Homeowner Education on Termites


TERMITE CONTROL

Wood-destroying Insects.

Termites are considered one of the most beneficial insects known to man because they convert cellulose (wood) back down to organic matter that is returned to the soil. Fallen trees would not break down without the help of termites and fungi. Unfortunately termites cannot tell the difference between a fallen tree in the forest and our homes.

The hard saw toothed jaws of termites work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments or wood, one piece at a time. There termites eat 24 hours a day, every day.

  • Termites are wood-destroying insects with 3 body regions.
  • There are many species of termites in every state in the U.S. except for Alaska.
  • If you live in the U.S. there is a 99.8% chance you live in a state with termites

Termite Treatments

After being in the business for many years, we as a team have noticed there are many myths, exaggerations, and half-truths floating around about termites. We want to provide the average homeowner with practical takeaways and answers to all the common (and not-so-common) questions.

In the vast majority of cases, new homes receive a termite treatment during construction that lasts anywhere from 6 months to 5 years, depending on application procedures, product quality, and environmental factors. For dry wood termite control, tenting and fumigating a structure is the most common treatment.

Although damage is caused by all, termites actually consume the wood they destroy. Termites and Carpenter ants are the biggest concerns to homeowners. All wood-destroying insects have the potential to cause structural damage, but most often their damage is merely cosmetic.

Stay calm, termites aren’t an immediate threat unless the building is literally on the verge of collapse, which is quite rare. Termites do not bite humans or transfer diseases.

Get quotes and hire a pest/termite professional. Look for reviews, discuss with neighbors, and ask hard questions about pricing and warranties. It rarely hurts to get a second opinion. Get all of the facts and details straight before you authorize any work.

If needed, make repairs to the home. Your termite specialist may be able to recommend a contractor if you need a referral.

When selling your house, be sure to disclose that you have experienced and successfully resolved termite issues. Discuss whether your warranty is transferable to the buyer.

Signs of Termites


Shelter tubes of 'Mud tubes" - termites build and travel through mud tunnels for protection from predators and dry air. If you see a line of dirt making its way up the block wall in a crawl space, you've likely found termites. Beware of bubbled paint or visible, pencil-size mud tubes running across concrete or connection soil to wood.

Swarmers

When winged termites start to erupt by the hundreds in the spring, they are looking to find a mate and start a new colony. When you see two winged insects crawling together or a cloud of winged insects, take a close look and determine whether they are ants or termites. Ants have swarms too.


Visibly Damaged Wood

The surface of severely damaged wood may appear blistered or peeling, as termites hollow out the wood leaving a paper-thin surface. Look for wood that has been tunneled into. Soil is typically mixed in with the wood. Termites prefer soft or previously damaged wood, but will eat most anything.


Is it Water or Termite Damage?

Soil will be mixed in with the damaged wood when termites are the cause of the problem.


Where Do I Look?

Check the perimeter of you house, crawl space, any wet or damage wood, wood piles, attic, garage, pipes, windows and doors, and other entry points. Oftentimes damage is not apparent until it is substantial. When you suspect wood may be damaged, you can check by poking it firmly with an ice pick or screwdriver.


Signs of Termites


Shelter tubes of 'Mud tubes" - termites build and travel through mud tunnels for protection from predators and dry air. If you see a line of dirt making its way up the block wall in a crawl space, you've likely found termites. Beware of bubbled paint or visible, pencil-size mud tubes running across concrete or connection soil to wood.

Swarmers

When winged termites start to erupt by the hundreds in the spring, they are looking to find a mate and start a new colony. When you see two winged insects crawling together or a cloud of winged insects, take a close look and determine whether they are ants or termites. Ants have swarms too.


Visibly Damaged Wood

The surface of severely damaged wood may appear blistered or peeling, as termites hollow out the wood leaving a paper-thin surface. Look for wood that has been tunneled into. Soil is typically mixed in with the wood. Termites prefer soft or previously damaged wood, but will eat most anything.


Is it Water or Termite Damage?

Soil will be mixed in with the damaged wood when termites are the cause of the problem.


Where Do I Look?

Check the perimeter of you house, crawl space, any wet or damage wood, wood piles, attic, garage, pipes, windows and doors, and other entry points. Oftentimes damage is not apparent until it is substantial. When you suspect wood may be damaged, you can check by poking it firmly with an ice pick or screwdriver.


Ant vs Termite: How Can You Tell The Difference?

Ants and termites are very similar but ants do not consume wood.

