The advent of spring is generally welcome, but warmer temperatures also bring out unwanted pests, namely termites. Often, termite infestation shows up in the weeks following winter, when those destructive chewers begin swarming and forming new colonies.
Termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage every year, an expense not typically covered under homeowners' insurance policies, according to The National Pest Management Association. Indeed, damage from termites is five times more likely than damage from fire. To heighten awareness of these pervasive pests, the association designated March 25 to 29 as “Termite Awareness Week.”
Diagram of Common Termite Entry points, from EcoChoice
Termites are active 24 hours a day, seven days a week, silently feeding on the cellulose found in structural wood. “Pest-proofing and home improvement projects are often designated to the spring season,” says Scott Fortson, president of Terminix Service, Inc., a South Carolina-based franchise of pest management firm Terminix International.
“Now is the perfect time of year to remind homeowners to take the necessary steps to protect their greatest investment from costly damage. Because termites aren't often detected until it's too late, we advise consumers to arrange for termite protection from a qualified pest professional.”
Subterranean Termites. Photo: backyardbio.dreamhosters.com
The first step in preventing termite infestation is recognizing the problem. Because termites work from the inside out, you may not see a sign of infestation until the damage has been done.
There are numerous species of termites in the U.S. Subterranean termites live underground or in moist, secluded areas aboveground, as many as two million to a colony. Each measuring up to one inch in length, these cream-colored termites travel along distinctive “mud tubes” through foundation cracks and expansion joints, along plumbing and electrical penetrations, behind veneer and anywhere wood meets the ground.
Dampwood Termite. Photo: floridapest.com
Dampwood termites infest wood with high moisture content. Conehead termites, also known as “tree termites,” are an invasive species native to the Caribbean. Drywood termites infest dry wood and do not require contact with the soil.
Termite Baits. Photo: nachi.org
Once a termite infestation is present, professional help is necessary, and treatment is determined by the severity of the problem. The two major methods of elimination are termite baits and liquid termite treatments.
Termite baits are placed around the home and gradually eliminate the population as workers carry the pesticides back to the colony. Liquid treatments are sprayed around the home to kill and repel any termites coming into contact with the chemicals.
Another treatment option is borate. Typically used in new construction, borate is applied directly to the wood of the house as a coating.
Some treatment options work on specific species in specific geographical areas. For instance, fumigation, electrocution, and liquid nitrogen have been effective in controlling drywood termites, common in Southern states. Heating and microwave treatments are used elsewhere.
Because termite damage can go undetected, the NPMA and Terminex also recommend an annual termite inspection by a licensed professional.
Terminex offers the following prevention tips:
• Carefully inspect the perimeter of the home for mud tubes and rotting wood.
• Make sure gutters and downspouts are unclogged and actively divert water away from your home's foundation.
• Repair fascia, soffits, and rotted roof shingles.
• Keep basements, attics, and crawl spaces well-ventilated and dry.
• Maintain a one-inch gap between soil and wood portions of the home.
• Any wood in direct contact with the soil and your structure is vulnerable to termites. Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house and before bringing it indoors, check the wood for pests.