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Be on the lookout for termites

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Warming temperatures and spring rainfall means swarming conditions for the homeowners’ nemesis in Oklahoma – the termite.

Termites are Mother Nature’s way of recycling dead wood, as well as aerating the soil and increasing its fertility and water percolation. They are an important food source for other insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians and birds within the food web, and they are essential for the wellbeing of the environment.

However, if allowed to feed within the walls of a house, they 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. “We just don’t want them chewing on our structures.”

In Oklahoma, March, April and May are swarming months for mature reproductive adult termites that are on a mission of starting new colonies in a suitable environment. There are several key points stressed by Kard that homeowners can implement to reduce the chance termites will become a problem.

The first rule of termite management is to remove termite food sources around or near your home. This is called sanitation.

“A homeowner should conduct a thorough external and internal inspection of the 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 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 is nearly impossible to manage and remove termites from a structure.”

Those building a house can eliminate many potential problems during the construction phase. 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 homebuilders include 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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