Instructions by a Thumbtack professional
Worried you may have termites? Don’t despair. Danny Wilson with Pacific Coast Termite is here to tell you how to kill termites — or to know when it’s time to get professional help. With 10 years of termite control under its belt and a license from the State of California Structural Pest Control Board, Pacific Coast Termites is the state’s largest user of the EPA-approved XT2000 Orange Oil. This is a naturally occurring essential oil derived from the rind of oranges and contains the active ingredient d-limonene, which is toxic to termites.
Read on for warning signs that you may have termites, how to identify the little buggers, how to kill them and how to prevent future termite infestations.
STEP 1: How to kill termites
It’s not too difficult to determine whether or not you have a termite problem. Certain signs are clear indicators:
Frass. If you see what appear to be six-sided salt and pepper droppings, these are unfortunately termite poop, also called "frass." The bugs are nibbling through your wood and digesting out these wood-like pellets. Look for the droppings around window ledges, baseboards, beds and dining tables. Danny says window ledges are notorious for being the first sighting place for these salt and pepper droppings. Termites burrow in through cracks around the frames and begin to eat away.
Softening of wood or hollowed out wood. Termites don’t like paint, lacquer, varnish and other wood finishes, so they’ll eat inside the wood and leave the exterior finish like a shell. Listen for the sound of cracking eggshells when you walk on hardwood floors or feel for abnormally soft wood.
Water bubbles in your paint. If you see what appear to be water bubbles in your exterior or interior paint, be sure to test them. If you poke them and inside you find termite droppings instead of water, it’s the sign of a termite infestation.
Mud tubes. Subterranean termites create travel networks made of mud. These mud tubes can look like icicles hanging from your ceiling, they can appear as mud spots on interior and exterior walls, or they can travel along foundational supports under your home. When you see these mud highways, you know a colony (or colonies) of termites is traveling between their home in the ground and your house for lunch. Termites create these tunnels to protect themselves from predators such as ants, and if you crack them open, you’ll see scores of scurrying termites inside.
STEP 2: How to kill termites
There are three main types of termites: drywood, dampwood and subterranean. Each type of termite colony includes workers (who eat your house), soldiers (who defend others from predators such as ants) and swarmers (flyers who locate new places to colonize). Although you don’t generally see termites unless they’re swarming (flying), it’s good to know how to identify them, Wilson says. Most termites range from between ¼ inch to ½ inch in length.
Drywood termites commonly have a brown body with a reddish head. Swarmers have sheer, tan wings — although there are color variations. Workers are pale, tan and look like maggots, with no wings.
Dampwood termites are similar to drywood termites, often with a tan or brown body and sheer wings. These workers also resemble maggots.
Subterranean termites are smaller than their above-ground brethren with black bodies and sheer wings for the flyers. The workers are smaller, white and maggot-like.
STEP 3: How to kill termites
Drywood termites are partial to dry, nondecayed wood and often end up in attics, floor boards and window frames.
Dampwood termites like decaying wood or wood that is rich with moisture. They often attack wood that is making contact with the ground and are found in areas with high rainfall or humidity.
Subterranean termites will eat soft (moisture-rich) wood and drywood, but they initially make contact with your house through the ground.
STEP 4: How to kill termites
Drywood and dampwood termites enter your house through small cracks, often around window frames through cracks in the caulk. Be sure to check around windows regularly and reapply caulk when it begins to show signs of age and cracking. Swarmers shed their wings and burrow into the wood. Cracks in paint are another easy access point for termites. Remember that termites don’t like paint or varnish, so they won’t break through that barrier if it’s in place. Be mindful of maintaining your exterior paint. For example, when you hammer up Christmas lights then take the nails out, you leave behind little holes and create an open door for a termite colony.
Subterranean termites often burrow into cracks in the home’s foundation. In regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area, a lot houses have raised foundations, Wilson says. Termites build mud tubes up to the bottom floor, often along posts. But even in the absence of posts, Wilson says, mud tubes can stretch from the ground up through thin air to connect with the base of the house.
STEP 5: How to kill termites
So what do you do if you find a termite in your home? If you see one shed wing or one termite flying by, it doesn’t mean you have an infestation. But if you see a group of shed wings or any of the other warning signs noted above, it’s best to get a professional inspection. A pro can determine how widespread the infestation is better than the average homeowner and can help you determine the best course of action.
STEP 6: How to kill termites
Termites are actually easy to kill, Wilson says, but you need a termiticide to do it. Unfortunately, good pesticides are not available to the public. Most home stores sell termite spray, but those are watered down to meet public safety specifications, so they’re not as effective.
If you have an infestation that is isolated to one part of your home, say the door trim, you can replace the trim, Wilson says. But if you have a full-on termite infestation, you need a larger scale treatment.
Subterranean termites have to be cut off from the house at the soil. Pacific Coast Termites makes a chemical barrier between any areas of dirt and the house, as well as around the entire house. It acts as a shield that the termites can’t break through.
Drywood and dampwood termites can be killed with a wood treatment product such as XT2000 Orange Oil, which is injected under pressure into the wood through ink-pen-sized holes. This product saturates the wood and will prevent future infestations. Treating a moderate infestation this way takes about four to six hours.
Homes that are massively infested (you can see termites everywhere) can require fumigation. Either a massive tent is placed over your home, or all the doors and windows are sealed, and the home is gassed with pesticide that will kill all the termites. This process can take anywhere from six hours to one week, depending on the type of infestation. This only kills the current inhabitants, however, so Wilson recommends a prevention program after your initial treatment so you don’t have another round of the creepy-crawlies.
STEP 7: How to kill termites
Apply a good, quality coat of exterior paint on your house, since termites won’t eat through paint. Ensure that all windows, doorframes and foundation gaps are caulked and sealed. Don’t staple or nail up Christmas lights then pull them down. The tiny holes make termite homes. Instead, either leave the nails in the holes year-round or fill the holes when you remove the nails.
Quickly resolve any plumbing leaks, standing water on your roof or other issues involving decaying wood. Provide proper ventilation under your raised home to keep that area dry. Subterranean termites love wetness.
Treat your house with a product such as Bora-Care, a borate-based product that you apply to wood. The product absorbs into the wood and provides years of protection against termites. Homeowners often have it applied to the framing when they are building a house from the ground up.
In California, for example, there are two types of houses, Wilson says: those that have had termites and those that are going to get them. If you see a problem, take care of it. If you don’t take care of it, over time it will get worse. Unfortunately, termites never stop, Wilson says. They eat away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
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