The Terrible Termites

Formosan Subterranean Termites cost Hawaii residents about $100 million a year.[1] Across the U.S., estimates place the damage from termites at over $5B/year. Due to its size and aggressive foraging behavior, a colony of Formosan termites does more damage than single colonies of other U.S. subterranean species, and can cause significant structural damage to a home in only 6 months.

They are known to enter buildings through cracks in concrete flooring or travel under tile flooring through gaps less than 1/16" wide[2]. They have also been known to eat their way through concrete, bricks or mortar to reach wood, chewing through many other materials, including insulation around underground electrical lines causing power outages. FSTs can eat through thin sheets of metal, mortar, PVC pipe, electric power and telecommunication lines and most woods, including hardwoods, paint, plaster, gypsum board, and even CMU block in order to get to a food source. A typical colony will consume over 1,000 pounds of wood per year[3]

Unpredictable invasiveness of ground termites makes them difficult to detect and control[4].

The termite is ‘hidden from view’ at all times. The presence of termites may be indicated by: a sagging door or floor, leaks in the roof, a warped wall, a hollow sounding beam, discolored or blistered paint, depressions in wood, moisture collecting in unusual places, springy floors or steps, mud tubes on interior or exterior walls, wood rot, interruptions in power or communications like short circuits, telecommunication blackouts, or similar problems. By the time termites are detected, considerable damage has already been done to the structure.

FSTs can travel from below ground to a suitable food source as high as the third story attic space, and higher. [5] Formosan termites can establish secondary colonies in very moist wood of upper stories of buildings (even several stories above ground) and do not need soil contact if there is a nearly constant moisture source.  This is particularly prevalent in areas of high humidity where wood moisture is above average. Leaking roofs or plumbing fixtures are common water sources for such “aerial” colonies.[6]

It has been documented where a mud tube was built from the wood floor, up over 12” into the air to reach a water source: water in a waterbed.  The termites actually reached the wood frame of the bed and ate through the wood to get to the water source.  The discovery was made only after the bed leaked.[7] Ground termites eat mainly the springwood (softer wood) of susceptible timbers, most often leaving the summer wood (harder wood) sections. This can be easily seen when a damaged timber is cut open for inspection. 

Trees serve as gateways for termites to enter a house. Termites constantly search for food sources, which include trees. There are a number of cases in Hawaii where live plants and trees have been attacked by termites. Termites infest the center of a tree but do not break through the bark. They eat right up to the outer rim of the tree. The tree can be weakened considerably so that when a strong wind comes along it can fall over. The danger in having an infested tree in the yard is that ground termites can travel through the roots. If the roots go under the foundation of the house it is a subway that can lead them into the house, where the structural wood becomes food. Because they travel inside the root and are afforded its protection they can be very difficult to control or detect. Among the termite favorites are papaya, sweet corn, mango, avocado, various citrus, Norfolk pine, and eucalyptus.  Most houses built in the 80s were constructed on agricultural lands that had been infested previously by termites.

In Hawaii, when a home is found by pest control companies to be infested with Drywood termites (not yet with subterranean termites), that usually means tenting the home. Tenting a home is a process where the house is covered with a tent or tarp. Gas is pumped into the home and left alone for at least 24 hours to kill the termites. The gas is then released from the home and inspectors come in to measure the gas in the air to make sure it is safe to re-enter the home. House tenting is costly. The occupants must vacate the home for 2-3 days including all pets. An increase in house break-ins has been observed the past few years as the tenting provides an open invitation to vandals that the homeowner is not present. This is not a practice commonly used with subterranean termites

(From Treated Wood Use in Hawaii, December 2009)


[1] In 1990, annual figures for prevention, control, and repair were conservatively estimated at $60 million. By 1996, that figure had grown to over $100 million per year.

[2] Formosan Subterranean Termites. January 1995. A Consumer Guide to Termites and Termite Control.

[3] Southern Forest Products Association. Pressure-Treated Southern Pine Takes the Bite out of Formosan Termites.

[4] Yates, Julia R. and Tamashiro, M.  The Formosan Subterranean Termite in Hawaii. Publication No. HSP-2, Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, February, 1999.

[5]  Grace, J. K., R. J. Woodrow, and J. R. Yates. 2002.  Distribution and management of termites in Hawaii.  Sociobiology 40:  87-93.

[6] Woodrow, R. J. Grace  J. K., and Yates III, J. R.. 1999.Hawaii’s Termites – An Identification Guide. Publication No. HSP-1, Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 1999. P. 1.

