Who are these little guys and where did they come from? Well, chances are they’re termites because carpenter ants account for only 10% of structural insect damage to buildings. And, of the two types of termites – drywood termites and ground, or tunneling termites – chances are they’re the latter, the ones that are more difficult to get rid of, naturally.
These little darlings live in tunnels they build under your concrete slab or other places that are difficult to get to. When they get hungry, they come out and eat the wooden part of your house closest to the ground, including posts, piers, and studs holding your house up. They also eat anything with cellulose in it, such as the paper on the back side (because you can’t see them there) of your dry wall.
Termites are sometimes mistakenly called white ants. They are not ants. They are more closely related to the cockroach, something that will probably make you hate them even more. In nature, they actually have a very valuable role, eating downed trees and turning them into humus that keeps the soil healthy. Under your house, they play not so valuable a role, turning it into humus. They’re blind and they don’t know your house from a bump on a log.
They’re big eaters. A colony of 60,000 is able to turn a one foot length of two-by-four into nothing more than a collective insect belch in the space of six months. A colony can be a large as 2 million.
You’ll Find Termites in All But the Driest Parts of Our Country
They are so widespread that termite inspections have become a requirement lenders impose before they will extend a home purchase loan. The licensed inspector goes around and under the house, tapping on joists and supports with the handle of a screwdriver, listening for hollow wood. Should he find it, he sticks the business end of the screwdriver into the wood. If it sinks in, he knows he’s found the work of termites. If the damage he finds is extensive, a licensed engineer may be called in to assess the amount of structural damage.
Not related to cockroaches, carpenter ants (Tips on how to get rid of carpenter ants) do not consume wood for its cellulose content, as do termites. In fact, among the things they do eat are termites. But before you shout hooray for the carpenter ants, they also burrow through wood and weaken structures. They don’t eat the wood but carry the sawdust outside and dump it. Then they take up residence in the tunnels. You don’t want them, either, and you get rid of them in a slightly different way than you handle termites, as explained in this article published by the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
It’s thought termites do so much dollar damage to buildings that their annual cost to the US economy is greater than all of our fires and floods combined. We spend more than $2 billion a year just on killing them and keeping them at a distance.
How to Know When You’ve Got Termites
Can you know if you have a termite problem without doing an inspection? Yes, though it’s a good idea when you’re in a high infestation area to get an annual inspection. Indications of termites you might observe inside the house are dead termites or the wings off of termites that have traveled a short distance from their colony, gotten into your house, shed their wings, and gone off with a hot girl termite to set up housekeeping in your woodwork. An indication outside are mud tunnels along your foundations.
Termites need moisture to survive. Therefore they build mud tunnels that act as humidified highways for them.
If you’ve got termites living in your house, here’s what you need to do to get rid of them:
If they are drywood termites or carpenter ants, you have a choice of approaches. You may hire a company to come out and wrap your house in a big tent, sealing it so that nothing can escape. Then, they will pump in one of three things: chemicals that will kill the critters, heat that’s high enough to suffocate them, or liquid nitrogen that will freeze them. There are other exotic techniques such as sending high voltage electricity through the affected lumber and frying the bugs or microwaving them into submission.
Hoping They Will Fall into a Poisoned Moat
Tunneling termites are more of a challenge – and therefore more expensive to get rid of. What has to happen is that a pest control person digs a trench, six inches wide and as deep as the top of the masonry supports, around the foundation wall, outside and inside if there’s a crawl space. Trenches must also be dug around any piers or other supports. The trenches are filled with poison, either a type that will repel termites or a type that will kill them. Then poison bait is spread about to take out any lumber munchers that the liquid treatments don’t get.
If there is a concrete slab, it must be drilled into, and poison dropped into the holes to kill the termites living under the slab. Termite mud tunnels are destroyed.
There may be a couple of problems with this approach:
- If you draw your water from a well under the house, you would be poisoning your water supply.
- If there is a drain under or around the house that would take the liquid poison off into community sewers or drain fields, local government will probably prohibit using trenches. The chemical treatment in those conditions would be useless anyway.
- Should the house be sitting directly on a slab, your contractor would have to drill holes through your floors to get into the slab.
- You may not be thrilled by the idea of living above a pool of poison.
If you can’t use the chemical trench method, you may have to go with the poison bait alone, even though that is primarily a defensive measure against re-infestation. Or you can employ a tedious and expensive technique in which you take the dirt taken from the trenches, treat it with the liquid poison, then backfill the trenches with it.
The best defense against termites is a good offense – preventative measures. Knowing that termites thrive only in moisture and humidity, here are a few preventive tips from Professor Dini M. Miller at the Virginia Cooperative Extension:
- Repair structural and plumbing leaks.
- Keep mulch and landscaping at least 6 inches from the foundation.
- Don’t pile trash and debris around your yard.
- Stack firewood
at a distance from the structure.
- Make sure downspouts are directing water away from the foundation.
- Keep rain gutters clean – Learn exactly how to clean gutters
- Avoid direct wood-to-ground contact when building porches or decks
Click here for more information about how to get rid of termites