While we are aware that food grown with chemical fertilizers is harmful to humans, we do not realise that buildings built with chemicals could be equally harmful.
How many of us living in a professionally built urban home realise that we are living in an enclosure enveloped by construction chemicals? Not many, primarily because most people are not aware of what goes into construction, but equally because chemicals are being increasingly accepted as inevitable solutions. In the process we are increasing the toxic contents in the building — in soil, mortars, concrete, admixtures, paints, polish etc.
While we are aware that food grown with chemical fertilizers is harmful to humans, we do not realise that buildings built with chemicals could be equally harmful to us. Unfortunately there have been no major research to conclusively prove the above hypothesis; however, the advantages of natural construction cannot be negated.
Among all the chemicals used in buildings, a few could be needed in specific conditions, but the most common one applied in all small or big buildings is the compound for anti-termite treatment. Also known as white ants, termites live underground in some amazingly dug-out earth colonies, often having an anthill above ground.
While architecture has much to learn from anthills, the presence of termites is disastrous for buildings. They can devour any construction timber, leafy matter or top soil and make home within. In buildings their presence is difficult to diagnose in advance, for termites eat from within, and show up only after the damage is done.
The visible signs of termites have been a winding mud tunnel or tube like formation in mud, commonly found on walls and timber sections, in extreme cases covering the whole object. There could be powdering, surface falling apart, decreased weight, hollow sound when tapped and such other indications also.
Toxic urban soil
While anthills are common phenomena, there are fewer found in built areas of cities than in open natural ground. While shortage of space is one reason, the high percentage of toxic chemicals in urban soil is also a cause. They either kill or restrict the movement of white ants.
Incidentally, the possible healthy growth of trees is also curtailed by the urban soil, rich in chemicals. Hence clean manure earth is always laid before making a garden or planting trees. Even in a construction site, the soil immediately below the house is cleared of all organic matter, yet the dry, cool, often humid soil condition makes it an ideal place for a termite colony. With some green plants around the building, sites for humans become ideal for termites also.
Though modern construction techniques insists on anti-termite treatment, a vast majority of buildings still happen with no advance precaution. Sustainability invariably depends upon durability; as such, ensuring long life for what we build is an imperative today. Claiming that life is changing fast and hence we need not build to last can no more be valid. To that end, anti-termite treatment becomes a must, but achieving it with least harm to nature is the challenge ahead of us.