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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Rainer
29,531
Debra Gambill
Weichert Realtor's Southern Coast - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Realtor, N.C. / S.C
I never even heard of a moisture ant before- in our part of the country- we have termites- but I have never heard of the ants- thanks for the post and the education.
Mar 01, 2008 01:24 PM #14
Rainmaker
570,050
Bill Gillhespy
16 Sunview Blvd - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos
Still amazes me how destructive these little critters can be.  Good info.
Mar 01, 2008 01:24 PM #15
Rainer
406,159
Sean Allen
International Financing Solutions - Fort Myers, FL
International Financing Solutions

wow, interesting information. I had never heard of moisture ants before. Thanks for sharing.

Sean Allen

Mar 01, 2008 01:28 PM #16
Rainmaker
364,621
Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, Sr. LBA,
Douglas Elliman Real Estate - Southampton, NY
...Finding Your Place In The sun!
I have a question about carpenter ants...I think you said they march? I sometimes find a semi-large "juicy" black ant wandering through my living room, by himself and I have called my regular exterminator who knows my house and he says that it is nothing to worry about---I don't have moisture problems but the house is a 1930's craftsman style bungalow and it did have Terms when I bought it but it has been treated and repaired. I hear that sometimes carpenter ants move into a former termite home; is that correct? It is a fairly rare appearance but I get really worried when I see one.
Mar 01, 2008 01:32 PM #17
Rainmaker
31,162
John Hokkanen
SurfTheTurf.com - Encinitas, CA
Encinitas Real Estate
I think EO Wilson (that academic guy who studies ants) says that the total biomass of ants in the world exceeds the total biomass of humans.  That's a pretty amazing statement.
Mar 01, 2008 02:03 PM #18
Ambassador
2,468,249
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

I am constantly surprised when I find that a homeowner has not had a termite inspection for 5-10 years or more. 

Then there are the owners who have the "Termite Warranty" and therefore ignore everything. 

NewsFlash.  Termites can't read!!!

I recommend to my buyers that they have a termite inspection every year.  Geez.  It costs a whopping $50.

Mar 01, 2008 04:36 PM #19
Rainmaker
335,328
Ann Cummings
RE/MAX By The Bay - NH and Maine - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Homes - Service With a Smile!

GROSS!!!  Those pictures are grossing me out for sure.  I've never heard of that kind of ant, but we do have carpenter ants up here.  I've had them myself, but now have my house treated twice a year and no problems since.  Gross!

Ann

Mar 01, 2008 07:10 PM #20
Rainmaker
1,186,600
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Hi all,

Thanks for the comments. I am busy doing a report but will respond personally as I get a chance here.

Mar 01, 2008 07:17 PM #21
Rainmaker
103,216
Joe Hayden Real Estate Team
RE/MAX Properties East - Louisville, KY
Your Louisville Real Estate Experts!

I have never even heard of moisture ants!  I guess (hope) I may not be alone in this...;)

Ha ha ha...Lenn..."Termites can't read..."  But they can make a killer pot of coffee...;) 

Mar 01, 2008 08:33 PM #22
Rainer
33,696
Melissa Olson
HOPE Lending LLC - Bellevue, WA
HOPE Lending LLC
Steven - very interesting.  I guess we get our share of "critters" here in the Puget Sound that is much different than the east coast. 
Mar 01, 2008 09:50 PM #23
Rainmaker
203,640
Marlene Bridges
Village Real Estate Services, Inc. - Laguna Hills, CA
Laguna Homes|Laguna Condos|Laguna Real Estate
Steven - Congrats on the feature.  You so deserve it!  I've learned so much from you.  Thanks.
Mar 01, 2008 09:53 PM #24
Rainmaker
1,186,600
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
Thanks again for all the comments. When I get done with the bear of a report I am banging out, I will give you the attention you deserve, as far as your questions.
Mar 01, 2008 10:50 PM #25
Rainmaker
264,568
Wayne B. Pruner
Oregon First - Tigard, OR
Tigard Oregon Homes for Sale, Realtor, GRI
Good information on ants and pictures of damage. Thanks for the post Steven.
Mar 01, 2008 11:27 PM #26
Rainmaker
574,889
Neal Bloom
Keller Williams Properties, Weston FL - Weston, FL
Realtor CRS-Weston FL Real Estate
Pretty disgusting...we see carpenter ants here a lot...it's common..I believe we see them in attics more and from water leakage from the roof areas. They are pretty big here an homeowners have seen them in inspections and don't even realize hey were there..it seems like they can be killed pretty easy but they definitely look pretty bad. We have all ant problems here in Florida as you probably know moisture is a big thing here.
Mar 02, 2008 08:13 AM #27
Rainer
20,440
Michael Zollo
A-Z Appraisals, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Certified Residential Appraiser, South Florida, FHA

Kevin

I don't know about the west coast where you are, but in the Fort Lauderdale area, we have a company called, Do It Your Self Pest Proof. If you do, or similar, put a few of the ants in a jar and bring it to them, they'll sell you the right stuff and tell you how to use the Chemicals the right way.

Mar 02, 2008 12:59 PM #28
Rainmaker
736,665
Barbara S. Duncan
RE/MAX Advantage - Searcy, AR
CRS, GRI, e-PRO, Searcy AR
Congratulations on the featured blog.  You deserve it!  You write good blogs and so does your friend!
Mar 02, 2008 08:27 PM #29
Rainer
122,017
Christy Powers
Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners - Pooler, GA
Pooler, Savannah Real Estate Agent
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!
Mar 02, 2008 08:42 PM #30
Rainmaker
1,186,600
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

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.

 

Mar 02, 2008 09:01 PM #31
Rainer
639,033
Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX

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.

Mar 02, 2008 09:33 PM #32
Rainmaker
1,186,600
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Carl,

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

Mar 02, 2008 09:55 PM #33
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Rainmaker
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Steven L. Smith

Bellingham WA Home Inspector
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