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Spring is Termite Season: Here's What You Need to Know

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Termites are bad news. Most homeowners cringe at the thought of a termite infestation, and for good reason. Termites cause over $5 billion a year in property damage in the US, and you usually don't know they are there until it's too late. Termites mostly eat wood, but they can also eat drywall, paper, and even plastic. And they're not easy to get rid of. DIY termite solutions are rarely effective. Instead, termite infestations require professional attention from a TrustDALE certified termite control specialist.

Getting to Know Termites

If you want to prevent termites, it helps to know a little bit about them. There are thousands of termite species worldwide, with more than 40 active in the US. However, three species dominate: drywood, dampwood, and subterranean. The subterranean species is common throughout the Continental United States, while the damp wood and drywood varieties are mainly found in the southern states.

What Termites Eat

Termites damage property primarily by what they eat. In nature, termites feast on dead trees and plants. Their main sustenance comes from cellulose, a fiber that makes up the bulk of wood and plant matter. While wood is termites' primary source of nutrients, they can also extract cellulose from paper and drywall. Some termites have even been known to consume plastics, though plastics are not healthy for termites.

Subterranean termites prefer to feed on softwoods, though they are by no means limited to those woods. Subterranean termites are found in homes across the US, consuming all sorts of woods. Dampwood termites, as their name suggests, mostly prefer wood with high moisture content. They tend to stay close to the ground, where they consume wet, decaying, or rotting wood. Drywood termites are more mobile. They require much less moisture in the wood they eat and maybe found throughout a home, often taking up residence in attics and ceiling crawl spaces.

Termites are voracious feeders. Their tiny mandibles are nonetheless capable of ripping apart wood, paper, and drywall. They often remain hidden in walls and foundations, where they can cause severe damage to a home's structure. But they can also attack furniture, shelves, and even books.

Where They Live

In nature, termites live in dead or fallen trees, underground, or above-ground termite mounds. Where there are humans, termites often take up residence in wood structures, as well. The primary factor affecting a particular species choice of habitat is the amount of moisture the species requires.

Subterranean termites are common throughout the US, and outside of human structures, they live in the soil, building mounds filled with elaborate mud tunnels.

Drywood and dampwood termites are most common in the southern United States, where they live in the same wood they use as food. They can live in dead trees and plants or your deck, walls, or furniture.

Know the Warning Signs

A termite infestation often goes undetected for months or even years before it is discovered. However, some telltale signs can help identify an infestation before it is too late.

The easiest sign to spot is a swarm of winged termites. When a colony matures, winged termites breed and then take to the air to look for a location for a new colony. Winged termites typically swarm in the spring and summer. If you can spot the swarm, you may have a chance to catch a budding colony before it has the opportunity to destroy your property.

Cracked or bubbling paint could be a sign of termites. However, there are many reasons paint may crack or bubble, including general moisture damage, so this sign alone should not be used as a final diagnosis. But taken along with other signs, cracked or bubbling paint can help narrow down a possible infestation.

A more definite sign of termites is wood that sounds hollow when tapped. Hollow-sounding wood is a good indication that the inside of that wood has been hollowed out by termites, though some other insects can cause similar damage, such as carpenter ants and carpenter bees.

As a colony matures and sends out flying termites, you may find discarded termite wings or see the termites flying around. They are strongly attracted to light, so you may see them near light sources or find dead termites in light fixtures.

Preventing a Termite Infestation

The best way to deal with a termite infestation is to prevent it before it takes hold. To start, we'll outline some of the ways you may get termites.

How Termites Get Into Your Home

There are many ways termites could get into your home. Pipes and wires that enter your home may leave small cracks or spaces where they penetrate the outer wall. Those spaces are easy entrances for termites and many other pests.

Any wooden part of your home that makes direct contact with the soil can become a superhighway for termites. Examples include decks, patios, stairways, or other wooden structures. Similarly, a pile of wood, such as firewood, that leans up against your home can host termites. Even trees and bushes that brush up against your home can act as a path for termites. 

For termites that prefer a moist environment, wet areas around your home can attract them. For example, damp soil near your home's foundation could be caused by leaky pipes, dripping faucets, broken gutters, or downspouts that don't drain correctly.

How to Prevent a Termites Infestation

There are two things you can do that will make a big difference. First, eliminate moisture problems. Eliminating moisture issues around your home will help with all sorts of pests, not just termites. Second, keep termite food sources away from your home.

To eliminate moisture issues, you need to hunt down anywhere that moisture is pooling outside your home. Looks for leaks around pipes, faucets, and AC units. If you have exposed pipes, look for condensation during warm weather, and insulate the pipes if necessary. Make sure that rainwater is directed away from your foundation. Downspouts should reach far enough away from your home that water won't pool near the foundation. Proper grading near your foundation can also help rainwater flow away from the house. Check the roof for standing water, too. Keeping debris off your roof and fixing broken shingles can keep water off your roof, which will benefit your roof, too. Make sure that vents are clear so that moisture and condensation can't gather.

To eliminate food sources, you'll have to look for any materials that could potentially feed termites. Mostly, that means wood. If you have a woodpile, keep it 20 feet from your house or as far as possible if you don't have 20 feet of space. Lumber and paper are also food sources, so keep those away from the house, too. If you have any rotting stumps or other wood debris near your home, get rid of them. Also, make sure that all your doors, windows, and vents are thoroughly screened, and there are no tears or holes in the screens. Finally, make sure that no wooden part of your home touches the soil. If it must touch the ground, like some decks or patios, check them regularly for termite damage, or form a relationship with a TrustDALE certified pest control company for regular inspections and service.

What to Do if You Find Termites

The first thing to do if you find termites or termite damage is don't panic. Termites can be scary. You have no idea how much damage they have caused, and any structural damage to your home is certainly a problem. But termites are a solvable problem. A termite infestation can be cured and the damage repaired. But the longer you wait, the worse the damage can become. So don't hesitate. Call a TrustDALE certified termite control specialist right away. You'll be glad you did because every TrustDALE business goes through Dale's thorough 7-point investigative review and is backed by his trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right Guarantee.