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The better option?

Being eco-friendly is doing the least possible harm to nature. It is from this perspective that we need to relook at chemical-based anti-termite treatments available today.

Those who have got buildings done know one thing for sure: it is nearly impossible to walk around the building soon after the anti-termite treatment is over. The strong odour of the chemical can put off anyone. Being poisonous in nature, it is even advised to apply them wearing a face mask. If we imagine the impact of these chemical treatments, we may wonder are they only anti- termite or partly anti-humans too!

Possibly, no building today can claim to be totally eco-friendly, yet there could be many that can claim to be better than others. There are rather too many terms such as Green Buildings, Energy Efficient Structures, Sustainable Designs, and Earth Architecture, each with their specific focus like save power and water; minimise wastage; reduce carbon footprints; or emphasise on local natural materials. The simple term eco-friendly suggests we go beyond mere saving of resources, equally well working towards saving nature. Being eco-friendly is doing the least possible harm to nature. It is from this perspective that we need to relook at chemical-based anti-termite treatments available today.

Foundation level

Anti-termite treatments are done at the foundation level, internal floor level and along the external ground surface. Once the foundation trenches or the column footings are dug out, the liquid is applied to the bottom and sides of the excavated parts. During the floor level, with the earth compacted and before the base concrete for the floor is laid, holes with one inch diameter and up to one ft. depth are created at one ft. spacing. The anti-termite liquid is poured into them, until the hole is completely filled with the liquid.

Before the advent of chemical-based treatments, traditionally, lime water was being poured into the dug out soil to enhance its anti-termite properties. The annual lime wash done in villages even today is believed to discourage termites from climbing up the wall and destroy the wooden members. However, lime has comparatively shorter effective life.

Nowadays, organic compounds like Osolin are available. They are safe for humans, but restrict termite movement. Being herbal in nature with extracts from natural products, using Osolin can reduce the extent of chemical toxicity under our foot.

Majority of chemical anti-termite product manufacturers offer 5 to 10 years of performance assurance, but in case of termite attack routinely escape with some site-specific pretexts. The more damaging is the way they discourage non-chemical based liquids, misleading people, stating that only chemical-based treatments are effective, while the fact could be that both have their limitations in heavily termite-infested soils. The challenge is to reduce both — the termites and also the chemicals.

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Tackling termites

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.

09bgpHow 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.

Anti-termite treatment

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.