The Threat of Subterranean Termites

From on February 05, 2009 in Tools and Tips

termitesoldier.jpgI’ve recently been helping a friend out as he’s set off on his next remodeling project. While tearing down his ages-old arbor, I got to talking with his carpenter. Now I am new to desert life, so I was admittedly surprised to hear about the local threat of subterranean termites. At the same time I was fascinated to learn about these unique and ever-industrious insects, so I conducted a little research, which I in turn found fascinating enough to warrant sharing with CalFinder readers.

It turns out subterranean termites are not rare at all. They can be found in nearly every state, are fairly common throughout the lower half of the U.S., and are most dense in the southeast from east Texas to South Carolina.

texasagriculturallogo.jpgEvery year, according to the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, subterranean termites do more damage to property than fires and windstorms combined. As you probably figured, these termites live in the soil and penetrate homes by climbing up and behind wallboards, siding, and wood trim, so they can be very hard to recognize until the damage is done.

It should be noted that in nature, subterranean termites play an invaluable role by breaking down dead trees and other plant material. Their tunnels also help soil quality and plant life by depositing nutrients and making the soil more porous.

Yet nobody wants to find these little devils in their home. If you are faced with an infestation, you need not panic. Termite colonies develop slowly. Although ignoring the problem is not an option either.

ncap.gif As with any of the natural threats to homes—from rainwater to fire to termites—the best course is always prevention. Here are some tips for preventing termite infestation in your home, brought to you by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP):

  • Make sure that no wood components of your house are in contact with the soil, including underneath in the crawl space.
  • Keep tree stumps, stored lumber, fence posts, wood debris, and scrap away from the side of the house. Again, that includes the crawl space.
  • Stack firewood so that it does not come into contact with the siding or foundation.
  • Repair leaky pipes and faucets. Do not overwater around the base of the house.
  • Keep all downspouts up to snuff and channeling water away from your house.
  • Trim shrubs or other plants that may block foundation vents.

You see subterranean termites get excited by moisture, they often come out after rains (typically from January to April). A good termite barrier, if you are in a high-risk area, is 16 grit sand. The termites cannot dig through sand with the proper diameter and studies have shown that forming a sand barrier inside crawl spaces along the inside of foundation walls effectively stops the termites.

Another key to preventing a subterranean termite epidemic at your home is to have regular inspections done (or do them yourself). These are typically done by examining the inside of the foundation where wood meets masonry or concrete and checking for damaged wood. Another way to recognize subterranean termites is through the mud tubes that they so cleverly create. You may actually see trails of mud climbing siding or foundation walls as they search for something to eat. Inside these tubes are a multitude of little eaters.

In the throes of termite infestation, a call to the local exterminator or termite specialist is in order. They will most likely use pesticides to take care of the problem, which you may find necessary. However, many pesticides, while they eliminate the termites, can also cause problems elsewhere by contaminating soil, local water, birds, fish, and other animals.

If you’d prefer to take care of the problem pesticide-free or with the least-damaging chemicals, first try to implement the steps describe above as best you can. If the problem requires more immediate attention, then NCAP offers some excellent information on available pesticides.