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©2017 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 59, no. 3, March 2017

By Joseph W. Lstiburek, Ph.D., P.Eng., Fellow ASHRAE

About the Author
Joseph W. Lstiburek, Ph.D., P.Eng., is a principal of Building Science Corporation in Westford, Mass. Visit www.buildingscience.com.

Hawaii is a magnificent place—except if you want to build there. Huh? What’s so difficult about building on islands in the middle of the Pacific? Check out the photo above. Waikiki Beach. Blue water. Blue sky. Wow. Not a problem if you want a tan, and if you want to surf—even better. Also not a problem if you want to drink Blue Hawaiians on the beach watching the scenery walk by.

But building on the beach? Or near the beach? By the way, everything in Hawaii is near “the beach.” Not so easy. The Pacific is salt water—just showing off my Canadian public school education here—and there are waves, and the salt water gets aerosolized and is carried by the magnificent breezes everyone raves about right into your vented attics and into your wall assemblies and corrodes everything and messes up your stucco. Stucco? Yes, salt water spray is not a fun thing on stucco. Just ask those folks on South Beach in Florida if you doubt me or go visit Galveston, Texas.

Oh, yeah, also humidity. Hot, humid, tropical type of humidity. Worse than Houston, but with much better scenery. And wait for it, worst of all, termites. Did I mention termites? The worst kind—like Australian termites but with an attitude, grass skirts and a penchant for SPAM.
In Hawaii people don’t want to build out of wood because of the termites, so they use steel framing. Also, in Hawaii people don’t want to build out of steel framing because of the corrosion, so they use wood. The therapy bills have been expensive trying to sort this out. So we have a mixture of steel framing and wood and engineered wood.

First, and foremost, Hawaiians deal with the termites. The approach is a combination of “interspecies chemical warfare” and “physical barriers.” Back in the old days, we had fabulous termiticides called chlordane and heptachlor. What made them so fabulous was that the little buggers—the termites—couldn’t detect their presence and they would wander through them and die. The coverage didn’t have to be perfect. You sort of spread the termiticides around in an imperfect manner, and the laws of probability and chance would work for you and eventually the little buggers would crawl through them and they would become toast. Problem was chlordane and heptachlor caused cancer in humans, among other nasty effects. The risks were so bad that they were banned in the 1980s.

The replacement termiticides were as deadly to termites as chlordane and heptachlor, but the little buggers could detect the replacements. The termites would say, "Hey, I am not going there, that stuff will kill me." So the termites, being patient, would search around and find a gap in the chemical barrier. A gap could be a footprint of someone walking over the surface of the ground that was treated before the foundation was placed. Kind of crazy if you think about it? No way you could treat the ground with a perfect chemical barrier. The termites got the upper hand—for 20 years.

Now, we have something called fipronil that is as deadly to termites as chlordane and heptachlor but not as risky to humans. And even better, the termites can’t detect it, so it does not have to be applied as a perfect barrier. This is huge. Humans are back winning the game.

Having said that, even though we are back winning the game chemically, we learned a bunch of stuff when we were losing the game that we can still use. The Australians, with their own miserable tough termites, taught the rest of us a thing or two when we were unable to use chemicals effectively and safely. Stainless steel


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