According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cost U.S. homeowners $5 billion in property damage a year. These wood-destroying pests, which have existed for more than 250 million years, survive year-round in colonies that vary from thousands to millions of termites. Though each species of termite thrives in different climates and eats different types of food, all termites require four things to survive — food, moisture, shelter and optimal temperature. These conditions can be found in all homes, regardless of their construction type. Therefore, as pest control experts, we must be able to overcome challenges to provide customers with the results they expect — and it all starts with preparation.
Dealing with technically difficult termite jobs can be both challenging and rewarding. Numerous obstacles face termite technicians and often times these challenges are experienced in somewhat older and more expensive homes. With spring nearing, here are a few tips for treating four of the more common challenges.
Special Flooring. Marble or stone floors pose a unique challenge as they are generally placed over concrete due to their weight. Sometimes, additional joists and thicker subflooring is required to allow the use of marble for floors. This can create an additional obstacle when treating for termites.
Marble floors utilize “leveling cement” as a base that allows for proper placement and true leveling prior to the use of another type of cement and grouting. Some problems encountered when treating this type of floor include shattering of the tile itself, chipping of the tile and loosening of the tile. Simple steps such as using low speed, non-hammering drills, proper cutters and tape covering can reduce the problems of breaking or chipping. Sometimes being able to drill the grout area does the trick, but be sure to use a smaller drill bit to do so.
If your customer doesn’t want any signs of drilling, you need to be upfront and tell him or her that while there are alternatives, they might be time consuming or incur additional costs. Some customers may need to have a flooring specialist remove the tiles and then replace those tiles when the termite treatment is completed. Another method is to employ an above-ground bait station on the area where termites are entering.
A major issue with special surface floors is when termites tunnel through the base cement and come from a different area altogether. To combat this, consider using foam as it can get into the areas that a liquid cannot. Utilizing the appropriate treatment choice, such as foam, helps reduce termites from entering through a nearby crack.
Sub-Slab Heat Ducts. Heat ducts can be a nightmare to treat due to the different materials used — they can be “modern” (PVC, tile or metal) or “ancient” aluminum foil-covered cardboard. When treating cardboard ducts, it is best not to treat at all until the homeowner has the ducts “sleeved” with a non-porous material or closed off entirely. Let a professional HVAC company do this as re-balancing the airflow can be difficult and may require additional construction work to add a duct. Do not start the job until this is completed and the customer signs a statement attesting to the required modifications. Once the perimeter is drilled, the use of foam is usually a better material to use than a full-scale liquid treatment, as liquid puddles may occur and seep into the duct.
A rule of thumb is to use dry foam near the duct and wet foam away from the duct. The distance from the duct will depend on the substrate beneath the slab. Gravel can be closer to the duct, while hard packed clay, further away. Use common sense here. Either way, an inspection tool, such as a borescope with a camera, is necessary. Keep detailed drawings of where the ducts go, what they are made of and their condition. Consider using a digital camera that time stamps pictures to provide proof of what you did before, during and after treatment. As a safety measure, have long flexible chimney cleaning poles on hand to help remove any product that may have infiltrated the duct. Taking one’s time, planning and thinking the treatment through will greatly reduce the likelihood of termiticide intrusion into ducts.
Radiant Heat. Radiant heated homes can also be a unique challenge. These homes often have foam boards placed under the slab to insulate it. There are two types of radiant heated homes: those with in-slab or at-slab heat (heating pipes in or beneath the slab) and those with “in-flooring,” hydronic heat (heating pipes in the subflooring).
Homes with below or at slab heat create areas that are difficult to treat with conventional liquid termiticides as it can be difficult to find where the pipes are located. The three methods to locate the pipes are: thermal imaging devices; heat sensitive paper; and water and a paintbrush. The quickest, although most expensive, way to locate pipes is to use a thermal imaging device. However, the device can cost a few thousand dollars to upwards of $10,000.
Heat sensitive paper is useful and much less expensive than using a thermal imaging device, however you must work quickly to mark the locations to avoid drilling through a heating pipe. Generally, large areas will require multiple “sheets” of paper as ghost images will appear on the paper and can cause confusion to the location of the pipes. An average size home may require 10 sheets or more.
In very small areas, water on a paintbrush can show where those pipes are located. It is best to have the heat turned on high, wait for about 10 minutes and begin to “paint” the floor to find the pipes.
Regardless of the method you use, remember to turn on the heat while you are searching for the pipes. Once the whole slab warms up, it will take an hour or more for it to cool off.
Raised Wooden Floors. Raised wood floors are not commonly encountered, but can pose difficult challenges when treating for termites. Problems created with raised floors include:
- Cracks in the slab caused by using concrete nails to attach the sleepers to the concrete slab.
- In-laid or parquet flooring glued directly on top of the concrete slab. Often times, damage to the surface of the floor or the presence of swarmers are the first indication of a problem.
- As the home ages, the fill under the slab settles, creating a void under the slab that gives rise to the potential of cracks forming in the slab.
The best approach when encountering wooden floors over slabs is to ask the customer to remove the flooring to allow a proper treatment or replace the flooring with a non-cellulose product. However, that may not always be possible without damaging the flooring, or the customer may simply choose not to do so. In that case, the most common way to get through the floor is by using a “paddle” bit to drill around the perimeter. These bits are relatively cheap and easy to re-sharpen. Based on the specific situation, other bits can be used, including a “ship auger bit.” Regardless of the bit you choose, be sure to use the same sized wooden plug to make the job look professional. The dowels can be found in a variety of wood types.
Final Thoughts. Regardless of the challenge, preparation is the best way to handle difficult flooring situations. Make friends with a flooring company, learn how they build things and they will teach you how to drill different floors. Many may even loan you “special tools” or give you information and sources for how to deal with floors. Buying excess flooring and making models to practice drilling is also an excellent way to hone your skills. Practicing will keep experienced technicians in tip top condition, and teach the less experienced technicians the ropes.
Finally, with all of the green technology that is being incorporated into new buildings, stop and look at the new homes being built in some of your operating areas. You may find something that will not only create a unique challenge, but further educate and prepare you to have a “foot up” on the competition.
Bob Johnson is a technical specialist and entomologist with Western Pest Services, Parsippany, N.J. The company serves customers throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Learn more about Western by visiting www.westernpest.com. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.