Termites can be found in many parts of America. While some climates are not suitable for all termites at least one species can be an issue if you own a home in California. Termites cause more damage in the United States each year than all natural disasters combined except the year of hurricane Katrina.
When determining which treatment option would be best for you, several things must be taken into consideration. The first step is to take a look at exactly what termites are and how they live. Understanding this will help you and your termite professional decide which type of treatment would be best for your home.
There are two main types of termites in Southern California: dry wood and subterranean termites. Both types of termites exhibit some similarities; both species live in colonies, both digest cellulose (sugars from the wood in your house!), and both exhibit a multi-class working system within their colonies. One of the best ways to distinguish between subterranean and dry wood termites is the location of their colonies. Subterranean termite colonies are located in the soil and infiltrate a home in openings as small as 1/32nd of an inch. After finding an avenue of approach the subterranean termites then construct what are called mud tubes; these tubes allow them to survive outside of the soil and forage for food inside the walls of your home.
Mud tubes are a good indicator that you have an active infestation of subterranean termites as these termites will not travel anywhere outside of the soil without the shelter of these tubes. In fact if you see a mud tube and break some of it away, the termites will repair it before traveling through it again. If you have ever seen a line of worker ants carrying chunks of food back to their mound or foraging bees returning to the hive with pollen sacks filled to the brim, you understand the need of social insects to get food back to the colony.
Subterranean termites are no exception; they forage into a structure through mud tubes and return back to the soil with cellulose to share with the rest of the colony. Another distinguishing feature of subterranean termites is that they are small in size and often have large colonies, usually numbering in the thousands.
Dry wood termite colonies are located within the structure itself and these termites do not need any contact with soil. The most common area to find dry wood termite colonies is the attic because of the large amount of exposed wood. Dry wood termites are larger in size and as a result have much smaller colonies than subterranean termites, usually numbering in the hundreds. Dry wood termites are most easily identified by the presence of their “sawdust” like droppings; these droppings are small condensed wooden pellets and have also been likened to coffee and pepper grounds. These termites also use the wood they feed on to plug up their tunnel systems to keep out predators and control the climate of their colony.
Both types of termites live in colonies, use tunnels and are classified as social insects. This social behavior has been paramount in the development of new products and technologies to control termites in recent years. We will discuss this again later on.
The following treatments are what can be done for each of the two types of termites. The treatment that you and your termite professional choose will depend on a few of the factors outlined above: what type of termites are present, how many areas are infested, and the severity of the infestation. We will use these questions to help evaluate what treatment is best for you.
Since subterranean termites live underground the treatments you can have performed are limited.
Trench and Treat:
This treatment is performed when the subterranean termite colony is located where landscape and the structure come together. This is a common area of entry for subterranean termites as there are often gaps and cracks present between the wall framing of the unit and the foundation of the structure. During this treatment a trench is dug along the foundation and flooded with a state- licensed termiticide. After the product has been allowed to soak into the soil, the trench is filled in. The termiticides that are presently used are not like the ones of years past. These products are scientifically engineered NOT to kill termites on contact, but over a period of a couple of days. This allows the termites to spread it like a virus throughout the colony and results in a much higher rate of control.
Drill and Treat:
These treatments are performed when the termites are found to be in between the structure and a hardscape item such as a walkway or driveway. Holes (roughly ½ inch in size) are drilled into the concrete or masonry at 18 inch intervals to allow for a thorough injection of termiticide into the underlying soil. After the injection is complete the holes will be filled with concrete or masonry patch.
* There are other products that are used to control subterranean termites such as gels and dusts. These products are injected into active mud tubes. These products are great to use along with slab injections against severe infestations or in circumstances in which drilling through the foundation might not be possible. These products are also designed to work slowly, thus allowing the termites enough time to carry the product back to the underground colony.
Dry wood termites
These termites have colonies within the infested structure itself, and as a result there are several treatment options available. These treatments vary in overall invasiveness, cost, and effectiveness. With that being said, some options may sound very good at first, but when it comes to actually killing off the termites they can fall short.
