By far, the most common wood-destroying organism that affects homes in Arizona is the subterranean termite. You've probably heard the saying, "You either had them, or you are going to get them." These little pests are that prevalent.
Around monsoon season, subterranean termites "swarm" as their colonies grow large and a portion of the group departs to look for new homes and start new colonies. Normally wingless, reproductive termites grow wings during swarm season and fly a distance away from the current nest. The wings will later shed when they tunnel underground to start a new colony. The swarm activity is much like honeybees, which also swarm in search of new homes when their nest has grown too large and crowded.
Left: Termite types / caste members. Right: A winged alate / reproductive
The important things for homeowners to know are how to identify evidence of subterranean termites, steps to prevent termites, and what to do if termites (or termite evidence) is discovered.
Finding signs of subterranean termites in or around a home is no reason to panic! Subterranean termites are different than termites encountered in other parts of the country and much slower to do damage. Dampwood termites, found in wetter climates, are larger, much quicker to do structural damage, and often require the house to be tented and fumigated. Our Arizona subterranean termites are tiny, live in underground nests, and travel back and forth between the nest and the food source through shelter tubes. Termites build the tubes (also referred to as mud or sand tubes) to shelter themselves from extreme temperatures along a path they wish to follow. Therefore, "subs," as they are often called, can be treated with termiticide (termite-specific insecticide). The product is injected into the soil, which creates a barrier between the nests and the home. In areas where drilling into the ground is not possible, termite bait stations can be used.
A termite tube hole next to the author's thumb.
Termites are tiny and difficult to see, but shelter tubes are usually obvious.
During a termite treatment, the termiticide is injected into the ground and can last 4-5 years, as it binds to the earth and will not wash away with rainwater and runoff. This type of termiticide is not available in hardware stores. Due to its nature, it is controlled and can only be purchased and applied by applicators licensed by the state of Arizona Department of Agriculture. An underground colony can be enormous and contain two million termites, which is why the DIY application of a hardware store pesticide will not control a termite problem. Termites will find another pathway to access the home, perhaps underneath the foundation through cracks in concrete.
Termites eat dead cellulose material. They can occasionally build shelter tubes on the sides of trees and cactus. The photo shows a large mud shelter structure on the base of a saguaro cactus. They will not harm healthy plants, as they only eat the dead material. Termites are nature's "cleanup crew." However, the framing in your home is a delicious "dead" wood food-source for them.
The best method of subterranean termite prevention is to avoid water and wood or cellulose material (such as cardboard) near the foundation or crawlspace of the home. A source of water is essential to the termite colony. Ensure that water is diverted away from the house with properly functioning downspouts, gutters, and splash blocks. Store firewood and lumber as far as possible from the structures. Do not use wood mulch near the foundation. Keep trees and shrubs at least 18" away from the home, and do not use irrigation systems near the foundation.
Top row: Termite tubes on a garage stem wall and a foundation wall
Bottom row: Close up of worker termites around their tubes.
Regularly check the foundation of the home for signs of termite tubes. Sometimes, however, the first sign of subs will be a termite tube forming on an indoor wall or ceiling.
Image courtesy of Termite Treatment and Control. (2017)
The Arizona Department of Agriculture maintains a record of termite inspections and treatments. Access this database at https://tarf.azda.gov. Typically, files will remain on the website for five years.
If you observe signs of termites or want to ensure you don't have them, give us a call for an official termite inspection. Our inspections will come with a free termite treatment quote.
Feel free to contact us for all your home inspection and termite inspection questions.
Franchise Owner / Home Inspector / Termite Inspector
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Pillar To Post – Central Arizona “The Ward Team”