Stopping Termites in Their Tracks
Termite infestation poses one of the largest threats to human economic activity on a worldwide basis. In the United States alone, these hungry little insects inflict approximately 3 billion dollars worth of damage on structures and crops. The economic impact of termite infestation cannot be denied.
Preventing a termite infestation should be a primary concern of all home (and business) owners –especially in those areas most prone to termite activity. The cost of termite prevention will always be more manageable than killing a mature colony and then fixing the damage of a widespread invasion—even when the initial price tag seems steep. The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been more true than when applied to a termite problem.
Ideally the best time to take the first steps in termite prevention is when a structure is being built. For those in termite prone areas who are building homes, it is essential that building materials be treated against termites and that barrier methods repelling termites are part of the building plan. Unfortunately however, there are more homes sold that have had previous owners than there is new construction where such methods can be employed.
Preventing the Problem Before it Starts:
For existing structures there are many termite prevention tips that have proven effective:
• All wooden parts of a building should be kept a minimum of six inches above soil level.
• Keep mulching, and application of ornamental “beauty bark” several inches below the siding and wooden structures of the home.
• Avoid the use of wood mulch near foundations, use only termite treated wood for structures such as raised flower beds, and ideally keep these clear of building foundations.
• All dead wood sources, tree stumps, root systems, dead or dying trees and bushes clear of foundations and siding.
• Never store firewood flush to the ground or against the foundations or walls/siding of a home.
• Never store firewood, extra lumber left over from construction or for building projects under foundations or in crawl spaces beneath a home.
• Avoid attaching wooden fencing to a home. Termites have used attached fencing as a means by which to gain access to above ground wooden components in houses and have chewed through seemingly impervious metal siding to do so.
• Provide adequate drainage of moisture away from foundations either by grading of soil or by maintaining gutters and downspouts. Avoid sprinkler systems that keep soil immediately around foundations damp. Termites thrive in areas with high moisture content near their food source.
• Keep ground covers and plants a minimum of 3-4 feet from building foundations.
The above tips are particularly effective against the subterranean species of termites, which arguably, with their bigger swarm and colony sizes, do present the greatest termite species threat. These same prevention tips are also very effective in drywood termite prevention, especially keeping firewood and surplus timber away from building foundations. Borax dusts and barrier treatments are also particularly effective on this species.
Many, if not all reputable termite exterminator companies offer termite protection plans. These are generally available only to homeowners whose homes meet the following criteria:
• Home must be free of current termite infestation and of termite damage
• Located in qualifying states in the United States (Terminex lists 43 eligible states)
• Home must pass an initial inspection by the offering company
The features of a termite protection plan generally include:
• Annual certified inspection of home and surrounding property
• Termite control fees are waived if termites appear
• Company covers termite damage repair if termites appear
• State of the art treatment of newly detected infestations
• Guarantee/warranty offered against re-infestation.
It is VERY important to read the fine print in any protection plan, as there may be exclusions for types of termite infestations. While 95% of all termite damage is done by subterranean species, a protection plan that excludes drywood and dampwood species may not be the best choice in your geographic location, where the threat from these termite species may be equal to or greater than their underground dwelling cousins. Careful consideration of the termite protection options available with individual plans should be part and parcel of the decision making process as well.
In effect, a termite prevention plan is like an insurance policy specifically against termite infestation. This is particularly important to consider in termite prone areas because virtually no standard homeowner insurance policy covers termite infestation or damage.
Termite protection cost can vary from company to company, additional plan features can add to the cost. An average annual price for termite protection plans is between $300-500.
Do I Need Termite Protection?
In geographic areas where termite infestation is widespread, a termite protection plan may be seen as a common sense insurance policy against the possibility of an infestation. High termite activity areas carry the highest risk to the individual homeowners; the history of the construction of the dwelling has an impact as well. In areas where termite infestations are not the norm but somewhat rare—a protection plan may not be seen as cost effective in the long run. The need for a plan is a decision to be made carefully after research into the frequency of infestations in the area, the features of plans from local exterminators, and obtaining at least three to four quotes for various plans from existing, certified and licensed exterminator companies.
The First Step
The key to success in dealing with termites—whether preventing their presence or dealing with an existing colony lies in a thorough inspection of the homeowner’s property. This inspection should not just focus on the house itself, but also take into consideration termite sign on the surrounding land and any outbuildings such as detached garages, tool sheds, firewood stacks and so forth. Many reputable pest control companies offer a free termite inspection with no obligation to contract their services if termite sign is found, though most will offer a discount to the homeowner if treatment is found to be necessary. If no company in the homeowner’s area offers free inspection, the cost of termite inspection must still be considered part of a wise homeowner’s pest prevention plan. Survey available companies for their termite inspection cost as carefully as you would in contracting for their services—field no less than three quotes for a thorough inspection and find out what discounts or other incentives are offered to choose the company should termite sign be found.
A termite inspection should give a broad overview into not only the current presence or absence of termites in a home, but also be able to determine the overall risk of infestation to the structure, which areas are most prone to invasion and which treatment method will best control a problem if found. There are a few things that a termite inspection should not be, the most important of which is that it should not be a high pressure sales tactic to panic a homeowner into contracting for the company’s services.
Termite infestation is generally a slow moving process of years duration, and even colonies found to be at a mature level in a structure are not an excuse for a rushed decision—a few extra days, weeks or even months taken to investigate options and solutions will generally not have a major effect on the outcome or cost of treatment.
The average termite inspection involves a visual assessment by a trained termite exterminator. The pest control specialist will conduct a visual inspection of all accessible areas of a home, as well as a thorough examination of crawlspaces, basements, subbasements and attic areas (drywood termites often infest attic areas first). Appliances, heating and ventilation systems, even furnishings and cabinetry should be included in the inspection. The inspection should take between 30 minutes to an hour to conduct, depending on the size of the home and features of the surrounding property—if several structures must be inspected, this time may be multiplied accordingly.
The end result of a termite inspection should be a termite inspection report. These reports vary in their particulars, some will include photographs of evidence of damage or termite sign found, others will be merely a checklist of the noted indicators of termite presence. All should clearly indicate the areas inspected, the type of sign found and summarize the extent of damage uncovered. The end result should also include a treatment plan as recommended by the termite inspector and offer options for treatment of any existing infestation.
The price of freedom it is said is eternal vigilance. This is no less true of freedom from incursions by termites. The wise homeowner will be informed and proactive, and willing to take the time to investigate the options for termite prevention and protection before a situation becomes dire.