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Can you beat termites?  RSS feed

 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 15
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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I live in central Africa where there are two conditions that complicate any endeavor in natural building: 1 termites, everywhere; 2 torrential rains for three months of the year. The first precludes the use of wood, straw or any other natural fiber and the second precludes adobe, cob or any soluble material. Any suggestions? Oh, and we don't have stone.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Nathanael,

Welcome to the forum...

I will share first that it is difficult to really be of thorough assistance without more detail of the actually building site location resources. I would further offer that it seems there is already very strong views about what is thought can't be employed there to build with. This region of Africa (chad traditional architecture) has some of the oldest histories in the world (<10,000 years) of "earth based vernacular architecture" so we know that all forms of cobb, and adobe style architecture can actually be built there with enduring effect.

I do understand, actually very well, that the more tropical regions of the world must contend with the challenge of a variety of termite species both fossorial and flying/tree nesting forms. This does not preclude the use of straw or wood in architecture, but more diligence in its selection and design application. When you say "no stone" I am presuming you mean on the given building site, as vernacular stone and timber buildings of Chadian orgin also exist.

I would offer, at this juncture, sharing more details about your building location, skill sets, resources, and to perhaps reach out to the many indigenous native builders that still live in this region if possible.
 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 15
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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Thanks Jay,

Here's my location in South-central Chad:Boudamasa, Chad

Indeed, Chadians have been living in houses for millenia. Good point Allow me to elaborate. Traditional construction is adobe. Usually the mud is a heavy clay mixture dug from a water hole or a river bank and fermented with manure or any other abundantly available organic material. The purpose of the fermentation is to allow bacteria to form muciloginous bonds that, when dry, are slightly more water resistant than plain mud. The adobe house is built by layering the mud one layer at a time. Since colonization they make bricks with the mud first and build a mud brick masonry wall. This works to greatest effect on a free-standing wall surrounding a yard or a city because termites have little incentive to tunnel through this structure. But when used to build a house one needs a roof, and that's where it gets complicate. Whether the roof is straw or adobe the wooden support structure is a termite attraction.

I have lived along the Chari river, where exceptionally good clay is excavated from the river bank. In the best case scenario you must re-apply adobe to the roof every two years because the torrential rains in July and August wash it thin. Even with good upkeep a small, one-room hut with no real structural challenges cannot last more than ten years. A hut with a thatch roof can expect to last about half that long at very best. So yes, Chadians have been living in these structures for a very very long time because house repair and rebuild is part of the seasonal rythm of life. Even if I managed an adobe roof with no wood in the structure to attract termites (no window frames, no door frames, etc.) I still have to re-mud the roof every year. And really, termites are crazy here. You don't dare leave a book sitting on an adobe floor if you want to see it one piece the next day.

I have built and lived in several adobe huts, even painted the outside with different colors of clay like many of the photos you linked to. They looked very impressive. I loved them. So did the termites. But now I think I would like something somewhat permanent. So I'm just fishing for ideas among you creative types. Thanks!
 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 225
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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Perhaps, earthbag construction for the walls, with a corrugated tin roof with metal beams for support.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Nathanael,

Thank you for adding a link to your post. I had actually looked up the same map, so I could refamiliarize myself with your location.

Adobe probably isn't the dominant form of building with earth alone in the entire region of Chad and "cobb modalities" and systems similar to "Bajareque" (I have forgotten the regional term for this style) is probably as common if not more so for some areas.

River banks and other water sources can be a great source for clay bodies, but are not the primary source regionally through most cultures that build with earth. It is just the dirt dug and processed on a building location that is utilized most commonly.

Animal manures primary application is not for the "mucilaginous" effect than can occur, but rather the consistent fiber matrix contained in most "Ruminant" waste. Any enzymatic reactions that also takes place and the mucilage contained therein, is a positive byproduct as well, and does aid in giving a more plasticine characteristic to the clay medium. Rice soups, and other grain starch additives/binders sometimes play a role as well in the many recipes, as does cacti and seaweeds. Fermentation reactions, as far as I know, have little to do with these reactions in general, but do perhaps in other areas play a more vital role, such as "aliz" and other clay based finishes, and outer renders.

...The adobe house is built by layering the mud one layer at a time...


