Subterranean termites are the most damaging insects of wood. Their presence is hard to notice, and damage usually is found before the termites are seen. Prevent infestations because if they occur, they will almost always need professional pest-control service.
Termites are similar in appearance to ants, measuring approximately the length of a grain of rice however; they are creamy white in colour. You aren’t likely to spot one though, as they need a damp environment such as mud tunnels, wood and soil in order to survive. Their low profile and tendency to work 24 hours a day, year-round has helped them thrive since the Jurassic era. Situating their colonies underground, they can enter your home by tunneling into wood or constructing shelter tubes to carry them through paper-thin cracks in your foundation. It’s a common misconception that only homes with wood exteriors get termites. They can easily gain access through rubble foundation walls, concrete blocks, bricks and virtually anywhere there is a crack.
Signs of Infestation
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to inspect for termites or other wood-destroying organisms. Generally, the first sign of infestation is the presence of swarming termites on the window or near indoor light. If they are found inside the house, it almost always means that they have infested. Other signs that may be found are termite wings on window sills or in cobwebs, and shelter tubes / mud tunnels, which are tunnels constructed by the termites from soil or wood and debris. Usually, wood damage is not found at first, but when it is found, it definitely reveals a termite infestation. Anywhere wood touches soil is a possible entry into a home for termites. Examine wood which sounds dull or hollow when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Inspect suspected areas with a sharp, pointed tool, such as an ice pick, to find termite galleries or their damage.
Check the bottom of exterior doors and frames, wood siding in contact with the ground, and crawlspaces. Mud tunnels running from the ground up the side of the house may indicate termite infestation. Observe the eaves and gable vents and wood window sills for indication of the entrance of swarming termites, and note excessive dampness or large areas where the vegetation is dead.
Check the foundation of the house, garage and other buildings for shelter tubes coming from the soil. Look closely around porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens and bathrooms, and hard-to-see places. Check window and door frames, and where utility services enter the house for termite infestation or wood decay. Also, look behind shrubbery and plants near walls. Pay special attention to areas where earth and wood meet, such as fences, stair carriages and trellises. Ensure that exterior grading around the house permits surface water to flow away from your home, be cautious about downspouts that can saturate the ground close to the foundation. This is important because most termites live in the top ten inches of soil from April to December. Their queen can live as much as thirty feet below ground and has a lifespan of twenty years. Firewood and other wood products should always be kept away from your home’s foundation, and vegetation should be trimmed away from the main house structure.
Carefully check all doors, window facings, baseboards, and hardwood flooring. Discoloration or stains on walls or ceilings may mean that water is leaking and can decay wood, and this can aid termite infestation. It is very important to inspect where plumbing and utility pipes enter the foundation and flooring. Also, examine the attic for shelter tubes, water leakage, and wood damage.
Many termite problems can be prevented. The most important thing to do is to deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter. Follow these suggestions:
- have at least a 2-inch clearance between the house and planter boxes, or soil-filled porches;
- eliminate all wood-to-soil contact, such as trellises, fence posts, stair casings and door facings (they can be put on masonry blocks or on treated wood);
- separate shrubbery from the house to help make it easier to inspect the foundation line;
- use wolmanized wood (pressure-treated wood) so that rain will not rot it;
- seal openings through the foundation;
- remove wood scraps and stumps from around the foundation;
- have at least 12 to 18 inches of clearance between floor beams and the soil underneath.
Termite treatment often requires specialized equipment. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the services of a Professional Pest control company, because they will be familiar with construction principles and practices, have the necessary equipment, and know about subterranean termites.
If you think you have a termite infestation in your house, you need to call a structural pest control company to conduct a professional inspection. To find a company, ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, or check the Yellow Pages. If the inspection finds evidence of drywood termites, you have several options, depending on the degree of infestation. Fumigation and heating of the entire house are the only options that ensure eradication in the entire structure. If the infestation is contained in a small area, local or spot control may be effective. However, hidden infestations in other parts of the structure will not be eradicated.
Total (Whole-House) Eradication
For the heat method, pets, plants, and other items that might be damaged by high temperatures must be removed. The house is then covered with tarps, and hot air is blown into the tarp until the inside temperature reaches 140° F to 150° F, and the temperature of the structural timbers reaches 120° F. The time to complete this procedure varies greatly from one structure to another, depending on factors such as the building’s construction and the weather conditions. The procedure may not be practical for structures that cannot be heated evenly.
Local or Spot Control
Local or spot-control methods include the use of pesticides, electric current, extreme cold, localized heat, microwave energy, or any combination of these methods. Local or spot control also includes the removal and replacement of infested structural timber. These methods are intended to remove or kill termites only within the specific targeted area, leaving open the possibility of other undetected infestations within the structure. These treatments are NOT designed for whole-house eradication. Any pest control company that claims whole-house results with local or spot control methods is guilty of false advertising and should be reported.
Local or spot treatment with pesticides involves drilling and injecting pesticides into infested timbers, as well as the topical application of toxic chemicals. The electric-current method involves delivering electric energy to targeted infestations. For the extreme cold method, liquid nitrogen is pumped into wall voids adjacent to suspected infestation sites, reducing the area to -20° F. The localized heat method involves heating infested structural timbers to 120° F. The microwave method kills termites by directing microwaves into termite-infested wood.
If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites:
• sawdust-like droppings;
• dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on the structure;
• damaged wood members (like window sills); and
• swarming winged insects within the structure, especially in the spring or fall.