Spring and summer are the most active seasons for termites, and these pests can cause big problems for homeowners. Termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year, according to the National Pest Management Association. Most homeowners don't even know they have a problem until it is time for drastic measures, so consider the following points and watch for these wood-destroying pests.
Know your enemy
There are multiple termite species in North America, but the most common are subterranean termites. These are found throughout the country and stay belowground or at least out of direct sunlight. To travel above ground and into homes, they build drinking-straw sized mud tubes to shelter them. Tubes are commonly found in crawl spaces or along foundation walls.
The Formosan termite is a subterranean species that entered the country on warships returning from the Pacific after World War II. They are found in the South and parts of California and Hawaii. Called the "super termite," they live in huge colonies that are capable of consuming large amounts of wood.
Drywood termites only infest dry wood. Unlike their subterranean counterparts, they build aboveground nests and get the moisture they need from the wood they consume. They can be found in attic rafters, furniture, hardwood floors, crown molding and anything else made of dry wood. They are most common in the Southeast and along the West Coast.
What's for dinner?
Termites are responsible for recycling dead wood back into the environment, putting homes high on their menu. Outdoors, termites consume wood debris and rotting trees, among other things. Once they enter a home, they can consume items like furniture and books.
Mark of the beast
Termites eat homes from the inside out and can remain concealed within wall voids or other structural elements for years before they are detected. No matter the species, the most obvious sign of any termite infestation is a swarm of winged termites. Common signs of a subterranean termite infestation include the presence of mud tubes, irregularities in interior walls and wood that's hollow when tapped. A dead giveaway of a drywood infestation is the oval-shaped fecal pellets left behind. These often resemble small piles of sawdust.
Termites swarm each spring to find a mate. While swarming termites are an alarming sight, they do not damage homes. They are, however, an obvious sign that their wood-devouring nest mates are nearby.
Termites cannot be eliminated with do-it-yourself methods and will require the help of a licensed pest control professional. Most professionals will use either a bait or a liquid treatment to eliminate termites. A bait system utilizes small tubes that contain wood debris. These are monitored on a regular basis, until the presence of termites is confirmed. The wood is then replaced with a poison, or termiticide, which is taken back to the nest and shared with the entire colony. Liquid treatments involve applying a termiticide to the soil around the home's foundation, which termites will forage through and carry back to the colony on their bodies. Both procedures ultimately eradicate a colony.
Read the fine print
No two termite contracts are the same, and it is important to carefully read them before signing on the dotted line.