Hi friends! A few weeks ago we discovered something no home owner ever wants to find. Termites. Ugh. Now that we took care of the problem and we’re in the clear, I want to share with you what I learned. Here’s what to do if you have termites.
What to Do If You Have Termites
A little while ago, my husband and I noticed some dust on our countertops. We just thought it was crumbs from the food we kept above in the cabinets. One night, my neighbor called me and warned me about termite season and that she’d seen a swarm of them outside. Then it clicked- those weren’t crumbs. It was termite poop.
It was an awful realization. I had no clue what to do or how much the fix would cost. Ugh. But we figured it out and everything is fine now.
So, if this is something you’re concerned about, here’s what you need to know if you think you might have termites.
Look for Signs of Termites
If termites have made their way into your home, there are a few things you can look for.
Strange “Wood” Dust
First, this was our particular indication that we had termites. It looks like little shavings of wood or sawdust. And gross, but it’s actually termite droppings! The official term is ‘frass.’ When termites eat their way through wood, this is what they leave behind.
You might already know that termites love wood. So if you see any rotting wood, that’s basically a sure sign it’s termites. Also, if any wood sounds hollow when you knock on it, it could mean that termites have eaten their way through it.
Side note, when we removed our medicine cabinet, we found major termite damage in the wood behind it. Can you see those little holes and the rough wood? All signs of termites.
Mud Tubes or Tunnels
Some termites (more on the different types below) build little tunnels called mud tubes that they use to travel through. Often, you’ll see these near your foundation. But you can also spot them in basements, crawl spaces and wood piles. Wherever there’s wood and it’s moist is where these guys like to go.
Sometimes termites can cause cracks in walls and on the ceiling. If you’re not sure where a crack came from, there’s a possibility it’s from termites.
Damaged Flooring and Baseboards
Since they love to make their way through wood, termites can damage both your flooring and even your baseboards. Check If you’re floor is sagging or extra springy than before in some places.
Broken Roof Tiles
If you have a broken, damp or damaged roof tile it tends to attract moisture, which attracts termites. Then they can make their way further into your home. Quickly replacing roofing when you see it needs it will help prevent termites from getting in.
Windows or Doors that Stick
If a door or window is starting to stick more than it used to, it could be a sign that termites have damaged the wood around it.
If you see something that looks like ants with wings (and sometimes even without wings), it could be a female swarmer termite. Also, look for discarded wings randomly in your home. It could be a sign there’s a nearby swarm of termites.
The Two Types of Termites
Generally, there are two types of termites that you’ll deal with- subterranean and drywood. Since they both come with a specific set of issues, it’s important to know about both.
First are subterranean termites. They’re the most common form found in homes. This type likes to live underground and form mud tubes, which provides them needed moisture as they go from their colony back to your house where they get their wood food source.
Second are drywood termites, which are typically found in the Southeast and Southwest US. And they’re also much harder to notice because they don’t need soil to infest a home. Yuck. This means they can also eat into wood furniture and all other kinds of wood. This is the type we have.
How Do Termites Get in My House?
First of all, termites love wood, warmth and moisture. But each type of termite has different preferences for how and where they enter homes.
How Subterranean Termites Enter
Since this species lives underground, they typically have to be in contact with the soil to make their pesky mud tubes. So, any wood that’s within a few feet of the soil is susceptible.
Specifically, they can make their way into wood posts, stairs or cracks in the foundation. Even if your foundation is made of concrete, they can still make their way through the foundation to munch on floor joists (aka floor framing). Also, they can make their way in through cracks between bricks and mortar.
Watch for any pooling moisture or standing water that might have gotten to your foundation during renovation, landscaping, construction or digging near your foundation.
In general, they love any wood that’s been softened by moisture.
How Drywood Termites Get In
On the other hand, drywood termites don’t need wood to soil contact to start a colony in your home. Which means they can get in on any level of your home.
This is when those swarmers I mentioned above come in. They’ll locate a crack or a crevice somewhere in your home, eat their way in to create a nest and seal themselves in. Eventually, the eggs they produce become their colony that starts eating away at the wood in your home.
One of the first things I was concerned about was if termites could harm my family. After doing some research, here’s what I found out.
Termites have very few harmful affects and don’t pose a direct threat to humans.
In rare circumstances they’ll bite if you directly handle them. But this is highly unlikely to ever happen. If it were, it’s not toxic and they aren’t known to carry diseases that they can give to us. (source)
However, if your home is infested then it could be irritating to people with allergies or asthma. Since termites can spread dust from their nests, it’s slightly possible that this could get into your ventilation system and circulate throughout your home.
In general, termites don’t directly affect humans. However, working to prevent them getting in your home can help your family’s health. (source)
How to Kill Termites
Since termites can cause such widespread damage, it can be difficult to fully get rid of them by yourself. Also, it can be hard to know just how much damage has been done to your home.
But there are definitely a few things you can try.
In the case that you have subterranean termites, you could try using a termite bait station that you set up around your house near the foundation. (This option contains a poison wooden stake that lures termites out of your house and kills them.)
