Friday, April 26, 2013

Termites 101

By Alan Caruba

Since the late 1980s, I have received an education about various aspects of pest control as the public relations counselor to the New Jersey Pest Management Association. Most people are unaware of how much damage pests do—particularly the ones that invade a home and settle in to eat parts of it.

“It’s an annual ritual of spring,” says my friend Leonard Douglen, the Executive Director of the NJPMA. “Along with the warm weather, thousands of homeowners will discover that they have been playing host to colonies of termites.”

“In the springtime the most visible evidence of a termite infestation are the winged “elates”, those termites whose job it is to start new colonies. This mating flight of hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, usually lasts from three to five days.”

Here’s a quick guide to what to do if you discover winged swarmers, usually gathering around windows as sunlight streams in. It is a guaranteed sign that the structure has a termite colony.

Estimates of the nationwide cost of the damage termites do every year range between five and six billion dollars.

“By far the Subterranean termite species pose the greatest problem,” says Douglen, “because they are the most difficult to control and their nest may be below ground.” There are several species of termites throughout the nation. In addition, there are Carpenter ants which also cause comparable damage.

The most visible sign of an infestation are the mud tunnels termites build to access a structure, often against a foundation or pier post, and frequently visible in basement void areas under porches and other parts of the home.

Homeowners are advised to eliminate any water leaks in the roof and other areas, and have the system of gutters inspected to ensure they are keeping water away from wooden surfaces. Crawl spaces in attics or basements should be kept dry through ventilation or vapor barriers. “It is essential to eliminate all wood-to-soil contact,” says Douglen, “and to avoid having mulch against the structure.”

Based on normal feeding activity, it can take from three to eight years for a termite colony to do serious damage to any structure. Experts believe that, under ideal conditions, a termite colony of 60,000 workers will consume one foot of a 2-inch by 4-inch pine word in 118 to 157 days. Termites eat wood, flooring, sheetrock, wallpaper, plastics, paper products, and fabric made of plant fibers.

“One of the best investments homeowners can make,” says Douglen, “is an annual termite inspection by a certified, trained pest management technician to identify such potential points of infestation.” The bad news is that a colony of hundreds of thousands of termites may operate in different locations throughout a structure.

Douglen notes that people sometimes think the swarming termite alates, the winged reproductive class, are winged ants because “ants and termite swarmers not only look similar, but they come out at the same time, either to expand their colonies or to start a new satellite one.” The termite swarmer is drawn to any light source such as a window or where the sun is shining on a wall. The usually drop their wings. “A termite has a straight body compared to an ant which has a pinched waist. The termite’s antennae are straight while ants have an elbowed antennae.”

Douglen recommends gathering a few samples of the winged insects and seal them in a plastic envelope such as a sandwich bag. Then call a pest control firm. “They will send a technician who has been trained to identify various insect species.”

Pest control professionals recommend that you vacuum the uninvited winged invaders, but expect to have to repeat the process for several days. Mother Nature always deals in massive numbers.

© Alan Caruba, 2013


TexasFred said...

Have you noticed the similarity between termites and Democrats?

They consume everything they can...

The lay waste and ruin to everything they touch...

They never have been useful in ANY way..

Just sayin'.

Alan Caruba said...

Now that you mention it, yes!

Unknown said...

We once had ground termites at our previous house and it is amazing how much destruction they can do in just one day. Since it is possible to get rid of them there may be hope yet in getting rid of Obama. We need a big win in the 2014 elections.

Guy in Ohio said...

I had a frustrating experience with termites, and I found out that they can be very difficult to eradicate, especially if a structure wasn't built with the proper barriers and construction techniques...

I once bought an older home on a stone foundation, and quickly discovered that the previous owner had discovered the infestation, and hid it up prior to the sale. Of course, he wound up having to pay for the remedy, but it took three years of drilling, trenching, and spraying to finally get rid of them. They were coming in from numerous places, and believe me when I say that they're relentless. They can come in through the tiniest crack, and if they find wood when they do, the feeding frenzy begins and continues unabated until they are discovered.

The information on how to prevent these incursions is out there, but it seems that builders are pretty lazy. They just keep making the same stupid mistakes, because it usually takes a long time before the trouble begins, and they know they'll be long gone when the trouble starts...

I caught the contractor that was building my Mom's house setting the primary structural members of her house into notches cut in the hollow concrete block walls, with NO termite barrier whatsoever. The rest of the foundation had a nice solid block termite barrier along the top, but he cut through it and set the most critical members of the structure in the notches, which were wide open to the block walls below!! It was a termite's dream ... concealed subterranean access to an unlimited supply of huge wood beams. I couldn't believe it when I saw it.

When we built the house I live in now, I busted the builders time and time again for placing untreated wood in contact with the block walls in the basement, even after discussing the subject with them at great length before construction began. Tragically, many basement remodeling contractors will do the same thing ... they'll come in to a previously impervious structure, and use a Paslode gun to nail wood furring strips to the block walls, fracturing the block and opening up thousands of places for termites to enter. Then, they cover them all up with drywall, ring the dinner bell, and walk away... It's a recipe for disaster.

So, take my advice. Watch your builders and contractors, and make sure they build things right in the first place. It'll save you a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of anguish.