They are focused in their pursuits, they are abundant in number, and they are probably nibbling on your home right now. What am I referring to? Termites! One of the few insect colonies to eat continuously, a typical single termite colony can completely consume 2.3 linear feet of 2x4 pine in one single year. If that does not sound like much to you, consider the seriousness of the situation if that 2x4 was also one of the supporting beams of your house. Keep in mind also that where there is one termite colony there are usually others, clustered together in pursuit of food. Suddenly, that 2.3 linear feet seems significant, and it is, especially when it is multiplied four or five times.
Termites are one of the biggest contributors to home destruction, costing a staggering $1 billion in damages each year. Thanks to the importing of the voracious Formosan termite from East Asia, that amount continues to skyrocket. Think about the following numbers for a moment. A termite colony consists of anywhere from 350,000 to well over a million workers, soldiers, and swarmers (termites with wings). A single termite queen can lay thousands of eggs per day and live between 30 and 50 years. That means a queen can recoup her losses and repopulate her colony even after tremendous devastation. This means the best way to fight this foe is to prevent them from ever touching your home.
Before we can look at how to prevent them, let’s look at the conditions that attract termites to an area:
Soil: Most termites are subterranean, meaning that they build their colonies in the ground. They love the soil and build elaborate tunnel systems, called galleries, extending up to three feet below the surface. Termites will often use this versatile building material to create mud tubes leading from their underground colonies to above ground food sources, like the wood in your home.
Wood: Termites will consume any material that contains cellulose, and since wood contains a great deal of cellulose, termites devour wood voraciously. If a single piece of wood touches the ground, be certain that a colony of termites somewhere will know about it. Although some subterranean termites will consume other materials like vegetation, dung, and humus, their primary source of food, and their favorite, is wood.
Water: As with most living things, termites generally cannot survive without a source of water present. Whether in the form of a leaky faucet or the natural precipitation process of rain, termites will always seek some source of moisture to survive.
Now that the three conditions for termite survival have been identified, we can now look at ways to prevent termites from infesting your home:
1. Identify and fix all water leaks in your home, both internal and external. As mentioned above, termites need water, and it does not matter where they get it. If the water source comes from your home, all the better for the colony. It means they do not have to work as hard. Eliminating their water source removes one of the three requirements for survival.
2. Remove any brush or heavy growth from around your home. Vegetation can create areas of intense moisture, which is necessary for colony survival. Termites like it wet, so try and disappoint them as much as possible.
3. Eliminate any standing or pooling water from around your home.
4. Store all excess building materials and firewood away from the house. Remember that wood is their primary food source. Scrap wood touching the ground is an open invitation to hungry termites. If your property is not large enough for wood storage away from the house, create barriers beneath the wood to prevent direct access to the termites. Thick concrete slabs or heavy duty metal stands can be used to raise the wood off of the ground.
5. Use treated lumber for any wooden structures that will have direct contact with the ground. The chemicals in treated lumber do not guarantee that termites will not invade the wood, but they can act as a deterrent for decks and patios made out of treated lumber. Home improvement centers now offer concrete supports that raise the wooden support beams for decks and patios off of the ground. This would be a great way to avoid wood to ground contact.
6. Avoid using mulch near your home. Mulch provides two things to hungry termites: a food source and a water source. The qualities of mulch that make it attractive for use in the garden are the very qualities that attract termites. If mulch is placed near the exterior of your home, it is only a small step for a colony to move into your walls. As an alternative to wood mulch, try using one of the newer rubber mulches now available at your local home improvement center. They have the look of mulch and the benefits of mulch without providing the risks.
7. Never bury waste lumber or wood scraps in your yard. It acts as a magnet to termites and directs them to your property.
8. Remove any dead trees, old stumps, or roots in your yard. As these items decay, they attract termites to the area by providing a food source. When the food is gone, the termite colony will look for new sources of food. This includes your house.
9. Seal any cracks or holes within the foundation of your home. This will help prevent easy access for wandering termites.
10. Keep all gutters and waterlines clean of debris. Clogged gutters and waterlines leak, creating pools of water close to the house.
11. Make sure your home is properly ventilated, including your attic and internal crawl space areas. Adequate airflow prevents the buildup of moisture needed by termite colonies.
12. Periodically, get your home inspected for termite damage. A once-a-year inspection can save your home with early detection. If termites are not found in the home, the trained pest control specialists can at least offer recommendations to help you prevent an invasion. They may catch something you missed.
So what happens if you take all of these precautions and termites still begin to munch on your home? Use a pest control specialist in your area to help you deal with the problem. Here are a few of the treatment options that are currently on the market:
Liquid Termiticide: This liquid pesticide is generally applied around the foundation of the house, as well as underneath the foundation. For new construction sites, the termiticide is applied to the graded soil as the home is being built, but for existing buildings, the foundation is partially dug out and drilled to ensure proper coverage. There are termiticides on the market that act as barriers and repellents to termite invasions, and there are termiticides that act as nerve poisons, killing the termites upon exposure.
Subterranean Bait: Rather than acting as a deterrent to termite invasion, termite baits attempt to eliminate the colony at its source. Bait stations are set in the ground every ten feet or so around the perimeter of the home. The treatment begins when untreated wood segments are installed in the bait units to determine if termites are active around the house. The units are checked once a week, and if live termites are found, the wood is replaced with a toxic bait that is ingested by the termites and carried back to the colony. The toxins in the bait affect the termites by preventing the molting process, causing them to die ‘within their shell’. This long acting toxin allows the termites to both ingest the poison and carry it back to share with their colony. Special bait units can also be installed inside the home if termites damage is evident. A new series of bait traps have been developed by Dow Agrosciences to fight the more aggressive Formosan termite, which can penetrate cement, brick, heavy duty plastics, and high-pressure water lines just to get to food and water sources.
The best treatment option is a combination of termiticides and bait units setup both in the ground and throughout the house. Termites are hard to kill, and they are even harder to eradicate, so be tenacious in your efforts. Your best bet is to call a professional to help you. Over the counter solutions do not offer the same level of effectiveness that professional grade products do. Your house is one of your greatest commitments you will ever make. It is worth protecting the right way by getting the help of professionals who know what they are doing. But remember. In this case, an ounce of prevention really can take you far, ensuring a better chance of keeping these nasty bugs from eating up your investment before you have a chance to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.
©2006 Ian White Access 2000 Pty Ltd