How Do I Know If My House Is Infested?
Large carton nests in trees, attics, wall voids, etc., are obvious signs of an infestation. Sometimes the damage caused by Formosan subterranean termites is not so obvious. Soft spots, damp or moist patches, bulges, and blistered paint or wallpaper in walls, doors, floors, and other areas may indicate termite activity underneath. Probing these areas with a screwdriver may reveal damaged wood, soil, carton, and live termites. Formosan subterranean termite infestations are recognized by the presence of lots of soldiers.
Subterranean termites crawling above ground build mud shelter tubes because they do not like being exposed in the open to light and air. The tubes keep the termites from drying out and shield them from predators, such as ants, and natural enemies. Shelter tubes are often found on walls coming up from the ground or floor. They may also be found sticking out or dropping down to the ground in crawl spaces, under porches or stairways, etc. Tubes and carton may be in places where they are difficult to see such as stucco or plaster cracks, tree holes, tree crotches, etc. You can break the tubes open to check for termites.
Remember that Formosan subterranean termites swarm during the evening from April through July. Keep in mind that swarmers outside around your home could be emerging and flying in from somewhere else. Check carefully around the premises to see if they are coming from your property.
What Should I Do If I Have Formosan Subterranean Termites?
The best thing to do is to have the infestation professionally treated. There are two types of control available: soil termiticides and baits. The treatment used depends largely on the type and size of the infestation, and which one the homeowner is most comfortable with.
Pre-treatment. Treating soil with a liquid termiticide creates a chemical barrier beneath the structure. Depending on the chemical, the termites will either avoid tunneling through treated soil or die soon after they come in contact with it. Soil termiticides have been the standard preventive treatment for subterranean termites up until the mid-1990s. Termiticides are applied before the foundation slab of a structure is poured. Under ideal conditions, protection should last from 5 to 7 years; but under less than ideal conditions or because of improper application it can be much less. The slightest break in the protective barrier is all that is needed for termites to reach a structure. They can tunnel through areas in the soil where no termiticide is present. Expansion joints, cracks, and utility and plumbing lines are common termite entry points through a concrete slab. Termiticide breakdown, soil erosion, improper application, and careless construction practices (such as leaving wooden grade stakes in the slab or disturbing treated soil) are several ways that the chemical barrier can be broken.
Post-construction treatment. When infestations occur after a structure has been built, termiticides are applied by one of three methods: rodding, drilling, or trenching. In the first, termiticide is injected directly into the soil at specific intervals around the perimeter of the house and beneath the slab with a rodder, an injection tool with a long, hollow, metal rod with an open tip. Drilling involves making holes through concrete slabs, walkways, patios, walls, and floors in order to treat the soil beneath the slab or inside wall voids. Trenching involves digging a shallow trench (about 6 X 6 inches) around the base of the home, applying termiticide to the trench and the backfill and then refilling the trench.
Baiting systems provide an alternative to liquid termiticides. Developed in the early 1990s, they are also effective against the Formosan subterranean termite. Baiting involves placing bait stations in the soil around the outside of the house. The stations contain small pieces of wood (in some products the stations are installed with both wood and bait) and are checked regularly for termites. When termites are found in a station, the wood is removed and replaced with the bait. The bait is either a paper- or cardboard-like material or textured cellulose that contains a substance that slowly kills the termites. The idea behind baiting is that the termites feed on the bait and get a dose of the active ingredient. Although this does not kill the termites immediately, it gives them enough time to feed the other termites in the colony. Eventually, all the members of the colony are affected. The termites begin dying and the population of the colony is severely reduced or eliminated.
Several different baiting systems are now being used by pest management professionals or are commercially available. Some have insect growth regulators (known as IGRs) as their active ingredient (AI). These are chemical compounds that act like termite hormones and keep the termites from developing normally. Other AIs prevent the termites from getting energy from their food.
Aboveground bait stations are also available and are used when termites are found in walls, doors, posts, flooring, etc. The stations are placed directly on areas where termites are present so that they can begin feeding immediately on the bait.
Advantages of baiting are:
- It is non-invasive (the baits are odorless and no liquid is involved so the soil remains pesticide-free).
- Technicians usually do not need to enter the house (unless in-ground stations are needed indoors).
- Drilling through floors and walls is usually not required.
- There is no exposure to the active ingredient because it is self-contained within the bait station.
- Only a small amount of an active ingredient (sometimes less than 1/20 oz.) is used for an entire treatment.
- The active ingredients are relatively harmless to humans and so little is used it makes it even safer.
The main disadvantage is that control is not immediate. It may take from several months to over a year to rid the home of termites.
How Can I Keep My Home From Being Infested?
There are numerous ways you can reduce the chance of your home being infested by Formosan and other subterranean termites:
- Remove any wood or cellulose-containing material (such as cardboard) that is in direct contact with bare ground.
- Carefully inspect wooden items, especially railroad ties, for termites before buying them.
- Do not leave wooden items such as planters, tubs, trellises, railroad ties, firewood, and stakes on top of or in bare ground.
- Anchor wooden posts for fences, decks, porches, sheds, etc. in cement so that no wood is contacting bare ground.
- Structural wood at or near ground level should be pressure-treated with a wood preservative. Preservatives mainly protect against wood-decaying fungi but are also effective against termites.
- Maintain a zone of at least one foot around the outside of your home that is clear of plants and other landscaping materials. This reduces soil moisture and makes it easier to inspect for shelter tubes coming up from the ground.
- Install rain gutters to prevent water from dripping down around the perimeter of your home.
- Keep rain gutters clear so that water drains quickly and does not accumulate and soak the upper walls and roof of your home.
- Fix or replace leaky outdoor faucets and water lines.
- Gutter downspouts and air conditioner condensate lines should empty out at least one foot away from the base of the home.
- The ground next to your home should slope away so that water does not pool next to it.
- Keep sprinklers from wetting the walls of your home.
- Fix leaks in the basement, roof, water heater, appliances, and other sources inside your home. These leaks moisten wood and create damp environments that Formosan and other subterranean termites like to live in.
- Remove all wooden grade stakes, form boards, supports, and scrap wood after finishing construction or remodeling.
- Remove dead trees and plants including the roots and stumps, if possible, from your yard.
- Eliminate or reduce the use of mulch and wood chips around the foundation of your home. This eliminates cooler and moist soil conditions favored by Formosan and other subterranean termites.
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