EATING US OUT OF HOUSE
TERMITES AND OTHER WOOD-DESTROYING INSECTS
[Be sure to visit Mr. Caruba’s site at
© Alan Caruba, 2001
A longtime friend and noted consultant to the pest management industry, Dr. C.
Douglass Mampe, jokingly says, "Termites were not created for the sole
purpose of providing a livelihood for pest control operators." One figure
cited by the National Pest Management Association estimates that Americans spend
an estimated $1.5 billion annually to protect their homes and other structures
from the damage they and other wood-destroying insects do.
The fact is termites alone do more damage annually than all the
fires and storms combined. When you add in the damage from carpenter ants,
carpenter bees, powder post beetles, old house borers, and ambrosia beetles,
you're talking millions more, all courtesy of Mother Nature.
Termites have been around for an estimated 350 million years, a
tad longer than the two million that humans have been wandering the earth. For
anyone who owns a home or other property, the front line of protection is
inspection, inspection, INSPECTION. Even that, however, has its
problems. For example, in New Jersey, literally anyone can provide home
inspection services, though legislation will probably correct this oversight.
It's such a problem that the New Jersey Pest Management
Association spent five years putting together a program to instruct and certify
those who want to become "Credentialed Inspectors." Their program has
produced more than a hundred such inspectors since the program began. (www.njpestcontrol.com)
All must be licensed and certified by the state as commercial termite
applicators and have a minimum of two year's experience performing termite and
wood-destroying insect (WDI) inspections.
Springtime not only brings the flowers, it brings out all the
insects, including swarming termites, emerging from colonies that have been
happily nibbling the guts out of one's home for three to five years. When they
show up in droves on the windowsills, drawn by the sunlight, every homeowner's
nightmare has just come true. Termites may announce themselves in this fashion,
but other wood-destroying insects (WDI) are less obvious, often working for
years inside the void areas of homes and other structures offering evidence of
their presence that can only be spotted by trained, experienced professionals.
Here are some tips about swarming.
The earlier the termites swarm, the more critical the condition
is. Why? Because it means there's a really big colony. January and February are
the start of the swarming season, but under most conditions, termites will begin
to swarm around mid-May, usually just after a rain and when the temperature is
around 80 degrees.
A March or April swarm usually indicates that the colony is
located outside the structure and, therefore, not so severe. Swarming termites
go through two stages. In the first they are attracted to light. After they meet
their mate, they are repelled by light and seek darkness. Those winged termites
are called "alates" and are reproductive termites intent on starting
Drive down any street in suburban America and the odds are that
a third to a half of the homes are infested. Cities with countless steel and
concrete structures are no exception to an infestation because they represent an
endless source of wood, not to mention tons of paper products.
Time was the main culprits were Subterranean or Drywood
termites, but you can add the Formosan termite to the list. Introduced to the US
several decades ago, they infest large portions of the Southern states. Until
the late 1960s, one of the greatest termiticides ever invented, Chlordane,
eliminated the problem and would protect a home for decades. When
environmentalists targeted this chemical, it was soon banned. After that, the
same environmentalists went after organophosphates and they too are, for the
most part, history. Now, pest management professionals mostly rely on termite
systems and the industry is enthusiastic about them.
The other major insect responsible for as much, if not more
damage is the carpenter ant. A colony of 50,000 to 75,000 of these creatures can
literally move into a home overnight! Anywhere wood meets soil, carpenter ants
find a highway to the entire structure; porch pillars, sills, girders, joists,
studs, casings. Like termites, any cracks in a foundation are an invitation to a
wholesale invasion. With the same timing as termites, carpenter ants
tend to show up anytime from May to July. The Queens over-winter
in established colonies and then take flight to start new ones.
There's a good reason states require termite and WDI inspections
when a home or other structure is for sale. They constitute a major threat to
the integrity of a property. Fortunately, pest management professionals have
lots of experience dealing with these creatures and have an amazing array of
tools and chemicals to detect and exterminate them. The real challenge is
identifying where they are and creating a barrier against a new infestation
after the current infestation has been eliminated.
The best rule of thumb is to do business with a pest management
firm that is a member of either the National Pest Management Association and/or
its state's association. Joint membership is common among the best firms. These
industry groups work hard to encourage professional standards. Most state
associations will provide a list of their members in your area. After that, take
the time to interview a few firms to get a sense of who can do the best
inspection and/or the job to exterminate them. The termites and carpenter ants
aren't going anywhere.
Then we get to the issue of cost. The lower the cost the higher
the risk that the problem will not be eliminated. Neither pest management
professionals, nor their customers, want to do a "re-treat." It is,
however, often necessary because Nature produces billions of WDI every year.
Thus, the cost of a termite treatment must be measured in terms
of the expertise of the firm. Part of this is not visible because termite and
WDI technicians undergo extensive and on-going training, plus annual
recertification. Training is a significant factor among the best PMPs. This is
not a job for amateurs or the guy who shows up with his entire firm in the trunk
of his van.
Finally, let it be said termites, carpenter ants, and other WDIs
don't care the least that you're inconvenienced by their desire to eat your
property or interfere with its purchase or sale. They are simply a force of
Nature. Spend what it takes to eliminate and repel them. It's a good investment
and a necessary one.
Alan Caruba (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a veteran business and science
has been associated with the pest management industry since the 1970's,
providing public relations services. He maintains an Internet site at