Each year termites cause an estimated 2.2 billion dollars worth of damage in the US, much of which can be prevented. Termites are one of the biggest concerns of potential home buyers that I see as a Home Inspector. In this article I will describe the workings of a termite colony and what a homeowner can do to drastically reduce the possibility of termite infestation. In order to understand what to do to prevent termites it is necessary to have a basic understanding of their habits.
In the Northeast the prevalent termite is the subterranean termite which as its name suggests lives largely below ground. The termites live in colonies which are divided into castes: workers, soldiers and reproductives each doing what their name implies. They feed on cellulose which can be found in various forms including wood and paper. The workers consume most of the cellulose and cause most of the damage. The workers prefer damp, moist and dark conditions and when traveling above ground will construct and travel within tunnels (also known as mud tubes) to protect themselves.
In the spring a process known as swarming takes place where the reproductives fly off to mate and form new colonies. During this process they drop their wings which can often be found on the ground or floor near doors or windows. The presence of dropped wings may be a sign that termites are present.
Termites generally tunnel through the wood remaining mostly in the center so they can go undetected for long periods of time. They are also capable of tunneling through other materials to get to material containing cellulose.
To prevent infestation it is important to remove or prevent conditions that attract termites:
1. Eliminate wood to soil (or mulch) contact as this gives the termites a direct route into your home and all the cellulose they can eat. When possible leave a space of six inches or more between the ground and the wood structure of your home. If wood is in contact with soil it should be pressure treated wood intended for soil contact.
2. Do not allow any wood or cellulose containing material to accumulate at or near your home. This applies to lumber, dead plants, tree stumps and firewood. This will just attract the termites.
3. Provide proper drainage around your home so that no water accumulates near the foundation. This includes grading the soil away from the house and extending leaders and downspouts so that water runs away from the structure.
4. Seal or fill any cracks, holes or voids in the foundation so that termites can not enter.
5. Monitor your property especially along the perimeter of the home and at the foundation for signs of termites such as mud tubes, frass and termite wings.
6. Have your property professionally inspected annually. If you have an existing termite contract with an extermination company this inspection may be complimentary - but may not be performed unless you request it – check your agreement.
If termites are found or if you suspect that you have termites call your local extermination company for an inspection and consultation. Today there are several means of control - from the use of insecticides to the more environmentally friendly bait station.