The $2 Billion Bug
And How a Little Engineering Can Stop it Dead in its Tracks
When a living organism escapes its native environment, it can sometimes leave a deadly trail on other continents. That’s been true of African “killer” bees, Dutch elm disease, and even the swine flu.
Today an engineered wood building product has provided a technological response to a similar crisis: the relentless spread of Formosan subterranean termites in the U.S. Sunbelt, an accidental invasion that has killed countless trees – and ruined thousands of homes – in the last 60 years.
The Catastrophe Before Katrina
Formosan termites first made their way to U.S. shores during World War II, burrowing into shipping containers aboard Navy vessels returning from Asia. It’s likely that they first entered through the ports of New Orleans, Houston and other Southern cities.
The termites spread so slowly that they weren’t even identified until 1965 in New Orleans. To combat them, homebuilders used Chlordane, a chemical commonly used to treat the soil around and under homes. Unfortunately, this just drove the Formosan termites from houses to healthy trees.
After the EPA banned Chlordane in 1988, the termite population exploded and they returned to New Orleans homes with a vengeance. They feasted on the French Quarter, where the buildings are mostly wood and sit close together. By the end of the century, the French Quarter was almost completely infested.
A Multibillion-Dollar Bite
Formosan termites have now spread to 14 Sunbelt states, from California to Florida. They have an appetite for both old and new homes, and they can build tunnels as long as a football field to find their next meal.
While an ordinary termite colony eats seven pounds of wood per year, a Formosan colony gobbles a staggering 1,000 pounds. It’s a hunger that’s costing American homeowners nearly $2 billion each year in damage, repair and control.
Finding A Non-Toxic Solution
In the 1990s, LP Building Products engineers began the search for a safe, cost-effective technology that would be a potent termite-buster like Chlordane without the toxicity. The result was the SmartGuard® process, where exterior trim and siding products are infused with borates that naturally and effectively prevent structural damage from termites.
The borates in the SmartGuard process have a complex molecular – and highly lethal – impact on Formosan termites. Since the wood itself contains borates, it’s a permanent solution compared to pre-construction soil treatments that typically deteriorate over time.
SmartGuard technology also protects against fungal decay or rot that can plague homes in almost all climates. For example, LP® SmartSide® Trim & Siding undergoes rigorous testing in Hilo, Hawaii, which receives about 170 inches of rain each year and has a large concentration of Formosan termites. In more than 10 years of testing – the equivalent of 30 years in a laboratory – LP SmartSide Trim & Siding has shown no fungal decay or structural damage.
LP SmartSide products with SmartGuard protection can help homeowners avoid the often irreversible damage caused by termites and fungal decay.