Finding out if your home is infested can be harder than you think. By the time you spot the termites swarming in your house, it usually indicates a mature colony of termites might be in your house, munching away at the wood in your house.
It doesn’t take much to please a termite. He likes moisture. He likes warm, humid days.That combination has brought the wood-eating creatures out in force for much of the country. Termite inspection and treatment companies say business is up as much as 25 percent compared with last year as wet soil allows the pests to travel closer to the ground’s surface and access homes.
Problem is, these are sneaky little guys who don’t leave many clues beforehand that they are even around. “You don’t know you have termites until they make a mistake,” said Jim Cahill, branch manager for Terminix in Indianapolis. And stories of those mistakes can cause shivers down the spine.
Take the woman who called Cahill recently. She walked into her kitchen to find the usually wooden floor entirely black and moving. “They were pouring out of the crawl space,” he said. They were swarmers, a group of winged, reproductive termites that leave their existing colony to establish new ones, said Steve Mayer, an educator with Purdue Extension-Marion County. That’s not good, because a mature colony of termites might have several million members and can eat more than a pound of wood a day.
Preventing a swarm comes down to simple things.
• Keep several inches between landscape mulch and the side of the house, experts say.
• Make sure gutters drain away from the house.
• Fix roof or plumbing leaks. The moisture from those leaks allows termites to survive above the ground.
• Keep firewood off the ground a foot or two. After all, wood is what they love to destroy. And that can take a bite out of your pocketbook.
Annually, termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage. To make matters worse, few home insurance policies cover the destruction. That causes Marion Hall, who has been in the business for decades as owner of Circle City Pest Control in Indianapolis, to offer one obvious, yet simple, piece of advice. “Get an inspection,” he said.
Those inspections will allow the professionals to look for signs you might not see. Those include hollow wood or discarded termite wings near doors or windowsills. There also might be mud tubes, hollow, drinking-straw-sized roadways for termites. And if you find a swarmer — even one of the little winged guys — that’s a red flag to check for infestations.
“There are always termites around, and they may never do damage,” Mayer said. “But if your home is untreated and if proper conditions exist, then infestation is possible. They need wood and they need moisture, and if they can access those two things, potentially a colony could be started.”
Do you have termites?
Here are obvious signs:
• Winged termites or discarded termite wings. They are often near doors and on windowsills.
• Mud tubes: These are hollow, drinking-straw-sized roadways for termites.
• Hollow wood: When tapped wood makes a hollow sound.
How to keep termites out:
• Fix roof or plumbing leaks. The moisture from these leaks allows termites to survive above ground.
• Ensure gutters drain properly and direct moisture away from foundations.
• Also, eliminate all wood-to-soil contact around the foundation.
• Keep clear. Keep mulch or soil away from the home’s siding.
It’s best to have a barrier of a few inches. Remove items such as scrap lumber, boxes and even old books or newspapers from crawl spaces.
• Air out. Maintain adequate ventilation in crawl spaces.
Use a mesh screen on all windows, doors and ventilation openings.
• Check it out. Have your home inspected by a trained professional at least once a year.
Prompt treatment and regular inspections can save thousands of dollars in damage repair.