It can be difficult to describe a termite infestation without sounding like a horror movie: swarms of hundreds of thousands coming in through the windows and up through the floors, eating and tunneling through the walls, and leaving behind piles of dried-up wings on the floor and furniture.
The good news is that termites are more annoying than threatening.
A mature colony will go through the equivalent of twelve inches of two-by-four per year (on some of your lighter materials, they might go a little faster), which – in the short term – is actually not very much.
In fact, many times people don’t even realize they have termites until the season has ended. However, year-after-year the damage can start to add up.
When we talk about insects that swarm, it’s easy to think of mindless masses descending onto anything in their path and leaving nothing behind.
Termites, however, organize themselves into relatively complex communities and the damage that they cause to your home is generally a byproduct of their own behind-the-scenes construction project: a far-reaching network of tunnels that ultimately leads back to a central nest where the queen resides.
Termite Lifestyle and Lifecycle
There is only one queen per colony, and she will produce between 5,000 and 10,000 eggs every year. The termites that hatch from those eggs will develop into one of three castes: reproductives, workers or soldiers. The queen decides how many of each caste the colony will need in order to survive.
The soldiers protect the colony from natural predators such as ants. The workers handle the grunt work of tending to the eggs and larva while maintaining the mud tubes that are critical to the colony’s success.
Most termite colonies would go largely undetected if not for the reproductives.
Every spring when the soil temperature rises, the reproductives start to push alates up from the ground, and if the colony is mature, they’ll swarm. Hundreds and hundreds of winged swarmers will fly into the air, perform a mating ritual, and then return to the ground and chew their wings off. The newly inseminated queens will start new colonies and produce eggs for that colony for the rest of their natural lives.
But sometimes those colonies are too close to our homes for comfort.
Here is a look at how homeowners (and commercial property owners) can prevent termite infestations and disrupt existing colonies in and around their homes.
1. Take control of moisture inside of the property.
We talk about moisture management a lot at Gladhill Services, and it truly is one of the easiest steps that homeowners can take to prevent termites, mosquitoes, mold and a variety of other problems. Termites need water to live, but it is also a critical element to creating and sustaining the mud tubes that make up their nests.
Outside the home, steps should be taken – as with mosquitoes – to dry any sources of standing water and remedy any situations where water might collect around the property.
2. Take control of moisture outside of the property.
Because termites often establish colonies in the ground beneath houses, it is important to take steps to reduce moisture inside the house as well. It is important to seek out and fix any leaks that could cause moisture to collect (unseen) in basements and within the walls. Additionally, it might be necessary to take steps to dry basement areas with water drainage and air ventilation systems as well as sealing the basement with waterproof materials.
These steps will prevent colonies from being able to form, and in cases where they already exist, they will disrupt the reproductive cycle by preventing the alates from emerging inside your home through your basement floor.
3. Remove firewood and other termite temptations
Firewood is a major factor for bringing termites up against your home. We recommend that people store the bulk of their firewood away from the house and then bring it in as needed. We have also seen termites come up through a crack in a concrete floor to feast on cardboard that was stacked up in a commercial building.
Again, this goes back to moisture management because wet firewood and damp cardboard are very tempting to termites.
4. Build a physical wall between your property and the termites.
One of the traditional methods of termite control is the use of physical barriers and construction materials to prevent the colony from carrying out its necessary food gathering and reproductive functions. As we mentioned above, the same material used to create a waterproof seal in your basement can also keep termites out. Termite-proof barriers can be very effective at keeping termites a safe distance from your house.
5. Establish a chemical barrier between your property and the termites.
When we perform preventative pre-treatments for, say, mold, we treat the structural beams and joists of a structure. But when we pre-treat properties for termites, we generally inject the product into the soil around the foundation of your home creating a perimeter. In the past, the products were primarily repellant in nature, but today that is less often the case.
Instead, when termites cross the chemical barrier, they pick up the chemical and take it back to the nest with them. As they walk over each other, it gets spread throughout the colony eventually making its way back to the queen and the reproductives. The colony is then typically eradicated within two-to-three months.
6. Turn their own tunnels against them.
As we’ve already mentioned, tunnels are incredibly important to the health and vitality of a termite colony. When they’re in the ground, you’ll hear us refer to them as mud tubes, but when they’re in the wood of your floors and behind your walls, we refer to the hollowed-out spaces as “galleries.”
These galleries can be used against the colony in two ways. First, trained professionals can “sound” out the extent of the tunneling by tapping against the wall and listening for hollow spaces. Then, they can achieve control over the workers and reproductives in a localized area by injecting them with aerosolized insecticides. Once control has been regained, a perimeter-based treatment can finish off the colony.
7. Sign up for annual inspections.
For our Home Platinum customers, Gladhill Services performs annual termite inspections in order to proactively identify signs of termite colonization before they become a problem. As with most insect, pest and mold situations, prevention is always easier (and less expensive) than remediation.
Because Eastern subterranean termites are both colonizing and swarming insects, their infestations can often appear worse than they actually are. That said, the cumulative damage of thousands and thousands of insects feasting on your home over years will eventually take its toll. Plus, there’s no reason to share your residence with swarms of termites.
Fortunately, homeowners can take steps on their own to prevent termites from setting up shop in their homes by controlling moisture in and around the house and keeping temptations like firewood as far away as possible. Sealing basements with waterproof materials will prevent termites from coming up through the floors (while also helping to prevent potential mold problems).
In circumstances where colonies are already established, we can create perimeters of insecticide around the house that the termites then take back to the colony to spread. It is also possible to locate termite “galleries” in walls and floors and apply insecticides directly for localized control. And, as always, prevention is easier (and cheaper) than remediation.
Gladhill Services is a family-owned company serving Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, providing pest control, mold removal, duct cleaning and waterproofing services for residential and commercial customers.