Winged Ants and worker Ants

Ants have elbowed antennae, thin waists constricted at the thorax and hind wings smaller than their front wings.

Worker ants are practically the same as winged ants but do not have wings.

Winged Termites and worker Termites

Winged termites have straight antennae, broad waists and wings that are equal in length.

Worker termites are practically the same as winged termites but do not have wings.

Common Questions

HOW DO TERMITES FIND MY HOME?
Termites live in and under soil and vegetation near wooded areas. Workers forage randomly for cellulose within a range of up to 100 meters, but the closer they are, the more likely it is they find you.
WHAT IS A SWARM?
At different times of the year, depending on species, a cloud of hundreds or thousands of winged termites fly into the air to find a companion and return to the soil to form a new colony. A burst of winged termites in or near a home is one of the biggest clues that termites are near.
CAN TERMITES LIVE ABOVE GROUND?
Yes, Drywood termites can infest furniture or attic spaces. Even subterranean termites can nest above ground if they have access to adequate moisture.

Myths vs Facts

Myth
I don't need to worry about termites if I have a brick home.
Fact
Termites can build mud tubes to bypass the exterior shell and reach the wood structures. Although the exterior may be covered in brick, wood, vinyl, stucco, cement board, or stone, the vast majority of homes are built with wood frames.
Myth
My home was treated for termites before construction so I don't need to worry for more than 20+ years.
Fact
Treatments will not last 20 years. Some companies will warranty their work for 1 year with options to extend the warranty for 3-5 years. Environmental factors, products used, and quality of work performed all impact the length of time treatment is viable.
Myth
Termites only eat wood.
Fact
Termites eat wood and most other plant matter.
Myth
Termites won't eat wood from my home if there's lots of mulch or decaying wood or other soft plant matter nearby.
Fact
Although decaying wood is easier for termites to chew, they will not avoid the consumptions of structural timber. Termites continually seek new sources of food to eat and store for the long-term protection of the colony.
Myth
Termites can demolish my house in 2 weeks.
Fact
Under 'ideal' conditions, it would still take even the most aggressive termites several months to ruin a home.
Myth
People only get termites in the South.
Fact
Termites are found in 49 states. Only Alaska has no termites.

Anatomy of a Colony

Male and female alates find each other during a swarm, form a pair, dig a hole, and disappear forever below ground to form their own kingdom, never to see daylight again. The new king and queen termites mate and the colony begins.

Once the king impregnates the queen, she is fertile for life and may live 20+ years. The queen is constantly groomed and fed while she is birthing eggs 24/7.

Termites do not sleep. A colony can have 2,500 on up to several million termites. Though colonies grow year after year, by 3-6 years a colony is considered mature and capable of producing a swarm of alates. When a colony has reached maturity, significant damage to a home is possible.

Each termite fits into what is called a "caste" meaning each termite has a specific role and body composition that aids the health and growth of the colony.

Reproductives

This caste is the royal family of the colony. King and Queen are joined by alates and secondary reproductives at the right time of the year winged alates will crawl above ground to swarm and start colonies of their own. Secondary reproductives are like alates that never swarmed. They live in the queen's shadow, capable of reproducing, but would only do so if the queen dies or the colony desires to expand to a semi-connected satellite location. Reproductives live 10+ years.

Soldiers

The primary function of soldiers is protection of the colony. In a subterranean termite colony they make up about 5% of the total colony size. They cannot damage wood and must be fed by the workers in the colony. Soldier termites have dramatically enlarged heads and large mandibles. These jaws are useful in combat with other insects, but termite warriors are incapable of feeding themselves. Soldiers live 1-2 years.

Workers

The workers within the colony make up the vast majority of the colony and are the ones that cause the damage. Workers bite off tiny pieces of wood and have special protozoa in the gut that allows them to break down cellulose into a food source for the colony. Workers are responsible for feeding the entire colony including the queen through trophallaxis. Workers are responsible for constantly constructing tunnels and chambers, gathering food storage, and feeding and grooming other termite castes. Workers live 1-2 years.

Regeneration?

Reasearch has indicated that castes in the termite life cycle are not rigidly set. Termites belonging to one caste may develop into another caste if the colony requires (i.e. a worker termite may become a soldier or a reproductive if the colony experiences a shortage of one or the other).

Three Main Species That Threaten Residential Structures in the US:

Drywood Termites

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Subterranean Termites

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Formosan Termites

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Other Wood Destroying Insects

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Treatments

In the vast majority of cases, new homes receive a termite treatment during construction that lasts anywhere from 6 months to 5 years, depending on application procedures, product quality, and environmental factors. For dry wood termite control, tenting and fumigating a structure is the most common treatment.

