Don’t be a victim to termites

Finding out that your home has termites instills a sense of fear among most homeowners. You typically can’t see or hear them and frequently only a trained inspector can find signs of infestation. Treatment by the homeowner for the control of termites is virtually impossible. Specialized equipment is used and experts have the knowledge necessary for control strategies.

How termites survive
Termites feed on wood and may also destroy paper products such as books, cardboard boxes, furniture and various other items. Even buildings with steel framing and masonry walls are targets because of wooden doors and window frames, wooden support beams (often hidden), cabinets or shelving within them.

There are more than 2,000 species of termites. The most damaging are roughly 20 species we call “subterranean” termites because of their nesting and foraging habits. Two of these, the Eastern Subterranean Termites and the Western Subterranean Termites, are by far the most common, widely distributed and most damaging in the U.S.

What do they look like?
Worker termites are small creamy-white insects. Property owners seldom see worker termites, but in the spring or fall they may see swarming “winged reproductives.” This form of termite can easily be confused with a winged ant unless you look closely.

Termites have a “thick waist” where their abdomen is joined to their middle body region; but ants have a “pinched-in waist” at that point.

In addition, termites have antennae that look like a “string of beads”, whereas ants have distinctly “elbowed” antennae.

How termites find their way into your home
Subterranean termites build nests in the ground and may make underground tunnels or above-ground “shelter tubes” of mud and debris to connect their nests to their food.

They can enter a building without direct wood contact by coming through such tubes in the soil. Termites can enter buildings through racks, The racks should be cracks.They can find their way into a structure through an opening as small as 1/32nd of an inch. Termites can infest any building, whether constructed with a slab, basement or crawl space foundation.

Look for the signs
Several possible signs of a termite infestation that a homeowner might see include: Pencil-sized diameter, or larger, mud tubes running across bare concrete or masonry between the soil and any wooden part of your building.

  • Thin, small, papery wings, all the same size and shape, 3/8-1/2 inches long, on your window sill, counter top or floor (especially if it is late spring and there has been a recent rain).
  • Thin, “bubbled” or distorted areas of paint on wooden surfaces, especially if these feel cool to the touch.
  • Any wooden building parts (especially if they are important support structures) beginning to “sag” unexpectedly.

Preventive measures you can take
There are several things you can do as a homeowner to help prevent or avoid termite infestations including:

  • Stack all firewood, lumber or other wooden items, several feet away from your building.
  • Keep all wood supports of porches, patios, decks or separate buildings more than one foot from contact with your home’s foundation; and use only pressure-treated wood for all construction that contacts the ground. Even treated wood has a limited protection period.
  • Move all wood-containing mulch (even cedar or redwood) and decorative wood chips at least one foot away from your foundation. Sand and stones can be just as attractive and they discourage pest (including termite) harborage next to your building.
  • Repair any leaking water lines or fixtures, especially any that wet wooden part(s) of your house. Repair any eaves, downspouts, gables or shingles which allow wooden parts of your house to get wet even occasionally.
  • Monitor moisture levels and take steps to reduce moisture build-up in any crawl spaces.
  • Relocate any frequently-watered garden or flower bed as far away from your home’s perimeter as you can.
  • Change your outdoor lights from “white” bulbs to some yellow or pale amber, especially during the spring, to reduce attraction of any night-swarming termites near your house.

Carpenter ants could be building a home inside your home

Carpenter ants get their name from their habit of hollowing out galleries in wood as nests. They can do serious damage to buildings when they cut extensively in structural wood. Although carpenter ants do not sting, many are rather large and can cause a painful bite if disturbed.

The first sign of an infestation may be a sighting of several sizeable worker ants crawling along a counter top, or small piles of ragged “saw dust.” Each pile of debris is usually directly below a small hole in some wooden part of a cabinet, window sill or structural part of the building.

Worker ants push the debris out of their galleries through the small holes. Another common sign, most often seen in spring, is a swarm of winged reproductives emerging. They may fly to lights and may be confused with termites.

The most widespread species are either black or brownish-red and black, but some species may be all orange-red in color. All species mainly attack wood which is, or has previously been, wet and has already been damaged by fungi.

Even though these ants first invade wet, decayed wood, they soon begin expanding their smooth-walled galleries into sound wood. The main nest is often outside in a rotten log, tree stump or post. Workers often forage as far as 100 meters from the nest. They mainly feed on sweets such as honeydew, plant sap, cereal grains, other insects and even oily or fatty materials. Food scraps and crumbs may be an ant banquet. Carpenter ants usually come into buildings through cracks around doors and windows, or through exterior holes for plumbing, electric wires, TV cables or phone lines. They will also crawl along overhead wire, shrubs or tree limbs that touch the building far above the ground.

Carpenter ants can be hard to control. One must first determine whether the ants seen indoors have a nest in the structure or are merely foraging there from outside. It usually requires a trained professional to detect the tell-tale signs of typical carpenter ant debris, gallery openings, foraging trails or typical gallery cutting sounds. A carpenter ant nest can sometimes be detected in a wall by a rustling sound in a void or in the wood, or by gently “sounding” the wood to detect hollowed-out-areas.

If the ants are only foraging from outside, they can be excluded by sealing, caulking or putting down a good physical or chemical barrier. Closing all holes for pipes or wires, and cutting back all trees and shrubs so they don’t touch the building can help. If they have established a nest in the wood of a structure, you will probably need the services of pest control professionals to help determine and implement an effective plan to control them and prevent reinfestation. This is especially true if any form of chemical control is needed.