QWhat do you recommend for the detection and eradication of termites? I suspect that we have them.

ATermites are a common problem. Two varieties, subterranean and dry-wood, are the most common threat to homeowners. Damp-wood termites, a third variety, rarely damage houses, but they may be found in house construction where wet lumber is used.

These pests can go undetected for years and cause major structural damage to your house. They feed primarily on wood, but also attack cardboard boxes, books, furniture and plastics. Damage may not be noticeable on surfaces because termites avoid exposure to air by constructing galleries within the material they attack.

Subterranean termites burrow through the ground to find avenues into your home. Wood supports that connect with the soil are particularly vulnerable. However, even homes with masonry walls are easily infested by subterranean termites, which build networks of mud tubes made from the earth and partly digested wood. They create these tubes to cross such obstacles as concrete or brick foundation walls and even the "termite shields" provided by some builders.

Subterranean termites can enter your home through openings as small as 1/32 of an inch. Typical points of entry include expansion joints, cracks around pipes, crawl spaces, cracks in the slab and wooden supports that are in contact with the ground, such as those used for decks. Look for their mud tunnels in crawl spaces or along the exterior of your house.

Dry-wood termites are often harder to detect because the entire colony lives within the house, usually in the beams of attics and garages. Left undisturbed, they can consume the entire inner portion of a board, leaving only a thin outer shell. The telltale sign for this variety is piles of pellets, which accumulate under the push-out holes through which the termites clear their galleries or work areas. Look for these scatterings of sawdust-like pellets.

The winged swarmers of both varieties are the kings and queens, capable of reproduction; their wings allow them to find new places to colonize. Swarms commonly occur on warm days in spring or fall, often on the first sunny day after a rain. When the swarm alights, the termites mate, shed their wings and proceed to establish a new colony. They do not cause damage, but their offspring do. A pile of discarded wings indicates a well-established colony is nearby.

The best method of detection and eradication is to hire a reputable pest-control company. A professional is trained to do a thorough job and knows what to look for. Expect a written report. If no infestation is found, you should be given a written report that says so.

If treatment is necessary, the inspector should present you with a drawing of your house, indicating infested areas. Accompanying the diagram should be a written report of recommended work to be performed, as well as identification of structural damage, which may exist, and what repairs are necessary.

The report should list areas that were not inspected because they were inaccessible. These might include wall interiors, attics without adequate crawl space and slab foundations. The report should also spell out treatment methods and the guarantee, if any, for work to be done, the length of the guarantee, and what you must do to maintain it. Also expect to see a work-completion report, which is required in many states by the governmental agency overseeing pest-control companies.

Treatment varies with the type of termite and the construction of the infested building. A pest-control company may recommend covering an entire structure with tarpaulins and using fumigants to exterminate dry-wood termites, the most accepted method of complete eradication for this variety of termite.

Treatment for subterranean termites usually involves treating the soil around and beneath the house with insecticides, and drilling obvious or likely areas of infestations inside the house and injecting chemical protection against further damage.

These are just a few of the common methods of termite abatement. Newer, non-chemical technologies are being developed and are available in certain areas. They range from using propane space heaters to raise the temperature of wood framing to 120 degrees to killing them with cold (freezing) or electrocution. All of these eradication methods require professionals. The chemicals and methods available to the average homeowner will not do a complete job.

Even after eradication, swarming termites can re-infest your home. If you live in an area known for termite infestation, an annual termite inspection may be your best protection.

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