Termite Prevention and Detection:
Termites could be reduced if homeowners implemented a number of relatively simple, inexpensive, practical measures around their home and outlying structures that reduce the risk of subterranean termite infestations.
Many construction and landscaping features literally can invite termites into one's home. The goal is to recognize and alter conditions around one's home so as to reduce the termites' environmental requirements for moisture, food (wood), and shelter.
Solutions to Termite-Conducive Situations
Problem: Cellulose (wood, dead plant material, paper, etc.) in contact with soil provides termites with ready and unobservable access to food.
- Keep all wooden parts of the house foundation at least 6 inches above the soil.
- Keep mulch levels several inches below the siding and wooden parts of the structure.
- Avoid or minimize use of wood mulch next to the foundation.
- Remove dead trees, stumps, and roots near the structure.
- Never store firewood, lumber, or paper against the foundation or in the crawl space.
- Remove wood debris and form boards.
Problem: Moisture accumulation near the foundation provides water needed for termite survival.
- Grade or slope soil away from the foundation.
- Divert rain water away from the foundation.
- Divert lawn sprinklers and irrigation water away from the foundation.
- Promptly repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and air conditioning units.
- Use mulch sparingly (no more than 2 inches depth is recommended).
- Keep plants and ground covers 3-4 feet away from the house foundation.
Annual Inspection Checklist
- Water is directed away from the foundation.
- Wood and other cellulose materials (including mulch) are away from the foundation.
- The foundation is exposed around the entire house.
- The basement (or crawl space) is relatively dry.
There are three general categories of termite treatment, liquids, baits and non-chemical Particle Barrier. Soil-applied liquid termiticides have been around for decades. Their purpose is to provide a long-lasting chemical barrier that excludes termites in the ground from entering buildings. In most cases, termites in the structure die off as well, since they cannot return to the soil. Most former products were repellent rather than lethal to termites foraging in the soil. Newer materials, such as Premise® (imidacloprid), Termidor® (fipronil), and Phantom® (chlorfenapyr), are non-repellent and termites tunneling into the treatment zone are killed. Overall the non-repellent products are proving to be more reliable in their ability to resolve termite problems in the first attempt. All registered termiticides (both repellent and non-repellent) can be effective, however, and homeowners should not base their purchasing decision on product alone. Another broad treatment category is baiting. Termite baits consist of paper, cardboard, or other palatable food, combined with a slow-acting substance lethal to termites. The baits are installed below ground out in the yard in cylindrical plastic stations. Others are sometimes placed indoors over active mud tubes. Foraging termites consume the bait and share it with their nestmates, resulting in a gradual decline in termite numbers. On some properties, baits may constitute the only form of treatment; on others, they may be combined with liquid applications to areas where termites are observed. Another new non-chemical termite treatment and control is Particle Barrier. Please see our Termite Barrier page for details.
Q: Does the entire house need to be treated... or can they just treat areas where I see termites?
~ A: Subterranean termite colonies may contain hundreds of thousands of individuals, foraging in many different directions. For the homeowner, localized or "spot" treatments are generally a gamble except in cases of retreatment. Most reputable pest control firms will not warranty spot treatments, since it's likely that termites will eventually find other points of entry into the structure.
Some companies may offer to do a so-called "perimeter" treatment, using one of the non-repellent liquid termiticides (Termidor, Premise, etc.). Typically this will involve a thorough application around the entire outside foundation wall of the building, and spot-treating any infested or high-risk interior areas. If the homeowner is considering such a treatment, they should inquire whether it will be accompanied by a service agreement in case termites return. (Service renewal agreements usually state that if termites return, the company will return and retreat the affected areas at no additional charge provided the renewal agreement is maintained.) It's a bit of a gamble to purchase any termite treatment option without an ongoing service agreement.
Q: Will the chemicals harm my family or pets?
~ A: Termiticides are tested extensively for adverse effects on health. Before a product can be used, numerous studies are conducted by the manufacturer and independently evaluated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Based on the current body of knowledge, registered termiticides pose no significant hazard to humans, pets or the environment when applied according to label directions. Despite the negligible health risk from a properly performed termite treatment, people with lingering concerns should consult their physician. Most of the newer liquid products have essentially no odor. Clients who are still apprehensive may want to consider the non-chemical Particle Barrier installation.
Q: How long will the treatment last?
~ A: All liquid termiticides are supposed to control termites for at least five years when applied according to label directions. The actual length of control on a given structure will depend on such factors as thoroughness of the application, environmental conditions, and density of termites in the area. If termites swarm again and continue to be a problem the year after treatment, it's usually not from degradation of the termiticide — but because termites have found an untreated gap in the chemical barrier.
Q: Have I been "cheated" if termites continue to infest my house after treatment?~ A: Not necessarily. Unlike other services such as plumbing or electrical work, termite control involves living creatures. The best treatments performed by knowledgeable professionals may fail at times, when termites find their way through tiny, untreated gaps in the soil. While the intent is to establish a continuous, impenetrable chemical or non-chemical barrier, this is all but impossible to achieve in actual practice. In the case of baits, it may take several months for termites to initially find the below-ground installations and several months more to achieve control.
The key is to hire a reputable pest control firm employing experienced, conscientious technicians. Companies will return and retreat affected area(s) at no additional charge provided the service agreement is purchased and maintained.