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Here's How: A Borate Solution Can Be Used To Make Lumber Last Longer

James Dulley on

Dear James: I found some termite or carpenter ant damage in the wall supporting lumber. After I have an exterminator treat my house, how can I treat the new replacement wood? -- Jeffery H.

Dear Jeffery: Termites and ants can do significant damage to the wood in a very short amount of time. They often are drawn to wood that is continually damp and in contact with the ground. Once the wood is damaged by the termites, the dampness penetrates farther, and wood rot and fungal decay also occur.

Your house will have to be treated for termites. Perimeter treatment is usually the preferred treatment option. This allows the termite and ant colonies to live outside of your house naturally in the ground. They serve a useful purpose of disposing of old rotten wood and tree roots in nature.

With your house treated to block termites and the ones inside your house killed, remove all the old, damaged lumber. This can be a major task, often not just a do-it-yourself project. The band joist, which supports much of the house walls, is often a place of entry, and this lumber is destroyed. The floor joists will have to be supported somehow to repair or replace the band joists.

People typically do not like to have pressure treated lumber inside of their homes because of the harsh chemicals used and possible odor. There are other preservatives, such as a borate solution, which can be applied directly to the lumber. Borate is a natural waterborne preservative that has been used for centuries to protect lumber.

Borate can be found at most home center stores. Be sure to select borate that has an EPA label stating it to be used for a wood preservative. These borate compounds are not toxic to humans or pets, but they will kill wood-boring insects and fungus. There are stronger borate solutions that are classified as insecticide, and they must be applied by a licensed treatment expert.


Since borate is a water-soluble compound, it must be reapplied on lumber that is exposed to rain or other constant dampness. The powder form of borate is most commonly available. It dissolves quickly in water for easy application. It does not change state or form permanent bonds, so each time it gets wet, it redissolves and is partially washed away.

If you can paint wood with a brush, roller, sprayer, you should have no problems applying the borate solution to the lumber. Even though it is relatively nontoxic to people and pets, wear a mask, avoid breathing the vapors directly and have adequate ventilation. If you are applying it outdoors, select a day when no rain is forecast for at least 24 hours.

Another option to protect lumber from insects and rot is to insert Impel rods into the wood. Impel rods are small sticks of concentrated boron. Drill small holes in the lumber and slide in the rods. These can also be used in existing wood where you already see signs of decay. The holes can be sealed with filler and painted. These are effective because when the wood gets damp, the rods slowly dissolve as needed.

Send your questions to Here's how, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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