IF I HAVE A SEASONAL PEST CONTROL SERVICE FOR ANTS, SPIDERS, MICE, WASPS, ETC., DOES THAT MEAN I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT TERMITES
No. If a termite crawls through the products that protect your home from ants and spiders, it will die. However, termites regularly gain access to homes without contacting any area treated on a regular pest control service plan.
ARE TERMITICIDES (PRODUCTS THAT RESOLVE TERMITE ISSUES) SAFE FOR ME AND THE ENVIRONMENT? )
When responsibly used by licensed professionals, yes. Thankfully, the dangerous products that leave a residual for several decades have been outlawed. Applications are designed to bind with the soil so extended benefit can be achieved; however the products have been specifically formulated to breakdown to protect the environment. The products themselves are very similar to the products that would be used on or in a consumer's home.
WILL I HAVE TO LEAVE THE HOME FOR THE TREATMENT?
Only if a Drywood termite treatment is performed with a fumigant. In that case, you need to leave for a couple of days. Thankfully, the vast majority of termite issues are not from drywood termites.
WHY DO YOU HAVE TO DRILL HOLES IN CONCRETE AND DIG A SMALL TRENCH AROUND THE HOUSE?
These holes are used to pump liquid products under the home. Baits can be effective; however there is no guarantee that they will find the bait or prefer the bait over the cellulose discovered in the home. Liquid applications may not kill the termites either but placing the liquid in all areas where termites may enter the structure (including underground) yields a much higher chance of preventing access and damage to the home.
ARE THERE ANY ORGANIC SOLUTIONS OR HOME REMEDIES?
Before a home is built, termites resistant barriers such as uniform-sized particles and stainless steel screening can be installed between the home and the soil. When used as continuous horizontal barriers installed during pre-construction, these barriers withstood intensive foraging activates of several termite species under field conditions. However these non-chemical barriers are not widely used at this time, so discuss options with building contractors. For homes without active termite barriers, preventing or reducing conductive conditions is the best organic option.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TREAT FOR TERMITES?
This varies drastically depending on the size and type of the structure, type of treatment required, type of product used and type of warrantee offered or selected. Treatment costs can vary from $600-$2000+.
WHAT TYPES OF HOME REPAIRS ARE TYPICALLY NEEDED AFTER A TERMITE INFESTATION?
Structural repairs to replace damaged framing members will be required to safely support your home. Cosmetic repairs such as damage to finish carpentry may be desired by the homeowner.
WHY DOES MY TECHNICIAN HAVE SUCH DREAMY EYES?
He probably works for Insight Pests Solutions.

Takeaways

If You Don't Have Termites

  • Determine whether you have any termite warranties from previous treatments (perhaps during construction on a new home)
  • Remove any conductive conditions
    • All 'wood-to-soil' contacts which may include wood piles wood siding, support beams, and any other structural timbers of a home
    • Plants or mulch from contact with the foundation or exterior walls
    • Ensure that foundation is exposed and visible
    • Prevent or resolve any moisture issues in the home or crawlspace
    • Ensure that water properly drains away from the foundation.
    • Repair damaged wood
  • Inspect any 'problem areas' regularly - looking for mud tubes, swarmers, or wood damage
  • Get a (free) professional inspection each year - many termite professionals will provide an inspection at no charge, just be careful they do not try to sell you something you don't need.
  • If desired, preventive treatments can be made to the soil

If You Do Have Termites

Say calm, termites aren't an immediate threat unless the building is literally on the verge of collapse, which is quite rare. Termites do not bit humans or transfer diseases.

  • Get quotes and hire a professional
    • look for reviews
    • discuss with neighbors
    • Ask hard questions about pricing and warranties

It rarely hurts to get a second opinion. Get all of the facts and details straight before you authorize any work!

SOURCES

www.pestworld.org

www.npma.org

www.entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures

www.extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-4.pdf

www.ohioonline.osu.edu/lines/pests.html

www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/index.html

www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/444/444-502/444-502.html

www.orkin.com/termites

www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/termites/termite.html

www.web.ncsu.edu/abstract/science/wms-termites

www.termites101.org/termite-basics/termites-by-region

www.nws.noaa.gov/hic

www.wikipedia.org

www.city-data.com

www.masseyservices.com/tag/termite-damage