Termites do more damage every year the fire, floods, hurricanes or tornados combined.
There are two kinds of homes: those with termites and those that will eventually have them! According to national statistics, termites damage over 2 million homes each year, and cause over $750 million dollars worth of damage. That's damage that can be prevented.
Termites are tough, determined and highly efficient. Subterranean termites--the most common kind--live in colonies in soil just below the surface, but can dwell as deep as 12' below the surface. The main goal of the worker termite is to find cellulose containing materials. That includes every wooden feature in your home.
Termites can't distinguish between the wood in your home and the wood in the forest. It's important to remember that just because you've never seen termites or termite swarms in your home, that doesn't necessarily mean your home is termite-free. It can take up to three years before a termite colony produces swarmers. And since swarming normally occurs once or twice a year and lasts less than an hour, you may not see them. And by this time irreversible damage may have been done!
All termites need is the tiniest gap in concrete, mortar or metal, and they are able to enter your home's foundation. These intruders are determined little engineers that use mud to construct tube-like passageways leading from their colony in the soil to the wood in your home. These tubes help them avoid exposure to sunlight and open air and can go up walls, along pipes, and around so-called termite shields. Their constant activity could result in irrevocable damage to your home. Termites rarely break through the surface of wood and hollow it out from the inside, the vast majority of their work is invisible, making termites an invisible disaster! Remember, no home is safe from termites unless a barrier is placed between the colony and your home.
Know your enemy.
Subterranean termites require moist environments. To satisfy this need, they usually nest in or near the soil and maintain some connection with the soil through tunnels in wood or through shelter tubes they construct. These shelter tubes are made of soil with bits of wood or even plasterboard (drywall). Much of the damage they cause occurs in foundation and structural support wood. Because of the moisture requirements of subterranean termites, they are often found in wood that has wood rot.
The western subterranean termite, Reticulitermes hesperus, is the most destructive termite found in California. Reproductive winged forms of subterranean termites are dark brown to brownish black, with brownish gray wings. On warm, sunny days following fall or sometimes spring rains, swarms of reproductives may be seen. Soldiers are wingless with white bodies and pale yellow heads. Their long, narrow heads have no eyes. Workers are slightly smaller than reproductives, wingless, and have a shorter head than soldiers; their color is similar to that of soldiers. In the desert areas of California, Heterotermes aureus, is the most destructive species of subterranean termites. Another destructive species in this group, the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, is now in California but restricted to a small area near San Diego. Unlike the western subterranean termite, Formosan subterranean termites swarm at dusk and are attracted to lights.
Drywood termites have a low moisture requirement and can tolerate dry conditions for prolonged periods. They remain entirely above ground and do not connect their nests to the soil. Piles of their fecal pellets, which are distinctive in appearance, may be a clue to their presence. The fecal pellets are elongate (about 3/100 inch long) with rounded ends and have six flattened or roundly depressed surfaces separated by six longitudinal ridges. They vary considerably in color, but appear granular and salt and pepperlike in color and appearance.
Winged adults of western drywood termites (Incisitermes minor) are dark brown with smoky black wings and have a reddish brown head and thorax; wing veins are black. These insects are noticeably larger than subterranean termites.
Dampwood termites are fairly common in central and northern coastal areas in California. They nest in wood buried in the ground, although contact with the ground is not necessary when infested wood is high in moisture. Because of their high moisture requirements, dampwood termites most often are found in cool, humid areas along the coast and are typical pests of beach houses. Winged reproductives typically swarm between July and October, but it is not unusual to see them at other times of the year. Dampwood termite winged reproductives (sometimes called swarmers) are attracted to lights.
Dampwood termites produce distinctive fecal pellets that are rounded at both ends, elongate, and lack the clear longitudinal ridges common to drywood termite pellets. Final confirmation of pellet identification may require help from an expert.
How Do They Live?
Most termite species swarm in late summer or fall, although spring swarms are not uncommon for subterranean and drywood termites. New kings and queens are winged during their early adult life but lose their wings after dispersing from their original colony. An infestation begins when a mated pair finds a suitable nesting site near or in wood and constructs a small chamber, which they enter and seal. Soon afterward, the female begins egg laying, and both the king and queen feed the young on predigested food until they are able to feed themselves. Most species of termites have microscopic, one-celled animals called protozoa within their intestines that help in converting wood (cellulose) into food for the colony.
Once workers and nymphs are produced, the king and queen are fed by the workers and cease feeding on wood. Termites go through incomplete metamorphosis with egg, nymph, and adult stages. Nymphs resemble adults but are smaller and are the most numerous stage in the colony. They also groom and feed one another and other colony members.
Evidence of Termite Infestations
- Wood damaged by termites always has remains of mud tubes attached to wood galleries or tunnels in an irregular pattern. The tunnels may contain broken mud particles with fecal materials. In the case of an active colony, white termites may be found in infested wood.
