DIY Termite Control and Extermination
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DIY Termite Control and Extermination

Termites are just one of the many organisms that damage wood and while there are several types of termites, about 99% of the time, the eastern, subterranean termite is what people find in their homes in North America. As wood is a termites food source and the primary component of homes, it’s easy to see how termites can create havoc. Termites nest underground but travel through the ground and, where above ground, either through the wood itself or shelter or mud tubes, a pathway created by the termites to get to the sources of wood. Termites prefer sandy soil over clay or clay loams. Due to the warming of the earth, be careful when looking at termite maps as most termite maps are obsolete with termites ranging farther north than previously found.

A flashlight and probing tool of some kind is needed to hunt for termites. To find a termite infestation, you need to probe wood and look for various evidence of termite activity. Probing is performed by using a large, long screw driver or some type of steel rod with a dull point at one end and handle at the other end. Probing is performed on unfinished wood. Use short powerful jabs to drive the screwdriver tip into wood, about 1/8 inch deep, and this is probing. Don’t be afraid to damage unfinished wood structure as the material is thick and shouldn’t become damaged from probing. Remember unfinished wood is the important term. Do not probe finished wood, doors, windows or truss joists as this will damage the appearance and likely the performance of the product. While probing, termite damage is often found as the tunnels have hollowed out the wood making the surface paper thin. Termites tend follow the grain lengthwise. Occasionally, if the termites accidentally break through the surface, the surface will look disrupted, cracked or with a small opening that has been patched with frass, the material termites use for creating shelter tubes. If the wood sounds different ( hollow) than surrounding areas when probed, this should be suspect and considerable probing should be performed.

Start at the exterior of a home examining the lot to look for stumps, damage on dead trees, and piles of wood branches, debris and/or leaves. If decayed, probe or pull apart the wood apart looking for small, white bugs less than ¼ inch long that looks a lot like rice with legs. These are the workers, the largest number in a termite colony. Occasionally, you may see soldiers, a little larger than workers but have a yellow head. In the spring and occasionally the fall, a swarm may attract you to a termite colony. Swarmers leave the nesting site in large quantities, are black, about ¼ inch long, and look similar to a winged ant. The swarmers are reproductive and their goal is to start a new colony. A simple method of identifying the difference between a winged carpenter ant and winged, swarmer, is the ants have segmented bodies while the termite do not.

Walk along the perimeter of the building looking for shelter tubes attached to the foundation walls, siding, porch columns, stairways or foundation piers. A shelter or mud tube is about the size of a pencil, yellowish, and starts at the soil level and extends upward stopping where they enter the wood source. Shelter tubes are created by termites as a method of travel without coming in contact with daylight, air and drying influences. Depending on the type of foundation present, termites may need to follow the outside of the foundation up to the wood structure while traveling inside shelter or mud tubes. Some block foundations are open in the center allowing termites to travel concealed from sight. Keep in mind where the masonry stairways, concrete porches, garage or other exterior attachments are located as these areas often allow the termites access without the construction of shelter tubes and these attachments often keeps temperatures more moderate. Any wood in contact with the ground, soil, concrete or asphalt is especially at risk.

Inside, go to the basement or crawlspace and start at one area and make a complete perimeter check. Use the screwdriver to probe the wood floor structure, columns, stairs, and any unfinished wood in contact with the foundation, walls, piers, and floors. Look carefully around the basement or crawlspace windows as these windows are often in close contact with the grade level, an especially potential site. Also look at the window sills for dead swarmers, the winged type termite, as when termites swarm they fly to the windows, a source of light, to try to get to the exterior. In a short period of time the termites die at the window sills, and the insects or their wings may be present. As basement windows, and windows in abandoned or empty building, don’t generally get cleaned often, you may find a considerable number of dead swarmers.

Remember where those porches, stairways, garage and other attachments were as these areas need special attention, where adjacent at the interior. These areas are easily access by termites. Look at any cardboard or wood in contact with any concrete or dirt floor especially when stored for any length of time. Often a surface type tunneling is present on cardboard and wood furniture that may be totally infested.

Next walk through the building, as a visual inspection is performed with no probing of finished wood. A house on a slab with finished walls and flooring creates an opportunity for termites to become established more easily. Termites may live under this type building anywhere where the temperatures are kept warm providing a longer season but pay closer attention to the perimeters of any building. Look carefully at the trim to floor intersections, window and door trim, look for raised pathways at the wallpaper. Termite shelter tubes between the wall paper and drywall looks like it’s raised with the imprint of a shelter tube. Tap the wood trim as you go along. Tapping the finished wood work such as trim boards is one method of finding termite damage but this is difficult even for a professional and often inconclusive. Look at where anything penetrates the floor, especially if it’s a slab on grade building, such as water supply lines, drainage piping, electrical conduit, etc. as the opening makes for easy entry and travel points. Check hardwood flooring in any type home for any type of surface damage. High heels are particularly good at accidentally finding termite damage at sections of thin flooring with weight being loaded at the pointed heels.

Up in the attic, check any wood for damage and shelter tubes and previously done in other areas. Most of the time if the termites have got as far as the attic, you will be able to find termite evidence or damage at the floors below quite easily. Randomly check between the insulation and ceiling material.

Allowing a colony to become established can lead to a larger, more firmly established infestation and sometimes significant damage to repair. Carpenter ant damage may also be found, it looks similar to termite damage, and in some cases, it may be difficult to tell the difference between the two. Save any insects you suspect may be termites to show an exterminator what you found. Termite treatment is not performed by untrained individuals and a professional should perform an inspection if you find any evidence of insect damage. If in a particular area tends to support termite infestation, annual or at least semi-annual inspections make sense.

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