Termite Encounters: Detecting, Identifying, and Treating Wood Destroying Organisms

This new series follows the same BugsInTheNews  format used for spider and snake encounters, with exactly the same objective in mind. In these pages we--you, me, and a bunch of others--will work together to dig into the world of wood-destroying organisms. Though the title is "Termite Encounters", the subject matter includes all the organisms that damage wood and wood products. All these organisms are closely related, in more ways than one. And all are misunderstood.

Because these organisms are associated with serious damage to homes, they cause fear, anxiety, and apprehension. For most, such emotions trigger built-in reflexes, like "Ignore it; maybe it'll go away," or "Call out the experts, and don't even think of trying to fix this on your own." Sound familiar? Maybe you've had similar thoughts, but you probably know that ignoring a problem and doing nothing, or turning it over to experts, trusting them to solve it the best possible way, can lead to more problems down the road. Those who--in the time-tested American tradition--bravely face their fears, and--perhaps most important of all--take personal responsibility for solving their own problems, usually come out on top. Of course, first you have to make sure a particular problem can be handled as a do-it-yourself project. Is termite control one of those? In a word, yes, but with the caveat that some termite infestations cannot or should not be addressed without genuine, expert assistance. It helps to have good resources available to learn from, and that is what this series is about: giving you the information you need to analyze, plan, and carry out appropriate measures to prevent and/or fix termite problems at your home.

Don't misunderstand. I'm NOT against calling out the experts. You may not be a do-it-yourself kind of person. And even if you are, some problems are unique to the point that they require special expertise. After all, I am one of those "experts" people call when they feel they need special help with their pest problems, including termites. And, with 30 years of experience treating termite infestations, I understand how daunting some termite problems can be. In rare cases, special knowledge, tools, and methodology are mandatory, either to avoid serious complications, or to stop termites in their tracks before they cause additional damage.

Many termite infestations, though, can be handled yourself, without outside help, provided you learn and apply a few basic rules. Even more important, almost all PREVENTIVE termite control can and really should be done as a do-it-yourself project that you continually monitor and maintain, so that you avoid getting termite infestations in the first place. You need to know when to call in the experts, and when you can handle it yourself. That is what "Termite Encounters" is all about--getting you educated before you make that decision.

There is an added benefit to this that should not be overlooked. Once you have a grip on how termite infestations should be handled, you may be a better judge of the proposals you receive from different pest management firms. Then, if you decide not to do it yourself, you will be in a good position to judge the quality of the work performed by the company you choose. If nothing else, learning the basics will help you ask better questions.

As with the pages I have posted here on snakes and spiders, learning more about wood destroying organisms tends to melt fear and anxiety away. It is gratifying to see how many former arachnophobes (people who fear spiders) and ophidiophobes (individuals afraid of snakes) now appreciate how beneficial most of the spiders and snakes are. I don't expect you to learn to love termites, carpenter ants, or wood-rot fungi, but you might. Even if you still hate them, though, you don't have to be afraid of them any more. My aim is to help you stand up to them fearlessly, turning the tables so you are in charge. As with everything else in life, our greatest enemy isn't so much the enemy itself, but the indescribable fear that makes the enemy larger than life. And since fear is borne of ignorance, these pages are meant to illuminate dark places, replacing ignorance with facts.

Termites, carpenter ants, and wood-rot fungi coexist in a symbiotic relationship. Environmental conditions that work well for one of these organisms also work well for the others. When you find one, you are likely to find another, and possibly all three at once. Most of the time, if you encounter one or more of these organisms, a closer look will also reveal plumbing, roof, foundation and landscaping problems that invite the wood-destroying organisms in to begin their nasty work. It isn't enough to solve a termite, carpenter ant, or wood-rot problem. The underlying cause must be fixed, too, either as a first step or along with removing the existing infestation. Otherwise you are only putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The encounters posted here will tell you all you need to know, so prepare to learn a few things.

By reviewing the encounters described in these pages, as presented in the case histories listed below, you will learn--in a general way that will enable you to extrapolate from specific cases to your particular situation--(1) how to spot evidence of termites, carpenter ants, and wood-rot in and around your home, (2) how to analyze the underlying problems that need to be corrected, and (3) how to undertake appropriate corrections. Then, as you go about that work, I hope you will contact me with photographs, diagrams, and narratives explaining how you did it and the results you obtained, so I can share your experiences with those who visit this site. Please note that in each of these case histories I take special pains to keep the identities of the owners, and their addresses, confidential. Links are provided for case histories that are ready for publication. If no link is provided, the case history is still under construction:

CASE 001: SE WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TEXAS, Termites After Major Foundation Repairs.

CASE 002: NE TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Termites In Front Porch Column.