Termites swarming in your house? Then read on. This article will provide all the details you need to understand this persistent pest and then offer all the latest and greatest control options that can be used to keep them out of your house.
Subterranean Termites are the most common species of termites active throughout the mainland of the United States. The bulk of this article is geared toward subterranean termites and dealing with termites swarming but the treatment methods, application techniques and materials will work for all species.
Termites are important in nature because they recycle cellulose or wood. Termites turn dead trees quickly and efficiently into food and nutrients which in turn feed many organism's. To a termite, any structure with wood represents food. Once inside your structure, they will feed undetected in sill plates, studs, floor joists or any cellulose material they can access. This food (the wood in your house) will lure a continuous flow of worker termites to your structure. Proper treatment to stop this infestation includes creating a chemical barrier in the soil. As termites move through this soil, they will pick up some of the material you've applied, bring it back to their colony and over time contaminate all that occupy the nest. In some cases treating the wood will help accomplish this goal. And though most people wait till they have termites to do a treatment, clearly treating the home before termites find their way inside is the preferred way to do termite control.
There are different members in any termite colony. Most remain hidden and are never seen. The main nest is located where moisture and temperature is consistent and meets their requirements. This is usually out in the yard somewhere, away from the home, and where the colony can live safe from local predators. Worker and soldier termites travel away from the main nest and may be encountered under a log, woodpile or in your building as they are feeding. Worker termites are small; about 1/4" to 3/8" in length. They appear white and are soft and vulnerable. This termite video does a good job of showing what termites look like up close.
Termites do not like to expose themselves so they build dirt tunnels through which they travel. These termite mud tubes will be readily seen on foundation walls, studs inside wall voids and on sill plate which typically is used on top of foundation walls. Most termite tubes are thin – not as thick as your pinky finger – but are large enough to allow termites to pass through in both directions. If the target wood supply is providing good food the termite tunnel will likely widen. This will allow more termites to have access to the food. These termite tunnels are used to carry food, stabilize the local temperature inside the tube and regulate the moisture levels as well. Termite tubes also allow termite swarmers to exit the colony. Termite Swarmers are generated once or twice a year. Termite Swarmers leave their colony with the sole purpose of starting a new one. Termite Swarmers are most likely seen in the spring and because they occur so infrequently, swarmers are often ignored or improperly identified as flying ants. Most people think the termites swarming are the ones that do the damage but in fact they don't. Termites Swarming do nothing but leave an existing colony in search of another ideal location where they can mate, lay some eggs and start a new termite colony. However, these termites swarming are very important. Any sign of swarming termites means you have active termites since we know these swarmers can only emerge where active termites have created mud tunnels. If you have termite swarmers in your home or immediately adjacent to the home, you have active termites which need to be treated. Don't ignore this important sign. Acting early and quick will prevent damage and minimize infestation levels which makes controlling them all the more easy. Here is a short video showing what swarmers look like.
A termite swarm is short lived. Most termite swarming activity will cease in less than an hour or two. The termites swarming will emerge from existing tunnels (their tubes) in great numbers. They will typically fly to light or warmth. Although these termites have wings, they won't be good at flying. They flutter at best and will be blown away by any breeze. But this is part of the design nature has for them. Carrying them away from one area insures new colonies will be formed in new locations. The swarm may range in size from just a few to over a thousand. Male termites will be looking for female termites and once found will try to pair off with them. The termite pair will mate and if conditions are right, a new colony will begin. Look for termite swarmers around windows, light fixtures, doors, partition walls, stoops and moist areas. Although they may emerge from wood which has damage, termites swarming do not eat or cause wood damage. Their only purpose is to reproduce. Consider them to be a sign of something more sinister. Make note of where the activity was most concentrated and so when you treat the key areas are treated more thoroughly. Keep in mind termites generally appear where it is damp and dark but they will take advantage of whatever they can including pressure treated lumber, decks, landscape timber and even live trees. In fact, it is not uncommon for an active termite population to kill a tree within a short period of time. If you find live termites on any tree you wish to keep, be sure to treat it as described below.
Termite Swarmers are often mistaken for small ants. Both are short; about 1/4" to 3/8" long. Both are dark in color. Both will occur in large numbers. And since many ants feed on termites, it is common to think the termites are part of the ant activity you may have recently noticed. In fact what is happening is that the ants have moved into your home to "harvest" the termites. Basically there are many species of ants which will feed off a local termite colony essentially farming them for food. As the ants prosper from this healthy diet they will start to send out swarmers of their own so getting the two mixed up is fairly easy to do – especially in the spring.
