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Termites: nature’s necessity, homeowners’ nightmare

May 31, 2012

By OSU Extension Services

They aerate and increase the fertility of soil and recycle dead wood. They are an important food source for other insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians and birds, and are essential for the well being of the environment.

However, if allowed to feed within the walls of a house, termites can turn a small problem into a pain in the neck and a huge dent in the wallet.

“Termites are everywhere in the soil, and they are highly beneficial in the soil habitat. We want them in the soil,” said Brad Kard, structural and urban entomologist at Oklahoma State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “We just don’t want them chewing on our structures.”

Adult termites are now on a mission of starting new colonies in suitable environments. There are a few key points stressed by Kard that homeowners can implement to reduce the chance that termites will become a problem.

The first rule of termite management is sanitation, which is the removal of termite food sources near your home.

“A homeowner should conduct a thorough external and internal inspection of their home and if mud tubes are found they should be scraped off walls and siding,” Kard said. “All pieces of wood and wood debris in the planter bed, dead shrubs and any paper or cardboard that may be on the ground near the home should be removed.”

Included in this is firewood, which should not be placed against the house, and wood-chip mulch, which also creates a desirable habitat for termites. Kard suggests that a homeowner rake back any mulch at least six inches away from the exterior walls.

In addition, rain gutters should be kept free of debris and water should drain away from the house.

“Wet soil and water around or under a house creates conducive conditions for termite survival and proliferation,” Kard said. “If sanitation and water problems are not first eliminated, then it’s nearly impossible to manage and remove termites from a structure.”

Those building a house can eliminate many problems during the construction phase. By simply making sure there is no scrap wood lying around the house during and after construction, including grade stakes used during concrete pouring and removing tree stumps up to 75 feet away from the house will help immensely.

All wood-to-soil contact must be eliminated, even if the wood is treated, Kard said. Other options for home-builders are making sure all stem walls are solid; using termite shields or stainless steel mesh on top of the stem wall; using preservative-treated wood; pouring a monolithic slab foundation, so that termites cannot find a hidden way up through cracks in the slab or cold joints; and possibly using post-tension-steel slabs to reduce slab settling and cracking.

“The general concept is building out termites during the construction process,” Kard said. “By completing these steps, you have already avoided 90 percent of your potential termite problem.”

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