Carpenter Ant Damage and What to Do About It

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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 not covered by your homeowners insurance. 
Expert car and home insurance broker Jerry 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.
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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 explore 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 hollow. 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 have 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 preventable
Home insurance mainly provides coverage for sudden/unanticipated 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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In all but rare cases, no. Pest damage happens gradually—in other words, it’s preventable. Even though these ants aren’t always easily detectable, insurance companies leave you fully responsible for detecting, mitigating, and preventing financial losses due to an infestation.
Carpenter ants are big, dark ants with heart-shaped heads. They make clean tunnels and push the wood shavings (or “frass”) outside. 
Termites are small, whitish-brown insects with long heads that look too big for their body. They leave soil and debris inside their tunnels and deposit waste pellets throughout.

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