Termites are not a new pest. And termite infestations in “unusual” places are nothing new. However, sometimes when these wood-destroying insects appear in unique settings, they are problematic for pest management professionals. Long considered the destroyer of residential or household property, termites are challenging today’s pest management industry by expanding beyond their traditional structural infestations into a variety of diversified locations. If pest management professionals want to remain competitive and credible in today’s market, they will have to prove that they can be just as versatile in adapting to these infestation hot spots as the pests they treat.
To address this challenge, three leading industry professionals in the fields of termite control and behavior recently spoke at PestWorld 2011 in New Orleans, La., offering advice on how to deal with some of the unique challenges posed by termite infestation sites for which PMPs are not always prepared.
By examining where and what termites attack, Dr. Rudi Scheffrahn, professor at the University of Florida in Fort Lauderdale; Paul Hardy, senior technical director at Orkin; and Dr. Julian Yates, an extension specialist in urban entomology at the University of Hawaii, explained how pest management professionals (PMPs) can either prevent or treat these situations before it’s too late.
“There are roughly 135 million utility poles in service in the United States,” Scheffrahn said. Though many of the states in warm, damp climate zones are switching to steel and concrete poles, he points out that wood is still used as an inexpensive alternative in many areas. In damp climates, however, Hardy estimated that wood poles last about an average of 15 years before succumbing to termites and rot. Yates further explained that the major concern for such termite damage is that poles will be unable to support their own weight and will lean or, if involved in a forceful impact, even sever in half.
In the past, utility poles were treated externally. As a result, termites could still enter and cause severe damage from within. This is why, said Hardy, PMPs will typically find that termites tunnel up between the poles and the wires.
Scheffrahn says pre-treating the poles could be the easiest way to keep termites out. “Either you pre-treat the wood with pentachlorophenol or arsenicals or creosote. Or, you do a nice soil treatment before you stick the pole in the ground, and that should take care of it,” he said.
For treatment once an infestation does occur, Scheffrahn pointed to a study done in Australia using relatives of the Formosan termite that showed practically all treatments — arsenical dust, arsenic peroxide, dazomet (a fumigant) and fipronil — showed good results. Even biological controls, which normally do not work on termites, appeared to be effective.
Yates suggested an alternative preventive approach of investing in a new material called Termimesh, which is made of marine-grade stainless steel screen with mesh that is too small for the Formosan termite to penetrate. Also used for structural buildings, the mesh can be made into a sock to slip over the end of a pole before it is placed in the ground. Yates warned, however, that problems have occurred when lawn care providers use weed whackers near the mesh, causing damage and creating openings for the termites. Once a pole is infested, Yates said he recommends the drill and treat method.
Despite the potential for damage to the Termimesh, Yates said Termimesh is not only a viable option for utility poles, but for underground cables as well. Though many technicians initially assumed termites would not attack these underground cables if they had no cellulose material to attract and physiologically benefit the termite, Yates provided many examples of termites damaging communication lines and compromising high-voltage cables. In these instances, Yates said, the only real way to treat the problem is to repair the damage and apply a preventive layer, such as Termimesh, to the cables to prevent any recurrences.
Other Poles. Utility poles are not the only poles that risk termite infestation; many of the stilt houses found in coastal or swamp regions are also at high risk for infestation and structural damage. One of the biggest problems with treating these poles, Hardy explained, is that they fall into a very ambiguous category between “structures” and “non-structures.” Determining whether these poles have validity as “structures,” Hardy said, can often be the deciding factor in what treatments PMPs use.
Nevertheless, Hardy’s experience with infested stilts has shown that almost any termiticide will work well at treating an infestation in the poles, but the treatment will not have long-lasting effects. His solution is to apply preventive products to the poles after they have been treated and then wrap them. Hardy has his team dig a trench around the base of the poles to a depth of about three feet. At the base, he applies his selected termiticide and then drills into the poles to add a borate or Bora-Care, a borate pre-treat termiticide. Once the trench is filled, he treats the above-ground surface of the pole with Bora-Care. He suggested using products such as Bora-Care, but warned that, when exposed to moisture, they will “back out of the wood,” reducing its effectiveness as a below-surface preventive treatment.
