Termites just might be a homeowner's worst nightmare. While they're tiny, they can wreak big-time havoc on your home. In fact, termites alone cause over $5 billion in property damage annually, according to the National Pest Management Association. What's worse is that homeowners insurance does not cover the destruction these ravenous critters can leave behind.
"These can be terrible situations; a new homeowner can be stuck with expensive damage repair, sometimes costing them over $200,000," says Daniel Whitney, a Maryland attorney who represents homeowners who have moved into a termite-infested house that a wood-damaging insect inspection did not catch.
"Termites, and the control or eradication of them, is a growing problem in the U.S. due to our climate and the prevalence of wood as our primary building material," says Ben Sciortino, the owner of Tri-S Pest Control in Tampa, FL. "In other areas of the world where stone and brick materials are used, you see fewer instances of infestation."
So what are the best ways to keep termites out of your home?
Eliminate or reduce moisture in and around the home
Subterranean termites, the most common and damaging species of termite, require ample moisture in order to thrive, says Danielle Corrato with NPMA. To reduce the moisture level in and around your house, repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and exterior AC units. Also, divert water away from the house through properly functioning downspouts, gutters, and splash blocks.
Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house
If you use wood to heat your home—or you just like lighting a roaring fire during the cold months—you need to make sure to store the lumber at least 20 feet away from your home, says Karen Thompson, editor of InsectCop.net, an insect and pest control advice website. Also, keep the wood that you bring indoors elevated and away from the walls and floor.
Remove stumps and dying trees from your property
Stumps and dying or dead trees are highly attractive to termites, says Brad Smith, the owner of Preferred Pest Control in Des Moines, IA. The dead wood provides everything they need to sustain their colony. Get rid of them!
Keep tree branches off your home
Overhanging branches can act as highways into the home, according to Jerry Lazarus, president of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in Massachusetts. Make sure to keep tree branches trimmed and far away from your home.
Be mindful of wood foundations
Unlike concrete foundations, wood foundations are more likely to sustain termite damage. Though these foundations are chemically treated to resist termites, they can weaken over time and become susceptible to termite damage. If you have a wood foundation, routinely inspect it for signs of mud tubes (see below) or wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
Possible signs of a termite infestation
In order to keep your home free of termites, it's important to know what to look for. Elsi Turri with Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta says to pay attention to these telltale signs of an infestation.
- Termite wings: Thin, papery wings are typically found near windowsills or floors.
- Mud tubes: Termites build these tiny tunnels to connect them from the soil to their food source.
- Rippled wallpaper or paint: This can appear similar to water damage and can be a good indicator of termite activity as well.
- Hollow-sounding wood: The hollow sound heard when the wood is tapped is a sign that termites have been feasting on it.
- Frass, aka termite droppings: This is a sign of drywood termites. It usually has a hard, gritty feel to it.
What to do if you have a termite infestation
If you have termites, don't panic and think that your house is going to collapse at any moment.
"An infested home can almost always be saved," says Trent Ragar, owner of Natural State Pest Control in Lowell, AK.
However, termites tend to fly under the radar, so by the time you notice an infestation, the damage may be overwhelming. It's best to call a licensed exterminator to help you diagnose the severity of your infestation and work on eliminating termites from your home.
"There are two options for dealing with a termite infestation: liquid applications and baiting," Ragar says. "If the damage is extensive, your technician should recommend getting a contractor involved to estimate the cost to repair your structure."