Archive for Sunday, April 17, 2005

Termites tax homeowners

Experts offer tips to fight wood-munching pests

April 17, 2005


Sylvia Scoby isn't taking any chances.

After a guy across the street found evidence of infestation, and another neighbor started replacing his home's windows, trim and other wood items, the retired teacher decided to call in the experts.

An inspection revealed virtually imperceptible signs of trouble: Two pin-prick sized holes between the wall and ceiling of her laundry room, leading to tunnels no bigger than a swizzle straw running down to her foundation and the breeding ground below.

A few treatments and $400 later, Scoby is resting easy once again.

"This is an investment," Scoby said last week, soon after exterminators had left her home in southwest Lawrence. "I'm retired. I plan to enjoy my house. It's a place to share with my dogs and my friends.

"I don't want to share it with termites."

Dozens of area residents are fighting back this spring, as infestations of termites -- the eastern subterranean termite is the most common -- show themselves through holes, mud tunnels and even little wings left behind.

Termite colonies often are at their most visible these days, giving people an opportunity to identify problems before they can cause further damage. As rain moistens the ground and temperatures rise, termites start sending out legions of winged explorers to seek out new places to eat wood and be merry.

"About tax time, in Kansas, is when the swarming starts," said Pete Haley, president of Haley Pest Control, who has been fighting the termite battle for 27 years. "You'll see a hundred to a thousand or 3,000 to 5,000 of them, with their little wings.

"It's termite mating season. They send termites out to mate and start new colonies."

No place in town is immune.

Vanja Mehmedovic, a technician for Haley Pest Control of Lawrence,
sinks an applicator into the ground to treat a home in southwest
Lawrence for termites. Termites often swarm at this time of year,
leading to busy days for pest control companies.

Vanja Mehmedovic, a technician for Haley Pest Control of Lawrence, sinks an applicator into the ground to treat a home in southwest Lawrence for termites. Termites often swarm at this time of year, leading to busy days for pest control companies.

Inevitable 'strike'

Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent for K-State Research & Extension -- Douglas County, said that he took calls on a weekly basis from residents concerned about a possible presence of termites. Nobody wants the critters eating them out of their home.

Chladny's advice: Relax, take a deep breath and put the emergence of wood-eating bugs in perspective.

"I joke that there's two types of houses here in Lawrence: those that have termites, and those that are going to have them," Chladny said. "Eventually, termites will strike. It's just a matter of when."

Chladny offers free termite-identification services for county residents. Just bag one of the critters and bring it by his office at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds or call his office to discuss warning signs.

But once termites are found at home, he said, there's really only one thing to do.

"Without a doubt, call a professional," Chladny said. "When your faucet leaks, call a professional. When your roof leaks, call a professional. When termites attack, you can't control 'em. Call a professional."

Chemicals available to consumers simply aren't effective enough to control an infestation, he said, and people also lack the proper equipment to get chemicals where they need to be: below ground, often beneath a foundation, in a crawl space or some other difficult-to-reach area.

Chemical ammunition

A number of chemicals are available to control termites, he said, but generally fall into two categories:

Ants and termites may resemble one another, but a closer look at the pests reveals some clear differences, according to K-State Research & Extension. Among them:Antennae: They're bent on ants, but straight on termites.Eyes: Ants have them; termites don't.Waist: It's thin for an ant but thick for a termite.
  • Liquid controls. Professionals can treat an area, creating a barrier that creates a repellent barrier that termites cannot cross. Such barriers, however, can be broken by digging up bushes or otherwise disturbing the below-ground defense line.

Another liquid product, Termidor, also is injected beneath the surface but does not scare termites away; instead, termites pass through and carry the chemical back to their nestmates, where they share the poison and kill the colony.

  • Bait. Setting up below-ground "stations" around a home's exterior draw termites away from the structure, then kill the termites when the poison is ingested. Detectors are placed in the stations to determine if there is termite activity, then are replaced with poison if termites reappear.

Both approaches work, Chladny said. Research has shown that Termidor works and can be effective for many years, and is considered "one of the better" products on the market.

Stations do the job, he said, as long as termites take the bait.

"The Sentricon bait stations are very highly regarded as being highly effective, but their major limitation is that the termites have to find them," Chladny said. "It may take a month or it may take a year. It may be never, all while they're in your house, chewing on your wood siding and everything else.

"But when they do find the bait station, the colony is eliminated. That's not a joke. That's fact."

Reputation counts

The key is to talk to reputable pest-control professionals about options, he said. There are a number of firms in the Lawrence area, offering a variety of services and prices.

"You'll get everything, from A to Z, and all will cost different amounts," he said. "All I can say is, let your pocketbook be your guide. If you can afford to have the top of the line done, and it needs to be done, then go for it. If you can't, then get the bare basics done that you feel is going to do the job -- that will attack the issue -- if you can.

"The key actually is not to panic. If you find termites, don't panic. It's not the end of the world. They don't eat you out of house and home overnight. It's a very slow process, so you've got time to bring in some professionals to do a thorough inspection, evaluate the situation. You don't have to just immediately lose sleep and try to get everything done overnight."

Chladny advises people to talk to friends, family, fellow church members and anyone else they trust, to locate a worthy professional. Chances are someone else has faced the same problem.

That's what Scoby did, and she's been resting easy ever since. A few ounces of chemical prevention, she figures, can save thousands of dollars in repairs later.

"Knowing they're in the neighborhood, I'd rather treat it now than have them eat the house down around me," Scoby said. "These things have been on the planet a lot longer than me. They're survivors."

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