In a previous blog, we discussed a bit of basic termite biology, namely what the colony is composed of and the particular species of termite that is found in New Jersey. Since we’ve addressed the question of “Why New Jersey”, let me answer the next question: Why your home?
Termites have evolved over millions of years into their present ecological niche and fill it very effectively. In nature, termites consume and digest wood for nutrition and have adapted to our environment by attacking and breaking down dead trees and plants, allowing their component nutrients to be returned to the environment. All well and good when it’s a log in the woods, or root structures from a dead plant, it’s a completely different story when the wood the termites are attacking is your house!! Unfortunately our modern building practices, specifically using wood framing over a concrete or stone foundation, mimics a termite’s natural environment very effectively. Think of how a tree root will grow over and around a rock, now compare that with structural lumber sitting on a foundation, very similar.
Termites tend to attack our homes through areas that mimic their ideal feeding conditions in nature. We humans tend to unknowingly set the table for termites and are surprised when they come to dinner.
Simply put: a termite’s 3 favorite things are soil, wood and moisture. When these three things are in the same place, termites are sure to appear. As a matter of fact, these conducive conditions can be so inciting to termites that only 2 of the 3 elements might be necessary. High moisture levels due to a leaky downspout can saturate the ground immediately next to the foundation of your home. This high moisture environment is an ideal foraging and harborage are for termites. Even if the wood is not immediately present, over time foraging termites will encounter a viable source of food.
Wood to soil contact is another huge issue that we as homeowners need to contend with. It could be something as simple as tomato stakes in a garden or stored lumber in a crawlspace. Many times, homeowners may not be aware about stored lumber or leftovers from an old project. When wood begins to decompose it emits vapors that are detected by a termite forager from almost a foot away through the soil. So make sure your crawlspace is empty of scrap lumber and ventilated. Any gardening you may be doing should be in a garden plot not immediately adjacent to your home, a minimum distance of 10 feet would be ideal. Not only do termites eat wood in structures, but they will attack root systems from dead plants and bushes, always good to keep in mind when picking out your gardening site.
One of the biggest problems we see with modern landscaping practices is over-mulching of yards and plants. Mulch should be removed annually and mulch beds should be maintained with no more than 6 inches of depth, most experts recommend 3-4 inches. Higher, deeper layers of mulch create a build-up of wood decay byproducts as well as heat and moisture. Taken in combination, termites would be more than happy to infest mulch beds, especially when they are adjacent to our homes.
If you have any concerns, take a good look around the house when you have an opportunity. Use a flashlight so you can focus and have good visibility. Look for any sources of moisture, like leaks or damaged pipes. Also, investigate any staining or color changes you might see on wood that might be the first sign of a leak. Make sure scrap lumber is stored properly and any outside building projects that require wood to soil contact utilize pressure treated lumber.
Don’t be shy to get professional help. Considering the amount of damage termites can do, you’re right to seek help. A qualified professional will be able to locate any termite activity as well as any conducive conditions that might attract termites in the future. An inspector will also be able to deduce if there has ever been a termite treatment done in the past. There’s a good chance that if there was a treatment done in the past, you may expect to have termite activity in the future.
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