of your outside walls the previous year, and my business card is still pinned to the bulletin board in the dining room, in case the bees are miraculously reincarnated.

          "Do you do termites?" you ask, after we exchange a few obligatory pleasantries.

          "Indeed I do," I reply, "Started treating termites in 1980, over 28 years ago."

          "You any good at it?

          "I reckon," I humbly answer in Texanese. "What's the problem?"