If you experience an insect swarm of some kind this spring, look for the differences between ant swarmers and termite swarmers to determine which you have. There are three key differences between the two. The termite swarmer appears to have two distinct body parts – a head which is attached to an oval body. The ant swarmer appears to have three sections – a head, a thorax and an abdomen. This can usually be seen with the naked eye. A trained individual can see this quickly.
The next difference is the antennae. Ants will have antennae which are elbowed. Look for this bend to be about 90 degrees. Termites have antennae which are straight. This is a big difference and can usually be seen with the naked eye. Having a magnifying glass will enable you to see this quickly.
The third major difference is that termite swarmers tend to lose their wings after a short while of walking around. Expect to see a small pile of wings where most of the termite swarmers emerged or landed. You may notice some termite swarmers walking around without wings. This is normal. Termite swarming use their wings to carry them away from their own nest but then soon shed them. Ant swarmers will retain their wings. Do not expect to find piles of wings if ants are swarming. Most that die will have their wings attached.
There are other differences beyond the scope of this article. However, these are the most obvious and easy to see. Once you've properly identified the type of insect you have, you can prepare yourself to do a termite treatment. If you have ants, go back to our ant article and review what needs to be done to control this persistent insect. If you now know you have a termite infestation, read on. The author will now explain what type of treatment options you have, what the differences are between them and what products should be used.
Since termites enter on foundation walls, through hollow foundations and up from under slabs, traditional treatments have been to treat the soil through which they travel. The idea is to create a barrier and as the termites travel through the treatment, they will absorb enough of the active chemical used in the treatment and then die. This has long been the accepted method and when done right will keep termites out. New products enable this approach to be even more successful so the chances are high that you can not only keep them out of your home but in fact kill the local termite colony altogether. This greatly reduces the risk of future infestations.
Termite Treating Outside
To treat outside the home, simply dig a trench against the foundation wall 4-6 inches deep. You need a trench so the chemical applied does not run off away from where it's most needed. Use a TRENCHING TOOL for easy trench preparation. The treatment involves applying chemical to this trench and allowing it to soak in. When done right, the treatment will last several years. Equally important is being sure to apply the right amount of product for the area being treated. The right amount of chemical needed will be based on how many linear feet you intend on treating. Linear feet is basically a measurement adjacent to the foundation. For example, if you were treating the outside foundation of a structure and it had 6 sides, you would have to add all the lengths of the sides up to get the total linear feet. This can be done with any standard tape measure but a MEASURING WHEEL is the easiest way to get this total. With the Measuring Wheel, all you do is walk around the building and let the wheel add up the total distance. It has a small meter that will keep adding up the distance you have rolled the wheel and provides a total linear feet measurement. Knowing the exact linear feet you have to treat is critical. Only when you know this total can you be sure that the right amount of termiticide will be applied to the soil. Without this basic information, its not possible to know just how much concentrate will be needed for the job at hand.
Termite Treating Hollow Block
To treat hollow block commonly used on foundation walls, you will need to drill through each block to access the inside void. Treatment involves pumping the chemical into the holes. This should provide several years of protection – probably longer than outside applications – since such spaces are well protected from the weather. Again, an exact measurement will be needed in order to determine just how much material should be applied. If the house is a slab or has a slab attached, you may need to drill and treat through the slab as well. Holes should be spaced one foot apart. Drill down from the top of the slab and drill the holes 6-9 inches away from the wall. Hammer drills are designed for this work and 1/2" holes are the most common size to create. The chemical is then applied through the holes and will form a barrier under the slab. Under slabs, the best way to treat is to deliver the chemical with Foam. More about the use of a Foam is discussed below.
