Last Updated: December 30, 2016
Termite control is easiest when that control is based on prevention rather than on working to get rid of termites. The first step in preventing these destructive pests is to be aware of what their habits are and to know how to identify them in the event they do show up.
Once they have taken up residence, termites do not like to emerge from their colonies. Periodically checking for termite activity will prevent you from coming across huge areas of damage by accident while working on a remodeling project or making a simple home repair; unfortunately, this is exactly how many people find out that their property is infested!
Some of the most common ways to determine whether you have termite activity include the following:
- Probe exposed wood with a flathead screwdriver or dull knife to see whether there are hollow spots inside.
- Inspect the foundation area, keeping an eye out for mud tubes containing small, cream-colored insects.
- Look for swarming activity, usually during the spring months.
- Inspect window sashes and other areas where exposed wood is present to see whether there are termite wings or termite bodies present.
- If an area is damaged, inspect it closely to see whether the damage was caused by water, or if it was caused by termites. Tunneling, particularly if there are bits of dirt inside the tunnels, is an almost certain sign that you have a termite infestation.
Prevention is the Best Termite Control
Whether you’ve had to get rid of termites in the past, or if you are simply looking for methods for preventing a termite infestation, you’ll benefit from these prevention tips.
First, you should think just like a bug. Termites are small – they don’t need direct access to exposed wood. Instead, they often enter via cracks in foundations, plumbing penetrations, and around areas where exterior doors lead into crawlspaces or basements. Apply caulk to any cracks you find, including those around electrical wiring or pipes, and those around window and door sashing.
Second, look for areas where moisture is present. While drywood termites don’t need much water, others do; water attracts termites like nothing else. Look for areas where moisture collects around and under your home. Leaky pipes in crawlspaces, areas near leaky faucets including outdoor spigots, and areas near air conditioning units with drains are prime termite territory.
Third, keep the area around your foundation clear of debris, particularly if that debris contains wood or other sources of cellulose, which termites eat exclusively. Do not stack firewood right next to your house, as termites love to dine on it.
Fourth, keep mulch and other plant-based materials at least a foot from your home’s foundation, and be sure to keep gutters dry and clear of debris. Any food or moisture source near your home could draw termites.
If your home is still under construction, have your contractor install a concrete foundation. Be sure exposed wood surfaces are covered with metal barriers or with sealant.
How to Get Rid of Termites
If you discover an infestation, treatment needs to be a top priority. These insects multiply rapidly and cause damage with amazing speed. If you do not have time to handle an infestation thoroughly on your own, or if you have an extensive infestation, consider hiring a competent exterminator. Termites are one of the few bugs for which licensed exterminators actually do have methods of extermination that are not available to the general public. There are a number of factors to take into consideration when determining which route to take in order to get rid of termites. If the infestation is not extensive, or is in an area not connected to the home (a shed for instance) consider trying some of the following DIY methods for getting rid of termites before calling an exterminator. Try using several methods at once to maximize effectiveness.
- DIY Termite Baits – DIY termite baits cost much less than professional treatment and can be highly effective. As they work slowly, they are best for small infestations. Ask your local garden store or look online for ‘termite stakes.’ These systems consist of stakes that you drive into the ground around your house and leave there for termites. The bait stakes have easy-access holes for the termites to enter and exit. Instead of being killed or repelled immediately, the termites consume the bait inside of the stake and take it back to the colony, killing the queen and the rest of the colony along with her. The bait takes anywhere from 3 to 14 days to kill the termite that consumed it, and during that period of time, the toxins are spread to other termites. The main problem with this solution is that termites basically have to stumble upon the baits while foraging. To make this type of termite treatment as effective as possible, place stakes at 10-foot intervals around the foundation’s perimeter. Additional stakes should be added near those that show signs of termite activity.
- DIY Spot Traps – Using DIY Spot traps, you can get rid of termites by the hundreds. While this method will not eliminate an entire colony, it can help cut back on the termite population while you decide which other methods to use. To make these traps, simply dampen several large strips of cardboard and stack them in an area where termite activity is occurring. The termites will find the combination of dampness and cardboard irresistible, and will get to work. Once you’ve got a termite-infested spot trap, you can simply bag it up, take it out into a safe area, and burn it.
- Boric Acid Baits – Boric acid is used in many commercial termites treatments. It causes dehydration while completely shutting down the termite’s nervous system. You can make your own baits by coating wood or stacked cardboard with an even layer of boric acid. You’ll know your bait is working if you see termite bodies nearby. You can find Boric acid at garden centers as it is used to remedy many types of insect infestations.
- Non-Chemical Termites Treatments – Physical barriers including certain types of sand and steel mesh can help to prevent an infestation. There is limited evidence that Nematodes and fungi-based biological control agents may be effective as well. Nematodes are worms that feed by injecting insects with bacteria, and then eating the insects once the bacteria kills them. Nematodes are usually available for purchase at garden stores or online, and are most effective when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you cannot use them immediately, simply store them in the refrigerator. When you apply them, follow instructions carefully and keep them away from sunlight since UV rays will harm them. For a more in depth explanation of nematodes, click here.
How to Choose an Exterminator
Professional termite extermination is often required for eliminating problematic termite infestations, and is recommended for infestations you have determined are too large, advanced, or damaging for you to handle on your own after trying some of the methods we’ve mentioned here. There are a number of methods professional exterminators will use when dealing with a termite infestation. The primary method is by injecting heavy-duty toxic insecticides (termiticides specifically) into the soil around the house. They may even drill holes in the home or surrounding patios and inject the termiticides there as well. These insecticides are toxic to people as well and, for that reason, only licensed exterminators may administer the treatments. In addition to this, an exterminator may use monitored termite baits designed to rapidly kill termites that feed on them. In extreme scenarios, an exterminator may fumigate the entire building with poisonous gasses.
If you decide to get rid of termites with help from an exterminator, be sure to select the company carefully and pay close attention to all instructions provided. Pesticides can contaminate drinking water, and they often have an adverse effect on children, pets, and others who come into contact with them.
Seek quotes from at least three different exterminators in your area if possible to find the best price. Before making a final decision, check the company’s service record. Finally, look for a guarantee that includes return trips to check for and clear any new infestations that occur with a certain time span. The best companies often offer extended warranties at a fraction of the original termite extermination cost.