Ah, Spring…
Time for Termites and Their Ilk to Come to Your Home and Make it Their Dinner

         Many of the homes that have mold have wood destroying insects. Many of the homes with wood destroying insects have mold. The lesson is that if you have one, check for the other.   

        It’s the time of year that termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees and other wood destroying insects are on the prowl looking for new homes to devour. Your home could be on their list of targets.  The destructive pests have two things going for them. They do their damage in places few people look and most homeowners don't recognize what an infestation looks like.  Just this week I was inspected two very nice homes that had massive termite infestations, but nobody knew about them.                        

        Greg Bauman of the National Pest Management Association explains the importance of learning about these pests. He says "I've personally seen a home with $1 million in repair costs. It is not unheard of to see termite damage in the tens of thousands of dollars"    

Understanding the Natural Purpose and Ways of Insects that Live to Devour Your Home

        Termites and other wood destroying insects are one of Mother Nature's recycling mechanisms. When trees die in the woods, mold and wood destroying insects turn the dead wood into topsoil so that new plants and trees can grow. That is a great plan, except when the dead trees are the ones that were used to build your home.      

    Most infestations start where there is wet wood. It can be from a wet basement, leak where a concrete patio meets the house wall. a poorly sealed door sill, or a plumbing leak. The wood destroying insects in Western PA  need water and lots of it.    

        Wood destroying insect infestations start with a nearby 'successful" but crowded insect nest. The original nest could be in a dead tree, its roots or a woodpile in your yard. The initial nest cay also be in your neighbor's house, or the nearby woods. This established nest will send out a queen and additional insects to help the "new town" get established.  

This entourage that is made up of "reproductives" commonly referred to as swarmers. These are insects that temporarily have wings to carry them out to colonize. They lose the wings at their new home. Think of the wings as their Conestoga Wagons to the wild west or Shuttle to the space station. If you see  something that may be members of a new colony, capture some of the insects in a jar to show a pest control professional. 

The very serious environmental risk we find is pesticide poisoning of people. Misapplied pesticide can make a home toxic. In chemically sensitive people (MCS) even the treatment of a neighbor’s home can be toxic.       

Recognizing the Little Culprits that are Intent on Eating You Home

 Termites:  The most common signs of termites are wings that have been shed. These are opaque wings that look like fish scales. The other tell tale sign is beige colored tracks or tubes that look like branches going along wood areas. To keep moist, the insects stay inside the wood and those shelter tubes and are not visible to see. 

Carpenter Ants: These are the 1/4" long ants. They send out ants to find food and are often easily found. If they are staying within a wall, you can often see a sandy looking debris pile under a hole in a wall. The sand debris will have some black ant body parts as the nest discards the dead bodied of their deceased. 

Carpenter Bees: They bore into exposed wood making a perfectly round 1/4" hole. They then turn 90 degrees in the wood and lay their eggs in successive chambers. They are most likely in unpainted or wood with worn paint. In the spring you can see them flying around the nesting area and they look similar to honey bees.    


Common Myths and the Truths

Myth:  If you spray or simply stop seeing the swarmers then the problem is fixed.
Truth: Swarmers only swarm for a short period and lose their wings when they find a suitable place to start a new nest. They could be still alive and building their happy home by eating the wood in yours   

Pressure treated retaining walls will not get carpenter ants of termites.

Truth   Untrue, unlike decks, retaining walls are made of hardwood and the treatment does not work well on these walls. Many treated wood tie walls have been destroyed by carpenter ants


Myth: Houses that do not have basements will not get termites.

Truth: Termites can enter the house walls. I have seen termite shelter tubes stretching from the concrete slab up to the top of the roof.


Myth: Termite bait stations are a "one time" treatment.

Truth: The bait stations do not stop termites, they attract them. They must be regularly checked to see  if the bait used in the stations that have attracted the termites.  It is only after the termites are observed in the station that active bait is used. For the treatment to work, the workers must be going back and forth to the nest before carrying the poison.


Myth: Termite bait stations alone are an effective treatment.

Truth: It is recommended that perimeter treatment be conducted along with bait stations except near wells and other water sources.       

Myth: All pest treatments are safe. 

Truth: Most treatment products are pesticides which work by poisoning insects. They can affect certain individual's health, especially if improperly used. If you are sensitive to chemicals, you can register with the PA Department of Agriculture to be notified if pesticides are used near your home or workplace.   

The Next Move if you Suspect an Infestation

        The solution to most infestations includes recognizing insects that are for the most part hidden from view. The next step usually includes handling pesticides, which are most often poisons that require careful and informed use. The residual material may also require specialized cleaning and disposal.


        If that is not enough risk, the misuse of the products can harm people and pets, and possible make a home toxic to live in. You may also want to understand that if the treatment is not properly done, thousands of dollars in additional pest damage can be done to your home. Those are some very good reasons to hire a professional. \ 

        The PA Department of Agriculture regulates pest control professionals. These professionals must also maintain insurance and continuing education to maintain a license. A link to verify a pest operator's license will be provided at  www.Envirospect.info/pest link mentioned below.     

        The interesting fact to know when hiring a licensed pest control operator is that the individual small firms have the same license and requirements as the large franchise companies, but often charge less.

Best Ways to Avoid Termite and Wood Destroying Insect Infestation

  • Do not use park mulch
  • Dehumidify your basement
  • Keep surface and roof water away from a foundation
  • Caulk and seal where sidewalks, patios and driveways meet a house wall
  • Be careful of wood piles
  • Remove stumps from home when trees are cut
  • Keep exterior wood well painted
  • Repair interior plumbing leaks  

Spring is the most active season of the year for new infestations.