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Termites: Inner Space Invaders

Pests are most unwelcome in any home, and we're not talking about the two-legged variety. The most destructive to your wallet and peace of mind is the fearsome termite. According to the National Pest Control Association, termite prevention and repair cost homeowners $1.5 billion per year. This voracious little creature is capable of eating you out of house and home, with little or no warning until your foot goes through a floorboard or the drywall begins to crumble. First-time home buyers as well as long-time homeowners must know how to spot the early warning signs.

Take a look around your porch, foundation walls, crawlspace or basement walls. The telltale signs are mud tubes, the dirt passageways built by termites. Subterranean termites need moisture to survive, and the mud tube is their moisture-laden highway into your home. They also can enter by tunneling through any wood support posts contacting the ground.

Although it occurs infrequently, swarming is a very obvious sign of a large infestation. On a warm, damp day in the spring or summer, thousands of reproductive males or females stray into your home's interior, looking for places to start new colonies. They look like winged ants but unlike ants they have a continuous, segmented body instead of a separate abdomen and thorax.

Fortunately, you don't have to be an entomologist to identify a termite infestation. Your local pest control operator (PCO) can do it for you. In fact, termite inspections are required prior to closing on any home sale. As a buyer, you can ask to see a copy of the wood-destroying insect report. If evidence of infestation is found, typically the seller must pay for a termite treatment and repair any damage. It's in your interest as a buyer to select your own company to perform an independent inspection after the repair work is done.

Be careful in choosing a PCO. If applied improperly, chemicals can cause health problems. Make sure the company is licensed and insured, and that the technicians performing the work are certified by the state regulatory agency and trained. Ask for customer references and call them. Remember that just because a company is nationally known through advertising doesn't mean that particular branch is the best choice in your area. Ask the PCO about the procedures and chemical control products involved. The most common products are dursban and pyrethrin-based. Unlike dursban, the pyrethrins do not cause odors.

By Cliff McCreedy

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