Last week, I observed untreated timber being used to frame the roofs of three houses. The foreseen result is termites feeding on the untreated wood, resulting in a roof weakened to the point where it will fail prematurely during a hurricane.
Why would homeowners use ‘termite delight’ to build their structural frames? They were likely unaware, because they trusted their builders to do what was right. Why would builders choose untreated timber for their clients? The likely reason is that it is cheaper.
THE COST OF TERMITE DELIGHT.
A 14 foot long 2”x6” pressure-treated structural Pine costs about $70. The cost of the same size in untreated timber may cost $35. Therefore, the builder may save about $1,500 by using untreated rafters in the roof of a 1,000 sq-ft (3-bedroom, 2-bathroom) house. After the hurricane, the homeowner may have to spend about $25,000 to replace the roof.
The annual home insurance premium for such a house is about $1,500. The cost to termite-treat such a house that was built using untreated timber is about $1,500. But that termite treatment is only effective for about 5 years, which means that the house should be treated for termites every 5 years. By comparison, the termite treatment in pressure-treated timber remains effective for about 60 years.
AVOIDING THE RISK.
To ensure that their builders use termite treated timber, homeowners should purchase the termite treated structural timber themselves. If the builder has already purchased the timber, then they should request a copy of the payment receipt. They should then visit the store and request a sample of both pressure-treated and untreated 2”x6” structural Pine timbers – then they should visit their building site.
If they see untreated timbers in their roof, they should inform the builder that they are not paying for untreated timber, or any roof cladding on that timber, or any ceiling supported by it. If he does not replace the untreated timber at his own cost, then the homeowner needs to find a better builder.
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.
It should be illegal to use untreated softwood, like Pine, to frame any part of a house in the Caribbean. If persons want to use untreated softwood for non-structural purposes, then the longest length of timber sold should be six feet, to prevent it from being hidden from the owner, in plain sight, in the structure of a house. Anything longer, should require a special license.
The evidence of damaged termite weakened timber frames from Tropical Storm Tomas (2010) and Tropical Storm/Category 1 hurricane Elsa (2021) was overwhelming. It is foreseen that a Category 3 hurricane will likely result in the failure of most roofs in Barbados. The hurricane season is fast approaching, and we are running out of time to take this risk seriously.