Marine Dockage. Another pole often found in coastal areas and along most waterways is the marine dock support. According to Scheffrahn, these poles have a high rate of infestation because of the environment they create for termites. When the poles are inserted into PVC sleeves and placed in concrete, space between the pole and the sleeve allows fresh rainwater to collect and attract subterranean termites. These poles also tend to host drywood termites that will live directly above the subterranean termites in the pole, causing even more damage to the infrastructure.
Though these docks create conditions that are conducive to termite infestation, they often also allow for easy termite fumigation. As Scheffrahn explained, water creates a great seal that allows a PMP to perform mini-fumigations. He suggests tarping each infected pole with a light-weight tarp and applying Vikane directly into the poles. With this method, however, PMPs must remember to put up warning signs because the poles become miniature structural infestation and fumigation zones. Scheffrahn, like his colleagues, suggested following the treatment with some type of residual protection to help prevent future infestations.
Boats. One highly overlooked termite hot spot is the ocean vessel. Though there are many ways for termites to board ships — through cargo, when grounded or at dock — Yates said that Formosan termites reach ships and boats through aerial colonies of “swarmers.” To rid a boat of these colonies, Yates suggested fumigating the boat then applying termite baits.
Scheffrahn warned, however, that these fumigations, which are standard practice for drywood termites as well, are not as easy as they seem. Boats pose challenges and considerations that many PMPs often overlook. For instance, rigging, cables and ropes make tenting the actual boat structure difficult. Most entrances on boats are sea-tight, but not airtight, which is another factor to consider in the fumigation process. Changes in tide could also affect how well a boat is sealed, and if a boat is not docked, PMPs must be aware of drifting or other changes in location and the effects such changes may have on resource availability and insurance regulations.
Finally, PMPs must be aware of how expensive and well maintained many of these boats are, because any damage that occurs during fumigation could result in hefty payouts to the boat owners. As Scheffrahn stated, “You take off your shoes. You wear socks. You don’t want to mess up the paint job because it costs anywhere from $75 to $250,000 to paint one of these [boats].”
Training is Key. In the end, Hardy said, a strong knowledge foundation is the only real way to ensure that PMPs and consumers are making smart choices when handling a termite infestation prevention and treatment. “Most [pest] companies are perimeter treaters or baiters…technicians don’t know standard, conventional termite treatment programs,” he said. Hardy suggested training technicians to assess the building or structure to find the places that will most likely have termites. Though this may sound like common sense, he said, he has found that many new PMPs do not have a basic understanding of how structures are built and maintained, which means that they do not understand how to properly perform more invasive termite treatments.
Hardy also says property owners should be educated about termites and other pests to increase their own accountability and preventive assistance. “If you saw fungus growing between the expansion joints of your house, would there be a moisture problem? More than likely,” he said. Consumers need to know that, where there’s moisture, there are often termites.
Before buying a property, Hardy added, potential homeowners should be aware of the condition the property lot was in before construction began and should ensure that builders used termite prevention so that infestations could not occur during the construction phase. Furthermore, PMPs should work with homeowners and contractors to explain the potential problems that different types of home insulation could cause for inspectors. For instance, liquid foam often seals all boarding, making it impossible to inspect crawlspaces, while foam layers beneath concrete and insulation within walls can hide the extent of wall deterioration that is occurring.
Final Thoughts. Pest management is not an exact science. Every situation poses its own unique challenges and obstacles; however, with enough training and practice, pest management professionals can begin to understand that the unique challenges posed by certain infestations can be handled using industry tools and common sense. By staying updated on current industry products and standards, determining what conditions would be most conducive to termite habitation, assessing the environment for possible treatment contra-indications and communicating with property owners about site history and treatment options, pest management professionals will be well-equipped to handle any infestation, whether it be in a traditional home or a unique setting.
The author is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.