Termites – The Silent Destroyer

Termites are one of the world’s most destructive pests. Each year in the U.S. and Canada, these silent destroyers cause an estimated $5 billion in property damage. While termites prefer wood, this pest will consume anything made of cellulose: mulch, paper, insulation and other items, making construction sites with open access to these materials more vulnerable to termite infestations.  
For commercial construction projects, termites can lead to costly delays and create structural issues that can last long after construction is complete. Timing is key when dealing with any type of pest infestation, especially termites. The sooner a potential pest problem is spotted and treated the less damage and delays it will cause. Project managers and construction supervisors can use these proactive tips to educate crew members and better protect construction properties from termite infestations:  
Correct identification is key 
Termites can be hard to detect, especially with an untrained eye. Without knowing their distinct characteristics, many people commonly mistake termites for ants. When determining if a pest is an ant or a termite remember the acronym AWW:  
Antennae - Termites have straight antennae while ants have bent antennae. 
Waist - Termites have a straight waist, while ants have a pinched waist. 
Wing Length - Termites wings are the same length while ants have wings of different length. Also, termite swarmers shed their wings, while ants do not. 
Similar to ants, termites work in colonies made up of three separate castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductive swarmers. Termites differ in appearance based on caste, life cycle stage and termite type. Here are some of the key differences:  
Subterranean Termites - Swarmers are winged termites that are dark brown in color and are ¼ - ½ inch in length. Worker termites measure about ¼ inch, have no wings and are cream-colored. Soldier termites have jaws to help them chew through wood and are generally the same color as workers but have brown heads. Subterranean Termites live in the soil and build mud tunnels often found on exterior walls and even inside spaces within the walls. 
Dampwood Termites - At about ⅜ - ¾ inch in length, Dampwood solider termites have a flattened brown head with long dark brown mandibles, or long teeth. Reproductives have dark brown wings and dark brown bodies. Workers are cream-colored with a spotted pattern on their abdomen. Dampwood Termites tend to infest wood that is subjected to excessive moisture, such as that in tropical or unusually rainy environments. 
Drywood Termites - Swarmers have a pair of wings with a dark veined outline that falls off after they swarm. Their bodies can be up to 12 mm long. Drywood termite soldiers have large mouthparts and a cream-colored body with dark brown head. Drywood Termites do not need moisture to survive and unlike subterranean termites, they spend their entire lives in the wood they eat. 
Understanding how termites work can play a critical role in protecting commercial construction sites. Educating construction crew members on how to correctly identify termites is the first step towards preventing a termite infestation.  
Work smarter, not harder 
It’s common knowledge, termites are attracted to wood, but wood is not the only structure susceptible to termites. Even buildings constructed on slabs of concrete block can face problems. Termites can work their way up a structure, eating insulation along the way to get to wooden beams, roof supports and more. 
Construction and renovation workers can stay one step ahead of termite prevention tactics by understanding the conditions termites find favorable. These conditions include:  
Moisture - Subterranean termites thrive in areas with high moisture levels. When building parameters and walls are directly exposed to water, such as rain, it can cause direct damage to the structure as well as provide the moisture termites need to survive. Although rain is unavoidable, crew members should look for increased signs of termites if the construction site is subject to excessive moisture. 
Landscaping - Many commercial properties are lined with beautifully landscaped areas including wood mulch, bushes and trees. Unfortunately, these materials provide the ideal meal for termites. Maintaining vegetation and avoiding stockpiles of wood or other construction materials can help prevent termite harborages.    
Insulation - Termites are attracted to insulation because it’s easy to penetrate and tunnel through, and the foam boards retain moisture, which many termite species need to survive. To prevent termites from penetrating insulation try to avoid installing in direct contact with soil, or in close proximity to the soil or grade.  
Building cracks and siding - As soil shifts building foundations can crack or separate. In areas where siding, brick, wood, stucco or vinyl is installed below grade level or in direct contact with soil, termites are able to build their mud tubes in between the structure’s siding and foundation, entering the building completely undetected. Pay close attention to any cracks or openings around the building. Termites only need 1/55th of an inch to get through the slab and into the building.  
Do not “Do it yourself” 
Timing is critical when dealing with a potential termite problem. By the time termites are spotted, it’s often too late and the property is at risk of experiencing significant damage. Do not make the problem worse by trying self administered treatments.  
“Do It Yourself” treatments are largely ineffective. Disrupting termites with DIY termite traps could mean that they reroute to attack another part of the property. In order to properly treat termite issues, It is highly recommended that construction and renovation managers contact a trusted pest control expert as soon as possible once a termite problem is suspected.  
Depending on the situation, there are a variety of professional treatment plans available for commercial sites. Proactive solutions, such as bait and monitoring treatments, can also be used to treat the soil area around construction sites as a preventative measure. Construction and renovation managers should work directly with a trusted pest control expert to identity the most effective treatment plan for the property’s unique needs. 
To learn more about integrated pest management solutions for commercial construction sites please visit, Rentokil.com/us.
Authored by: Steven Dupuy, Termite Technical Expert at Rentokil North America 

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