This article is about wood destroying organisms in general rather than only termites. The reason for this is that we are called “Termite Inspectors”, and our profession is referred as “Termite Control” even though these are not quite precise definitions of what we do. You can see why from the article below.
The main wood-destroying organisms in Southern California are drywood termites, subterranean termites, and fungus.
Less common wood destroying organisms are powder post beetles, carpenter bees, and carpenter ants.
Drywood termites fly from one house to another and nest in the wood by consuming and damaging it. Many times, periodic treatments every six to 10 years are required. With one rare exception, the only treatment that can eliminate all the infestation is fumigation (tenting). Other treatments, such as Orange Oil or XT-2000 and Foaming, can be a very good remedy for some types of houses, but not for all. If done properly and in combination with other applications, these treatments can even have their advantages. In this case, the homeowners can sometimes even avoid fumigating houses periodically for every six to 10 years. Subterranean termites live in the soil and can penetrate houses and do much faster damage. They can be very effectively treated and prevented. Fungus is the most dangerous wood-destroying organism, even though it is not a type of termite. If a good quality inspection is done and the recommendations are followed, fungus can be eliminated and completely prevented. Below is a more detailed analysis about wood-destroying organisms’ treatments and very useful information for homeowners.
Drywood Termites: Almost all houses in Southern California have drywood termites that damage the wood and cause problems to structures and thus need periodic inspections and treatments. Except in very rare cases, these termites are actually impossible to prevent from coming back, unless special treatments and other custom-made measures are done. If the house has not received a local but complete treatment during the past six to 10 years, more than likely it needs a full inspection and treatment. This is regardless of if the homeowner notices termites or not and even if an inspection has been done that did not show much infestation. Just a simple call to contractors who install new windows or do other remodeling work in houses will confirm this point, since in many cases they find extensive damage in important wood members while the homeowner and even the inspector were not aware of it. The main reason for this is that almost always the majority of the wood in houses (that is, 70% to 90%) is inaccessible to inspect. Also, most termites move to interior invisible wood members since these wood members have more stable temperature and moisture content important for termites to flourish. In addition to this, even if the wood is accessible to inspect, many times it can have an infestation and damage but not show it. Except the complete heat treatment, which is used very rarely, the only other complete treatmentthat will eliminate virtually all drywood termites if done properly is fumigation. During a fumigation, the house is covered by a tent and the fumigant is exposed to all the wood members.
There are limited treatments, such as Orange Oil or XT-2000 and Foaming. These are a much better remedy than the common chemicallocal treatments. By the way, local treatments where only spots found are treated almost always do not even remotely solve the problem, but mask the infestation and let the damage continue in other areas. During limited treatments, the infested spots that are visible in the attic, garage, exterior and other places get chemically locally treated. In addition to this, some but not all inaccessible wood members in the house, such as exterior boxes, get treated by drilling small holes in stucco and exposing the termiticides to them. In the case of Orange Oil, a telescope is used in these areas to detect infestations and treat only these wood members. Since there is no certainty that the telescope used during Orange Oil treatment is capable of completely inspecting inaccessibleareas, many times it needs to be combined with other treatments. For instance, there may be termite droppings, but infestations may be old or inactive or termites may have already moved, while at the same time there may be an infestation but no droppings or droppings may be blocked and not be visible, especially if the wall is insulated. Also, there are many wood members in the house that are unreachable and thus cannot be treated. This is why limited chemical treatments are not normally appropriate for many houses. On the other hand, even though it may seem controversial, from the entire wood-destroying organisms’ point of view many houses can receive even better treatment than fumigation if a proper combination of limited treatments are done.
Take a look at the first photo below and visualize how many wood members in the house are inaccessible and even worse, unreachable to treat manually, while the second photo shows it in more detail.
