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The Trouble With Termites

How To Detect And Treat Termite Infestation In Your Home

Living in northern Michigan, the thought of termite infestation had never occurred to me – until we wanted to purchase a home. The lender requested a termite inspection. Termites in Michigan? I always thought termites were found in warm and humid states only. However, I learned that termites can be found in every state except Alaska. The hardest hit states are Hawaii and the entire Southeast region of the United States.

Luckily, our new home is termite free, but not everyone in a northern climate is as fortunate. Hannah Hayes and her husband of Chicago, Ill., moved into his grandmother's home when his grandmother was admitted to a nursing home. But termites claimed their stake first and destroyed a cabinet and some books. So far it has cost the Hayes $1,500 in exterminator fees.

Appetite for Destruction

Termites are social insects that eat wood. They thrive in warm and humid climates. Left unchecked, severe damage can occur to your home. The most common type of termite in North America is the subterranean specie. Usually these pests tunnel underground, but they are capable of just flying in and starting a new colony. If there is an appealing food source outside, your home could be their next meal ticket. These pests are extremely busy and work 24 hours a day. They can consume about 5 grams of wood per day, and the queen can produce 5,000 to 10,000 eggs per year.

In comparison, the Formosan variety is much more aggressive. "An average colony of Formosans can consume up to 13 ounces of wood per day, and the queen can produce as many as 1,000 eggs per day, " says Karl Kisner, senior marketing manager for the Professional Pest Control Division of BASF. The Formosan is often referred to as the "super termite," as it works faster and lives in bigger colonies, which equals a voracious appetite for wood. This variety has been found in the Southeast and in Hawaii.

What You Don't See Can Damage Your Home

Termites will go to great lengths to avoid detection, as they avoid any kind of light. While the termite is busy chewing and reproducing, a home can incur severe structural damage before a homeowner detects termites. "I know of one homeowner whose house looked absolutely free of termites until the inspector pushed a pencil right through one of her front porch pillars," says Kisner. "The termites had devoured all of the wood, leaving only the paint veneer untouched for protection."

Elizabeth Allen, a Florida resident, says termites caused extensive damage to their home. "We have had damage in 13 out of 15 rooms," she says. "It is a nightmare. We have had complete walls torn out and lived with our house in a state of chaos and disrepair." Her experience led her to found the Homeowners Protection Association, a non-profit organization to educate consumers about termite infestation.

Termite Calling Cards

Although it is difficult for most homeowners to suspect they have termites, there are a few calling cards termites leave. According to Timothy Wise, co-owner of Appalachian Pest Control in Huntington, W.Va., most homeowners will realize they have a termite problem when they notice a swarm in the spring. "This is when termites are mating and they swarm out to find a mate," says Wise. "They drop their wings and try to get back to the soil to start new colonies."

Other signs, according to Wise, are the existence of termite mud tubes (termite trails), exit holes in the drywall, soft baseboards or window molding. Shower tiles falling off, windows not closing properly and wallpaper with bubbles are all signs that termites are possibly inside the walls and have already damaged your home. You should consult a licensed pest management professional to verify these problems are termite related.

Good Riddance

To extinguish the termite, one has to know how the termite lives. Termites groom, feed and touch each other constantly. Products used to kill termites rely on the chemical being passed mouth-to-mouth or simply by the transfer method.

Bait monitoring methods rely on the termite passing the chemical by mouth. The bait system is installed around the property. Small traps are inserted into the ground that contain a small piece of cellulose. Once a professional confirms termite activity, they use a termiticide. The termite then takes the termiticide back to the colony and transfers it by feeding. Bait monitoring requires patience and isn't always effective. Usually repeated treatment is required.

New technology is fighting back and product manufacturers such as Phantom, Premise and Termidor have created "undetectable liquids," which are applied around the home. Termites pass through the protective circle without feeling, smelling or tasting the liquid. "With Termidor, pests forage freely in the protective ring around the treated structure and unknowingly pass the termiticide onto the rest of the colony through feeding, grooming or mere contact," says Kisner. This "transfer effect," says Kisner, is how Termidor can eliminate 100 percent of termite populations within three months, including the Formosan variety.

What is wonderful about this new technology is that the need for repeated monthly treatments is no longer necessary. "Field trials with the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service show that Termidor has controlled 100 percent of subterranean termites for over eight years," says Kisner. However, Kisner recommends follow-up inspections by pest management professionals be conducted annually. Visit www.TermidorHome.com for more information.

No Vacancy: Tips to Keep Termites at Bay

  • Termites thrive on moisture, so keep your home dry and well ventilated. Kitchens, bathrooms, basements and crawl spaces should be well vented too.
  • Repair any leaky faucets immediately.
  • Clear your yard of decaying wood or leftover wood products from construction projects.
  • Store firewood above ground on a non-wood surface.
  • Take stock of your yard. Are there places where the sprinkler leaks or other areas that stay moist for long periods of time?
  • Check for termite access points around dryer vents and air conditioner condensation pipes. Left unchecked, the moisture and warmth will invite termites in.
  • Get a yearly termite inspection.
  • Remember, any wood or wood byproduct is an open invitation for termites. Eliminate the appeal and improve your chances of staying termite free.

*Photos courtesy of Termidor Termite Control.

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