Termite Problem ?
Termite Problem ? Termites are one of the homeowner’s worst enemies. These voracious, tenacious insects will eat away at your home in secret–or brazenly out in the open. They have no shame, just a single-minded need to eat you out of house and home…okay, that’s not entirely true. Termites don’t care about humans–they just want to eat and procreate, and we just happen to live in what amounts to termite smorgasbords.
There are over 40 species of termites in the US, all of which are either drywood, dampwood, or subterranean termites. All three types’ main diet consists of cellulose, which just happens to abound in wood, cardboard, and paper. In order to get to cellulose, termites will chew through just about anything. If left to it, they could conceivably devour an entire home, with the possible exception of any radioactive materials.
If your home is currently termite-free, there are a few things you can do to make sure things stay that way. Keep in mind that termites like to eat wood and they need a water source; denying them of both–or at least making access as difficult as possible–is the key to keeping them from inviting themselves to dinner.
Eliminate the Food Source
Since we have established that termites eat wood and they will continue eating wood that is near the wood they are currently eating, a good prevention plan involves managing anything on your property that contains wood. (Try saying that three times fast.)
First, eliminate any wood debris from your property. If you can’t remove it, store it high and away from your house. If you use firewood, keep it off the ground. Trim tree branches and shrubs that are in contact with your house and keep mulch at least twelve inches away from all sides.
Eliminate the Water Source
Termites, like all terrestrial life forms, need water to survive. To deny them access, fix leaky faucets, check for containers that catch and contain water and deal with them appropriately, and fill in areas that allow rainwater to pool.
If your house has a crawlspace, make sure that the entire exposed ground surface is covered with a high-quality vapor barrier and that the space is properly ventilated. The fungus that grows on and in wet floor joists is a good source of nutrients for termites, giving you yet another reason to keep that area drier than the Sahara in summer. Should any water find its way into your crawlspace, you may need to hire a water mitigation and/or mold remediation company. If you decide to do it yourself, do not simply direct a space heater or fan into one entrance without opening others; pushing air into a crawlspace with inadequate outflow will force moisture upwards–into the floor joists, not outward.
Proper gutter maintenance is crucial to termite prevention. Ensure that water drains away from your home’s foundation, and keep all gutters clean to prevent rainwater from backing up and spilling onto areas where it can pool and damage your home. There are many products to reduce the frequency of gutter cleanings; gutter guards are an excellent option.
Seal up any holes around windows and doors with the proper caulk. Fix any cracks in your foundation, no matter how small; this may require a professional and high credit limit.
You’ve done all you can, but they got to your home anyway. Perhaps it’s your magnetic personality. Before we jump to conclusions, though, are you sure that the problem is termites and not, say, your kids playing with your power tools? Termites eat by boring into wood and eating from the inside. If your wooden floors are sagging, first look for holes. Poke a screwdriver gently into any holes you find. If the wood is soft or crumbly, or if tapping on it makes a hollow sound, that is a sign of termite infestation. If you are in any way uncertain, call an inspector. What happens from then on could cost you a considerable chunk of cash, but the alternative is more expensive and much messier.
Kill ’em All
There are many methods of getting rid of a termite infestation, with wide ranges in price, toxicity, and labor involved. When you hire a pest management service, you are (hopefully) paying for experience and a thorough job. If you go with the pros, it is wise to invest in a termite bond, which is essentially a guarantee that needs to be renewed periodically (If you’re investing in a new home, make sure it has a termite bond before you sign anything–unless the home is made entirely out of concrete or adamantium).
If you chose to deal with your termite problem alone, any hardware or home improvement store will carry a line of products for getting rid of termites. Termite bait systems use a few termites to deliver poison to the rest of the colony; they often include monitoring systems to check on the system’s progress. Liquid poisons are sprayed on areas where termites are active or may potentially become active during an infestation. Bait systems and liquid poisons both carry potential health risks to humans and pets.
Boric acid is an old, less-toxic standby for killing termites, ants, cockroaches–and cats and dogs, if you’re not careful. The powder is simply applied in and around any termite holes, or it can be mixed with propylene glycol and sprayed on wood.
An ever safer substance is diatomaceous earth. Made from finely-ground marine fossils, this white powder is spread sparingly in and around infested areas, as well as any possible places of ingress or egress and areas containing wood. Diatomaceous earth is not a poison; the microscopically jagged particles enter termites’ (and cockroaches, ants, and just about any other insect) bodies through their joints and it literally tears their insides apart. While it is not a good idea to breathe in too much of the stuff or let it get into your eyes, if Fido or one of the kids accidentally ingests some, they should be fine. It even makes a good fertilizer for some plants.
There are still other ways to get rid of the scourge of termites, but the methods listed here are a good start. Above all, keep on top of those preventive steps, and should the little pests get through anyway, show no mercy!
(image credit: Flickr user Velo Steve)