Ant Explosion

In the bathroom since 2007 when we moved in…

Ants having a drink from the cat's water cup in 2008.
Ants sharing the cat’s food bowl and water cup in 2008.

we have seen ants on the floor and on the walls.

We have heard ants building their nests in the wood.

We have seen ants in cracks in the ceiling of the basement where all that water damage is.

We have known that the water leaking through the floorboards and into the walls of that bathroom has created such an ideal environment for tunneling, nesting carpenter ants that even the insect-resistant qualities of the cedar could not hold them back.

We have called the professionals: Green Valley Pest Control. For something like $600 they treated various locations in the house with environmentally friendly ant-killer and then they gave us a three-year guarantee.

For a time, there were no ants, but we called them back three times for repeat spot treatments free of charge.

We watched the three-years slip away and noted the return of the clicking in the walls and the occasional ant in the bathroom, kitchen, the living room and even the upstairs bedrooms.

I saw a nest in the shed among the piles of 80 year-old cedar siding on a high shelf (pictured below). Green Valley treated it and so it was still dead when, a few months ago, I removed all the siding from that shelf to see if we could reuse some of it.

The work that ants do in wood is quite beautiful.

But it’s a little creepy when you find a bunch of corpses from four years ago.

All this time I have come to understand that the only way this problem is going to be resolved is by removing the wood in which the ants nest. Just one of our Darn Good Reasons for rebuilding the basement completely.

However, during the whole time we have lived here, I have never seen the nest under the bathroom.

Until last month.

But before I get to that I want to tell you about the first nest I found in a beam under the sunroom.

In 2008, Dave-the-father-in-law was helping me insulate during the First Retrofit. We went into the crawlspace under the sunroom (formerly a back porch) and lined the walls with tar paper, added batts of Roxul insulation, and then sealed it with plastic vapour barrier. This space could not be insulated with the spray foam because there was no interior wall and therefore no cavity to spray into.

Before we got started I was under there alone one day and I noticed that the main beam under the south wall of the sunroom was riddled with ants. You could poke a screw driver deep into the wood in some places.


Below the beam were piles of sawdust.


It was dark, there were cobwebs and spiders in my hair, and my flashlight revealed many many ants poking in and out of the wood and running up and down the corner post.

Sawdust, Borax, ants, ant hotel.

Naturally, I freaked out.

I don’t remember if I sprayed or vacuumed or used Borax but I do know I ripped open a big chunk of that beam. That felt good.

I figured the beam was no good anyway so give ’em hell. Dave later told me my mistake. If I had left the wood alone and killed the ants, we could have injected the wood with a filler that would make the beam more or less ok (it doesn’t have to hold up that much weight). As it was, we had to fit some new wood in there to support that corner. Fortunately, Dave is good at that kind of thing.

When we removed the siding before the lift last month, it looked like this. The green residue is the wood-hardening agent we pushed into the ant holes, and the sawdust, well, you know where the sawdust came from. It was probably the green stuff that kept the ants from returning. That wood was just no fun to chew through anymore.

Here you can see how far the ants had gone. The corner post is an example of rough-hewn chunks of tree that were used as posts in several places in this house and the little yellow house.


Fortunately, the ants never returned…at least, not to this particular nest.

We did know that there were still ants in the house, however. It was as late as this spring that I saw this swarm in two places along the back wall. It was nesting season.

Incidentally, our family has been talking about how insect protein is going to save the world because it can be produced so much more sustainably than meat, and so my 7 year-old son has taken to eating ants. I haven’t seen him try one of the big winged ones, though, and I don’t think he could make a dent in our problem.

Fast forward to the first week of August 2015 when I was gutting the bathroom.

The North wall, the one that had been hidden by the cupboard and the bathtub; the one that was essentially hanging out over space because the foundation wall under it wasn’t…er…under it; that one had a well-worn ant highway running along it at the bottom. There were some ants in there, but it wasn’t the motherload.

Nevertheless, that’s a fair amount of ants and sawdust. Carpenter ants don’t eat wood, but they tunnel in it to make their nests and thoroughfares.

Underneath this wall, revealed when I removed the siding from the house, is a beautiful example of sawdust ant art.

I was thinking that there had to be more ants than this. I moved on to the east wall along which the bathtub had been. Removing the thin cedar tongue-in-groove quickly revealed an ant highway higher up the wall. It was just below where the lip of the bathtub had been and the water had splashed and ran down the wall.

I still wasn’t seeing many ants, but I started to get a feeling that was about to change so I asked Leanne to come over and videotape a little. She was in the basement at the time getting all the wiring ready for the house lift.

Leanne said, “That’s environmentally friendly ant-killer, right?”

“Yeah. Oh, yeah.” James assured her.

In the aftermath, I found it incredible that when the ants found a favourite spot, they were even willing to make a nest in foam insulation. The result is kind of pretty, don’t you think?


Still, we don’t want such art work in our walls. I’m a little concerned about that ant highway I showed you last week. It seems to go into the office/pantry and there may well be another nest under the pantry window. We didn’t have time to pull that wall apart before the house was lifted.

One of these days we will find out.

P.S. Here’s a fun ant combat method from Dave-the-father-in-law: put a new bag in your vacuum cleaner, open up the nest and vacuum up all the ants (that’s the fun part). When you’ve got them all, remove the bag and tape up the hole. Next, toss the whole bag into your chicken coop. Those chickens love them ants!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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