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4 Things I Learned from Bill’s Termite Inspector AMA on Reddit

4 Things I Learned from Bill’s Termite Inspector AMA on Reddit

By Bug Girl - 02/28/17

Last week, Bill hosted an AMA on Reddit. I went into it thinking I knew pretty much all I ever need to know about termites. To me, termites are like the teenagers of the insect world: they will eat me out of house and home if I let them, they have some pretty disgusting personal habits, and they inconsiderately leave their wings all over my floor.

Bill had some interesting things to say about termites, though. Here are some of the things that stood out.

1. To start, I had no idea termites carry around an emergency supply of soil to stay hydrated.

When a termite inspector goes into your basement, they are looking for dirt on the wood. Termites leave the top layer of the wood intact, but they leave the dirt that they have carried with them to stay hydrated. When they reach the wood, termites ditch the dirt and burrow into the wood. If the inspector sees dirt on wood in your basement, they may start tapping and probing the wood to see if it is hollow.

Not unlike these inconsiderate hikers on the Appalachian Trail, termites leave their hydrating beverages behind after a long hike:

Source: 100peaks.com
Source: 100peaks.com

2. The average subterranean termites colony will destroy a 3-foot  2x4 in about a year's time.

Termites  are not destroying an entire house overnight, but they are thorough and go for the good (expensive) wood first. Termites are usually munching away in the structural parts of a home: the sill plates, floor joists and beams. Undiagnosed and untreated, termites will completely hollow out these structural areas of a home, and it can often lead to a total replacement job.

3. Who knew that there were different types of termites? Not me.

According to Bill, the type of termite we see in New England is a subterranean termite. These termites have to go below the frost line to avoid the freezing temperatures of New England winters.  In other parts of the country, there is a different type of termite called a drywood termite, because yes, as their name suggests, they live in dry wood. It is important to know which type of termite you have, because they have to be treated differently.

From the University of Florida:

Eastern and Formosan Subterranean Termites Drywood Termites
  • Live in the ground
  • Make mud tubes to travel from soil to wood--a kind of covered highway--as protection from dehydration and predators
  • Live inside the wood they infest and do not require contact with the soil
  • Do not build mud tubes
  • Can infest from air

4. There are actually some preventative things I can do to make the termites’ lives a little more difficult.

Bill mentioned three things specifically, and they seem straightforward enough:

  1. Keep moisture to a minimum around the foundation. Clean your gutters. Cut back plants from your foundation. Sweep-up leaves and plant debris around your foundation.

    On the menu: Termite Delight - Wet leaves piled atop wooden shingle with sprinklings of gutter water.

    Source: RoofCalc.org
    Source: RoofCalc.org
  2. Keep grade of soil down away from siding so you can see the foundation (about six inches or so).
  3. Keep mulch or wood piles away from your home. Mulch and firewood hold moisture and are easy pickings for termites.


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