Termites — the bane of any homeowner’s existence — are notorious for their ability to turn a strong, healthy wooden structure into a feeble excuse for a load-bearing pole. Few pests strike fear into the heart of a homeowner the way termites do; the damage they cause can be substantial and expensive.

In order to protect your home from a termite infestation, you will have to get to know your enemy. Here’s what you need to know about termites and pest prevention:

Kinds of Termites

Termites come in several varieties, and proper pest control requires identifying what type of pest you’re dealing with as well as understanding its behavior.

Damp wood termites: Damp wood termites are a vicious strain that feed on wood homes, stumps and fallen trees. These kinds of termites are common in areas that have a constant supply of moisture, such as leaky pipes, as they prefer damp wood with an adequate moisture content. They measure up to an inch in length with wings spread and have a light brown appearance — although the worker class is smaller, wingless and white in color.

Damp wood termites are recognizable by the patterns they leave in the wood when feeding — they always eat across the grain. They make a series of chambers connected by tunnel with smooth walls that appear to be sandpapered. There is no trace of soil in the galleries, though dry conditions will cause fecal pellets to accumulate against the walls and look like dirt.

Subterranean termites: These nasty little buggers are much smaller in size than the damp wood termite, with a darker color that often causes them to be mistaken for ants. (The best way to tell the difference is to look at the waist — if it has none, it’s a termite.) The workers of the bunch are marked by their grayish-white appearance. The subterranean termite digs its nest underground about ten to twenty feet deep. They are usually found swarming during the spring or fall, depending on your location.

The subterranean termite is the most destructive wood-destroying pest in the United States. They cause more than $2 billion in damage each year alone — more than the property damage caused by fire and windstorms combined. People who live in Texas should be especially aware of this pest.

Dry wood termites: The dry wood termite feeds and nests in non-decayed wood, without the necessity for moisture or soil. These are the kinds of termites that cause damage to wooden objects in the home, such as that new couch you just bought from IKEA. Dry wood termites are the most secretive of all termites, which makes them extremely hard to detect and get rid of. They live deep in the wood and, except when they are swarming, are rarely seen.

The damage left by dry wood termites is caused by their tunneling to enlarge their colony. Dry wood termites cut across the wood’s grain, making the wood’s internal structure weak and causing the integrity of the wood to be compromised. Dry wood termite damage progresses slower than damage from subterranean termites, but the difficulty in detecting them causes damage to go on for a longer period of time. By the time these pests are spotted, it tends to be too late for the wood structure.

Pest Prevention and Control for Termites

A single termite colony can encompass hundreds of thousands of the insects and can consume more than two linear feet of 2×4 pine per year, entirely without your knowledge. The best way to keep termites from causing structural damage to your home is to be proactive about pest prevention. Practice these pest control techniques to keep termites at bay:

— Eliminate their water source by identifying and repairing all water leaks in your home. Get rid of any standing or pooling water around your home, and keep your gutters and waterlines clean to prevent leaks.

— Survey the area directly around your home. Remove any heavy vegetation, don’t place mulch near your house, and don’t stack firewood or excess building materials near your exterior walls, as these can create conditions ideal for termites.

— Use pressure-treated wood for any structures in direct contact with the ground, such as decks, patios and fences.

— Get rid of any dead trees or stumps in your yard, as these can attract termites.

— Seal up any cracks in your home’s foundation.

— Ensure proper ventilation in your home, attic and crawl space areas, as this can help prevent moisture from accumulating.

A qualified pest control company can help you formulate an effective termite pest prevention strategy. It’s also a good idea to ask your pest control company to annually inspect your home for termite damage. If caught early, termites can be eliminated before destroying your home.

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