Frequently Asked Questions
Discovering winged termites indoors almost always indicates an infestation warranting treatment. People often confuse winged termites with ants, which often swarm at the same time of year. How to tell winged termites from ants? Termites can be differentiated by their straight antennae, uniform waist and wings of equal size, while ants have elbowed antennae, constricted waists and forewings that are longer than the hind wings.
The swarmers are attracted to light and are often seen around windows and doors. Termite swarmers emerging from tree stumps, woodpiles, and other locations out in the yard are not necessarily cause for concern, and do not necessarily mean that the house is infested. On the other hand, if winged termites are seen emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjoining porches and patios, there’s a good chance the house is infested also and treatment may be warranted.
Termite-damaged wood is usually hollowed out along the grain, with bits of dried mud or soil lining the feeding galleries. Occasionally, termites bore tiny holes through plaster or drywall, accompanied by bits of soil around the margin. Rippled or sunken traces behind wall coverings can also be indicative of termites tunneling underneath.
Oftentimes there will be no visible indication that the home is infested. Termites are cryptic creatures and infestations can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions. Termite feeding and damage can even progress undetected in wood that is exposed because the outer surface is usually left intact.
Confirmation of infestation often requires the keen eye of an experienced termite inspector. However, even the most experienced inspector can overlook infestation or damage which is hidden.
Ridding a home of termites requires special skills. A knowledge of building construction is needed to identify the critical areas where termites are likely to enter. Many of these potential points of entry are hidden and difficult to access. Termite control also utilizes specialized equipment such as masonry drills, pumps, large-capacity tanks, and soil treatment rods. A typical termite treatment may involve hundreds of gallons of a liquid pesticide, known as a termiticide, injected into the ground alongside the foundation, beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls.
In short, termite treatments are a job for professionals. "Do-it-yourself" products, sold to homeowners at retail stores or bought over the internet, will seldom eradicate an existing termite problem.
Subterranean termite colonies may contain hundreds of thousands of individuals, foraging in many different directions. For the homeowner, localized or "spot" treatments are generally a gamble except in cases of retreatment. Most reputable pest control companies will not warranty spot treatments since it’s likely that termites will eventually find other points of entry into the structure.
Some contractors may offer to do a so-called "perimeter" treatment, using one of the non-repellent liquid termiticides (Termidor, Premise, etc.). Typically this will involve a thorough application around the entire outside foundation wall of the building, and spot-treating any infested or high-risk interior areas. If the homeowner is considering such a treatment, they should inquire whether it will be accompanied by a service agreement in case termites return. (Service renewal agreements usually state that if termites return, the company will return and retreat the affected areas at no additional charge provided the renewal agreement is maintained.) It’s a bit of a gamble to purchase any termite treatment option without an ongoing service agreement.
All liquid termiticides are supposed to control termites for at least five years when applied according to label directions. The actual length of control on a given structure will depend on such factors as thoroughness of the application, environmental conditions, and density of termites in the area. If termites swarm again and continue to be a problem the year after treatment, it’s usually not from degradation of the termiticide but because termites have found an untreated gap in the chemical barrier.
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