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Commonly Asked Questions About Termites

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Termite infestations are a homeowner's worst nightmare, especially if the pests have had time to seriously damage the structure of your home. To better understand these destructive insects, we have put together this helpful guide with some of the most frequently asked questions about termites.

Termite Damage

How long does it take for termites to do significant damage to a house?

It can take termites 2-4 years to become well established in the walls or floors of your home before there are any visible signs.  

How fast do termites eat wood?

Eastern Subterranean Termites can eat 1 foot of 2x4 in 120 days.

Formosan Termites can eat 1 foot of 2x4 in 19 days. 

Drywood Termites consume wood at a very slow rate—it could be many years before a small pocket of damage is ever discovered.

How can I tell the difference between moisture damage and termite damage?

Moisture damage when dried will be shriveled and cracked, and there will be no dirt packed into the cracks and openings.

Subterranean Termite damage, Eastern Subterranean damage, and Formosans damage will have dirt in it. These termites have to seal out the dry air from inside the wood that they are infested in, so they use dirt and their own saliva to accomplish this.

Drywood damage will have smooth and clean damage with pellets like sandy granules that fall out when damaged areas are opened.

Is wood or mulch around my home a risk?

It is best to have no wood-to-ground contact around your home. It is also best to keep mulch and shrubs 10-12 inches away from touching your home. This way, you are eliminating the things that termites use to bridge over treatment barriers.

Termites are attracted to wood (cellulose), so if your home has no termite treatment barrier, it is only a matter of time before they will find and infest your home when scouting out areas around infested wood and mulch in your yard. However, if your home has a termite treatment barrier, wood and mulch are acceptable under certain conditions.

Termites in the Area

What does it mean when I see flying termites?

Flying termites are called swarmers. Swarmers outside are common in the early spring, summer, and fall depending on the type of termite. A few from the thousands outside may find their way inside your home, but they usually are not an immediate risk.

Swarmers inside your home, more than 10-20 or so, is a strong indication that termites have established a colony inside the structure and your home needs to be inspected by a professional ASAP.

I see swarmers! But how can I tell which type of termite I have?

Eastern Subterranean swarmers will be black in color and typically swarm from February through March during the day.

Formosan swarmers will be a goldish-orange in color and will typically swarm May through June in the early evening.

Drywood swarmers will be goldish-orange in color also; however, they will swarm around September.

My neighbor just treated their home for termites—should I be concerned?

Yes, because subterranean termites will travel and scout out new areas to infest up to 300 feet away from the treated home.

No, however, if you presently have an active termite contract with a professional termite company and your home is regularly inspected.

What Do Termites Look Like?

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are the most destructive insect pests of wood in the United States. They cause more than $2 billion in damage each year, more property damage than that caused by fire and windstorm combined.

In nature, subterranean termites are beneficial. They break down many dead trees and other wood materials that would otherwise accumulate. The biomass of this breakdown process is recycled to the soil as humus.

Problems occur when termites attack the wooden elements of human structures -- homes, businesses, and warehouses. Their presence is not readily noticed because they hide their activity behind wallboards, siding, or wood trim.

Subterranean Termite Idetification

Subterranean termites are social insects that live in nests or colonies in the soil, hence their name "subterranean." These colonies contain three forms or castes: reproductives, workers, and soldiers.

Homeowners in all areas of Louisiana should watch for subterranean termites and take precautions to prevent infestations. To minimize damage from termites, it is helpful to know the description, life cycle, and infestation signs of termites as well as preventive and control measures.

Subterranean Termite Damage

Dead trees and brush are the original food source of subterranean termites. When land is cleared of this material and houses are built on these sites, termites attack the structures. Termites can enter buildings through wood in direct contact with the soil, by building shelter tubes over or through foundations, or by entering directly through cracks or joints in and under foundations.

Any material in direct contact with the soil -- such as trees, vines, or plumbing fixtures -- serves as an avenue of infestation. Subterranean termite swarmers may also be blown into or on structures and then start a new colony.

