The Best Way to Kill Termites

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Termites can cause severe structural damage if left unchecked.
Termites can cause severe structural damage if left unchecked. (Image: Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Termites feed on wood, and can undermine how sound a building is structurally by weakening support beams and floorboards. Termites can infest a building for years, silently eating away at its foundation, without tenants knowing they have an infestation. Tenants concerned about a possible infestation should look for small holes in the structure's wood, discarded termite wings or the presence of small insects in corners or floorboards. Once it is determined a building is infested with termites, they must be eradicated. Several effective methods exist for eliminating or protecting your building from a termite infestation.

Determine the type of termites your structure is infested with before choosing a treatment method. Subterranean termites are the cause of 90 percent of infestations, with dry wood termites causing the other 10 percent. Because one species lives underground, and the other lives inside of the wood, treatment methods to kill one species will not work on the other.

To destroy subterranean termites, first consider environmental and time factors. Liquid chemical barriers act as an invisible wall that kills or traps subterranean termites in the wood until they dehydrate, while termite baiting poisons worker termites, who feed the colony, causing the nest to starve. Liquid chemical barriers begin working immediately, but must be reapplied every 5 years, and can potentially poison the soil, while baiting takes years to fully wipe out a colony, but presents fewer environmental concerns.

Determine if fumigation or dry heat application would best suit your structure's needs for eliminating dry wood termites. Fumigation requires the structure be covered tightly, and filled with either sulfuryl fluoride or methyl bromide, killing all insects inside over a 2-day period, while dry heat uses large heating units to raise the interior temperature of your structure to 140 to 150 degrees F -- a temperature fatal to all insects inhabiting the structure. Fumigation can leave a lingering odor in the structure, while dry heat could warp the wood in older buildings.

Use spot treatment methods on localized termite infestations that have yet to spread to other parts of the structure. Orange oil can be injected into termite nests to eliminate termites in targeted areas. Spot treatment methods only work on the areas where the chemicals are administered, and should not be used to treat an infestation that is not isolated or localized.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some treatments for subterranean termites can be purchased over the counter, while dry wood termite treatments require a professionally-licensed fumigator.
  • Carpenter ants can often be confused with a termite infestation. Consult a exterminator if you are uncertain about the cause of wood damage, or check the structure outside at night for ant activity.
  • Be sure to follow the directions of any over-the-counter termiticide to avoid any unintentional poisoning.

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