Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

Subterranean termites are destructive wood-eating insects that cause homeowners frustration and expense when active nests are found in their houses. This can be especially troublesome when selling a home because lending institutions (banks, savings and loans, FHA and VA) require houses certified to be termite free before lending money to home buyers. Signs of an old infestation or damage that has been treated should not require the home be retreated.

Because subterranean termites nest in the soil and need protection from the elements when they invade your house, they build mud tubes over exposed foundations and travel through these tubes to wooden structures in your house. The presence of these dried mud tubes is solid indication that you may have a termite infestation in your house.

termiteBecause of the shorter distance from the ground to the wood framing, houses (or parts of houses) that are built on a concrete slab provide easier access for termites to enter the wooden structure. Proper construction techniques minimize or even eliminate the threat of termite infestation.

Another sign of a termite infestation is when winged adults swarm in spring or fall, and flying termites are found inside the house. Swarming termites are dark brown, have two pair of nearly equally sized wings and are weak flyers.

Wood damaged by termites may not be conspicuous because termite tunneling occurs inside the wood and a mere wooden shell may cover the damaged wood. Damaged wood can be penetrated with a screwdriver or an ice pick, revealing mud tubes lining wood tunnels in an irregular pattern.

Places to inspect for termite activity are wooden constructions in basements and crawl spaces, wood sills, joists, support posts, basement window frames and wood underporches. Scrap wood on the ground or a woodpile next to the house should be removed as these potential feeding areas may allow termites easier access to your house. Termites may also be found in dead trees or wood stumps after a dead tree has been removed.

What should you do if you find termite activity? Do not panic! Termites damage wood slowly; it takes from 3-8 years for significant damage to result from a termite infestation in Utah because our cold winter months reduce termite activity.

Do-it-yourself termite control is possible using termiticide insecticide concentrate, but because of the difficulty of doing a thorough job, the need for special equipment, and the risks associated with an improper treatment, professional treatment is termiterecommended. Do not be pressured into making a quick decision about purchasing a termite control service. In making your decision, use the following guidelines:

1. Deal with reliable firms.

Ask for and check references (i.e., previous clients that have had termite treatment), and consult the Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau. Be wary of fly-by-night termite control companies. Make sure the firm has liability insurance.

2. Comparison-shop.

Get several inspections, opinions, and estimates. Treatment estimates may be highly variable and may differ by over $1000 between the companies. What is important is not necessarily the total dollar figure, but what will be done for the cost. It is important that you understand enough about the treatment so you will get the most for your money.

3. Get a report detailing:

  1. whether an active infestation is present
  2. where the infestation and damage is located
  3. what structures/areas will be treated and how
  4. what insecticide(s) and rates will be used
  5. any warranty or limitations to the treatment
  6. whether the applicator has a current Utah Commercial Pesticide Applicators License with category 15 for Wood Destroying Insects.

Read the proposals carefully. Use these reports to compare termite control companies. Also, be sure that you understand what your obligations after treatment might be.

What to do if your neighbor has termites? Or what if an inspection finds termites in a woodpile or dead tree in your yard? These are difficult questions for a naïve homeowner to answer. It is also not easy to always get an objective answer to these questions from a termite control company because they are also in the business of selling termite control treatments. Just because your neighbor has termites, doesn't mean that you do. In Utah, it is fairly common to find termites in firewood piles and old dead wood stumps. It is very important for homeowners to learn as much about the signs of termites and termite dtermiteamage as they can to be able to make intelligent decisions about this potentially serious and expensive insect pest.

If you would like to verify a pesticide applicator's license please contact Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) at (801) 538-7185.

UDAF recognizes Barb Ogg, Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension Office, Nebraska in the development of this publication.

Termite biology and necessary control measures are not well understood by homeowners. Here are answers to some common questions asked by homeowners faced with termite problems.

Q. My next-door neighbor has termites and is going to have his house treated. I've been told that the termites will attack my house next. Should my house also be treated?

A. Termites move randomly through the soil searching for a source of food (wood). They do not have the ability to know exactly where your house is. So, if your next-door neighbor treats his home for termites, your house does not automatically need to be treated. However, if there are active termite infestations in your neighborhood, it is a good idea to have your home inspected. The construction and condition of a house are major factors in susceptibility to termite infestations.

Q. I found termites in landscape timbers (firewood and wood mulch) in my yard. Should I have my house treated?

A. Just because you have termites in your yard does not mean that you need to treat your house. In fact, it makes sense to let the termites feed on the landscape timbers, firewood or wood mulch because they won't be searching for another source of wood. You should; however, move these sources of wood so they are not next to the house or other wood structures. Inspecting your house regularly for signs of termites is also a good idea.

