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How to deal with termites

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, April 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It's no reason to celebrate, but the National Pest Management Association has deemed April as National Pest Management Month. And for good reason: Early spring is swarming termite season, when young adult termites emerge en masse. Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the association, said the “swarmers” surface to mate, form their own colonies and feed.

“There will be thousands of termites in a colony,” Fredericks said. “You never know how many are feeding on your house.”

Here are five things to know about termites, including how to prevent an infestation and how to deal with the insects once they're found.

Termites eat nonstop. The species of termites most often found in the mid-Atlantic are also the most destructive. Subterranean termite colonies, Fredericks said, travel underground in tunnels from the soil to a building and back, and they can destroy entire structures. The “mud tubes” termites create are about the width of a pencil, he said, and can be visible from the inside or outside of a building.

Termites are “silent destroyers.” The signs of a colony are most obvious this time of year, when termites swarm and form new colonies. But the insects can invade your home undetected and feed on wood, flooring and wallpaper for several years.

Termites don't just invade your basement. Termite colonies could set up shop in any part of your home. “I have seen native subterranean termites feeding and swarming on second floors,” Fredericks said. “You'll find them all over. They are usually found in lower levels, but that's not a rule.”

Extermination is not a DIY project. The first mistake a homeowner can make is to try to identify a termite infestation alone. Call a professional once a year to do an inspection, Fredericks said, because they are trained to find even the most hidden colonies.

Another blunder? Trying to debug your own home. “If you find termites and try to control them yourself, that is the next big mistake,” Fredericks said. “I don't recommend it, and most homeowners usually understand this. It takes specialized tools. “

Prevention is possible. There is no surefire way to deter termites from your home, but there are things you can do to minimize risk. Fredericks cautions homeowners to be aware of moisture; leaking rain gutters and water pipes, rotting wood, and improper grating attract termites, which need water to thrive. Firewood should also be stored away from the home, he said, because it is termite food. And leave space between soil and any wood portions of your home, so it is easier to spot the subterranean termite's “mud tubes.”

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