If your home is invaded by ants or cockroaches, you will likely have a face-to-face, or at least a face-to-thorax, encounter. It’s hard to miss the little critters as they scamper about your kitchen in search of dinner. Termites, on the other hand, are the invisible pest.
Like vampires, termites will die if exposed to the sun. They live in subterranean colonies, which can contain hundreds of thousands of bugs. These are interconnected beneath the surface and usually located hundreds of feet from where they feed. Termites create underground tunnels from sources of cellulose food, like the walls of a home, books, flooring, furniture, and even swimming pool filters. If the termites encounter a barrier, say a concrete foundation, they construct little mud tunnels, about the thickness of a pencil. This allows them to continue their evil journey out of sight.
When termites begin eating the wood in a home, they hollow out a path along the grain, leaving the outer surface intact. For this reason, termite destruction often goes undetected for years, hidden within the wood or behind drywall, paneling, floor coverings, and insulation.
But like a gambler with a twitch, termites have a “tell.” Every spring, countless winged termites swarm into the air, fall to the ground, lose their wings, and mate. The black swarmers with silvery wings might take to the air outdoors, or in some cases, inside a home. Indoors or out, if you see termites flying, or notice discarded wings and dead termites on the ground, it means the colony has been thriving for four or five years. While ants and cockroaches can be killed with bait traps, termite infestations require professional treatment.
The most popular way to get rid of dry wood termites involves tent fumigation. Exterminators build a tent over a home and release Vikane, a gas which penetrates deep into the walls, killing termites where they feed. While it is necessary for residents to vacate the premises for several days, the gas doesn’t leave any residue and tenting usually comes with a warranty of three years.
Termite destruction costs Americans $5 billion each year. Most termite damage starts at the bottom of walls and door frames and where framing meets the foundation. If you see swarmers, mud tubes on your foundation, holes in the baseboards, or irregularities in wallpaper or sheetrock, you might have termites. These bugs need to be evicted post haste to save your home from a subterranean menace with a hunger than never sleeps.