DIY Pest Control - Hunting for Termites
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DIY Pest Control - Hunting for Termites

How do I tell if I have termites in my home? Once I find them, how can I get rid of them? I use the term hunting because in many ways this is what you will be doing.  As a homeowner you should be aggressive in your search for termites as these creatures can be very elusive.  Often homeowners don't recognize the signs until it is too late.  Once the termite population has been well established and they've done enough damage to see outright, evicting your newest house guests can prove to be time consuming and expensive.

What is a termite?

The short answer is a termite is an insect that eats wood or more specifically, the cellulose that is in wood. The worker termites (the ones who eat wood) are small, about the size of an ant and creamy white in appearance. There are many different types of termites, the most prevalent being the subterranean termite. This is the termite we will be concentrating on being that it is the most widely spread and can be found in most of the lower 48 states.

What should I look for?

Wood damage

One sign of termite infestation is wood damage. Being that this is the termite’s main food source, you may think this would be easy to spot. Unfortunately that may not be the case. Termites eat wood from the inside out. So, even though an exposed beam or 2x4 may appear fine it could be infested inside. A very unscientific way to check for termites is the tried and true “knock test”. Knock on exposed wood, baseboards and beams; if they sound hollow further investigation is needed. You may want to cut out a small notch and further inspect the wood for termite tunnels-the paths they’ve eaten within the wood. If this solution is not feasible or too costly continue looking for the following clues of infestation.

Mud tubes

This is a tell tale sign of termites. Worker termites do not like to travel out in the open so they build what are referred to as mud tubes. These tubes or tunnels start at the colony (which is usually in the ground) and extend upwards into the areas where the termites are feeding. Mud tubes can be found indoors along walls and door jams, but by the time you see those, the infestation is probably quite heavy. The best place to find early evidence of mud tubes is in your basement or outside, along the foundation wall. In your basement, check all areas of the interior of the foundation; look especially close at the places where the foundation meets support beams and floors. Outside you should search along your foundation and/or slab much the same way you searched indoors. Check all areas, paying close attention to where the foundation or slab meets the home. Found something? Click the resources link to see a picture of mud tubes.

Winged termites

There are some termites with wings, they are the reproducers and are sent out of the colony to mate. They are attracted to light so you may find these winged termites in your window sill. They look similar to a flying ant although there are a few key differences. First, termite wings are of equal lengths (ant wings have unequal length wings). Second, the antenna of termites is straight, not bent or elbowed like the ant. Third, the termite’s body is straight and uniform is size where the ant’s abdomen is pinched or smaller. Should you see winged termites I strongly suggest you inspect for the other signs of termites listed above. While it could be that this termite simply flew into your home looking for a mate, it could also mean that you have an active colony to deal with.

Help! I have termites, what do I do?

If you find that you have a termite infestation the safest plan of action is to call an exterminator. Although this can be a bit expensive, a reputable exterminator will be willing to guarantee the eradication of the termites. If the exterminator is unwilling to give you a guarantee, refuse their services and find another.

If you are unable to afford an exterminator, first start saving so that you can bring one in at a later date. Then head to your local home improvement store. There are many different termite baits and poisons now being marketed for and sold to the average home owner. While these do work, there is no guarantee that they will completely wipe out the colony. And, if they are able to, it can take a very long time to achieve that goal, usually a year or more. And in that time the termites could have done irreparable damage.


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