Pacific Northwest Home Inspection (King of the House): Moisture Ant Infestation

By
Home Inspector with King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

We would rather live without moisture ants, but they are an important part of nature -- turning old wood back into soil. As a home inspector and a licensed structural pest inspector, I often see carpenter ants. But, recently, I ran into another ant infestation that is not nearly so common to find as the carpenters -- moisture ants. It is amazing how much damage these little insects can do. They come in different colors, a brown to a yellowish-green color, and they are tiny. Take a look at the photo below, but they are way smaller than that.

While these ants are small, boy what extensive damage they can do as they build galleries.  In this case, the toilet leaked, rotted out around the flange and floor and then came the moisture ants. That is one thing about this species, they are not particularly aggressive. That is, they will not move into healthy wood like some termites or carpenter ants. The moisture ants move into wood that is already very wet or rotting. So, really, don't blame them for all the damage. If things were in good shape in the first place, they would be nowhere around. For this same reason, they do not require a chemical treatment to eradicate them. Simply get rid of the water issue, be it plumbing leaks, failed caulking, etc and then replace the weak and damaged wood. In fact, bad as this spot was at the house, nobody had been living there in a long time -- no more flushing or toilet leaks -- so it looked like the ants had packed it up and had moved out. The amount of damage they can do, despite being an opportunistic and secondary infestation, is cataloged below.

  

The view from far away: fallen black insulation (mud from ants)

At first I suspected rats 

Rot, initial distinctive signs of moisture ant damage

  

Major signs of moisture ant damage, their distinctive work

 

Closeup of a piece I removed, a realtor asked me what it is.

The answer -- mud and wood!

Thanks for stopping by,

Steven L. Smith

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bellingham home inspection
bellingham wa home inspector
whatcom county home inspection
moisture ants
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Comments 33 New Comment

Rainmaker
698,427
Barbara S. Duncan
CRS, GRI, e-PRO, Searcy AR
RE/MAX Advantage
Congratulations on the featured blog.  You deserve it!  You write good blogs and so does your friend!
March 02, 2008 08:27 PM
Rainer
122,017
Christy Powers
Pooler, Savannah Real Estate Agent
Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners
Wow, there are way too many different kinds of ants. I have never heard of moisture ants before. That is crazy. I will definitely be on the watch out for leaks!
March 02, 2008 08:42 PM
Rainmaker
1,172,581
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

Paula,

It is probable that a large black ant is a carpenter ant. I would not say carpenter ants specifically look for termite houses but carpenter ants are an enemy of termites, they eat them. Also, the same conducive conditions that attract termites tend to attract carpenter ants. In fact, conducive conditions that attract one wood destroying organism tend to appeal to all varieties -- fungal and insect.

Do you have a problem? Well, that can be hard to tell. Do you live in the woods, with lots of trees around. If so, carpenters are often out looking to form satellite nests. Those of us in real estate ought to understand that -- they are looking for affordable housing that is not too crowded.

I do not like to find ants inside the home. Too often they came up from the crawl space or the attic. Now, if you take this ant and ring his neck, how long before you get another? If it is fairly soon, or even in a day or so, I would be concerned. On the other hand, if it is weeks or months, not so much so. When I said marching, I did not mean a single ant. I meant a few, or many, following one another and sometimes transporting their white pupa. If you are sitting on a deck or something, and see large black ants, then just watch them. If they are darting under your house, climbing up in soffit vents, going under the gable in a hole, then you have a real concern. This is hard to trouble shoot from afar.  Like I told Kevin, you can send me an ant, and I can ID it for you. But then one carpenter does not make a work crew.

 

March 02, 2008 09:01 PM
Rainer
638,225
Carl Winters

Steven - Thank you for this good information. We recently had a leak in our pump house, I didn't tend to it right away and found  the wood ants did quite a bit of damage in a hurry. Now I have to get busy and do some repair work.

Thanks for the good pics and information.

March 02, 2008 09:33 PM
Rainmaker
1,172,581
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

Carl,

Glad it was helpful. We probably see more of this being in the wet northwest, than lots of the rest of you see.

March 02, 2008 09:55 PM
Rainmaker
1,172,581

Steven L. Smith

Bellingham WA Home Inspector
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Additional Information

Steven L. Smith, King of the House Home Inspection, provides information for real estate buyers, sellers and real estate industry professionals. Blog posts emphasize issues commonly found in Bellingham, WA and Whatcom County. Smith is Washington State Licensed Home Inspector #207, a state licensed structural pest inspector, ASHI certified inspector #252760 and one of the most experienced inspectors in the northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest. Steven L. Smith is lead instructor of home inspection at Bellingham Technical College and teaches classes for Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Steve was a two-term member of the state licensing board.