Roaches, spiders, crickets, and many other bugs have a knack for finding ways into our homes, and although we might not enjoy their presence, rarely do these bugs cause any significant amount of damage to the structure of a dwelling. Termites are a different story altogether. Although they do not inspire the intense fear people associate with spiders or the disgust often associated with roaches, termites are one of the scariest insects out there when it comes to your home's structure.
According the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, U.S. termites not only cause "billions" of dollars worth of damage a year, they can also "…go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions" – an unsettling thought to be sure. To really understand why these bugs have such a terrifying reputation, though, you need to know what they are capable of.
1.How Much Do Termites Eat?
One of the most dangerous things about termites is their ability to hide. This allows them to go unnoticed for very long periods of time.
A single termite colony can have tens – even hundreds – of thousands of individual termites within it. Some species, like the Formosan termite (considered one of the most aggressive), can have 500,000 individual insects in a single colony. Most species of termites are relatively small, but with numbers like those, it's easy to see how all of those little mouths can add up to lots of eaten wood over time.
Some have speculated that an average colony of subterranean termites (one of the most destructive forms of termite in the U.S.) may consume 16 grams of food a day. If you do the math, that's around 12.9 pounds a year. It is important to note, though, that termites do not generally stick to a single food source, so that yearly 12.9 pounds is not likely to come from, say, a single floor joist or support beam.
2.Can Termites Cause a Building to Collapse?
The short answer is yes. However, it takes years for a colony of termites to do the kind of damage that would cause a house to actually fall down. Termites cause damage a lot more slowly than many people imagine; homes where a brand-new infestation has set in are not likely to have any severe damage (at least none caused by the bugs). It should be noted, however, that taking care of a termite problem as soon as it is detected is a good idea for monetary reasons. Although they may not cause your home to collapse in two weeks’ time, a small number of bugs can turn into an established colony quickly. The more established a colony gets, the harder and more costly it becomes to eliminate them.
3.How Effective is DIY Termite Treatment?
One of the most dangerous things about termites is their ability to hide. This allows them to go unnoticed for very long periods of time. Homeowners who try and treat their homes themselves are unlikely to successfully eradicate an entire termite population because they do not have the equipment or expertise to locate all of the bugs. Professionals have the training and specialized equipment to do the job right; even the most vigilant do-it-yourselfer is highly unlikely to be able to produce professional results.
4.How Can I Tell If I Have Termites?
Again, the presence of termites in the home is not always obvious. However, there are a few signs of termite infestation that, if spotted, should be taken very seriously. Flying termites looking for a new place to roost, known as "swarmers," are usually active in the spring. Swarmers can be distinguished from winged ants by their straight antennae (winged ants have antennae with an elbow bend in the middle). The presence of a few swarmers inside the home is a good indication of a larger, hidden population somewhere nearby.
The presence of subterranean termites can often be identified by the mud tubes they build on the surface of foundations, piers, and anything else that leads from the ground to a source of wood. Usually about the diameter of a pencil, these long, brownish pathways are definitely cause for concern when they appear on or near a structure.
Although there's no 100% effective way to keep termites away, there are a few things you can do to make your property less inviting. Fill in cracks and holes in siding and always use screens in windows and doors to keep swarmers from flying or crawling inside. Firewood, lumber, mulch piles, and other woody stacks should be kept away from the structure (20 feet or more if possible) and, if the means are available, placed on a pallet or other device to keep them off the ground.
Termites can do serious damage to a property, but a watchful eye is a powerful tool in protecting your home. Early detection allows for less-expensive, more certain solutions, so keep your eyes open and find a professional if you suspect that termites may be present in or near your home.