There’s also termite poison that you can put around the perimeter of your home. Any termite that comes in contact with it will carry it back to the nest, where the other termites they touch will also get it and die.
If you go with an exterminator, they will probably use a baiting system or a liquid treatment to get rid of them.
Or in more serious cases, they’ll fumigate, which is when they tent your house. Tenting is for extreme cases, but it’s also the most effective. Tenting kills the termites right away.
Note, when a house is tented, everything perishable needs to be removed. House plants, food, makeup, water, pets. It’s a pain to prep for and you need to stay in a hotel for a few months. But it is effective as it’s the only way to kill everything off.
Since prices vary depending on each situation, you’ll need to have an inspection to determine exactly how much you’ll pay.
According to this site, for liquid treatments you could pay between $300-$800. The price varies by company and the size of the house. The bigger the house the more expensive the treatment.
If things are more serious and you need to tent:
A typical cost for tent fumigation for a single family home of up to 1,250-square foot is approximately $1,200-$2,500 and for a larger home of up to 2,500-square foot area, the tent fumigation cost can fall between $2,200-$3,800. (source)
For us, the cost was $803 for spraying or a liquid treatment. Or we would have paid $1176 to tent.
However, most companies offer free inspections to come look at your house and give you an estimate. You’ll have to shop around to see what’s available in your area.
If your first estimate seems too pricey, don’t be afraid to shop around before making a decision. Also, sometimes local exterminators can cost less than the bigger companies. So, going local might be a good option.
what we did
To get rid of our termites, we ended up paying for a termite to do the liquid treatment. A technician came in 6 days after we saw the first sign of termites. He injected the liquid treatment in the holes in the kitchen. He suggested that if you see signs to take a picture of it so your technician can know where to treat. This will give you the best results.
I made sure, before we started, that the treatment was safe for our family to be around- which includes my son and our dogs. They said it was and we didn’t notice any side effects.
Next, he hopped into the attic and sprayed up there with Borax acid. He said it’s very safe to treat with and it’s basically like spreading salt in liquid form. There are no fumes. It’ll take 2 weeks for the termites to die from the treatment. They might swarm out during the treatment stage, but they will die.
He said that the spraying in the attic will last up there as long as we have the house. So that’s good news! The tenting kills all termites in the house, but there’s no lasting treatment in the house, so they can come back. The liquid treatment is more permanent where it’s injected or applied.
The guy who came to spray said that dry termites don’t affect the strength of the wood because they chew against the grain. He said that they only eat 1/2″ of wood in a year. In his opinion, we had our termites 3-5 years. He guesses that there were around 4-5 colonies in our kitchen and that there were 300 termites in each colony. So gross!
Another interesting thing our technician said is that termites won’t chew through paint. That there has to be a nick in the paint or raw wood. So if you’re worried about termites, paint wood before you put it in the wall. He also suggested that if we did construction, to have them come out and spray the backs of cabinets and any exposed wood in the walls.
If I could go back in time, I would have requested a termite treatment after closing on our home 5 months ago. Or had a specific termite inspection. Our general inspector said that there was evidence of termites at one point, but they weren’t alive currently in the house. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true.
Since the last thing anyone needs is termites, it’s important to know the ways that you can actually prevent from getting them in the first place.
Keep the Perimeter Clear
Make sure that the area directly around your foundation is clear, by at least 12 inches.
Trim all shrubbery so it’s not sitting on your house. That way moisture can dry out easier, and it’ll be easier to discover any infestations and mud tubes.
Another thing to watch is mulch. Make sure not to have too much, and keep it away from the perimeter as well.
Finally, store all firewood 20 feet away from your house and 5 feet off the ground.
Send Water Away from the House
Another thing to do is make sure all water is routed away from your home. Including rain gutters, downspouts, air conditioners and anything else that produces moisture.
Since termites like moisture, make sure you keep your attic, basement and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.
Regularly Check Wood
Watch all wood in your home for any visible changes. This includes, flooring, baseboards, door and window frames.
Watch for Mudtubes
Finally, make sure you keep an eye out for any mudtubes on the outside of your home. The earlier you catch them the better!
Turn out Exterior Lights During Termite Season
In Florida, termites fly in swarms in May and June. During those months, you might want to turn off your exterior lights at night since termites are attracted to lights and will fly towards them. Then, they might find a way into your house.
Pay for Annual Termite Control
For $200-$300 per year, you can pay to get continual treatments and termite checks. This includes a warranty. That way you never have to pay for the full $800+ for the treatment and you can prevent the damage that comes from termites. Then, if you sell your house you can show that you’ve been treating them the whole time.
I wanted to finish by saying, if you find out you have termites, it’ll be ok. It doesn’t mean you’re dirty or you’ll family will get sick. It’s just a part of living in certain climates. Ask your neighbors for a termite person they suggest and get quotes for getting it cleared up. It’s not fun money to spend, but it can be taken care of in a few hours. It’ll be ok- I promise.
It’s such a relief to have our termite issue resolved. I hope that my unfortunate situation will help someone else! If anything else, if you’re closing on a house in a humid climate, please make sure to avoid my mistake and get a termite inspection. It could save you a few hundred dollars.
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