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Termite Trouble

It's termite season, and time for the annual TV ads touting competing professional control methods — baits vs. liquid treatments. If you've got termites or want to ensure that you don't get them, you will need professional help, but which route will you take?


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No matter what method you choose, termites won't be gone overnight. Control is an ongoing process. If colony elimination is the goal, this can take several months or more. That's OK, because despite what some of the ads would have you believe, your house is not going to come crashing down on you. Native termites work slowly. The damage they will do before you control them will be incidental. So do what's best for your particular situation.
Two Types of Liquids
There are two classes of liquid treatment. One creates a chemical barrier in the soil around your home. Chemicals in this class do nothing to eliminate the termite colony; they act as a repellent to keep the invaders out of your home. The one-time barrier treatment is comparatively inexpensive. Dursban, once a leading brand, is being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency. Other brands include Demon, Prevail, Tribute, Dragnet, Prelude and Talstar.

The other class, nonrepellent liquids, is fairly new to the market.

If you've got termites, your first reaction may be to call for one of these products immediately. These liquids create a nonrepellent toxic zone — termites that come in contact with the chemical are killed. Over a period of a few months, the termite population is effectively controlled. These products go by the brand names of Termidor, Premise and Phantom. Nonrepellent termiticides are more expensive than barrier chemicals.

With either type, application procedures can be quite invasive.

Professionals will have to dig a narrow trench around the foundation, drill concrete steps and patios, and drill holes into concrete foundations and slabs to inject the chemicals.

If you have a well or shallow groundwater, specialized treatment procedures must be followed.

Repellent and nonrepellent chemicals are fairly persistent.
Bait Systems
A new technology, bait systems, entered the market a few years ago. They are noninvasive and require only a few grams of a low-toxicity termiticide. Some of the brand names you will encounter are Sentricon, Subterfuge, Exterra, FirstLine and Advance. Some bait systems are very effective at colony elimination, but some others in the class are largely untested and have not demonstrated efficacy. Sentricon was the first bait to enter the market and it has the most supportive data. It will eliminate the termite colony, but it does not act as quickly as a soil treatment.

This bait was approved under EPA's "safer pesticide" policy and received a green chemistry award for its environmentally innovative way of controlling termites. Baits are typically comparable in cost to the nonrepellent treatments.

Bait systems utilize plastic stations placed in the ground around your home.

With the exception of Subterfuge, the systems use no termiticide until termites are detected. Rather, each station contains a cellulose food source. Professionals routinely open the stations to check for termites. If insects are present, the cellulose is replaced with a termite bait. The worker termites in the colony will take the food home to share with others.

Eventually, the entire colony will be exposed and die. Baits also work above ground. If termites are in your home, a professional will place a bait station near an active site.

The baiting process can take several months or more, so it may not be right for people who want more immediate action. However, baits are an option for people who do not want the disruption of drilling, who may be chemically sensitive, or who simply want a more environmentally sensitive solution to their termite problem.

So if you have termites, take time to decide on a course of treatment.

There is a variety of chemicals and treatment options.

Photo courtesy of North American Precis Syndicate, NAPS.


Termite Trouble:  Created on December 2nd, 2004.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


About Susan Jones

Susan Jones is associate professor of urban entomology at The Ohio State University.