Termites

Home buyers generally overreact after discovering a termite condition and on occasion lose interest in the house. Actually, the discovery of termite infestation should not be cause for alarm—concern, maybe, but certainly not alarm.

Termites work very slowly. It takes many years for termites to do serious damage to a house. A mature colony of 60,000 termites eats the equivalent of 2 to 4 feet of 2-by-4-inch board in one year. Some well-established termite colonies have been estimated to contain more than 2 million termites. A termite condition can be controlled through the application of chemical insecticides by constructing a chemical barrier in the soil around and beneath the house. Thus termites attempting to go through the termiticide-treated soil to reach the house are either killed or repelled.

Prior to the mid 1980s, the chemical most often used for termite treatment was chlordane. It had an effective life that often exceeded twenty-five years. However, because chlordane

82 Wood-destroying insects and rot is considered a potential risk to human health, it was withdrawn from the U.S. market. Currently several different chemical termiti-cides are available for use by pest control operators for controlling a termite infestation. All of the chemicals are considered safe and have been found to be effective in the soil for periods of approximately 5 to 10 years.

Around 1995 the termite bait system came on the market for termite control. This system is an option for homeowners that don't want to use a chemical barrier treatment for termite control. Termite baits are considerably less toxic than most liquid termiticides, which are introduced into the soil by the hundreds of gallons in order to effectively control a termite condition in a house. Baits, on the hand, deliver very small amounts of termiticides over a long period of time.

A bait system for termite control consists of installing plastic tubes or boxes in the ground at various locations around the house. Inside the tubes and boxes is a slow-acting poison combined with a termite food material such as paper or cardboard. Termite control depends on foraging termites finding the bait stations during their random search for a new food source, feeding on it, and carrying it back to the colony where the poisoned food is shared with other termites in the colony.

The length of time for termites to find the bait stations will vary considerably and depends on whether the stations are installed in the southern or northern states. It also seems to depend on whether the bait stations are installed in the spring or late summer. The time to locate the bait has been found to vary from as little as a day to as long as a year or more. Baiting to control a termite problem is a slow long-term solution, and it is not the recommended method to control a heavy infestation problem in a house.

In real estate transactions, if the house has a termite problem, a barrier treatment is the preferred control method rather than baiting. Successful control by baiting is a long-term commitment to frequent inspections and monitoring of the bait stations and rebaiting. In contrast, when necessary, a single application of a barrier treatment can be expected to last from 5 to 10 years after which retreatment may or may not be necessary.

A number of states have regulations requiring a termite inspection by a professional prior to, or as a condition of, the purchase agreement. The cost of this inspection is almost always paid by the seller. If your state has such a requirement, you should ask the seller or real estate agent to have the house inspected by a professional and have a report of the results sent to you. In many states (even in some that do not have a prepurchase termite inspection requirement), if a termite condition is found prior to the sale, the cost for correcting the condition (chemical treatment) is borne by the seller.

When termites are discovered, they should be exterminated professionally. However, because termites work slowly, termite-proofing the house need not be done immediately upon learning of an active infestation. Take your time and get two or three cost estimates from established termite-exterminating firms. After treating a house, most companies provide a one-year guarantee against reinfestation. The guarantee can often be extended annually for a fee, which covers inspection and retreatment if necessary. If the house had been treated previously for termites, find out if the owner has a guarantee and whether it can be transferred to you.

During an inspection, all exposed wood-framing members should be checked for structural deterioration from termite activity. There are very few houses on record that have been damaged by termites to a point where they are considered unsafe. Quite often the damage caused by termites (by the

NOTE: Lines defining areas are approximate only— see local FHA offices for Otj--..^ specific areas—local conditions may be more or less severe

^ ' than indicated by region classification.

V CALIF. v

NOTE: Lines defining areas are approximate only— see local FHA offices for Otj--..^ specific areas—local conditions may be more or less severe

^ ' than indicated by region classification.

Alaska is considered in region no. 4,

Hawaii and Puerto Rico in region no. 1.

MAINE

Fig. 8-1. Subterranean termite distribution in the United States.

MAINE

Alaska is considered in region no. 4,

Hawaii and Puerto Rico in region no. 1.

Region no. 1 very heavy

Region no. 2 moderate to heavy

Region no. 3 slight to moderate

Region no. 4 moderate to none

Fig. 8-1. Subterranean termite distribution in the United States.

time termite activity is discovered) is minor, and repair or replacement of the infested wood members is not necessary. Even with a heavy infestation, usually only a portion of the house is affected. And even then, only a portion of the wood framing might be damaged to a point where it has lost its structural value. In this case, only the affected members require repair or replacement. If you are in doubt about the structural integrity of any of the affected members, you should consult a professional.

Termites play an important role in the natural ecological cycle. They feed on cellulose, the principal ingredient of wood, and help to break down dead trees in forests and other wooded areas, thus enriching the soil. Ter mites began attacking houses when the wooded areas were cleared for building construction and there was no other available source of food near their nest. Subterranean termites are found in every state except Alaska. Their overall distribution within the continental United States is shown in FIG. 8-1. As their name implies, subterranean termites live in a colony (nest) that is usually located in the ground below the frost line. Even when a house is infested with termites, they usually do not have a nest in the house. They are there only to gather food. The only condition under which a nest might exist in a house (a rare occurrence) is a constant source of moisture such as a leaky waterpipe or drainpipe that wets the surrounding area.

Termites are social insects. Within each colony, there is a rigid caste system consisting of a queen and king, workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each member of the colony instinctively performs its special task. The function of the queen and king is to propagate the colony. The fertilized queen lays the eggs and might live for as long as twenty-five years. The workers care for the eggs, feed the young and the queen, and generally maintain the colony. They also forage from the nest to the wood supply and return with food. The soldiers defend the colony against attack by other insects, mostly ants. The average worker and soldier live only two or three years. The function of the reproductives is to replace the queen and king in the event of their injury or death. They also lay eggs that rapidly increase the termite population.

When a colony matures, reproductives leave the nest (swarm) to set up a new colony. Although thousands of reproductives leave the nest, only a handful survive to establish a new colony. The remainder die because of adverse conditions in the soil or attacks by other insects. Reproductive termites sprout wings for the swarm. With their wings, they are only about M inch long. They are considered poor fliers and generally flutter around before falling to the ground. Some, however, might be picked up in the wind and carried great distances. Once the reproductives land, they shed their wings, pair off in couples, and return to the soil in search of a suitable place to build a nest.

In most parts of the country, swarming generally occurs in the spring, sometimes in the fall. However, swarming termites have been found in January in some heated houses. In the warm, humid parts of the country, swarming can occur at any time. Even if there are no other outward signs of termite activity, termite swarming in a house is an indication that there is a healthy established colony nearby from which worker termites are coming in their search for food.

Swarming termites do not attack wood. Their only function is to start a new colony. Even if a swarm is in your house, you might not see it. A swarm might last from fifteen minutes to one hour, and if you are not in the right place at the right time, it can be over by the time you enter the room. However, if there was a swarm, you can tell by the discarded wings. They are often found on windowsills and light fixtures, and beneath doors. Do not confuse swarming termites with swarming ants. To the untrained eye, they appear similar, but there are distinctive differences. (See FIG. 8-2.) The most obvious difference is that termites have a thick waist and ants have a pinched (hourglass) waist.

Oplan Termites

Oplan Termites

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