In renovating a vacation cabin, I discovered carpenter ants working their way through the walls. Is there any way to responsibly get rid of the pests without using noxious chemicals that could potentially harm my family?
—Curran Clark, Lummi Island, WA
Carpenter ants may seem small and look harmless, but they can do serious damage to anything wooden in your home, including not only furniture but also the very framing and walls that hold up the house. If you are seeing a lot of ants or small piles of sawdust-like material in random spots in or around your home, you are most likely suffering from a carpenter ant infestation.
Ants are very social beings and form large colonies before spreading out to find additional nest sites. They thrive by hollowing out wood, especially in moist or rotten spots, to build their nests and then use their new home in your walls and chairs as a base camp from which to forage for food and water in their nearby surroundings. Indeed, their very presence is a good indication of moisture or rot problems in the wood, so homeowners may have more work on their hands than simply exterminating carpenter ants.
In the northern latitudes of the continental U.S. and in much of Canada, carpenter ants are the most common insect wood destroyer, surpassing even the mighty termite. But while many commercially available chemical pesticides will rid a structure of carpenter ants, homeowners are increasingly steering away from such toxins proven to impact the human nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.