The description above was a bit confusing as it describes the "layering effect" of "cobbing" method, and can also be found in some "Bajareque" modalities.

I should clarify...technically...that "adobe" styles around the globe, are "brick or block" formation modality done by either forming these shapes entirely by hand, but more commonly in molds or forms. They are then placed in the sun to dry until ready to be employed within the construction matrix of a building or other structure's wall or vaulted/corbeled roof diaphragm.

I would also point out that it is a common "Eurocentric" view that most of these methods (i.e. cobb or adobe) are mainly "post European invasion" of the regions. Africa has and had a well formed stone, timber, earth and textile based architecture history for millenia, and long before Europe ever did. So I would suggest...for historical accuracy alone...that we understand the most of the methods (and the forms most germane to the region) are African in orgin, and not European.

This works to greatest effect on a free-standing wall surrounding a yard or a city because termites have little incentive to tunnel through this structure. But when used to build a house one needs a roof, and that's where it gets complicate. Whether the roof is straw or adobe the wooden support structure is a termite attraction.


I am a bit confused by much of this post thread at this point...

If we are to explore viable methods to build in this region, then I can be of assistance in helping interpret the many outstanding vernacular methods to build structures, and still strongly suggest finding an indigenous builder to gain deeper knowledge. The above quote is "subjective" at best and I am not sure how I can address it, as clay, straw and timber structure...when facilitated properly...can be built anywhere in this region to good effect. If that is to be the goal, I would love to be of assistance. Rammed earth methods could also be considered, perhaps with a vaulted ceiling of adobe block. This will require more skill and lime binders as well. I am not a fan of "earthbag" (EB) architecture in comparison to RE but it has a place in the list for consideration, and does (CEB) if available and well made. Fossorial building forms as well from other similar biomes may well have application in dryer and well drained building sites.

If the potential building location is near a river or other body of water that is wonderful for a number of reasons, but is not, as stated before, the primary source for clay bodies in most styles of this architecture. It is a convenient one if available.

As for the "roof issue" that could be a design flaw from a misapplied vernacular system or just part of the annual maintenance process for a given style. Without specifics I can not speak to the modality or its given durability. I can speak to examples in regions of the Iberian and South West Indigenous building styles here in north America, that have annual reapplication needs to both roof and walls of clay aliz and other rendering materials as part of the "maintenance process" and many of these structures are in good standing century after century if properly maintained. Any structure, natural or modern, will require a degree of service on a regular basis to stay in good order.

Transient "hut or shanty" architecture may well indeed have a shorter lifespan than more robust forms but also are much easier to build as well. I will share that it is a choice of which style one cares to follow...robust or transient...as there are structures of earth through this and many regions of Africa that are multigenerational in nature, just as we have Kiva and Adobe structure here and in South and Central America (with similar climates) that are well over 1000 years old.

I do understand the undeniable and dominable effect that some regions face from termites and have seen this in those regions myself. It does not preclude what I have share thus far, and we need to get more into details of a chosen system before it would be prudent to move into "holistic" methods of mitigating termite issues. I can say this is done by proper material selection, methods and even some "treatments" that can be an ongoing need, but does not have to involve harsh chemicals or moder toxins. From the specific regions challenge, it looks like a "termite resistant" wood species (which do exist) will have to be found for the roof and wall frame work, and treatment modalities are going to be the key to more enduring styles of building. I would stress again looking to the more "enduring vernacular forms there" and looking to artisan that still build them for advice. I am more than willing to help with interpretation and specifics were able.

Regards,

j
 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 15
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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I like the idea of earth bag JD, and I've been looking into it. As for the corrugated metal roof, I have one on my current house and it's really loud in the rain and really hot in the sun! I'm thinking maybe a green roof on the metal structure...

Thanks Jay, for the clarification on adobe and cob definition. I see I was a bit confused on the point. So it would be more accurate to say that the local tribes used to built with cob but switched to adobe when the French taught them to make bricks. Nothing Eurocentric about it; I'm just reporting what the old men in the village tell me.

So about treating the wood against termites; we have an abundance of used motor oil in this country. Do you know of any long-term results from treating lumber with recycled motor oil?

