The Vincent House in Edgartown is located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, and the home is notable for several reasons. For one thing, the Vincent House is one of the oldest man made structures in the United States, as the house was constructed more than a century before the United States came into existence. To be precise, the home was built using medievil techniques in 1672, and keeping the structure standing required effort by each of the eight Vincent generations that lived in the home until 1940. During the late 1970s, the house nearly collapsed due to a long-running termite infestation.
Several aspects of the Vincent house’s pre-1980 design-structure made it vulnerable to termite damage. For example, the home was made almost entirely out of untreated wood, including its supporting posts and beams. The home’s walls were made of wattle and daub, which consists of a network of woven sticks covered with mud and/or clay. Also, all the doors were of batten-board style, which is an antiquated style of door that had been made entirely of untreated lumber. The home’s untreated wood frame and cosmetic wood features also made contact with the soil, allowing easy access for wood-starved subterranean termites.
Naturally, an extensive termite infestation in the Vincent House nearly caused it to collapse 50 years ago. Luckily, the historically significant house was saved, and its wooden frame and doors were replaced with treated wood, allowing the home to retain its original design without being as vulnerable to subterranean termite infestations. Today, each state has varying laws concerning how homes should be constructed in order to make them less vulnerable to subterranean termite infestations. The Housing and Urban Development agency enforces such laws at a federal level as well.
The original mud and stick walls in the Vincent House attracted subterranean termites, which posed an obvious problem, as subterranean termites naturally dwell within soil where they forage for sticks and other forms of dead plant matter. Not only are these materials strictly prohibited today, but many states require the walls of a home to be built in a manner that minimizes moisture retention in wall voids, as termites are drawn to moist environments. Homes also cannot be built with structural or cosmetic wood that makes contact with the soil; instead, a non-wood foundation must be constructed, and all lumber must be treated. Most states require homes to feature proper drainage systems in order to prevent water buildup beneath or around a structure that could attract termites. Homes also must be built in a manner that gives inspectors enough space to properly search for signs of a termite infestation or termite damage. These laws vary from state-to-state depending on a particular state’s level of relative termite-pest activity.
Have you ever seen an old home that had clearly been built before anti-termite building regulations became established?