Keeping your home termite-free

  • Published
  • By Richard Gilbride
  • 23d Civil Engineer Squadron
Someone once said, "As far as houses and termites go, there are only three types of residences: those that have had termites; those that now have termites; and those that are going to have termites."

While the source of this quote is most likely an exterminator who probably said it with a smile on his face, the fact remains that scores of termite colonies may have invaded, or are about to invade your home.

It is estimated that in the U.S. termites cause more than $50 billion worth of damage annually, which is more than floods, fires, tornados and hurricanes combined. The average cost to repair a termite damaged home is $3,000. And to make these numbers even more significant, termite damage is normally not covered by your home owner's insurance policy.

Termite Facts:

Subterranean termites live in underground colonies, from which they build tunnels in search of food. They depend upon moisture for survival, so they cannot live inside the wood frame of your home. They build mud tubes, primarily along foundation walls, from the ground up.

Each year termites infest approximately one in twenty homes.

Concrete foundations are not a deterrent against termites because they only need a crack 1/64 inches big in the slab floor to invade your home.

On average, there could be as many as 13 to 14 termite colonies, one million in each colony, per acre of land. A typical home may easily have three to four colonies situated under or around it.

How to tell if a home is infested with termites:

Often the first sign of a termite infestation is the sudden appearance of swarmers, ushering in the beginning of termite "swarming" season.

Swarms of flying termites, called "swarmers" or "alates," can occur both inside and outside of the house, usually in the spring. Swarming termites usually shed their wings after swarming, leaving behind small, papery piles on windowsills, countertops or floors. During swarming season, termite colonies send off large numbers of these winged reproductive termites.

A swarm is recognizable by the sudden appearance of hundreds to thousands of swarmers within a home or building. The swarm often lasts just a few minutes, as swarmers fly a short distance, then fall to the ground and lose their wings.

Soon afterwards, females will emit a pheromone to attract male termites for mating. After pairing, the termites search for a location to begin a new colony.

Termite swarming is triggered by a combination of several successive days of above average temperatures, followed by a light rain.

Swarm activity varies geographically, but occurs most often in the spring during the months of March to May and during the daytime.

A single colony may swarm more than once a year, but ensuing swarms are often not as large as the original spring swarm. It is also common for termite colonies in the same area to swarm on the same day.

Since both termites and ants swarm, it can be easy to misidentify the two.

Small piles of wood residue or shavings often indicate termite activity. Tiny holes in wood, crumbling drywall and sagging doors are other symptoms of wood damage. Termites are attracted to the cellulose and high moisture in wood; some termite species need only a space 1/64 of an inch wide, which is the thickness of a piece of paper to enter a home.

What steps to take to reduce the risk of termite attacks on a home:

Eliminate wood contact with the ground. Wood elements should be at least six inches above ground level. Make sure the soil around your home is graded properly, away from the foundation.

Don't allow moisture to accumulate near the foundation. Divert water away from the foundation. Check faucets, water pipes and air conditioning units for leakage and repair immediately.

Do not store firewood, lumber or other wood debris against the foundation or within any crawl spaces. These materials attract termites and are a source of food.

Do not store cardboard or corrugated boxes on the floor of a garage, which is probably one of the most common things we are all "guilty" of doing. These boxes provide tasty havens for scores of termites. If necessary, construct shelving in your garage to store your boxes and cartons.

If you have a new home that was landscaped after you moved in and never re-treated, the chemical barrier was probably broken, and the home is very vulnerable to termite infestation.

You may want to consider having your home treated by a professional pest control firm. Although you can take certain actions to make your home less attractive to termites, the best way to prevent infestation is to treat the soil around and beneath the building with a termiticide.

If a home is affected with termites, what steps can be taken:

If you recently purchased your home, there may have been a wood infestation inspection and report performed as part of the closing. If so, you have a 90-day warranty from the date of the inspection requiring the company issuing the report to treat the property at no cost.

If you have an existing termite warranty, often incorrectly called a "termite bond", immediately contact the company and have them perform an inspection. While you wait for the inspector to arrive, take photos of the insects you see and collect samples if possible. Don't sweep up any dead insects or apply any type of insecticide, you want the inspector to see the insects alive if possible.

If you don't have a termite warranty, obtain a few references and contact several companies for inspections. Again, don't disturb the insects so the inspector can see exactly what is happening.

Preventively treating a home for termites is a reasonable investment, especially if the structure has had no prior history of treatment. If a pest control firm did previously treat the building, then consider maintaining the warranty by paying the annual renewal fee. Should termites re-infest the building, which is almost a definite possibility, the company should return and re-treat the affected area at no charge.

As the adage goes, "An ounce of prevention" may protect your home from termites!