You’re enjoying a nice summer afternoon on your back porch and notice something swarming off in the distance. Not giving it much attention, you wave it off as typical summer bugs. Back inside a few hours later, you notice a pest control truck at your neighbor’s house. Staying on top of the neighborhood happenings, you wander across the street to talk to your neighbor. He’s telling you about the swarmers he saw in his backyard a few days ago. The pest control guy comes around the corner and tells your neighbor his fate: he’s got termites. That sets your mind racing to what you saw earlier that afternoon in your own backyard. Could you have termites too? Keep reading to find out.
What are Termites?
In the United States, there are three main types of termites: drywood, subterranean, and dampwood. Though, the overwhelming majority of termites are either drywood or subterranean, subterranean termites cause about 95% of the damage we typically associate with this dreaded insect.
All three types of termites look about the same to the naked eye, and non-professional. One of the main distinctions between drywood and subterranean termites is the wings – specifically the wings on dead termites. Drywood termites shed their wings after swarming, so if you find a dead swarmer without wings, it’s likely a drywood termite. Subterranean termites do not shed their wings after swarming, so if you find dead swarmers with their wings still attached, you are likely dealing with subterranean termites.
Termites can live up to 50 years. That’s right – 50 years! So, it’s important to get rid of them when you see them so you can make sure you’re not dealing with a half-century problem. Did you also know that termites survive in a social caste system? There are three different “castes” of being a termite: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. And then, of course, overseeing them all, is the termite queen. Queens can live up to 30 years preserving the termite colony, laying up to 30,000 eggs every day. No wonder termites are such a problem! And a costly one at that – costing Americans up to $5 billion in damage a year. Yes, billion! What about homeowner’s insurance you might be asking? Unfortunately, most insurances do not cover termite damage and treatment.
So, we know about that queen – how about the others? Workers are adult termites and their job is to eat the wood. And they don’t distinguish between a floor board in your house or a tree outside either. Wood is wood to them – and they eat it to nourish themselves and nourish the termites in their colonies. Workers also have the important job of protecting the eggs.
How about those soldiers? They are the colony’s protectors. If ants or other unwanted visitors try to invade the colony, they prevent them from entering. They also tap on the walls of the colony to signal danger and intrusions to the other termites.
And the reproductives? The name says it: their job is to reproduce and further their species. Swarmers are termites who have mated and are now flying out of their colony to make a new colony. Swarmers are most likely to be seen in warm weather and after heavy rains.
Spotting a Termite Problem
Now that we know a little more about these fascinating insects, what are the tell-tale signs that you might have a termite infestation? You don’t have to call a pest control company to find out. Read below to spot some of the most classic signs that you’ve got termites.
Let’s say you’re in the crawlspace under your house, trying to see if you have a leaky pipe. You span your flashlight across the walls, looking for water damage. But, instead you see mud-like structures. Tubes – they look like mud-covered tubes. What in the world is that? The most likely culprit? Subterranean termites. These mud tubes are the number one sign of the little guys. Why do they build mud tubes? It’s their mode of transportation from underground to above ground in their search for wood.
Here’s another scenario. You’re out back during a hot summer afternoon and you notice a bunch of wings all over the ground right outside your back door. Wings that are not attached to an insect. They almost look like fish scales. Has someone been cleaning fish on your back steps? Or, is this a sign you have termites. Most likely, it’s the latter.
One more telltale sign that you might have termites: tiny wood-like, sand-colored pellets around any wood structure or material. If you kick a piece of wood nearby these pellets, you’re likely to kick right through it. These are termite droppings and the third most likely sign you could be dealing with a serious termite problem. Now, you can call a professional in to confirm and listen to the thousands of dollars it’s likely going to cost you to not only get rid of the termites, but also to repair the damage they’ve already done. But, before you do that, is there any way you can treat it yourself?
You’ve Figured out You have Termites. . .Now What?
Well, one thing you could do is call in the professionals. A pest control company doing a termite inspection is going to use a couple main modes of attack. First things first, the pest control company is going to treat the foundation of your home, the inside of your home, and the outside of your home – spraying chemicals to essentially form a barricade around your house that termites cannot and will not enter. Next, the pest experts will treat areas that are infested with termites – this could be spraying chemicals into and onto surfaces where termite damage was found. Lastly, your pest specialist is likely to put out bait stations around your home. What do bait stations do? Bait the termites. . .enticing them to come into the station. The bait station’s purpose is to interrupt the lifecycle of the pest by not allowing them to grow properly. Disrupting this process breaks the lifecycle and will eventually kill off the colony.
