Termites – The Unwelcome Visitor

Finally, the snow is just about gone and spring is upon us. The change in the weather will bring warmer temperatures, the sprouting of flowers, and the return of foliage to the trees. Increased temperatures trigger not only the regrowth of vegetation but also the reemergence of a not-so-welcome visitor, the termite.

Tell-Tale Signs

Termites will often reveal their presence with the onset of warm weather. An unseasonably warm day during normally cold or cool weather can trigger this and cause small winged termites that are similar in appearance to ants to emerge from hiding. These termites are called swarmers and indicate that termites are present. Look for them on windowsills or in your basement. Other signs indicating the presence of termites are discarded wings lying on a windowsill or in a window well. Termites are white in color and sensitive to light. To avoid light, they build shelter tubes out of mud to travel through and reach a wood source. Termites also dig tunnels in wood. Look for fine wood powder or pellets on surfaces below wood as other indicators of termite presence.

Termite Attractions

Termites favor the same type of conditions that are conducive to mold growth; a food source (wood) and damp conditions. Wet wood gives off an odor that attracts termites. The best way to avoid attracting them to your house is to move any exterior woodpiles such as firewood or spare lumber as far away from your house as possible.

Another potential attraction for termites is wood siding on a house that extends too close to ground level. Wood tends to wick moisture up and therefore should be installed with the bottom edge at least 8 inches above the ground. If you have wood siding on your house that is closer than 8 inches to the ground, consider having it raised or cut horizontally to reach the appropriate ground clearance. Be on the lookout for mud shelter tubes on exterior masonry walls running up to wood siding.

Termite Treatment

There are two main methods to treat termites after their presence has been confirmed. The first is by use of sprays and chemicals. Termite treatment companies may often drill a series of holes in the concrete around the exterior perimeter of your house or in the interior in your basement floor. Chemicals will be injected into these holes and then the holes will be plugged with concrete. Although not cheap, this is the best method of treatment and most cost effective.

Another method of treatment for termites is through the use of baiting stations in the soil on the exterior of the house. A series of black or green plastic cups with lids are placed in the soil and are left flush with the ground. These cups are often mistaken for recessed sprinkler heads. The company that installed the baiting stations baits the cups with a piece of untreated wood and makes return visits to open each cup and check for the presence of termites. If no termites are found initially, the company continues to return and check the cups. If termites are found in the cups, then chemical poison treated wood is placed in the cups. Termites become infected with the poison and carry it back to their colony and the colony dies. This method of treatment is not desirable for a number of reasons. First, you’re paying for all visits the company makes to your house to check the baiting stations. Second, placing wood in the baiting stations is going to attract termites that may have never been present in the first place. Third, if termite presence has already been detected, there is no reason to attempt to attract more. Chemical treatment, mentioned above as the first method of treatment, is the more effective method to use when termites are present.

Inspecting for Termites

While a legitimate termite inspection should be left to certified professionals, there are some ways you can inspect your own house for early signs of termite presence or damage. Using a strong flashlight and a long straight-slotted screwdriver, inspect the outermost wood beams and joists of your basement ceiling. Termites can inhabit any area of the house where wood is present but the basement tends to be their most prevalent location. Use the screwdriver to probe the beams and joists that are attached to or run along side your houses’ exterior walls. Undamaged wood should be solid and unyielding to the force of the screwdriver with penetration being no more than ¼ of an inch. Termite damaged wood will be weak and easily penetrated with the screwdriver. While probing the beams and joists, use the flashlight and be on the lookout for mud shelter tubes. If you detect or suspect the presence of termites in your house, get a certified termite and wood destroying insect inspector to inspect your house.

Make searching for and recognizing the signs of termite presence in and around your house as part of your yearly home maintenance plan. Your house will thank you.