In order to recommend a limited treatment to the homeowner, many factors play a significant role. Homeowners should realize that even though Orange Oil is mostly a natural termiticide, it does not mean that it is non-toxic if exposed to humans in certain ways. At the same time, virtually all termiticides used during fumigation, Foam and Orange Oil are regulated by respective governmental agencies based on scientific research and considered appropriate if applied according to formal instructions. For instance, Termidor (fipronil), unofficially known by the industry to be the most effective termiticide, has a lower toxicity than common household bleach. A simple online research that anyone can do will prove this point. You can merely take my word for it or if you want to invest additional time, we refer you to the most reputable online source, Wikipedia, by this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Termite Even though the information is quite technical there, you can see that the basic concepts in this article are supported.
According to the Structural Pest Control Board’s rules and regulations, fumigation has to be the primary formal recommendation in many cases, but it will not necessarily be the best custom-made or logicalrecommendation. We see all the time houses that have been fumigated, but still the main problem has not been solved. This is due to the fact that formal regulations cannot be custom made for each house. In order to decide to seriously consider or even informally recommend to a homeowner limited treatments over a fumigation, many factors below play a role.
1. Location and the year house is built (Note: This is the most important factor, not how many spots are found.)
2. Severity of infestation and damage found
3. Accessibility of structurally important wood members for treatment
4. Risk factor of hidden damage in those areas that cannot be treated
5. Type of construction
6. Type of wood used in sub-flooring and roofing
7. Are exterior walls insulated or not?
8. Will only one method be used or a combination of several methods?
9. Are there any conducive conditions for other types of wood-destroying organisms, and if yes, in what extent?
This is why properties not only need to be thoroughly inspected, but it is much more important they be professionally evaluated based on inspection results, expertise of the inspector, his judgment, knowledge of construction and other factors. Of course, homeowners should be cautioned not to trust those inspector-salesmen who try to push inappropriate treatments just for the sake of getting the job or because they want to take the easier route. Many times, people want something “natural,” which is different from being “toxic” or “harmful” and do not want inconveniences. Also, many times this can happen because many inspector-salesmen themselves do not realize that the treatment they recommend is not the best solution. It is a good practice also for homeowners to ask simple questions like: How are the interior walls, top of roofing, and the inaccessible areas of the attic and substructure going to be treated? How did the inspector measure the property for the fumigation and will he be ready to show that and put it in writing?
Many times, it happens that homeowners want to use a non-toxictreatment that is sometimes confused with natural Orange Oil or an “alternative to fumigation.” Alternative means doing the same thing in a different way, but as we can see, limited treatments, including Orange Oil and Foaming, cannot do the same thing as fumigation does and thus cannot be called an alternative to fumigation. Again, in certain cases these are not necessarily bad treatments, but not alternatives.
Related to this, I think homeowners should know that in the past in the termite control industry, there was a company with offices all over California that offered “natural,” “non-toxic” freezing treatments and claiming that with their treatments they would eliminate all of the termites. As a result, the company is no longer in business, and many homeowners have received inappropriate treatments and in some cases have suffered severe consequences from that without even knowing it. Because again, nearly 70% to 90% of the wood in the house is inaccessible to inspect and notice the damage. By the way, the only way to inspect all of the wood members in the house is by scanning the entire house, not just some part of it, with an X-ray type equipment. At the present, it is extremely time consuming, very costly and not practical, except in very rare cases. I hope and think that time will change this. Other types of inspection tools, such as acoustic termite detection equipment, are not able to properly inspect unreachable areas for various reasons.
Subterranean termites: Most homes in Southern California have or will have subterranean termites in combination with drywood termites at some time. The damage from these types of termites is much more acute and severe. Unless a full and good quality treatment has been done in the house in the last 5 to 10 years, all homeowners are advised to consult with a reputable wood-destroying organisms professional, regardless of if they see any evidence or not and even if during the latest inspection no visible infestation was found. Outstanding treatments are available that cannot only take care of the problem, but even prevent structures from possible future infestations and damage for a very long time, provided that a complete and not a local treatment has been done. The below picture shows how these termites can penetrate a house.
Fungus shown in the picture below is a wood-destroying organism capable of doing the most devastating damage. It is very easy to prevent and/or make already existed infestations of fungus recede. Homeowners can many times save tens of thousands of dollars if they receive a professional inspection and follow simple and easy to follow recommendations.
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