Termites: Protect Your Investment

To protect your investment and save yourself a lot of trouble, learn the signs of a possible termite infestation. One symptom of infestation is the swarming of termites which usually takes place in warmer (summer) months. In nature, termites perform a beneficial function by breaking down wood and cellulose for use by other organisms. In buildings, they may feed on structural wood, wood fixtures, paper, books, cotton and related products.

When structural damage becomes apparent, it usually is the result of years of infestation. ”Generall”, termite problems only occur 10 or more years after construction. These social insects live in colonies underground, where they feed mostly on old roots, tree stumps and fallen limbs.

Each colony consists of three castes: workers, soldiers and winged reproductive termites. The workers are creamy-white and are rarely seen unless infested wood is broken open. These termites are the ones that feed on wood and cause damage. The soldiers have elongated yellowish heads with large jaws and are about the same size as adult workers. They protect the colony in case of invasion.

Winged termites often are confused with winged ants, it’s important to know how to tell the difference. Ants have narrow, wasp-like waists, while termites have broad waists. Also, the wings of an ant are about the same length as its body, but a termite’s wings are about twice the length of its body.

Termite tubes are another danger signal to watch for. Because they prefer dark, moist conditions, termites make these earth-coloured tubes primarily as protected runways from the soil to the wood they feed on. They also may serve as swarming exits for winged termites. Look for these tubes on cellar walls, wooden posts, exterior masonry and trim around doors and windows. Wood attacked by termites has channels or passages coated with an earth-like material. Where the wood has been infested for some time, it may be largely hollowed out with passages and may look rotten. When such wood is probed with a screwdriver, many worker termites spill out.

Wooden posts, steps, door frames and trim embedded in an earthen or concrete floor are especially susceptible. Termites particularly favour areas around furnaces, chimneys and hot water heaters and pipes that provide warmth during winter.

Here are several structural control recommendations:

• Remove all wooden debris from around the building. Replace wooden posts, steps, trellises and other structures that contact the soil with noncellulose materials or pressure-treated lumber.
• Replace badly damaged timbers with sound materials. Where possible, don’t allow wood within 45 cm of the soil.
• Provide adequate ventilation and drainage for basements, cellars and crawl spaces.
• Fill all visible cracks and voids in the foundation with concrete or caulking compound.
• Reduce soil moisture around the structure by directing run-off away from the foundation. Be sure gutters and downspouts are installed and working correctly.

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