[7]  This particular case happened in Halawa area near Aiea. 


Steel is Green

Steel is one of the most sustainable building materials in the world. The industry has embraced the common sense approach that reducing its impact on the environment is not only the right thing to do, but it makes economic sense.

  • Since the early 1990s, the steel industry has reduced its energy use to produce a ton of steel by approximately 1/3.
  • More than 95% of the water used in the steel making process is recycled and returned - often cleaner than when it was taken from the source.
  • Every piece of steel used in construction contains recycled content. Further, all steel can be recovered and recycled again and again into new high quality products

  • Steel is durable, safe, and strong. It is not susceptible to rot, termites, or mold. Steel used for framing will last from hundreds to over a thousand years due to its zinc coating, a natural element. Steel structures require less material (both reduced weight and reduced volume) to carry the same loads as concrete or masonry or wood structures.
  • Steel is dimensionally stable: it will not warp, split, or creep - making it durable and built to last. Don’t waste time and dollars on costly call backs. Minimize cracking and pops in drywall and other finishes with CFS framing.

Steel and Green Building Codes and Standards

As more and more green codes and standards begin to make their way into adoption, cold-formed steel (CFS) is well positioned to help your project meet the highest sustainability standards. Steel is recognized in all major green building standards and rating programs, including the National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential buildings, ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for commercial construction, and the US Green Building Council’s LEED program that covers all types of buildings.

How is this possible? More than 82 million tons of steel were recycled in the US in 2008 - more than aluminum, glass and paper combined. That steel goes back into new studs, joists, and other members used in buildings. In fact, steel is the only material with an automatic minimum default value for recycled content in the LEED program. Further, most green codes and standards recognize the excellent potential of CFS at reducing the amount of construction waste generated at a site. Most of this is due to the almost universal use of pre-engineered and assembled panels to build steel assemblies using modern, efficient technology. For example, of all the waste from a 2000 sq. ft. residence framed with steel, less than 2 % of steel is left over and can be recycled compared to that same house built of wood generating 20% of waste that will be sent to landfill.


Steel and the Environment.  Download PDF

Steel Takes the LEED (How to determine recycled content for LEED programs)   Click here

Durability of Cold-Formed Steel Framing Members CFSEI TechNet D001-07 primer on zinc coated CFS   Download PDF

Mold: One More Reason to Build with Steel Framing. Issue Paper  Download PDF

Termite Issue Paper  Download PDF

Poly Canyon Village San Luis Obispo. CA. A university’s experience with CFS as the sustainable choice.  Click here for more info.


Save on Insurance Plans

  • Cold-formed steel (CFS) is non-combustible, which reduces the risk of property loss during construction and over the life of the structure.
  • Reduced risk of property loss leads to lower insurance premiums for builders and owners.

Zurich Builders Risk Plan

  • When it comes to controlling costs on your next commercial or multi-family residential building project, you have choices. Selecting high-quality cold-formed steel over other framing materials is one. Choosing the Zurich Builders Risk Plan is the other. Both are good options in themselves, but together, they create an unprecedented compounded benefit. On every one of your building projects, every time. New consistent classification of steel framing as non-combustible, offered through the Zurich Builders Risk Plan, can reduce your premiums when compared to combustible frame construction.
  • “Have your Insurance Agent Contact Zurich for a Quote” 
    For more information call Zurich Insurance 1.888.79.STEEL or click here to download brochure.

STEEL Advantage Insurance Program

  • The Steel Framing Alliance and DiBuduo & DeFendis Insurance Brokers, LLC (a member of Assurex Global), have launched a comprehensive insurance program that provides builders who use steel framing with as much as a 43 percent discount on a broad range of insurance products. This program makes steel framing even more competitive with other construction materials. Named “STEEL Advantage,” the program is specifically tailored for cold-formed steel-framed construction projects, including single-family tract, low-rise multi-family, mid-rise commercial and mixed-use structures. The program is currently available to all cold-formed steel construction projects nationwide.
    For more information contact Charles Specht, CIC (559) 437-6556 or [email protected].

    Steel Advantage Program. Contact the following for discounts on a suite of insurance products:

    Charles Specht, CIC 
    DiBuduo & DeFendis Insurance Brokers, LLC 
    A member of Assurex Global 
    +(559) 437-6556 Direct Phone 
    +(559) 437-6557 Direct Fax 
    [email protected]

For more information on the Builders Risk Insurance plan and how your agent can contact call Zurich Insurance +1.888.79.STEEL Zurich or click here to download brochure.

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