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Termites

It is springtime. That means love is in the air, and so are termites. Across the Southeast, native subterranean termites swarm (fly) in the spring, leaving their colony in the hopes of starting a new one. In natural settings, termites are common and beneficial because they eat and recycle woody debris. Unfortunately, if conditions are right for them, they can infest our homes and do tremendous damage to structural wood.

Native subterranean termite swarmers. They are about 3/8 inch in length, black with 4 wings all the same length. Photo credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org.

Native subterranean termite swarmers. They are about 3/8 inch in length, black with 4 wings all the same length.
Photo credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org.

Subterranean termite shelter tubes used by termites to forage from the ground into a structure to feed on wood. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service, Wood Products Insect Lab. Bugwood.org.

Subterranean termite shelter tubes used by termites to forage from the ground into a structure to feed on wood. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service, Wood Products Insect Lab. Bugwood.org.

Some ants swarm too and can look very similar to termites. They both tend to be black and about the same size. But swarming ants have 4 wings, with the front wings longer than the back wings. Swarming termites have 4 wings all the same length.

When termites are flying outdoors, there can be hundreds or thousands, and a few may come indoors incidentally. Swarmers found outdoors, or even a few termites found in a house does not mean there is a structural infestation. However, large numbers of swarmers or their wings indoors often do indicate a structural infestation.

If termites are a concern in the home, inspection and treatment may be needed. Nearly all termite infestations in the state require the services of a licensed South Carolina pest management professional for proper control. The best way to protect a home against termite attack is with a combination of prevention, inspection, and control. Several procedures which help reduce the risk of termite infestation include:

  • Removal of any cellulose debris in or near the structure. This includes debris in crawlspaces and woodpiles.
  • Provide adequate ventilation in crawlspaces, basement, and between plants and exterior walls. This prevents excess moisture buildup. Make sure there are no attic leaks, especially around chimney or pipe penetrations.
  • Eliminate any wood to ground contact, including wooden steps, support posts, etc. Pressure-treated wood not rated for ground contact should not touch the soil. Termites also can tunnel into a structure through foam board insulation that is in contact with the ground.
  • Remove dense vegetation growing close to the structure’s foundation or siding. Heavy vegetation traps moisture, which creates a better habitat for termites. Shrubs, trellises, and other vegetation make termite inspection more difficult and block the ventilation of the structure.
  • Use mulch sparingly close to the structure. Mulch is made up of cellulose and holds water, which can attract termites. Mulch should never be in contact with wood siding or framing of doors or windows.
  • Provide proper drainage. Water must flow away from the structure. Keep gutters clean and in good shape. Eliminate areas in the landscaping where water can stand near the structure.

For many infestations, insecticide treatments must be used to control established termite colonies. On occasion, fumigation is needed when infestations are extensive, but this treatment is rare in South Carolina. Wood treatments with borate-based products can also be done to exposed, “raw” lumber. Wood treatments are often done in conjunction with other termite control strategies. However, most subterranean termite control is done by applying either liquid termiticides to the soil or termite bait stations around the structure.

Liquid termiticide treatment involves applying termiticide to the soil underneath and adjacent to a building to create a repellent barrier or a non-repellent barrier. Repellent barriers are not applied to eliminate the termites nesting in the ground, but rather to repel any termites that would tunnel up to it, thereby protecting the structure. Non-repellent barriers are applied to eliminate termite colonies. For optimum protection, a complete treatment should be established around and under the structure, but there are treatment variations allowed depending on the products used. The actual length of time a termiticide treatment remains effective around a structure depends on the thoroughness of the application, termite foraging intensity, and environmental conditions. The effectiveness of liquid termiticides also varies due to soil and climatic differences.

Termite baits are effective and do not leave a residual chemical in the soil. However, they may take longer to control termites. They can be used in several different strategies, whether used alone or in combination with other treatment forms and are especially useful in situations where other treatments have not been successful. Currently, there are several termite baits on the market. Most effective termite baiting products are only available through trained pest control professionals.

Seldom is it possible for homeowners to inspect and self-treat their own house without the proper equipment, training, and knowledge of termite behavior and habitats. A licensed South Carolina pest management professional can do an excellent job, provide yearly inspections, and offer a warranty. When choosing a pest control operator, get bids from two or three firms. Be wary of prices that seem “out of line,” especially those that are too low. A low price may mean low quality. The professional you hire should graph the location–highlighting areas where termite damage has been found and any structural or drainage problems. He or she should also note any areas that were not accessible for inspection. The homeowner should repair all structural problems. Finally, read the pest control firm’s contract carefully. Some firms limit their liability for damage done to your home by termites after treatment. Others exclude damage done by specific termites such as the Formosan subterranean termite.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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