These treatments are performed by drilling into the termite infested wood and injecting a termitacide into the tunnels or galleries of a termite colony. The holes themselves are very small (about 1/8”) and are spaced strategically to ensure that a solid injection of termiticide is made into the tunnel system. There are still termiticides that kill termites on contact, but the most effective are slow acting, non-repellant products that allow the termites to spread it throughout the colony. Termidor and Optigard Flex work in this manner and are regarded as some of the best localized treatment products available.
These treatments can be performed on any termite colony that can be ACCESSED! This is very important as we will discuss later during the fumigation portion. If the infested area cannot be reached it CANNOT be locally treated with this method.
Heat treatments utilize special heaters and monitoring equipment to heat a structure (or portions of a structure) to a temperature too high for termites to survive. This is the ONLY treatment that can be used as a local treatment or a full structure eradication method. Heat treatments can be perfect for treating an isolated problem in an inaccessible area, but because of cost and extensive preparation are usually not ideal to perform multi-unit control when the entire structure is in need of treatment.
These are performed on an entire structure whether it is a single-family home or a multiple unit structure. Fumigations are a highly effective means of getting rid of dry wood termites. It is the most thorough treatment method and is often much more cost effective than heat treatment if the entire structure requires treatment.
When would a termite inspector recommend a structure be fumigated?
There are several reasons why an inspector would recommend a structure be fumigated. One of the reasons is that there are termites in multiple areas. When an inspector finds termites in several locations it is highly possible, and most likely probable, that termites exist elsewhere in the structure. Every termite inspection is on visible areas of the structure only, and does not include non-accessible void areas and the wall framing of finished walls inside a home. When several areas of infestation are observed in accessible areas it becomes more and more likely that the infestations could be present in the non-accessible areas.
When this occurs, he/she will recommend a fumigation to ensure that the entire structure is treated and protected against future damage. Fumigation is also recommended when the termite activity is noted in inaccessible areas. In cases like these, the inspector can identify that termites are present, but can NOT determine the extent of the infestation OR access the area to perform an alternative treatment.
Lastly, fumigations are recommended as a way for termite companies to protect themselves. If an inspector notes termite activity and suspects further infestation as previously discussed they may make a primary recommendation for fumigation. BUT if they believe that the activity noted during the inspection can be treated using an alternative treatment method they will also provide what is called a sub-standard secondary recommendation.
While the sub-standard secondary recommendation is for a highly effective product and treatment method, the company still cannot say that the entire structure will be termite free upon completion of the treatment. That is why these localized treatments are noted as sub-standard secondary. Fumigation (and heat) are the ONLY state approved methods that can be considered a treatment for the entire structure. All other treatments are considered localized and any statement to the contrary is considered fraudulent in its claim.
When should a home or structure be fumigated?
If there are termites in multiple areas or are in areas that cannot be accessed for treatment. I would also recommend fumigation for condos and other multi-unit dwellings; heat treatments can also be used in this situation but can actually be much more costly than fumigating and the preparation process is much more involved.
What type of termiticide is best?
There are many products on the market that can do a good job, but two of the best are Termidor and Optigard Flex. The University of California Berkeley and University of Riverside performed a 2 year study and these two slow acting products provided the highest results.
Because these products are slow acting and TRANSFERABLE (which means the termites help spread it throughout the colony) it allows for more thorough control even in areas that were not treated directly.
Until recently (approx. 10 years) all termicides killed termites on contact or shortly thereafter. Years of study have shown that allowing the termites to live longer and transfer the product throughout the colony allows for increased efficiency and a much higher kill rate.
What about Orange Oil?
Over the past several years Orange Oil companies have been running ads that seem too good to be true, and in many ways that is true in itself. Orange Oil is a product that can be used ONLY as a local treatment. Anyone selling Orange Oil as a whole structure treatment cannot claim that all of the termites will be eradicated. BY LAW only fumigation and heat treatments can be considered as complete eradication methods.
How long of a warranty should I expect?
For all local treatments 1 year is what most companies provide. Many companies do offer an extendable warranty or maintenance program that can be purchased at an additional charge or on an annual basis. Companies that do not offer any warranty should be avoided in the interest of consumer protection.