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Prevent termite damage by keeping the pests out

By Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Exposed, termites are small and defenseless, but hidden and in high numbers, these insects can destroy a house from the inside out, causing homeowners untold expense and grief.

Blake Layton, an entomologist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said termites are a dangerous threat to homes.

“They work slowly and are difficult to detect, but over time, termite infestations can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage,” Layton said. “It is important to protect your home from termites, especially if it is made of wood or contains significant amounts of wood.”

Termites work quietly inside walls, floors and attics, making it possible for a building to be infested for a long time before the problem is detected. Seeing swarmers inside the house or discovering damaged studs or sheetrock are obvious indications of a termite infestation.

Less visible signs include narrow, sunken, winding lines in wallpaper, paint or other surfaces; small, odd-shaped formations of dried mud on inside walls; or mud tubes travelling up the foundation of a building.

Layton said the best termite control is preventive action -- treat termites before they get into buildings. While there are treatments that can be applied as the structure is being built, most homeowners find themselves treating existing structures.

The two basic kinds of treatments available are in-ground baits and liquid termiticides. Baits are a relatively recent innovation, while liquid termiticides are more conventional.

“In-ground baits consist of stations placed in the ground around the perimeter of the building and checked usually every three months for termite activity,” Layton said. “These do not contain an insecticide, but if termite activity is detected, the noninsecticide bait is replaced with bait containing a slow-acting insecticide or insect growth disruptor.”

Foraging termites carry this bait back to the colony where it is shared, eventually controlling the population.

Liquid termiticides are applied in the ground and create an insecticide barrier around the foundation of the building.

“Liquid termiticides on the market today are very effective and most provide many years of residual control of both Eastern subterranean termites and Formosan termites,” Layton said.

Any activity that disrupts the treated soil barrier creates a potential entry point for termites. Termites can enter a building through certain materials that are allowed to rest against it, such as piles of mulch or leaves or firewood left stacked against the building. Erosion can wash away insecticide-treated soil or bring in untreated soil.

Homeowners trying to decide which treatment to use should consider that baits are much slower acting than liquid termiticides and can take a year or longer to eliminate active infestations. A properly applied liquid perimeter treatment usually provides years of effective termite control, while baits must be routinely serviced to remain effective.

However, baits have one significant advantage.

“Baits use far less insecticide and are able to provide control in environmentally sensitive or hard-to-treat situations,” Layton said.

Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist, said proper termite control is even more important than ever in today’s tough economic climate.

“A mortgage holder can foreclose on property that is not maintained properly,” Shaffett said. “That means regular roof repairs or replacement and preventing damage from pests and termites are just as important as paying on time if you want to keep your home and protect your investment.”

Home equity is the greatest source of wealth for most consumers, representing 20 percent to 50 percent of their assets, she said.

“Not properly maintaining your home may be worse for your wealth than these volatile days in the stock market,” Shaffett said. “When you sell your home, you will be asked to disclose whether termites have been present, which can affect the value of your home.”

She recommended all homeowners maintain a termite inspection contract and make sure they understand the rules that may void the contract, such as not correcting moisture or landscaping problems identified in annual inspections.

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Released: April 9, 2009
Contact: Dr. Blake Layton, (662) 325-2085