In the US over 90% of all homes are wood framed and many are in constant threat of the costly destruction caused by termites and other wood-destroying pests. While preventative measures help, identifying warning signs or evidence of a serious infestation and having a basic understanding of the behavior of these pests are the first steps in creating an effective termite control plan.
There are several types of termites that attack American homes, but roughly 95% of termite-related damage is caused by subterranean termites. As their name implies, these termites maintain their nests underground and build tunnels from the nest to the food sources. Drywood termites are typically restricted to the southern parts of the US, while dampwood termites are local to the Pacific Northwest.
These pests are distinguishable from ants by their straight antennae and uniform waists. Worker termites are sterile and typically hidden within the wood they infest. They are white, wingless, and 1/4 inch in length. Reproductive queens are 1/2 inch long, winged, and dark brown or black in color.
Termites swarm each year, spreading to start new colonies. This most commonly occurs in the spring as winged termites disperse (though swarms can occur at any time of the year), and these pests appear to be swarms of "flying ants." If a swarm is seen, that is an pretty good indication that a nest may be nearby. Swarmers often seek light and are found near light fixtures and windows.They are also known to shed their wings when they settle to begin a new colony. Piles of these wings are typically found near the new colony once swarming season ends.
What to Look For
Termite infestations don’t always cause physical evidence. You may see mud tunnels, but you may not see any visible damage at all. Damaged wood typically has a dull, hollow thud when tapped and may appear crushed at structural bearing points. Another indication of an infestation is the presence offrass, or wood shavings left behind by the tunnels they bore through wood.
Mud Tunnels: These are tube-like mud tunnels built by subterranean termites from their underground nests to food sources. They are made of digested wood and soil are roughly the same thickness as a pencil and are typically found running up the sides of exposed foundation.
Identifying warning signs:
· Any cracked or bubbling paint or frass.
· A temporary swarm of winged termites in your home or emerging from the soil around your home.
· Mud tubes on exposed foundations, exterior walls, and in crawl spaces.
· Piles of discarded wings from swarmers.
· Wood that sounds hollow or dull when tapped.
Small preventative steps can make a big difference with regard to termites. By eliminating sources of moisture or food around your home, you can reduce the risk of infestation. As with any pest, preventing a termite problem is far easier than treating it once you have a full-blown infestation.
Remove Food Sources:
· Clear stumps and debris from around your house
· Remove any lumber or firewood stored nearby
· Check decks and wooden fences for visible damage
· Repair any leaking faucets, pipes, and air conditioning units
· Keep gutters and down-spouts clean
· Remove excessive plant cover and wood mulch near your home
A termite infestation is definitely not a do-it-yourself project, despite many store-bought remedies that promise otherwise. We utilize multiple treatment systems in order to combat even the most severe infestations. Both barrier and bait systems are effective and can be used simultaneously.
Barrier systems involve a technician injecting insecticide into the soil surrounding the house and under concrete slabs to create a continuous barrier of protection that termites won’t cross. These chemicals are applied in very low concentrations and are safe when administered by our well-trained technicians. The advantages of a barrier system are that it is less costly, acts faster, is less complicated, and has a longer track record of success in treating termite infestations.
Bait systems are reliable and becoming increasingly popular in recent years. The bait stations our technicians install around the perimeter of the home or building contain untreated wood bait to determine where termite nests may be located based on activity. Once termites have been located foraging in the bait systems the wood bait is switched with treated bait that is poisonous to the termites. Termites exchange food and bodily secretions among colonies and once they have foraged the poisoned bait, all the members of the colony exchange the poison and quickly die. The advantages of a bait system are that it destroys the entire colony, it’s safer, and is more environmentally friendly, using fewer chemicals than a barrier system.
Termites and Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants are frequently confused with termites, but unlike termites, ants have pinched waists and bent “elbowed” antennae. However, just like termites, carpenter ants have a winged version and can cause tremendous damage to wooden structures. Also carpenter ants may leave behind sawdust as they eat through the wood too, but they don’t digest the wood as termites do.
They prefer damp locations, often underground, such as in dead stumps and firewood. These ants are also found indoors where water may leak like around windows, bathtubs, sinks, drains, and chimneys. Ants are nocturnal, and unfortunately, a very small fraction of a colony is often visible.
Like termites, the treatment of carpenter ants is best left to professionals. Frankly, carpenter ants are fussy eaters and many store-bought treatments are ineffective at controlling them and spraying each ant as you see it will not solve the problem. Carpenter ant prevention is fairly similar to preventing termites – remove sources of moisture and food around your home.