But, what if you don’t want to hand out thousands of dollars over to the pest companies? Can you do your own home inspection and treatment? Of course! It just takes a little learning and training. You already know how to spot if you have termites. Assessment’s done. Now what? Here are your different methods to home termite treatment.
The most popular, and most widely used method, to get rid of termites is a barrier protection method with a chemical called termiticide. This liquid chemical essentially treats and forms a protective barrier to prevent termites from entering the area or any point of entry. If termites try to get through the soil where termiticide is sprayed, they will die. Great – sign me up, you’re thinking. Where can I buy termiticide? You can buy termiticide online. How effective is this method of termite control though? Well. . . it depends. First, you would need a very large amount of the chemical to fully and adequately treat your home. Depending on how many square feet your house is, you could require up to 150 gallons of termiticide to effectively treat just the soil around your foundation. That’s not including the additional treatment you’d need to do to cracks and crevices. Termites are very, very small, and can squeeze into spaces you wouldn’t believe. So, to be thoroughly effective, you’d have to do a pretty thorough job of spraying every possible spot of entry into your home. This is why most pest control companies don’t rely on chemicals alone. And neither should you. The second step to chemicals? Termite baits.
Do-It-Yourself Termite Bait Stations
What exactly is a bait station made of? In most cases, they are simply paper or cardboard products – a food source for termites, treated with a substance that is lethal to termites. When the workers go to find food, they carry the poison back to the colony to feed the others. Once the poison is ingested, it kills off the termites, disrupting their lifecycle and interacting with their ability to reproduce. Not only are bait stations more effective, though more costly up front, to treat termites in your home, they might actually save you a lot more money in the long run. The best solution? Use a dual-method approach: create a barrier with chemicals and also use bait stations.
So, how do you make a bait station and what is involved? You can buy pre-bait kits that are available online. Once you receive the kits, it’s important to place them in the correct spots around your home. Some termite baits are put below ground or into the landscape of your home. These baits need to be monitored to know when to drop in the active ingredient to kill off the termites. Mostly used to bait subterranean termites, these baits are stuck into the ground with a supply of untreated wood for the termites to feast on. Once the presence of termites has been detected, you drop in the poison to kill them off. Other types of bait stations are placed near mud tubes or other places where you’ve seen feeding activity in your home. These types of stations do not need to be monitored. It’s important to know that these baiting stations do not actually “attract” termites. That’s why the placement of these baits are so important. Termites will forage near their colonies, so they’ll eventually get to the bait station in their attempt to find food. If you place the bait station far away from where they are foraging, the bait stations are not going to work.
Will these Home Treatments Work?
The success of your termite treatments depends on a number of things: the size of the infestation, where the infestation is, and the methods you use to control them. If you have a large termite infestation in your home, you’ll likely need to call in the professionals to at least help out with the infestation. This is especially true if you live in a home built on a concrete slab or homes with a basement – where you don’t have access below the slab to apply termite treatment or would require a large amount of drilling in your basement to access the infestation.
What types of situations are most conducive to do-it-yourself treatment? If you live in a home with a crawlspace, or access to where you could install bait stations or chemicals, these are the most ideal types of situations for do it yourself treatment.
Also, perhaps your termite infestation is attacking your wood fence or other type of wood structure (for example, your tool shed). These types of structures are easily accessible for both types of treatment – baits and chemicals.
Termite Home Inspections
If you are buying a house or selling your house, you’re most likely going to need a termite inspection done by a professional. Why? Because the mortgage company is going to want a letter of approval from a licensed professional that clearly states whether termites are present or not. These are not situations that involve “do-it-yourself” inspections.
Whether you’ve already dealt with a (costly) termite infestation or you are wanting to prevent any type of infestation from occurring, termite prevention is the way to go. What’s the best way to prevent termites? There are several:
- Eliminate any point of entry that you can. Termites are attracted to moisture. So, if you have leaking pipes or AC units that collect a pool of water, get them fixed right away. If you don’t, it’s like you are turning on a “We’re Open” sign to the termites to start invading your home’s perimeter and set up shop.
- Don’t store your firewood or any mulch close to your home. Again, wood is food to termites. And this will open up the restaurant to the rest of your house.
- Keep your landscape well-maintained. Clean up old stumps or any yard debris that could become a breeding ground for a termite colony.
- Routinely check your yard for structural damage or indication that termites are nearby. Don’t ignore a swarm if you see it. Go investigate to make sure they aren’t trying to find a great place to live.
- Set up bait stations as a preventative measure as well. You don’t have to wait until you have termites to treat for them. Bait stations are not only good at controlling termites, they’re good at keeping them at bay.
Termites, while fascinating, are extremely costly. Being aware of what termites look like, signs of infestations, and ways to treat your problem, can be a potential money – and home – saver. Stay vigilant!