The Bug Patrol
Learn how to keep termites away from your home and what to do if they've already arrived.
The Billerica house project, which was damaged by a fire before the TOH crew renovated it in 1999.
The more familiar you are with termites, the easier it is to discourage and control them. Homeowners can even take steps to make a structure less attractive to termites before actual control procedures are needed.
The most common termite in the United States is the Subterranean. The Eastern Subterranean termite had threatened the Silvas' house over the years, and the neighborhood was known to have them. As the name implies, these insects prefer to live below the ground, in a consistent, constant source of moisture or they will dehydrate and die. In some cases, they can also live above ground in wood that artificially remains wet, but generally remain hidden from sunlight and air currents. While worker termites can chew through foam insulation, leather and other substances, they need to feed on wood or other cellulose-based materials to survive. If termites are not discovered during a home renovation, you will most likely see them when mating swarms occur in the spring, when thousands of winged termites mate, drop their wings and return to the soil.
One rule of thumb for homeowners is that moisture control is termite control. Gutters need to be kept clean and downspouts should be tight and direct rainwater away from the foundation and structure. Inexpensive splashpads and curved downspouts will carry water away from the house. Soil and mulch should not be allowed contact with wood siding and support posts. A minimum of six to eight inches of exposed foundation should be visible. Shrubs, trees, vines, and other plantings around the house should not be allowed to touch or climb on the house or grow densely near the foundation. Wood debris should be removed and not left lying on dirt floors, beneath decks and porches or against the side of the house. Damp crawl spaces, attics and basements need to be ventilated and dried out, or at least dehumidified, during the damp and humid seasons of the year. At a minimum, taking these steps will help control measures succeed more quickly and permanently.
If the termites have already arrived, it is time for pest control. Conventional termite control involves the use of liquid termiticides (chemicals used to kill termites) applied as a barrier beside and beneath foundations to repel or kill termites foraging randomly in the soil. This method typically repells more termites than it kills, and can fail if there is the slightest gap in the barrier. New, less toxic liquid termiticides, like the one used on the Billerica house, work differently. They don't repel termites, but instead allow them to enter the treated zone and then kill or debilitate them, essentially killing off the colony. Soil is treated during construction, before the basement slab is laid. Once a home has been
constructed, liquid termiticides become more costly and difficult to use. Post-construction treating with
liquids involves drilling through floors and removing carpets, tile, and other floor coverings, with the ever present risk of drilling into buried, hidden water or oil pipes.
Other emerging termite control technologies includes using fine, stainless steel mesh wire to physically exclude termites and chemically impregnated plastic sheeting used as a barrier. Baiting for termites has become popular in recent years due to its lower toxicity, reduced risk and less intrusive methods of application. Protecting wood with boric acid has also become very popular for some of the same reasons. Microwaves, heat, cold and electricity have all been used to control termites in different parts of the United States with varying degrees of success. However, the best approach to preventing and discouraging termites from eating our homes is still prevention through moisture control. If you don't let termites get started, you won't have to stop them.