Something in the Air: Termite Fumigation and Tenting
In severe cases of termite infestation, often the only treatment available is termite fumigation. Sometimes called “termite tenting” this is a court of last resort albeit high effective means of eradicating a termite colony within a structure.
What is Termite Fumigation?
Broadly applied fumigation refers to the introduction of pesticidal gases into a structure. Fumigation may be used a “spot treatment but is more commonly considered a whole structure termite eradication process that involves sealing a house before the gas is introduced.
Termite fumigation has been a standard termite extermination practice for over forty years as whole structure method of treatment, which is distinct from fumigation as a localized treatment.—“bug bombs” available over the counter at the local hardware store are a form of localized fumigation, there are also some treatments for structures that localize professional fumigation treatment to crawlspaces and substructures such as basements, when an infestation has been determined not to have advanced beyond those areas.
Most often however, termite fumigation as a whole structure treatment refers to the introduction of termiticidal gases (Vikane and Methyl Bromide are most commonly used) into a structure which has been sealed off by a tarpaulin or tent. This concentrates the toxic gases and allows them to penetrate deeply into all areas of the structure and is the most effective means of eliminating large, mature colonies that are endangering a structure. It is a process which can only be carried out by professional termite exterminator service.
How does Termite Tenting Work?
An important and distinctive aspect of whole structure termite fumigation is the sealing of the entire structure to be treated within a tent which concentrates and contains the termiticidal gases in the structure. The entire structure is covered by airtight tarpaulin which is generally weighted down to the ground by large containers of water, which the homeowner is expected to provide onsite. Once the house is sealed, the Vikane or methyl bromide gas is pumped into the structure. Huge fans installed in the structure run for the entire term of the treatment, circulating the gas and forcing it to permeate the structure.
Termite fumigation treatment generally lasts between 2-3 days and requires extensive preparation.
Features of preparation for termite tenting include:
• People, pets plants, fish—anything living must be removed from the structure
• All food and medicines must be removed or sealed in protective, exterminator provided bags
• Water faucets should be sealed off using electrical tape to prevent residue from coating the interiors of facet piping
• Outside plants must be trimmed back or removed to allow an “aeration buffer zone”—and also to prevent their being a means by which the fumigant leaches into the soil—this aeration buffer zone should be heavily watered prior to treatment to block such leaching as well.
• All attachments to homes—TV antennas, satellite dishes, weather vanes, lightning rods, and so forth must be removed from the structure. Attached fencing will need to be temporarily removed to allow the tent to reach the ground to complete a seal.
• Mattresses and box springs must be either removed from the structure or sealed in fumigant proof bags. Bedding such as pillows should be removed from the house.
What are the Risks of Termite Fumigation?
The standard pesticide for termite fumigation for decades was methyl bromide an odorless, colorless gas with a proven toxicity to termite colonies. In recent years the environmental and health safety impacts of the use of this substance have resulted in its being banned outright in some areas such as California, and its use phased out entirely by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Methyl bromide is known to deplete ozone and is dangerous to all living organisms at the site of fumigation. Human exposure to methyl bromide in concentrations effective enough to kill termite colonies can result in central nervous system and respiratory system failure, as well as damage to eyes, lungs and skin.
Methyl bromide has been popular in termite fumigation because dissipates rapidly into the atmosphere during the ventilation period of the fumigation process, but conversely this has made its environmental impact all the more problematic.
Vikane Gas has been widely promoted as a replacement for methyl bromide in fumigation use. Vikane is the brand name Sulfuryl fluoride. Like its predecessor, Vikane is odorless and colorless and has the advantage of leaving no residue on exposed surfaces in structures. This characteristic of the substance is desirable to prevent toxicity to humans and pets who must resume habitation of a treated structure, but it also effectively negates Vikane as a long term preventative measure for termite re-infestation.
Vikane is best used to kill the colony, other barrier methods and monitoring systems must be put in place to prevent another colony from establishing itself in the structure or on the property surrounding it. Vikane as most recently been found to linger in the atmosphere for as much as 30-40 years, far in excess of the five years originally claimed by the manufacturers of the fumigant.
Vikane is also highly toxic to people and pets. As a form of fluoride, it is easily inhaled and can result in symptoms of fluoride poisoning which include:
• Hypotension (lowered blood pressure)
• Lowered levels of calcium in the blood
• Metabolic acidosis (production of more acid in a body than kidneys can filter out)
• Interruption/disorder of heart rhythms
• Pulmonary edema (fluid in lungs)
How Much does Termite Fumigation Cost?
While proper preparation and follow up procedures can greatly reduce the risks of termite fumigation termiticides, their toxicity and environmental impact are only two of the reasons why termite fumigation/tenting is one of the most expensive options in termite control. The fumigant gases are licensed only for use by specially trained professional exterminators and require the use of special equipment which adds to cost. The extensive measures necessary to prepare a dwelling for fumigation must also be considered part of the price of termite infestation.
The average cost of termite fumigation depends on the size of the structure to be fumigated in large part, it also depends on various other factors including location of the structure to be fumigated (local taxes, fees and cost variations not only in services but supplies all impact the bottom line). The estimated cost for a termite tenting for a 1,200 square foot structure can cost anywhere between $1200 to $2500, a larger home of 2500 square feet could cost somewhere between $2500 and $4000. These termite fumigation and tenting prices are just for the services of the professional exterminators. The homeowner considering this option must also take into consideration that there will be additional costs involved in domiciling pets, plants and family members during the duration of the treatment, which can take up to three days. The fact that fumigation offers no future protection against a re-infestation, and that other preventative methods must follow the actual termite tenting process also add to the bottom line of termite fumigation cost.
Because of considerations of safety, environmental impact and cost, termite fumigation should be considered only as a last resort in situations where a colony is massive and structural damage already extensive. It should be considered only where all other treatment options have failed or are not considered practical by extermination professional.