- The presence of flying winged males, females or their shed wings inside the building indicates an infestation.
- The presence of mud or shelter tubes extending from the ground to woodwork or on foundation walls also may indicate infestation. Workers travel periodically via shelter tubes to their nest to regain moisture and perform feeding duties. Each mud tube is approximately the diameter of a lead pencil.
How Old is the Damage?
Based on normal feeding activity, it takes three to eight years to cause appreciable damage. There have been some predictions that, under ideal conditions, a termite colony of 60,000 workers may consume a one-foot length of 2" x 4" pine in 118 to 157 days. Where you live, the extent of damage may be different because of reduced feeding activity during the cold season.
Inspection for Subterranean Termites
Termite damage may be located by probing wood with a screwdriver, ice pick or knife. Start inspection in the basement and use a bright flashlight. Look for mud tubes and the activity of swarmers. If necessary, get help from a professional pest control operator or advice from an experienced entomologist. A qualified professional inspector should inspect the exterior and interior surfaces of the foundation, particularly construction where wood is on or near the soil. Mud tubes are solid evidence of termite activity.
Other sites requiring inspection are:
- wood construction in basement and crawl space (if present);
- sills, joists, support posts, basement window frames, wood under porches;
- hollow blocks, cracks in cement or brick construction and expansion joints; and
- scrap wood on ground, old tree stumps, fence posts and exterior frames of basement windows.
What can I do to protect my home?
Here are some important things you can do now to reduce the risk of termite attack just by following these suggestions.
1. Eliminate wood contact with the ground. Many termite infestations result from structural wood being in direct contact with the soil. Earth-to-wood contact provides termites with simultaneous access to food, moisture, and shelter, as well as direct, hidden entry into the structure. Wood siding, porch steps, latticework, door or window frames, posts and similar wood elements should be at least six inches above ground level. Eliminating wood-to-soil contact may require regrading or pulling soil or mulch back from the foundation, cutting the bottom off of wood latticework, or supporting steps or posts on a concrete base. Posts or stairs that are embedded in concrete are also vulnerable to termites since they usually extend all the way through the concrete to the soil. Contrary to popular belief, wood which has been pressure treated is not immune to termite attack; termites will enter pressure-treated wood through cut ends and cracks, and will also build tunnels over the surface.
- Don't allow moisture to accumulate near the foundation. Termites are attracted to moisture and are more likely to enter a structure if the soil next to the foundation is consistently moist. Water should be diverted away from the foundation with properly functioning gutters, downspouts and splashblocks. Leaking faucets, water pipes and air conditioning units should be repaired, and the ground next to the foundation should be sloped (graded) so that surface water drains away from the building. Homes with poor drainage may need to have tiles or drains installed. Lawn sprinklers and irrigation systems should be adjusted to minimize water puddling near the foundation.
- Reduce humidity in crawl spaces by providing adequate ventilation. Most building codes call for 1 square foot of vent opening per 150 square feet of crawlspace area. For crawlspaces equipped with a polyethylene vapor barrier, the total vent area often can be reduced to 1 square foot per 300 to 500 square feet of crawlspace area. One vent should be within 3 feet of each exterior corner of the building. Shrubs, vines and other vegetation should not be allowed to grow over the vents since this will inhibit cross-ventilation. Moisture in crawl spaces can further be reduced by installing 4-6 ml polyethylene sheeting over about 75 percent of the soil surface.
- Never store firewood, lumber or other wood debris against the foundation or inside the crawl space. These materials attract termites and provide a source of food. When stacked against the foundation they offer a hidden path of entry into the structure and allow termites to bypass any termiticide soil barrier which is present. Vines, trellises, and other dense plant material touching the house should also be avoided. Dead stumps and tree roots around and beneath the building should be removed (where practical), along with old form boards and grade stakes left in place after the building was constructed.
- Use decorative wood chips and mulch sparingly, especially if you have other conditions conducive to termite problems. Any cellulose-containing materials, including mulch, can attract termites. Termites are especially drawn by the moisture-holding properties of the mulch. Where mulch is used, it should never be allowed to contact wood siding or framing of doors or windows. Crushed stone or pea gravel, though often considered less cosmetically appealing, is less attractive to termites. These materials also will reduce problems with other pests such as millipedes, pillbugs,earwigs and crickets.
Consider having the structure treated by a professional pest control firm.
Although the measures outlined above will help make the house less attractive to termites, the best way to prevent infestation is to treat the soil around and beneath the building with a termiticide. Buildings have many natural openings through which termites can enter -- most of which are hidden. Soil treatment makes the ground around the foundation repellent and/or toxic to termites so that they will not penetrate through the treated layer. Termite-specific baits have also been developed recently, with the intent of eliminating termite foraging in the vicinity of the structure
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