Q. Can pest control companies always find termite infestations and damage when they do an inspection?

A. No. Termite infestations are difficult to find if the termites travel vertically through hollow blocks, between the cracks in foundations and behind finished basement walls. Pest control companies cannot be held liable for damage and infestations if they cannot gain access to infested areas. They can be held accountable, however, if they miss an obvious sign of termites.

Q. Can I do the termite treatment myself?

A. A person who wants to treat a dwelling for termites needs specialized equipment and training to do it correctly. Such equipment is not readily available and untrained persons may cause more harm than good. For these reasons, it is not recommended that homeowners attempt treatment. They should work with a professional pest control company for this service.

Q. I've had four companies bid on treating my house for termites. The estimates range from $300 to $1500. How do I make a decision about termite control companies?

A. To make a determination about companies, ask them to write out in detail how they are going to treat your house. If you do not have this information in writing you will not be able to compare companies. In general, the more information a company will give you (in writing), the more confident you can be in the treatment and the company. Beware of companies that will quote you an estimate over the telephone without even inspecting your house or merely give you an estimate on the back of a business card. Ask the pesticide applicator if they have a current Wood Destroying Insect category on their pesticide license. If so, you know that they have taken workshops and have passed a certification test.

To make an assessment of how reasonable estimates are, you should estimate how much the chemical should cost for your dwelling. You will need to know:

  1. The outside dimensions of your home. Draw it on graph paper.
  2. The distance between ground level and basement footings.
  3. The dilution rate (from the insecticide label.) Request insecticide labels from the pest control companies.
  4. The application rates (from the label.)
  5. Whether you have a block basement foundation.
  6. The cost of the chemical. You can get this information from pest control supply companies.

The estimated cost of the chemical should give you an idea of what is a reasonable estimate. In general, if a proper treatment is done, the pest control company will charge somewhat more than the cost of the chemical, depending on labor costs, equipment, insurance, overhead and profit. These labor and other costs will probably be equal or greater than the chemical cost. If bids are less than your estimate the chemical company is using an incorrect dilution or will not apply the material all the way to the bottom of the basement footings. In any case, be suspicious of estimates like this. It does not make sense for a company to lose money on your job.

Q. What is the best chemical available for termite treatment?

A. There is not much difference between the effectiveness of termiticides (i.e., insecticides that are registered for termite control) when they are used as directed on the label. The most common reason that a chemical treatment fails is when the application results in an incomplete insecticide barrier around the structure. A few factors that can contribute to a poor treatment are when:

  • The insecticide is diluted with too much water,
  • The insecticide is not injected to the footings of the basement,
  • There is an insufficient volume of insecticide injected; or,
  • The soil is frozen or saturated during injection.

Treatment procedures (directions for using the insecticide are found clearly on the insecticide label and should be followed carefully by pest control companies to ensure a proper treatment.)

Q. If treatment is done correctly, how long will the insecticide barrier be effective?

A. The termiticides used today for termite control are much less persistent in the environment than chlordane was. With products that are registered today, you should not expect a termite treatment to protect your home for more than five years.

Q. Will putting this insecticide around my foundation hurt my family or the environment?

A. We do not know all the answers when it comes to the health effects of insecticides; however; an insecticide must have low mammalian toxicity to be considered for registered as a termiticide. With some of the insecticides, there may be an odor after the treatment that may be offensive to some individuals. Some products are more odor free than others. If you are concerned about odor, mention this to the pest control technician well before the scheduled treatment day.

Q. The pest control technician told me that for my own safety, I should leave the house during the time it is being treated. Is this necessary?

A. To ensure that the treatment is being done properly, the homeowner should observe the treatment process. Unless the homeowner is chemically sensitive, there should not be any adverse health problems associated with a treatment done correctly. Ask questions of the pest control technicians. Keep track of how long it takes them to do the job.

Q. The pest control company will give me a one-year warranty on the treatment. After that I pay $100 a year for a yearly inspection. If the termites come back, the company will cover the treatment cost. Is this a good deal?

A. The limited warranties offered by pest control companies are more like buying termite control insurance than a warranty. Whether or not it is a good deal is relative and depends on the level of risk a homeowner wants to assume. In the event of a termite reinfestation, will all costs be covered by the warranties? What will the homeowner have to pay? Can the company increase the yearly inspection fee? Be sure to read the fine print carefully and ask questions.

UDAF recognizes Barb Ogg, Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension Office, Nebraska in the development of this publication.