Termites 101

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

Did you know the majority of termite damage is discovered at the time a homeowner prepares to do home renovation, such as replacing windows or updating the bathroom? This is due to the fact that most people don’t know what’s going on inside their walls until they actually break through them and discover the damage during a home improvement project.

Termites cause more damage to homes in the United States than tornadoes, fires and earthquakes combined. Americans spend over $5 billion annually to repair and deter termite damage to their homes. Termites are silent and very difficult to detect. They can eat on the wood in your home for years before you ever know you have a problem. And each year, unfortunate homeowners fork out thousands of dollars to repair termite damage. Unfortunately, most homeowners insurance does not cover the repair costs of any damage caused by termites.

Termites primarily feed on wood, but also damage paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems. Termites can injure living trees and shrubs, but more often are a secondary invader of woody plants already in decline. While buildings may become infested at any time, termites are of particular importance when buying or selling a home since a termite inspection report is normally a condition of sale. Besides the monetary impact, thousands of winged termites emerging inside one’s home are an emotionally trying experience — not to mention the thought of termites silently feasting on one’s largest investment.

Spring typically is the time of year when large numbers of winged termites, known as “swarmers,” emerge inside homes. In nature, spring is the time termites swarm to disperse and start new colonies. Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. The swarmers then drop to the ground, shed their wings, pair off with a mate, and attempt to begin new colonies in the soil. Few swarmers emerging outdoors survive to start new colonies. Swarmers emerging indoors are incapable of eating wood, seldom survive, and are best removed with a vacuum. They do, however, indicate that an infestation is present. Discovering the wings of termites (on window ledges or other light sources) almost always indicates an infestation warranting treatment.

Termites construct mud tubes for shelter as they travel between their underground colonies and the structure. To help determine if an infestation is active, the tubes can be broken open and checked for the presence of small, creamy-white worker termites.

Oftentimes there will be no visible indication that the home is infested. Termite infestations can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions. Termite feeding and damage can even progress undetected in wood that is exposed because the outer surface is usually left intact. Next week: Practical Ways To Deter Termites

Source: University of Kentucky Entomology

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