Drywood Termites

The western drywood termite, Incisitermes minor, is California's second most important termite pest after the western subterranean termite. It is a native insect that has been here millions of years, mostly attacking trees along river washes and arroyos. In California, drywood termites are most prevalent in southern California and the Central Valley but also can be found infesting wood along the coast, in bay areas south of San Francisco, and in the southern California desert.

Because of the difficulty in detecting drywood termites and determining the extent of the damage done, do-it-yourself treatments are not recommended; consult a pest control professional. Over-the-counter products with drywood termites on the label for do-it-yourself enthusiasts do not exist. Except for wood removal, homeowners should seek help from pest control professionals. This publication is intended to provide homeowners with sufficient background information so that they can better discuss treatment options with pest control professionals; it is not intended as a treatment guide.

Drywood Termite Identification

Drywood termites are secretive insects and are difficult to detect. They live deep inside the wood and, except during periods when they swarm or when repair work is being done on infested homes, they are seldom seen. Colonies are small (usually fewer than 1,000 individuals), can be widely dispersed, and take years to mature. While a homeowner may initially detect the presence of termites when they swarm or if fecal pellets are discovered, inspecting for drywood termites and determining the extent of an infestation requires experience.

During a visual inspection for drywood termites, inspectors look for feeding damage, shed wings, termite fecal pellets, and kickout holes, which are small holes the size of BB shot through which termites push fecal pellets out of the wood. Fecal pellets, hexagonal in shape, are diagnostic for drywood termites. However, whether the infestation is currently active or what the extent of the infestation is cannot be determined from pellets alone. Cleaning up the fecal pellets around a kickout hole and checking a few days later to see if new pellets have appeared can help to determine if an infestation is active. (Building vibrations/movements may cause some pellets to appear.) If an active infestation of drywood termites is found in your structure, you should have it treated.

Other detection methods include the use of dogs, odor detectors, and feeding-sensitive (acoustic emission) devices, but these are infrequently used. Fiber optics, borescopes, and movement-sensitive devices using microwaves have also been tried, but their reliability has not yet been scientifically tested on drywood termites.

Drywood Termite Damage

Whole-structure treatments have an advantage over spot treatments in that they can eliminate all infestations, even hidden ones. With the uncertainty of current detection methods, particularly when drywall or other wall coverings conceal infestations, there is always some doubt as to the extent of dry-wood termite colony boundaries within homes.

Formosan Termites

Formosans termites are a Subterranean species that build earthen-shelter tubes to protect themselves from low humidity and predators. Formosan termites are among the most aggressive species in attacking the wood.

Formosan Termite Identification

They build earthen-shelter tubes to protect themselves from low humidity and predators. The tubes are usually ¼ to 1 inch wide and can be found in crawl spaces and inside and outside slab foundations. Cracks in concrete foundations and open voids in concrete block foundations are hidden avenues of entry for Formosan.

Formosan Termite Damage

Formosans termites cause damage by boring holes and tunnels throughout the wood. Most species of termites have microscopic, one-celled animals called protozoa within their intestines that help to convert wood into food for the colony. Often, wood must be removed to see the damage; however, galleries can be detected by tapping the wood every few inches with a screwdriver handle. Damaged wood sounds hollow, and the screwdriver may break through the wood if termites are present.

How to Prevent Louisiana Termites

With our South Louisiana climate, it may seem almost inevitable to have a termite infestation—but that’s not true! Louisiana termites can still be prevented. Here are a few tips to keep them out of your home:

  • Avoid the contact of wood with the ground by using concrete blocks, steel, or masonry foundation with appropriate barriers. Even so, termites are able to bridge these with shelter tubes, and it has been known for termites to chew through even lead piping to reach moisture.
  • Use building material with timber treatment, otherwise known as treated lumber.
  • Use a type of wood that is naturally resistant to termites and powder post beetles, for example, cedar and cypress. Note that there is no such wood that provides guaranteed proof against termite damage, only some that would be less favorable.
  • Ensure your trees, bushes, shrubs, and gardens are all well-kept and trimmed, as moisture near the house will attract termites.
  • Contact us for a termite inspection!

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