All about termites ... can you treat them yourself?

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Old Republic Home Protection (ORHP) - In Touch Newsletter

Termite Control 101 Termite Control 101
By Jim Hailey

Why worry about termites? Because termites cause billions of dollars in damage to homes each year. While buildings may become infested at any time, being aware of termite infestations is of particular importance when buying or selling a home since a termite inspection report is normally a condition of sale. Aside from the monetary impact, having thousands of winged termites emerge inside your client's home can be emotionally trying, as is the thought of termites silently feasting on their largest investment.

Why are infestations often discovered between March and May? Spring is typically when large numbers of winged termites, known as "swarmers," emerge inside homes. In nature, termites swarm to disperse and start new colonies. Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. The swarmers then drop to the ground, shed their wings, pair off with a mate, and attempt to begin new colonies in the soil. Few swarmers emerging outdoors survive to start new colonies. Swarmers emerging indoors are incapable of eating wood, seldom survive, and are best removed with a vacuum. They do, however, indicate that an infestation is present.

How will your clients know if their homes are infested? People often confuse winged termites with ants, which often swarm at the same time of year. Termites can be differentiated by their straight antennae, uniform waist, and wings of equal size. Ants have elbowed antennae, constricted waists, and forewings that are longer than the hind wings. Swarmers are attracted to light and are often seen around windows and doors. Termite swarmers emerging from tree stumps, woodpiles, and other locations out in the yard are not necessarily cause for concern, and do not necessarily mean that the house is infested.

On the other hand, if winged termites are seen emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjoining porch or patio, there's a good chance the house is infested and treatment may be warranted. Other signs of infestation are earthen or mud tubes extending over foundation walls, support piers, sill plates, floor joists, etc. The tubes are typically about the diameter of a pencil, but sometimes can be thicker. Termites construct these tubes for shelter as they travel between their underground colonies and the structure. To help determine if an infestation is active, the tubes may be broken open and checked for the presence of small, creamy-white worker termites. If a tube happens to be vacant, it does not necessarily mean that the infestation is inactive as termites often abandon sections of tubes while foraging elsewhere in the structure. Occasionally termites bore tiny holes through plaster or drywall, accompanied by bits of soil around the margin.

Can your clients treat their house themselves? Ridding a home of termites requires special skills. A knowledge of building construction is needed to identify the critical areas where termites are likely to enter. Many of these areas are hidden and difficult to access. Termite control also demands specialized equipment such as masonry drills, pumps, large capacity tanks, and soil treatment rods. Liquid pesticide, known as termiticides, are injected into the ground alongside the foundation, or beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls. In short, a termite treatment is a job for professionals. Do-it-yourself products sold to homeowners at retail stores or bought over the internet seldom eradicate an existing termite problem.

How long will the treatment last? All liquid termiticides are supposed to control termites for at least five years when applied according to label directions. The actual length of control on a given structure will depend on such factors as the thoroughness of application, environmental conditions, and density of termites in the area. If termites swarm again and continue to be a problem the year following treatment, it's usually not from degradation of the termiticide, but because termites have found an untreated gap in the chemical barrier. The key is to hire a reputable pest control firm employing experienced, conscientious technicians. Most companies will return and retreat affected area(s) at no additional charge provided a service agreement is purchased and maintained.

Jim Hailey serves as termite service manager for Finley Termite & Pest Control Inc., providing residential and commercial pest control services for the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex area of Texas since 1976.

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