Expensive termites are greatest prevented, not handled – L’Observateur

Costly termites are best prevented, not treated – L’Observateur

Costly termites are best prevented, not treated

Published Monday 3 October 2022 at 7:00 am

DAMAGE — Mississippi has an ideal climate for termites. Left untreated, they can do major, costly damage, like Formosan termites did behind the door panel of this home. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Blake Layton) Alternative text — Wood paneling removed to reveal extensive termite damage around a door.

By Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Mississippi – The word “termite” terrifies homeowners because this insect is Mississippi’s most economically damaging pest, is widespread and requires constant vigilance.

Blake Layton, an entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the cost of termites is so high that pinning down is difficult.

“Fire ants cost an estimated $250 million in the state each year, and termites cost significantly more,” Layton said. “Nationally, termites cost an estimated $5 billion to $20 billion a year. Because they are not a problem in all states, Mississippi and other Southeast states bear the brunt of these costs, potentially as high as $300 to $500 million per year.”

Because of this risk and expense, all homeowners should be aware of the risks from termites and make sure their homes are protected, Layton said.

“Every building in the state is attacked by termites, even those made of stone or steel that contain cellulose,” Layton said. “Every building is under attack, and it costs to protect it from termites.”

When termites enter a building, the cost of repairing the damage can range from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. Termite damage can result in the loss of entire buildings.

Not only buildings are threatened by termites. Wooden bridges, wooden signs and utility poles are among the many items that can be infested by the pests.

“Termites are native insects and are a natural part of the environment, including urban landscapes,” Layton said. “A study from North Carolina found that the average home has 25 native subterranean termite colonies in the east per acre.”

In nature, termites have the very important job of eating excess cellulose or wood debris. Without termites, there would be huge amounts of deadwood in forests, and wood waste would take significantly longer to biodegrade.

But this hunger for wood material makes termites a high risk to homes. The first line of defense is to have every home and building treated for the pests.

“They don’t want to go untreated in the Southeast,” Layton said.

Treatment costs significantly less than repairs and sanitation. The cost of treating a 2,000-square-foot home can range from $1,200 to $2,000 plus the annual cost of maintaining protection.

Layton said there are two basic types of treatments. The first is to apply a liquid termiticide to the soil around the home. This treatment can last 12-15 years

A newer treatment method uses termite bait stations installed around the home. These bait stations require annual maintenance to ensure ongoing control.

Applying termite treatments is a job for professionals, but homeowners can take steps to eliminate or prevent conditions that promote termite infestations.

“Any moisture problem presents a real termite risk,” Layton said. “In places where Formosaan termites occur, the risk is exponentially greater.”

Untreated soil or layers of wood mulch or bark stacked against the outside of a building provide open doors for termites to enter, sometimes through burrows they construct on the side of a building. Arbors, trellises, ladders, landscaping beams, wooden steps, or other untreated wood items also provide entry points for termites when attached to a structure.

“Make sure the slope of the property that the building rests on prevents water from pooling on the structure so the area stays wet,” Layton said. “Be careful not to install sprinklers or watering hoses too close to the house so they keep the structure evenly wet.”

Spray foam insulation can cause termite control problems. Although useful for sealing small gaps, termites can tunnel through the material and be completely invisible. Using spray foam insulation can result in a hidden termite infestation.

Some termite control companies do not issue warranties on structures with extensive spray foam insulation because the insulated areas cannot be properly inspected. Some companies even refuse to treat structures to which spray foam has been applied.

Russell Kohler, director of the consumer protection team at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s Crop Industry Office, addresses regulatory issues related to the pest control industry. He said termite control is a job best left to professionals.

“Common mistakes people make when attempting to treat termites themselves are violating the label, improper spacing between treatment sites, or installing enough bait stations and not treating all areas, e.g. when they encounter a nearby slab or leave a distant portion of a structure untreated,” Kohler said.

Other problems arise from misidentifying the treated termites. Kohler said that both eastern subterranean and Formosaan termites are subterranean, but their control methods are different.

MSU has a variety of resources in the fight against termites. Extension publication 2568, Protect Your Home From Termites, and the web site http://extension.msstate.edu/termites provide research-based information on this pest.

In addition, the MSU Extension offers Termite University, an intensive two-day training event for pest control professionals that focuses solely on termites and termite control. Participants will receive approximately nine hours of classroom training, as well as on-site field training at the Redd Pest Training Facility at MSU Horse Park.