Termites can cause a lot of damage to any structure if given half a chance. Out of all the countless insects and pests that disturb homeowners, few are more dangerous than termites, because these nasty creatures can single-handedly ruin and destroy a house’s entire foundation within a few years.
To get rid of termites, you will have to track down the infestation and use different techniques like cardboard traps, nematodes, heat, cold, and insecticides to get rid of it. Professional help is often needed with a moderate to a severe termite problem. Your home is likely your life’s biggest investment and the most important one, so it is necessary to get rid of termites immediately if they have invaded your house.
How an Infestation Begins
There are two main ways termites may come into your house and start an infestation (assuming they weren’t there already). These are through the air and through the ground.
Drywood termite infestations typically occur when an existing colony sends out swarms of flying termites. When these swarmers find a wooden crevice in your house, they will shed their wings, carve out a nest, and start laying eggs to start a brand new termite colony.
Subterranean termites, on the other hand, have colonies underground, and they may enter your house through its foundations. As the termites forage for food, they may stumble upon a new source. Unfortunately, this happens to be your house. Subterranean termites build mud tunnels over foundation walls to gain access to the wooden parts of the structure. In fact, subterranean termites cause about 95% of the termite damage to houses in the United States.
There are other species of termites, but these two are the most common ones responsible for home damage.
Signs that Your House May Be Infested
One of the main reasons termites can be such a menace is that even when you first notice they’re around, they have already caused a severe amount of damage. A termite infestation is like cancer: it will start causing problems even though they’re unnoticeable, but if you don’t detect it early, treatment is painful and intensive.
To be able to tell if your house has a termite infestation, keep an eye out for the following signs:
Winged Termite Swarms
If you see a swarm of winged termites near your house, it is a definite sign that a colony is nearby. Winged termites, much like winged ants, are attracted to light sources, and you may see them swarming near lighting. They look rather similar, so an average person may not be able to tell them apart. However, termites have straight antenna while ants’ antennae are curved, and termites have bodies that are segmented, but the segments are hard to differentiate. The front and hind wings of termites are the same size and are about double the length of the body.
Discarded Swarmer Wings
Termites don’t keep their wings for very long. They shed their wings when they are looking for places to build new nests. If you notice small piles of swarmer wings on places like window sills or caught in spider webs, you may have a termite colony nearby. If you’re lucky, it may not have begun yet.
Mud tubes are little tunnels built by subterranean termites as a transport route between their food sources, leading back to their colony. These are made of soil, debris, and wood and help protect the colony from predators and also help in conserving moisture. With a subterranean termite infestation, these tubes are found at the foundations of your home, or in its substructure.
As subterranean termites eat through the wood of the house, they create ‘termite galleries,’ which are empty spaces left in the wood as they burrow through it. Typically, they run parallel to the grain of the wood.
Drywood termites have a tendency to leave their fecal droppings behind as they eat through the wood of your home. Their droppings, called frass, are tiny pellets about 1mm in length, and look like heavy grains of sand or sawdust. If you find mounds of termite droppings in or around your house, you most likely have a drywood termite infestation on your hands.
Termites are so insidious because they eat your home from the inside out. A piece of wood could look perfectly normal, but on the other side, it may be absolutely infested with termites. If you suspect an infestation in an area, tap on the wood or puncture it to see if it’s hollow. By the time cracks and fissures start appearing on the surface and become visible, the damage would be too great.
Swollen Floor or Peeling Paint
Termites like dark and moist areas, which is why they live just below the surface of the wood and allow moisture into their termite galleries. This moisture can cause the wood to swell. If you have a termite infestation, the floors will likely start to swell and even cause the paint on wooden surfaces to peel or bubble, particularly if termites have eaten up to the paint layer.
These problems can also be caused by water leaks since they have the same root cause of the moisture, so make sure to rule out any water leaks first.
What Damage Can Termites Cause?
According to the US Department of Agriculture, termites can cause up to $40 billion per year in damages around the world and are the sole cause of destruction in 600,000 houses in the US every year.
The main source of food for termites is the cellulose that is contained within the wood. Termites also consume dry leaves, tree stumps, and paper. However, they do not touch living trees, which is why they are not damaging to the ecosystem.
Some species of termites also feed upon linen, cotton, and wool, as well as on leather, although they do so rarely and are not very enthusiastic about it.
Termites, however, are not dangerous to humans in terms of health. Though they may bite or sting, they are not toxic and are not known to carry any diseases.
How to Prevent Termites
The struggle against termites once they’ve invaded your home is long, difficult, and can make quite a dent in your wallet. It is much cheaper and easier to prevent them from entering it in the first place.
Maintain DIY Treatment Methods
Termites usually swarm in the spring or summer, so you can use any of the preventive methods used within this article to be prepared by then.
Clear Food Sources
While you cannot clear out all the wood items in your home, clean up any wood debris or mulch. Stack firewood at a distance from your house, preferably elevated. Remove wood to soil contact as much as possible and do not allow leaves to accumulate within your gutters or drains. Also, make sure to get rid of any boxes since cardboard also contains cellulose that termites eat.
Termites need water for survival. Leaky faucets, roofs, gutters, etc. should be repaired, and better home ventilation can mean fewer moisture levels. You can also use dehumidifiers. Heavy brush around your home can create intense moisture areas that colonies require so they must be removed.