Termite Treating Wall Voids
Although you may feel the wood which has been damaged by termite activity needs to be treated to effectively control them, this is seldom the case. Most infestations are controlled by treating the soil below grade and any activity above the ground can be ignored. The only exception to this is when treating for drywood termites. Drywood termites have the unique ability to survive with very little moisture but more importantly, above the soil. Drywood termites are only found in a few states but cause substantial damage where they are active. This is due to the fact that they access the structure far away and removed from where people are likely to see their activity. It is not uncommon to have drywood termites enter around rain gutters and soffits. Once colonies start feeding the damage occurs and at this time the homeowner notices the rotting wood. Soil living termites use mud tunnels when they come up so many times homeowners see the termite tubes before any substantial damage can occur. Drywood termites are active in very small part of the United States. They are most common in southern California, Arizona and Florida. However, there is some activity in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, southern Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Unless you are sure you have Drywood termites, don't limit your treatment to the wood only. Dampwood termites, Formosan and all the other subspecies of subterranean termites need to have thorough soil treatments done if your intention is to both keep out and protect the structure. Remember, termites need moisture on a regular basis and usually will return to the soil at least once a day. However, the author has learned termites in wall voids can have an independent moisture supply which can keep them alive above ground. If you have reason to believe there is a moisture supply from above, like a leaky downspout or rain gutter letting water get behind the house siding, treating any and all adjacent wall voids to make sure there is no termite colony living above ground.
The "Termite Killer"
First, for the wall voids where termites have been seen or have done some damage, use some TERMITE KILLER which can be injected to exposed galleries and tubes. Termite Killer is easy to use, kills termites on contact and will last for several months in the wood. You may need to drill small access holes for a good tube injection. If the wood is damaged, the Termite Killer will flow into the cavities and penetrate a foot or two insuring good coverage. Space your drill holes a foot apart to insure a thorough treatment. Another product designed for above slab wood treatments is BORACARE. This product is in the Boron family so it is both low in odor and safe for such areas. It is clear, mixes with water and is applied with a PUMP SPRAYER. For large open areas like an attic, a MISTING MACHINE can make the application a lot easier. Boracare works for powderpost beetles, carpenter ants and decay fungi as well as termites. It has special carriers which enable it to penetrate untreated wood. Boracare works as a stomach poison. If termites try to eat treated wood, they will die. Boracare lasts a long time. A good treatment is expected to last several years and even longer when applied into protected wall voids where breakdown due to rain and sunshine will not occur. Both the Termite Killer and Boracare treatment options are great for subterranean termites which are in the wall as well as Drywood Termite activity. The rule is simple; if you have a small area to treat, Termite Killer will suffice. If you have a large area like a the wood joists and sill plate above a crawl space, use the Boracare. Also, if you have a lot of exposed wood in open areas like a crawl space or basement where it's damp, use the Boracare. It will provide protection from wood destroying insects as well as all the mold and fungus which likes to prey on wood.
Now if you have a lot of activity in a wall void or cement block and want to treat as thoroughly as possible, use the FOAMING TOOL. As described above, the foam is ideally suited for carrying the termite chemical which enables you to achieve much better coverage. This video demonstrates why using foam is so effective.
You can add the Boracare to the Foaming Tool, along with some FOAMING AGENT, and the pumped product will penetrate deep into all the wall voids, galleries and cracks that termites typically find. This type of treatment has many benefits. First, it will stop termites from eating as well as living in the wall. Second, it will protect the wood in the wall indefinitely. Thirdly, Boracare will stop most any insect.
For the "best" possible treatment, use TERMIDOR. It's unique mode of action is devastating to termites. Basically Termidor uses the "transfer effect" which means the chemical is passed on from termite to termite once one comes in contact with it. This video explains why Termidor is so effective on termites.
Termites can't detect it's even present so they don't know what's causing the problem once they start dying. Typically they'll retreat once this happens and your infestation will simply disappear. Termidor is the product of choice when troubleshooting a problem area or new infestation and many companies are opting to use it around the home as well complete termite protection. Unlike the conventional liquids which repel termites, Termidor is undetectable so the termites won't try to circumvent or move around where it's been applied. The net result is they have no idea what's happening which turn insures they'll pick up enough to affect the hold colony.
Outside Soil Treatments
As explained above, the traditional method of protecting a home from termites is to spray the soil and create a barrier through which termites will not be able to penetrate. This is critical since most any home can be invaded from any side. And since termites will forage great distances, it's not uncommon for homes to be invaded by more than one termite colony. To do a thorough job, dig a trench around the home 4-6 inches deep with a TRENCHING TOOL. The best product to use for this treatment is the TERMIDOR. Since it's undetectable, the local termite population won't even know its there. That means the risk of them "moving around" or trying to find gaps in the barrier is effectively eliminated making Termidor the superior product for outside soil applications. Mix it up in a 5 Gallon Pail and pour it directly into the trench you've prepared. You can also apply it using a PUMP SPRAYER.
