Carpenter Ant Damage and What to Do About It

Carpenter ants cause millions in damage to home structures each year. Here’s how to identify, treat, or prevent an infestation.
Written by Bellina Gaskey
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Carpenter ants target damaged or moist wood above ground to tunnel through and build a nest. Unlike termites, they don’t eat wood, but the damage they cause to the structure of your house can be just as significant and costly. 
Prevention is key to dealing with carpenter ant home damage, especially since pest infestations including carpenter ants are
covered by your homeowners insurance. 
home insurance
is all about saving you money—that’s why we’ve compiled these guides to common home maintenance and repair issues. Here’s what to know about carpenter ant damage, including how to prevent it, spot it, and treat it.

Why do carpenter ants cause home damage?

Carpenter ants burrow through wood to find
empty spaces to build a nest
. In nature, they’ll nest in hollow trees or logs, and they’ll happily
the structure of your home
in search of void spaces that are similarly well-insulated and moist.
The ants aren’t interested in eating the wood. Rather, they tunnel through it to access a protected area where they can settle in, reproduce, and raise up a colony.

Where carpenter ants get in

These ants look for
penetrable areas above ground
, like loose window frames, doorways, pipelines, and even chimneys. Nesting areas include joists, crawlspaces, and plumbing areas around the bathtub or sink.
Damp or rotting wood is especially easy for them to penetrate,
so if you notice wood in your home is deteriorating or got wet, you’ll want to conduct repairs right away. 

How to identify carpenter ant damage to the house

You might not notice that you have a carpenter infestation until significant damage has occurred to the structure of your home. Check the following areas to see if you’re dealing with a colony of carpenter ants:
  • Windows:
    your windows aren’t opening or closing easily; windows seem like they’re sticking; windows are popping open 
  • Floors and walls:
    Floors feel “spongy” or soft when walking; walls appear to bulge or have tiny holes in them; there are small shavings piled up at hole entrances (called “frass”)
Try tapping
a wooden area or wall you think is suspect and listen to see if it sounds
. If you chance upon the nest, rapping on the wall might cause the ants to scatter and emerge from their holes. 

Carpenter ants or termites?

It can be difficult to tell from the presence of holes alone whether you’re dealing with carpenter ants or termites. Here’s how to distinguish the two pests:
  • Carpenter ants have
    segmented bodies
    that are black, brown, or red-brown. They measure ¼-⅜” long. Reproductive males and queens are
    large, winged, black ants
  • Termites
    lighter bodies
    —often brown-white—that are
    not segmented
    . Their heads are quite big in proportion to their bodies.
You can also
examine the tunnels
to see which insects made them. Carpenter ants leave
clean trails
and push out pencil-shaving like “frass” to the entrance as they clear the way.
On the other hand,
termite tunnels are messier
with clumps of soil and debris. They leave uniform white waste pellets
outside of tunnels which can be confused with carpenter ant frass.

How to treat and prevent carpenter ant infestations 

If you think carpenter ants have invaded your home, you’ll likely need help from a pest control company. 
An exterminator may use a
dust method
, where they insert treated dust into the ants’ pathways, or a
perimeter treatment
, which
targets entry points and cracks in your home, among other things.
Carpenter ant wood damage usually isn’t as significant or costly as termite damage, but it can still be financially crippling. The best protection, as they say, is prevention. You can help prevent carpenter ant home damage by:
  • Sealing food in tight containers and cleaning up spills right away
  • Maintaining points of entry like door and window frames
  • Filling cracks in your walls and exterior
  • Shutting off water when not in use to prevent flooding and wood damage

Will home insurance cover carpenter ant damage?

In most cases, damage from carpenter ants (as well as other pests like rats, chipmunks, termites, and birds) is not covered by homeowners insurance because it is
Home insurance mainly provides coverage for
incidents, such as a lightning strike, vandalism, or explosion. 
Insurers reason that homeowners can reasonably detect an infestation and take appropriate action well before the animals can do extreme damage.

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