Make sure drainage is proper, and rainwater is diverted away from the house. If you have an AC unit in a window, keep an eye on it. Moisture from air conditioners can cause the surrounding wood to get damp and create an attractive area for an infestation.
Seal Access Points
Seal off any cracks and holes in your home’s foundation, preferably with cement. Make sure there are no broken windows or doors with cracks and openings. Swarmers can enter your home from these cracks and start colonies.
Termites can also be attracted to piles of clothing. Don’t leave clothes lying around and store them properly.
Professional Prevention Plan
Most pest control companies offer some form of prevention plan, either as a post-treatment option or as a standalone.
How to Get Rid of Termites
Professional termite control is expensive since they are such pests. But the good news is that you can also take care of the termite problem yourself if you are able to detect the problem early enough.
Liquid Termite Barrier
This method is not only lethal for termites that are already present, but it is also a good preventative method. The idea behind it is to completely surround the house with pesticides that will poison the termites upon contact.
With a liquid termite barrier, there is a high chance that you are able to kill the entire colony through the transference of the poison effect, and one application can last for several years. The downside is that the total amount of it that you may need to cover the entire perimeter of your house can be costly, and as with all other pesticides, can pose health risks. This is usually more effective with subterranean termites than with drywood termites as well.
For some people, liquid barriers may not be suitable – either due to the health risks posed by spraying insecticides around your home or because the infestation they’re facing isn’t quite serious enough. Poisoned bait works for these cases. The bait attracts foraging termites and spreads poison back to the colony.
With poisoned bait, there is a high chance you can get rid of the entire colony (though a lower chance than with liquid barriers) and are less time consuming and costly. However, excessive rain, moisture, or worms can cause stakes to pop up, which can be a false alarm, and these are not as effective on drywood termites as on subterranean termites.
Direct Chemical Treatment
While liquid barriers and poisoned bait are effective outside – and can transfer the effects inside without any problems – they cannot be used directly inside the house. That means that if you spot termites in a crevice in your wall or attic, for example, you need something to take care of them right away, and neither of the two options mentioned above is suitable for that. Direct chemical treatment is like regular pesticide that can kill the termites and sometimes comes as foam that expands once leaving the can to cover a wider area.
It is a very cost-effective method that is excellent at killing both kinds of termites, and each application can last up to a month. However, it is unlikely that it will kill off the entire colony, and can cause minor health risks if accidentally exposed.
Boric acid is the perfect in-between solution when it comes to natural solutions versus pesticides in dealing with pests. Boric acid works on most insects, including termites, by affecting their digestive and metabolic systems, and takes anywhere from 3-7 days to kill the termites. As such, they are not a natural remedy but are much lower in toxicity compared to other insecticides.
Boric acid is usually available in powdered form at hardware stores and is very cheap. However, the effects do not last very long, and repeated applications are necessary. Boric acid is also not able to destroy the whole colony, and if it rains, the effectiveness can drop.
Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that feed on harmful insects. Beneficial nematodes are 100% safe and have no effect on humans. While there are species of harmful ones as well, these are not among those species and do not even attack beneficial insects like ladybugs or earthworms. Their sole targets are harmful insects.
When these nematodes come in contact with termites, they invade the body and feed on it. In the process, they release gut bacteria that cause blood poisoning and hence, death in the host. After the host is dead and has been consumed, the nematodes move on to their next target, all the while breeding and multiplying.
The benefit of using these nematodes is that they are 100% non-toxic and low-cost, and can eliminate large numbers of subterranean termites. However, they can only be applied outdoors and are not very effective against drywood termites. They are also usually insufficient to kill off the entire colony.
Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms known as diatoms. Their skeletons are made of silica. This is 100% non-toxic (and edible! Though that is not recommended) and is usually the top choice of natural pest control. Its molecular structure is like tiny razor blades to insects. It slices through their exoskeletons, leaving them susceptible to dehydration and, eventually, death.
It is useful in that it can be used both outdoors and indoors and is cost-effective, though it is only useful for exposed termites above the ground and not for subterranean termites. It has zero chance of killing off the entire colony, and eventually, excessive moisture can reduce its effectiveness.
Though nematodes and diatomaceous earth are also natural methods, there are other ‘more natural’ ways to avoid termites.
Vinegar can be sprayed onto any area where you suspect termites to be, and the acidic substance will kill them on contact. However, this will require regular spraying.
Orange Oil is made of mostly d-limonene, which can be fatal for termites. The oil is derived from olive peels, and causes the exoskeletons of termites to dissolve, which makes them lose moisture and proteins, and causes death. You can spray this on the termites or on areas to deter them from entering it.
Wet Cardboard can act as bait for termites. They love two things – moisture and cellulose, and termites will have both. Once the termites collect onto the cardboard, you can take it out and burn it, killing all the termites with it. You can repeat this process as often as you need to.
Sunlight is a termite’s worst enemy. They hate sunlight and die if they are exposed to too much of it. If you have a piece of furniture that is infested with termites, you can drag it out to the yard and let it lie in the sun. In summers, it won’t take too long for the termites to run away. If the infestation is in your home’s structure, you can set up UV lamps and get the same results.