Introduction to Termites
Termites eat wood. They are sometimes mistaken for winged ants. In nature, they serve to speed up the transformation of dead trees into soil nutrients. In your home, they’re less helpful. Hundreds of thousands of homes are treated every year for termites in the US alone. They thrive in warm areas, but can live in temperate climates as well, such as the Northeast and Northwest United States. Alaska is the only state completely free of termites. Termites are also a concern in Europe and other parts of the world.
Termites are divided into two major groups: Subterranean Termites (living underground) and termites that live above ground, commonly called Drywood Termites. Drywood termites don’t need access to soil; they make their homes in wood such as floors, crates, and furniture. Because Drywood termites nest in wood and never need ground contact, they are especially troublesome to control.
Termites are a worsening problem. Current building trends which include house additions such as patios, attached garages, and breezeways, invite termite invasions. Also, because old-growth forest are more rare, homes are increasingly being built with newer sapwood, a wood that is more susceptible to termites. Central heating also helps termites and other insects, giving them a warm place to be active all year round.
Signs of Termites
If you’re trying to figure out what signs of termites are (AKA have you got termites in your home?), here’s the lowdown on these pesky insects:
Subterranean termites live deep in the ground, though they come up to feed the frequently. They live in colonies that can have as many as a quarter of a million termites. Drywood termites live in the wood they eat instead of underground. They’re colonies are smaller, and it’s easy for them to be accidentally transported in crates and furniture from one area to another.
Termites can be a problem even in brick houses. They can creep into cracks as small as a 32nd of an inch wide. Drywood termites are common in the Gulf States, California, and the islands in the Caribbean.
Newer homes are less likely to have termites infestations, but termites could become a problem early on if the house was built near an existing colony. Houses older than 35 years are the most likely to see termite damage.
Signs of Termites in the Home Include:
Tiny wings scattered around the floor/ground (could also mean ants) left over from “reproductive swarms” where the queens and their concerts fly out of the colony to mate before burrowing into the wood to lay eggs.
Oval, six-sided fecal pellets near “kick-out holes” are signs of Drywood termites cleaning out their tunnels.
Shelter tubes (pieces of earth and wood stuck together with a glue-like secretion) are a sign of subterranean termites. They are usually found hanging from a girder or joist or clinging to a foundation.
Dark or blistered areas in your wood flooring that can be easily scratched with a kitchen knife is a sign of subterranean termites. If you knock on the wood, you’ll hear an answering tapping that means the termite soldiers are alerting the others to danger by banging their heads on the walls.
If one or more of these signs of termites exists in your home, you should call an exterminator immediately. The sooner you catch the damage, the less you’ll have to pony up for repair bills later.
As with most things, it’s more economical to take preventative measures to keep your house free of termites than pay for an exterminator down the road. Here is a short checklist of things to check regularly in order to keep your home termite-free:
- Make sure to keep your shower pan free of leaks.
- Keep basement air vents fully exposed; don’t let them become overgrown with shrubbery.
- Keep all of your plumbing in good repair.
- When watering your lawn, don’t sprinkle stucco or wood siding.
- Keep your gutters and downspouts in good repair.
- Routinely fill in any cracks in your masonry or concrete. Use roofing grade coal-tar pitch, cement grout, or rubberoid bituminous sealers.