Strategic approach to combat termites in France

The following blog summarises the strategic approach to combat termites in France.  As a Building Surveyor in France we adopt this approach when undertaking surveys.  Termites are small insects that feed upon the cellulose of wood. There are 7 species found in France, most prominently in the South West albeit they are expanding info further areas as the climate warms. They live in sophisticated colonies organised into various specialist teams that gives them the ability to destroy timber structures with alarming speed and efficiency. Furthermore, because they devour the timber from within the timber structure, their presence and destructive work may go unnoticed for years. Timber beams may look sound, but have been hollowed out by the termites. This results in weakening the timber or total structural failure.

Termites are therefore of concern to both homeowners and the French authorities. The law in France requires that when selling a house the vendor is required to commission a report within the DDT that confirms the presence / absence of termites. The report is valid for a period of 6 months and is not qualified to comment on the structure of the house nor the specific consequences of infestation to the particular elements of the building structure.

The modern approach to address infestations includes replacement of damaged wood the application of chemicals to the deter future attack. However, much of the infestation will be in the timber favoured by the termites, buried deep behind masonry and therefore inaccessible to treatment. Accordingly remediation can be very costly and disruptive.

As a Building Surveyor in France we provide advice to adopt a strategic approach to combat termites and importantly provide enhanced defence against future infestation. To better understand the approach, it is important to firstly understand the environment required by termites. Subterranean termites require a damp environment in which to live and avoid sunlight. They build mud tubes to allow them to travel over dry structures and remain concealed from bright light. Accordingly a key to providing a less attractive environment to termites is the removal of damp to the structure and timber within the building. This is normally undertaken by a combination of addressing faults to roofs, gutters, drainage etc in addition to ensuring adequate ventilation to floor voids, roof voids etc. It is important that humid air from within the living areas of the house is ventilated out of the house and not into the roof void. Removal of shrubs and debris etc around the base of the house will also reduce shading and allow for easier inspection and observation of any termite evidence.

‘Dry wood’ termites nest above ground and don’t require contact with the ground. Like any organism, even ‘dry wood’ termites require some moisture to live that they derive from the wood.

As a Building Surveyor in France, we undertake detailed Property Survey inspections in accordance with RICS training and standards. This includes damp meter readings to timber and masonry. The Survey Report is forward looking, providing recommendations as to how to maintain and ventilate the property so as to keep the structure dry. This in turn will draw moisture away from timber imbedded within stone walls etc. The Survey also includes outbuildings and the general garden / grounds surrounding the house. Specific recommendations are made as to the type of plants / shrubs and flower bed design that should be adopted in the area surrounding the house so as to provide a hostile environment for termites. This is a critical element of the overall measures to be adopted to enhance defence to combat termite infestation. The vendor’s DDT report is valid for 6 months and is understandably caveated by the fact that the inspection cannot assess timber that is inaccessible, including that concealed behind masonry. The principles of our Report recommendations are valid for decades, and include recommendations for the drying of even the concealed timber.