I do like the idea of a vaulted adobe ceiling. Perhaps on a wall of compressed earth block. I have yet to find out if termites can get through compressed earth. Thanks for your thoughts!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Nathanael,

Rain should not ever really become a sound issue at all if the roof and/or attic region of a building is properly insulated and/or isolated from the rest of the structure, even if single story. Metal standing seam roofs dominate in most of New England region and/or slate for the better built traditional/natural built structures. Metal roofs can be very loud, but that is not a reason not to use them, and is more about proper design and application.

I think metal frame work is an option if overly concerned with insects infestation, though I would add that metal studing in neither inexpensive nor considered a "natural material" per the main focus of this forum section. A "living roof" (aka green roof) is a strong candidate but have many of their own maintenance and durability challenges...especially if using metal as a structural medium. Metal can have issues with galvanic reactions, as well as "rust jacking" if not a galvanized form. I would also make sure that any "treatments" on the metal will not release toxins into the local groundwater, yet this should typically not be an issue.

I didn't mean for the "Eurocentric" comment to be construed as "specific person" (apologies for that) yet more an observation generically and not anyone person. I believe, and have experienced that in many different indigenous cultures. Many current "locals" are so strongly influenced by the dominance that Europe has had on the modern "normative culture" over the centuries here and for millenia in Africa, that they have lost much of their own culture's purity. Adobe block methods did not ever develop in France or even in Europe but in Africa and move into Europe via the Iberian region and Roman conquest of Europe. The Moors (from Africa) actually brought most of it to Europe via the Iberian occupation by their cultures. Yet, even much of what Roman culture further developed in the way of architecture had root influence from Africa and Asia.

So about treating the wood against termites; we have an abundance of used motor oil in this country. Do you know of any long-term results from treating lumber with recycled motor oil?


Yikes...this ain't natural...or...effective at all and I wouldn't recommend it at all!!!

First choice is a naturally resistant species of wood, and termites don't eat "all wood." Next would be a borate treatment of some form, and natural sourced botanical treatments like African Chrysanthemum tinctures and related holistic treatments. Natural resins and oils also strongly mitigate infestation as does many of the nitrage base "fire proofing agents." Search in the many forums of Permies will provide all manner of information on this subject of "wood treatment and finishes."

I do like the idea of a vaulted adobe ceiling. Perhaps on a wall of compressed earth block. I have yet to find out if termites can get through compressed earth. Thanks for your thoughts!


Listening to your valid concerns and desire to avoid perhaps dealing with termites as much as you possibly can, I would choose this modality over most others thus far recommended other than perhaps moving the structure underground if the building location will facilitate such a design in the architecture....If I may suggest however, that even though termites can be a serious issue, I get a sense that the concern here over termites is a bit exacerbated and out of scope. They are more than manageable even in heavily infested regions. They are a pain in the back side and I know I don't like dealing with them at all, but it can be done and with natural methods if one is diligent in approach and design modality.

Regards,

j
 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 15
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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I know motor isn't natural. But I'm just talking about recycling it rather than letting it get dumped into the ground. Akin to building with plastic bottles right?

Could you suggest a natural material readily available in central Africa to "properly" insulate an attic with--that won't rot I mean. I've been chewing on that one for a long time.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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A plastic bottle is in a "solid state" and relatively inert in this condition. Motor oil is in a "liquid state" and not a comparable at all since this can be washed into other solutions, (aka ground water) and does not stay where it is placed...like on a piece of wood. This is more a modern "folk remedy" than an actual viable solution for treating wood akin to drinking poison if bitten by a venomous snake to cure the envenomation. Much of the oil today that is "reclaimed" does not have to go to the land fill. There are even "combustion methods" that are cleaner than this if facilitate properly and in the correct manner technologically. Simply put...motor oil is not an option nor should ever be employed as a topical treatment of anything because of the impact it has on the environment when used this way.

Mineral wool insulation (matt and board) types should be available in this region within larger urban areas, and is my first recommendation. If not located, then even a simple natural thick render of lime and/or earth plasters can deaden this acoustical annoyance, yet then we move back into creating a matrix of lath for the plaster to adhere to that seems to be a major concern. MgO board is in this region, but not prevalent yet... Recycle plastic bird netting can also be utilized as a armature for natural plasters but not as robust as wood.
 
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