Termite Infestations, Damage & Control

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.