Termites: CASE 002 -- Termites After Major Foundation Repairs, pg 2

Southeast Williamson County, Texas

You ask me to come to your home to get a better idea of the nature of your termite problem. There is no charge for this service.

INSPECTION: (1). THE TERMITES. At your home, my first act is to dismantle the shelter tube in the garage (which the termites had rebuilt), collect specimens of the termites within it, and preserve them in a vial of 95% ethyl alcohol. These are immediately examined under the portable microscope I take with me in the field. (2). THE INTERIOR PREMISES. The physical inspection of the home's interior begins by determining the extent of the infestation on the interior garage wall. When tiny exit holes are discovered halfway up the dining room wall, more than ten feet from the shelter tube. I pound the wall, watching and listening for signs of looseness in the wallboard. Then I inspect all the other interior walls in your home, finding active exit holes in a bedroom on the other side of the house, and inside an adjacent bathroom. As with the wall in the dining room, I pound, watch, and listen. Another bathroom is nearby, and I carefully palpate the wallpaper for signs of termite foraging trails. Then, up in the attic, I look for evidence of termite tubes, wood rot, water infiltration from a faulty roof, and evidence of carpenter ants or carpenter bees in the decking, joists, and beams. (3) THE EXTERIOR PREMISES. On the exterior foundation I scout for obstructions that might prevent seeing shelter tubes, and for overt signs of termite activity, wood rot, or carpenter ants. The exterior walls and eaves, and around the windows and doors, are checked next. Using a ladder to climb onto the roof, I examine the composite asphalt shingles for excessive wear and for missing or defective shingles. Then I examine each vent in the roof for faulty seals. (4) EXTERIOR GROUNDS. Finally, I examine the lot, from the structure to the property line, inspecting shrubs, trees, the driveway, the fence, and the wood piers under the back porch. (5) THE PREVIOUS FOUNDATION REPAIR. I ask you for the paperwork from the foundation repair company, and you show it to me. I study their diagrams, and determine where they had found cracks in the foundation, and where they used jack-hammers to cut holes in the foundation.

THE VERDICT: I explain the aggressive nature of this termite colony, and the importance of getting the infestation under control before structural repairs were needed. Lucky for you, none of the infested walls show signs of structural damage yet. No other complications are visible, inside or outside the home, which is a good thing. It is normal to to find lots of wood rot in homes of this age (20 years or more), but no evidence of rot is visible here. At least one bathroom is infested with termites, probably from the bath trap under the tub. As usual, the bath trap under the second tub provides another opportunity for termites to get into the home, so special attention needs to be paid to those areas during treatment. Outside, none of the trees or shrubs show signs of termites in the yard. The chain link fence offers no opportunities for termites, which removes one of the more common concerns for homes in Central Texas.

Based on my on-site microscopic analysis, these are typical subterranean termites, with soldiers whose physical characteristics are consistent with the various species comprising the genus Reticulitermes. The termite colony's firm connection to the soil, through sturdy shelter tubes, corroborate that. Judging from its aggressive nature, it is a relatively new colony that is expanding rapidly. The wooden sole plate and studs, inside the walls at each active infestation, and preventatively at every plumbing penetration in your foundation, need to be treated immediately, along with all the wood within 18 inches of the edge of a foundation pier, where the foundation was penetrated by the foundation repair company. It is not necessary to treat the soil around the perimeter of the home, as there are no shelter tubes on the outside of the structure and, since the foundation skirt is unobstructed throughout its entire outer perimeter, any new shelter tubes will be obvious as soon as they show up. I recommend using cedar oil in the wood at the two areas of active infestation, to bring the termite activity in those locations to a halt. But the first and primary treatment will involve injecting an aqueous solution of 10-15% Tim-bor (technical grade disodium octaborate tetrahydrate, or D.O.T.) into the interior walls at each plumbing and drain penetration, as well as at the sites of the currently active infestations. Two D.O.T. treatments should be done, spaced two weeks or more apart to give the wood time to dry out between treatments, followed two weeks later by a thorough treatment of the active sites with cedar oil.

I explain that this specific treatment regimen is aptly termed "termite interdiction," as it acts to terminate active infestations, and to prevent termites from later initiating a new infestation of the treated wood of the structure. Due to the vigor of this colony, and its previous habituation to the active infestation sites, the termites will probably continue to consume the wood at the active infestation sites until an aromatic contact toxicant, such as cedar oil, is used to kill the foragers and destroy the pheromone attractants in the termite galleries.

Sometimes I recommend treating the active infestations I find inside a home with entomopathogenic nematodes first, and following that up, several days later, with D.O.T., while the termites are still active in the wood. The termite foragers will first become infected by the nematodes and carry them into the workings of the underground termite colony. Then, after the D.O.T. treatment, they will become contaminated with the D.O.T., and will also conduct that into the colony's workings. The resulting nematode and D.O.T. contaminations get spread deeper into the termite colony, under your home, and will act to reduce the colony's vigor in important ways. Such contaminations will continue to affect the colony as long as it remains alive, even after it stops feeding inside the home. The cedar oil provides the coup de grace that terminates the active infestations, causing the termites to stop feeding inside the structure. As long as all the other locations where termites might gain entry are treated with high concentrations of D.O.T., no new infestations will occur.