Inside Slab Treatments or Garage Floors
If you have to treat holes that have been drilled through a slab, use the FOAMING TOOL and TERMIDOR. When using foam, it will take longer to treat so it's easy to under apply. Be sure to use the labeled amounts so you get adequate coverage and residual. Seal the holes with some 1/2" CORKS after they've been foamed. Foam is ideal for slabs as the end result will be a thick heavy foam which will fill the void and carry the Termidor everywhere it needs to be.
Termite Bait Stations – are they really needed?
Worth a mention is the optional installation of TERMITE BAIT STATIONS. These are an excellent way to monitor what's going on termite wise around your property so yes, they are worth having around. Especially if you live on or alongside a wooded lot. Install them about 5-10 feet apart; 2 or more feet away from treated soil along foundation walls. Try not to space them any more than 10 feet apart. These come with untreated WOOD BASES on the bottom of the station with INSPECTION CARTRIDGES above the Wood Base. The Wood Base is solid and should last a year. Though termites will feed on the wood, they seem to prefer the Inspection Cartridge over the plain Wood Base and will readily pass over the base to get to the cartridge above. The Inspection Cartridge is made of a cellulose material and seems to be easier for them to eat and digest. They won't last long once termites find them so try to inspect stations every 45-90 days. Once termites are found in the station, replace the Inspection Cartridge with a TREATED BAIT CARTRIDGE. The Treated Cartridge will be readily accepted and fed upon. Termites that eat the Treated Cartridge will effectively not be able to molt. Failure to be able to molt will cause either death or incapacitation. And since the active ingredient is slow acting, it takes awhile to have an impact which insures the active finds it's way into the whole colony before it takes affect. Keep in mind two tools you will probably need if you decide to install some of these stations. The first is the TERMITE BAIT STATION TOOL. This is needed to properly open the top of the Termite Bait Station. By design they have a top that doesn't come off easy and without this tool, getting them open will prove difficult. The second tool you may need is an EARTH AUGER. It's basically a drill bit that can be used on any standard hand drill but instead of using it for wood or metal, this bit will enable you to drill into the ground. It makes a hole which is well suited for our Termite Bait Stations and is definitely worth the investment if you plan on setting up a bait monitoring program. This short video shows the whole process which is actually quite easy to do and a great way to keep tabs on where you're property is having termite activity.
Remember, you should inspect your termite bait stations every 45-60 days. We get a lot of inquiries asking "when" and "if" the Inspection Cartridges should be changed; the following video does a great job of showing what you can expect to find when doing these inspections.
In summary, termites are a destructive pest which can cause a lot of damage in and around the home. In order to protect the structure you own, use a combination of the best materials and application methods available today. These include wall or void treatments with the Termite Killer and Termidor when treating for drywood termites or active subterranean termites. Additionally, subslab treatments should be done with Termite Foam. Lastly, don't forget the perimeter. Soil treatments alongside foundation walls will help prevent the local colonies from having access to your home and bait station installations to monitor local activity. This approach will help you keep activity on your property minimized as well as out of your home.
For your convenience, here are direct links to the products listed in this article.
Trenching Tools: http://www.bugspraycart.com/equipment/tools/trenching-tool-15
Measuring Wheel: http://www.bugspraycart.com/equipment/tools/measuring-wheel
Foaming Agent: http://www.bugspraycart.com/insecticide/liquid/foaming-agent
Termite Bait Stations: http://www.bugspraycart.com/bait/stations/advance-termite-bait-station
Termite Bait Stations Wood Bases: http://www.bugspraycart.com/bait/stations/advance-termite-bs-base-2-parts
Termite Bait Station Inspection Cartridge: http://www.bugspraycart.com/bait/stations/advance-termite-bs-insp-cart
Termite Bait Station Bait Cartridges: http://www.bugspraycart.com/bait/stations/advance-termite-bs-bait-cart
Termite Bait Station Tool: http://www.bugspraycart.com/bait/stations/advance-termite-bs-spider-tool
Earth Auger for Drilling Holes in ground: http://www.bugspraycart.com/equipment/tools/earth-auger-18-x-1-25