We are talking termites here, those tiny creatures that may go unseen for years until someone (an inspector maybe?) comes looking for them. The thing to remember is that termites work very slowly so it may take several years to do any serious damage to a house, so don’t worry too much until the condition can be assessed. As a mater of fact there are very few cases where termite infestation has caused extensive damage to a home and even then it was repairable, replacing only infected parts.
You could say we (‘we’ meaning developers) brought this problem upon ourselves when we tore down wooded areas to build our houses. There sole diet is cellulose, the main ingredient of wood. Not all termites live in houses because they use it as a food source and carry it to their colony underground layer. The sneaky little devils can always find a way into a house from there base of operations underground. Just like the great escape (ever see the movie?) they built there access tunnels along pipes, through spaces between bricks or any gap that leads to the house. All they need is 1/32nd of an inch to squeeze past so it is always relatively easy to find a way in.
Now that we know what they are, where they live and what they do for a living, let me go into some ways of exterminating them. Right now there are a few chemical termiticides professional exterminators use directly into the soil around the house as a protective barrier before termites can get in. Another way is to uses a less toxic chemical that is applied to the soil in small amounts over a long period of time. This chemical is put in small boxes or tubes with food like wood particles or paper and buried around the house. The theory here is that scout or forger termites will eat the food and carry some back to the colony where it is shared and the others will drop dead – don’t worry it is slow acting, giving them time to go back home! In both cases because many termites do not actually live in the house, just carry the food back to the colonies, barrier protection outside is the usual treatment. The only way termites will stay in the house is if there is a steady source of water like a leaky pipe or even condensation, anyway most like it dark and damp.
As with many insects and the animal world as well, termites are broken down into different categories like subterranean termites that live and bred underground, establish colonies and develop there own ‘caste’ system where some are bred to work or be shoulders and a king and queen that do nothing but reproduce (lucky insects!). Another type of termite does live in the house, that’s the dry-wood ones that live in the south and southwest. The wood they live in does not have to be rotted or even water damaged, in fact these particular insects like it dry and new – they have no respect for the house at all! For these types of terminates, control must be done on site where they live. Holes are drilled into wood members at or near the colony and injected with an insecticide which can be a liquid or in powder form. In extreme cases the whole is wrapped in plastic and fumigated – not a pretty site.
Termites will always be with us in one place or another for two simple reasons – they are so hard to find and exterminating them can be even more difficult, depending where they live.