I ordinarily recommend two other steps to finally eliminate the termite colony. You may want to proceed with those additional steps--interception of the termites in special termite interceptor devices, followed by inoculating the intercepted termites with entomopathogenic nematodes--right away, or even later, especially if the termite colony starts building shelter tubes up the sides of your exterior foundation. However, your home has very sparse landscaping, with only a few shrubs and trees, and no overt termite activity showing in the grounds. As a result, I advise against the initial treatment with nematodes, and against purchasing termite interceptors for the time being. Chances are, you will be able to forego that expense altogether. The colony may try to reenter your structure via the exterior foundation wall, but that doesn't happen, especially after the D.O.T. contamination of the colony workings begins to weaken it.  Just be sure that regular inspections are made of the outside foundation, looking for signs of termite shelter tubes, so any need for further control measures will be discovered early.

          "What are entomopathogenic nematodes?" you ask.

          "They are tiny worms," I reply, "that attack and kill termites." "

          "Won't they attack me and my wife, too?"

          "No," I explain, "they are very specific about the organisms they will attack, and the nematodes I use for termite control only attack insects. They are so safe, the EPA does not regulate them as a pesticide."

          "Great!" you exclaim. "Let's just use them exclusively."

           "I wish we could," I reply, "but they can't kill all the termites in a colony unless we continue to inoculate with them, repeatedly, through a window that enables the nematodes to get at the termites directly. The areas of active infestation in your home provide such a window, at least for the moment. But it takes time that we don't have, because we need to close that window pretty soon, to stop the termites from damaging your home any more. The cedar oil will close that window, after we treat with D.O.T. Then the D.O.T. will keep the termites from coming back, even after the cedar oil has lost its punch."

          "How important is it to use nematodes in my home?" you ask.

          "It isn't critical," I reply. "In fact, because it will slow things down, and increase the cost a little, you may not want me to use them, especially since we have only two or three areas of active termites to work with. If there were more, we'd be working with a much larger window into the colony, and the nematodes would be more effective. In your case, it's just icing on the cake."

          "What exactly is Tim-bor, the D.O.T. stuff?" you ask.

          "Tim-bor is a registered brand name used by U.S. Borax, the manufacturer, and by Nisus Corporation, the present distributor, for the most common form of powdered technical disodium octaborate tetrahydrate, or D.O.T. It's like the Borax your wife uses in the laundry, but with twice the kick because it has eight boron atoms in each molecule, versus four atoms in ordinary Borax. D.O.T., along with a bunch of other formulations of the same basic ingredient, many of which include specialty additives not found in technical D.O.T., is registered by the EPA and labeled for termite and wood rot control. As long as the EPA-mandated instructions on the Tim-bor label are followed to the letter it is one of the most effective termiticides on the market. It is, essentially, a mineral mined out of the ground, and has been used as a laundry detergent synergist for over a century. I have been using it to treat termites and wood rot for over 25 years, with excellent results."

          "It sound's pretty safe," you say.

          "Whoa, podner! It's a violation for me to refer to anything, even D.O.T., that is regulated by the EPA and used as a termiticide, as safe," I reply. "But nematodes, and Cedar oil, which are not regulated by the EPA, are absolutely safe, and we could substitute rosemary oil, mint oil, or a number of other natural plant oils, all equally safe, for cedar oil in this application, and we'd get the same results. Unfortunately, despite killing termites on contact, which neither Tim-Bor nor nematodes do, not one of the natural plant oil products provides long-lasting results, so we still have to treat the wood with Tim-Bor to make sure the termites don't come back."

          "How long will wood treated with D.O.T. keep termites out?" you ask.

          "For as long as the wood still has a sufficient concentration of D.O.T. in it," I answer. "And that really means as long as the wood doesn't get flushed out with water from a plumbing leak, or a similar problem. Unless that happens, the D.O.T. will keep termites out of your home forever."

           "Why isn't this something I could do?" you ask, raising an eyebrow. "Without any help from you..."

          "You could do it all, " I reply. "You can buy nematodes at many of our local nurseries. Furthermore, D.O.T., in all its formulations, is an unrestricted pesticide that consumers can buy without a license. The trick is to apply them in the right locations, in the right amounts, using appropriate delivery equipment. Once you know how to do that, i cannot think of any reasons why you shouldn't be able to do it all by yourself, without any help from anyone."

In the end, this homeowner decided to have me do the work. A busy man, he was discouraged by the learning curve involved. He also feared he would miss something, and might fail to completely solve the termite problems at his home. Considering how widespread they were and the complications posed by the previous foundation repair, I understood his concerns.

I completed the work quickly, and fully diagrammed and documented what was done. The fee was reasonable and affordable, and included an iron-clad multi-year warranty that would transfer to a new owner if the home was sold. I even added a periodic termite inspection as part of my regular, on-going, quarterly pest management service, to make sure his investment would be protected into the future. I did not use nematodes at this site, as the specific circumstances did not appear to warrant the added expense.

But--and I am serious about this--you can do this level of termite interdiction work all by yourself. Furthermore, all homeowners should consider carrying out preventative termite interdictions at their homes, to help avoid future termite problems. That is especially important whenever foundation repair, roof repair, etc., has to be done. Why wait until termite problems develop, when you can do a few minimal interdictions now, before termites show up? Think how a simple, inexpensive, termite prevention program, which you can do yourself, will give you peace of mind. These pages will show you how. That's what Termite Encounters at BugsInTheNews  is all about.

Specific, detailed information on how to conduct a successful termite interdiction program in a residential structure is now being edited and will be posted here soon. I'm also putting together a simple, inexpensive termite interdiction kit that you can use. Rather than describe the precise treatment procedures used in this case, I refer the reader to those general interdiction procedures. They provide comprehensive how-to instructions that a determined homeowner should be able to use without outside assistance.

Additional, follow-up material on this specific case history will be posted here from time to time to keep viewers up-to-date on the performance of the termite interdiction program that was carried out.