Giving Termites the Boot
Know the Signs
The first step in getting rid of termites is determining the existence of a colony as well as assessing the extent of the damage. A small infestation in beginning stages—while rarely discovered at this stage—may be manageable enough for a homeowner to deal with on their own, a mature colony may offer no solution for eradication other than calling in professional termite exterminators.
When termites are suspected—or even as a matter of course and part of the due diligence of being a homeowner—the first order of business is a thorough inspection. Unless a property owner is well versed in the indicators that termites colonies leave on a structure, this may be a time to call in a professional inspector with experience in reading termite signs.
Generally speaking a visual assessment in basements and crawl spaces will not be sufficient to uncover termite evidence unless the colony is already well established, techniques such as sounding the wood of a structure (tapping on beams and supports with a screwdriver or other similar object and listening for differences in the sound which indicate hollows made by termite workers) are often necessary. Also in evidence may be small holes, mud tubes (through which the insects travel), termite droppings and shed wings of reproductives.
Choose Your Weapons Well
Once evidence of a termite colony has been discovered, the war must begin in earnest. The best chances for individual, non-professional success are in the rare cases when an infestation is discovered in its early stages before the colony has had years to entrench itself. While it is possible to learn how to get rid of termites on your own, a large colony which has had years to mature and inflict damage on a structure will likely require the services of professionals as well as extensive restoration work on the structure once the colony has been eradicated.
There are a number of so called “natural” or non-pesticidal agents available on the market which have a proven track record of success. Among these ways to get rid of termites are:
• Beneficial nematodes – a microscopic species of roundworm, these parasites are a very effective tool in eradicating termite colonies. Sprayed on and around the affected structure, nematodes invade the bodies of the worker termites. As part of their digestive process they inject the termites with bacteria which kill the workers—upon whom the queen and soldier forms of termites depend.
• Boric acid, processed from the inorganic compound boron, is a powder that has been used as a termiticide since the 1920s. How it works is not well understood, but applying the powder to the affected areas will result in the substance being drawn into the colony where it penetrates the food supply and poisons the colony. Advantages to its use are its high toxicity to insects but low risk to humans and pets. A less natural approach to the use of boric acid is to mix it with antifreeze—but Boric acid is actually best used before termites invade a property and in fact is the most common pretreatment available for termite proofing building materials. Wood pressure treated with boric acid will prevent invasion by a colony to begin with.
• Pesticide baits and traps are generally available for purchase and are marketed as a system most often, which includes wood or cardboard “bait” materials made of the cellulose termites find irresistible as a food source imbued with pesticides. Termites consume the bait and take it back into the colony where it is fed to the reproductives, the soldiers and the brood, effectively destroying the colony at its source.
Calling in the Professionals!
So how do professional exterminators get rid of termites?
One of the more effective means of getting rid of termites is by fumigating a structure although it works most effectively only on the drywood species of the insect. Fumigation involves the systematic release of vikane or methyl bromide gases in a structure and requires the sealing of a structure and the removal of all foodstuffs, pets, plants and other organic substances that might affected or permeated by the gases. Occupation is generally interrupted for several days while the gases disperse and habitation may be safely resumed. Termite fumigation can only be conducted by licensed professional pest control experts who have been certified in its use.
Other ways to get rid of termites used by professional exterminators include:
• Soil treatment – nematodes or other agents introduced to soil surrounding structure
• Extreme heat and cold treatments
• Application of licensed pesticides directly on structural wood
• Electronic methods – electric shock and disruption
• Bait and trap methods
While the tools available to the homeowner and the professional exterminator may be similar, the advantage of engaging the services of licensed pest control services cannot be ignored. Most generally a professional termite removal service will utilize a multi-pronged strategy that is aimed not only at eradicating the current infestation, but preventing future invasions. Further, well trained and experienced pest control experts have access to pesticides, application methods and tools that are not available to the general public. A licensed, bonded and insured company will also offer warranties and guarantees on their services which provide the homeowner with some peace of mind regarding the effectiveness of the treatment they contract for and legal recourse should that treatment not be successful.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Once an infestation has been successfully dealt with, there are no absolute guarantees that a re-infestation will not take place. Professional services can offer some ongoing monitoring and bait systems that will help keep a structure safe from being preyed upon again and these are especially valuable safeguards in geographic areas that are prone to termite activity.
There are a few common sense ideas for preventing termite invasion—or reinvasion as the case may be, that are well recommended for any homeowner living in termite prone areas or not. These include:
• Use of non organic building materials in construction
• Avoiding using white light bulbs in outside lighting—known to attract insects including the flying termite reproductives who establish new colonies
• Correcting and controlling water drainage around a structure-especially effective with subterranean and dampwood species
• Repair leaks and cracks in existing foundations and wood supports to prevent easy access
• Remove and elevate all wood in contact with soil around a structure (avoid the temptation to stack firewood against a structure, especially not allowing the base of the firewood stack to meet soil directly)
• Treatment of all exposed wood with termicidal agents
• Ongoing bait-monitor systems serving as an early warning system of termite presence.
Ongoing inspections are another tool in the homeowner’s arsenal. Most successful treatments by professional services are guaranteed for a span of five years, however, freedom is always gained at a cost of vigilance, and it is recommended that termite inspections occur every two years, especially in geographic areas that are prone to termite invasion.