The subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes first arrived in Toronto in 1938 through the harbour near Cherry Street. It is suspected that they were offloaded from cargo ships that arrived from the United States. Since then, termites have spread to areas in the north, east and west. Today, they are established throughout downtown neighbourhoods and also in pockets throughout the Greater Toronto Area including: Toronto, East York, Scarborough, York, North York, Etobicoke, New Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Thornhill, Markham, Newmarket, Pickering, Whitby and Oshawa. They are also established in towns throughout southwestern Ontario.
Termites live in colonies with a queen, secondary reproductives, winged reproductives, soldiers and workers. Worker termites are sometimes confused with ants; however, they are distinguished by their off-white colour. Termites rarely expose themselves to the open air; they remain hidden in mud tunnels, wood or soil. The nests of termites can be decentralized and follow a loose pattern in their movement activity. The colony will forage or concentrate their activity in different locations at different times via a network of extensive subterranean tunnels. In addition, in early spring, winged reproductives, also known as “alates”, may leave the nest to form new colonies.
How Termites Invade a Building
Subterranean termites build their nests in the ground. They require a highly moist environment in order to survive. They facilitate this by constructing mud tubes (also referred to as “shelter tubes”) which help them to maintain hospitable conditions, provide transportation channels to explore for food and link food sources to the underground nests. As you can see from the picture titled Termite Shelter Tube, termites build shelter tubes on top of concrete and find the most minuscule crack in the concrete to enter your home and infest the wood framing of your house.
While direct wood-to-soil contact is the easiest route into a building, termites can also enter a home through rubble foundation walls, voids in concrete blocks and in the centre of brick walls, cracks and crevices, around electrical wiring and plumbing expansion joints and rigid foam insulation. A common misconception is that only buildings constructed primarily of wood are vulnerable to termites. In fact, any structure whether built from steel, concrete, brick or wood can be susceptible to termite infestations.
The damage inflicted to wood is not usually noticeable on the surface since termites avoid exposure to the open air. Consequently, damage can only be seen by stripping away the exterior surface of the wood. Unlike other wood-boring insects such as carpenter ants and powder post beetles, termites do not reduce wood to a powdery mass, or push wood particles to the outside.
Termites need 3 things to live happy lives. Those are:
Soil: Most termites are subterranean, meaning that they build their colonies in the ground. They love the soil and build elaborate tunnel systems, called galleries, extending up to three feet below the surface. Termites will often use this versatile building material to create mud tubes leading from their underground colonies to above ground food sources, like the wood in your home.
Wood: Termites will consume any material that contains cellulose, and since wood contains a great deal of cellulose, termites devour wood voraciously. If a single piece of wood touches the ground, be certain that a colony of termites somewhere will know about it. Although some subterranean termites will consume other materials like vegetation, dung and humus, their primary source of food, and their favorite, is wood.
Water: As with most living things, termites generally cannot survive without a source of water present. Whether in the form of a leaky faucet or the natural precipitation process of rain, termites will always seek some source of moisture to survive.
Now that the three conditions for termite survival have been identified, we can now look at how to prevent termites from infesting your home.
Identify and fix all water leaks in your home, both internal and external. As mentioned above, termites need water, and it does not matter where they get it. If the water source comes from your home, all the better for the colony. It means they do not have to work as hard. Eliminating their water source removes one of the three requirements for survival.
Remove any brush or heavy growth from around your home. Vegetation can create areas of intense moisture, which is necessary for colony survival. Termites like it wet, so try and disappoint them as much as possible.
Eliminate any standing or pooling water from around your home. It may be necessary to grade the surrounding land so that water does not drain toward the home.
Store all excess building materials and firewood away from the house. Remember that wood is their primary food source. Scrap wood touching the ground is an open invitation to hungry termites. If your property is not large enough for wood storage away from the house, create barriers beneath the wood to prevent direct access to the termites. Thick concrete slabs or heavy duty metal stands can be used to raise the wood off of the ground.
Use treated lumber for any wooden structures that will have direct contact with the ground. The chemicals in treated lumber do not guarantee that termites will not invade the wood, but they can act as a deterrent for decks and patios made out of treated lumber. Home improvement centers now offer concrete supports that raise the wooden support beams for decks and patios off of the ground. This would be a great way to avoid wood to ground contact.
When finishing a basement, sprayed in foam or rigid board insulation should not be used in a basement environment (or below grade), both on the interior or exterior of the foundation wall.
Aetna recommends basements be insulated with Roxul and framed in with Blue Wood.
Avoid using mulch near your home. Mulch provides two things to hungry termites: a food source and a water source. The qualities of mulch that make it attractive for use in the garden are the very qualities that attract termites. If mulch is placed near the exterior of your home, it is only a small step for a colony to move into your walls. As an alternative to wood mulch, try using one of the newer rubber mulches now available at your local home improvement center. They have the look of mulch and the benefits of mulch without providing the risks.
Never bury waste lumber or wood scraps in your yard. It acts as a magnet to termites and directs them to your property.
Remove any dead trees, old stumps, or roots in your yard. As these items decay, they attract termites to the area by providing a food source. When the food is gone, the termite colony will look for new sources of food. This includes your house.
Seal any cracks or holes within the foundation of your home. This will help prevent easy access for wandering termites.
Keep all gutters and waterlines clean of debris. Clogged gutters and waterlines leak, creating pools of water close to the house.
Make sure your home is properly ventilated, including your attic and internal crawl space areas. Adequate airflow prevents the buildup of moisture needed by termite colonies.
Periodically, get your home inspected for termite damage. A once-a-year inspection is included with your warranty, and can save your home with early detection. If termites are not found in the home, the trained pest control specialists can at least offer recommendations to help you prevent an invasion. They may catch something you missed.