Finally, Winter is Over…

Last winter has provided us with some significant challenges in pest control.  Most of our time was spent arranging, and then re-arranging our schedules to meet with the wrath of Mother Nature.  Much of the work on the exterior of homes and businesses cannot be properly performed when the soil is saturated, frozen, or covered with snow.  In most cases, it also limits insect invasions in homes to the rare times when warmer air temperatures allow renewed activity.  For most soil dwelling insects, the low ground temperature will shut them down completely during colder months.

While low temperatures and extremely wet conditions on the exterior will limit insect entry, it appears to have the opposite effect when things warm up and dry out.  It is the general consensus in our industry that after a winter of cold, sloppy conditions like last winter, we will have an overabundance of calls as the ground temperatures rise.  While this is welcome news for industry professionals, it makes for uneasy times for homeowners.

All insects have periods of increased activity that coincide with proper environmental conditions.  For termites, after a winter of slowed-down metabolic rate and very limited food supply, they re-emerge close to the soil surface and continue on their never ending quest for new food sources.  As I noted in the past, below are some ideas to keep in mind to limit the available food sources around you home.

Reduce or eliminate wood piles and mulch directly touching your home.  Since mulch is decaying wood, it is not a sustainable food source for termites.  It does, however, provide moisture close to the surface and due to its dark shade, it will attract and retain heat throughout the night providing adequate harborage while in quest for other food sources (your home).  It should be remembered – termites are social insects and require a strict division of labor for the colony to survive.  Our company is repeatedly questioned as to whether they could have been introduced by a mulch delivery. Although you may get some termites delivered with mulch, many studies have shown that when the colony is massively disrupted, such as by the process of loading, delivering and dumping, the members present have virtually no chance of reorganizing into a viable colony with all of the caste members necessary to survive.  It is far more likely that the newly introduced heat, temporary food and moisture source will entice the already present foragers to take up residence.  Termite colonies cover vast areas underground, and they are constantly foraging for new food sources.  Limit their ability to sustain themselves directly against your home, and you will reduce the chance of any infestation.

Other factors that can help reduce the probability of infestations rely on leaving susceptible areas open to visual inspection.  Termites are crypto-biotic, meaning they do not like to be exposed to light.  They will go to great lengths to build mud tunnels, which protect them from light, moisture loss and discovery.  Try to keep an exposed area around your exterior foundation where the siding does not come in contact with the soil, and to prevent shrubbery from growing against the building.  This will help during any ground level inspection and increase airflow against the structure.

When a colony of termites is present in an area, their numbers increase at an alarming rate.  After a few years (usually 4 or more), they will start to produce “alates”, or swarmers.  This is a natural occurrence, signifying the colony has reached a critical mass and needs to branch out.  Swarms normally happen in the spring when the soil reaches the correct temperature.  The alates will emerge by the hundreds and perform their mating flight, with most dying shortly thereafter.  In some cases, the only sign of a swarm will be the discarded wings left in the area afterwards.  If either situation is found, call a professional right away.

As in the past, we recommend an annual inspection to determine whether termites are present or there are areas conducive to infestation that may need to be addressed.   If you find that there is not enough time in the day to complete a close inspection of the perimeter, we highly recommend that a professional inspection be performed by a reputable company on a yearly basis.  This will go far to alleviate any concerns and showcase any potential problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Recent studies have shown that the increased use of “spray foam”  (SPF) insulation has created more problems for our industry.  While the insulation works well, it also provides a humidity controlled environment for termites (and ants) to travel throughout the house with few limitations.  Since the insulation is closed cell in structure, it will not breathe and maintains high moisture content; this affords the termites the opportunity to travel to areas that were unreachable in the past, and also removes the possibility of visual inspection to determine if an infestation exists.  There are no insecticidal properties in this foam, so it provides a perfect harborage while searching for new food sources.  Our industry now recommends not offering any warranty against re-infestation after treatment when either SPF or EFIS types of construction are in place.

Termites are just one of many organisms that can cause damage to your home.  If you feel there is evidence of a concern, or you have questions concerning any of nature’s little tricks, it is to your benefit to call immediately for a professional evaluation and to determine whether a treatment is warranted.

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