Susan C. Jones, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Entomology
Extension Specialist, Household & Structural Pests
Termites are the most economically important wood-destroying organism in the United States, with approximately $2 billion per year being spent for their prevention and treatment. This high-dollar amount could be reduced if homeowners implemented a number of relatively simple, inexpensive, practical measures around their home and outlying structures that reduce the risk of subterranean termite infestations. Such preventive measures are very cost effective given that a home typically represents one's largest monetary investment.
Many construction and landscaping features literally can invite termites into one's home. An awareness of basic termite biology and habits can help you understand the necessity of certain prevention measures. The goal is to recognize and alter conditions around one's home so as to reduce the termites' environmental requirements for moisture, food (wood), and shelter.
In Ohio and in most other parts of the United States, subterranean termites are the most common type of termites that infest homes. These termites need moisture to survive. They are closely associated with the soil, where they typically construct an underground nest or a series of interconnected nests, hence the name "subterranean termites." The termites excavate narrow tunnels through the soil, creating a network through which they can travel very long distances (hundreds of feet or more) to reach food. They also transport soil above ground to construct mud tubes (shelter tubes) and to line their feeding galleries in wood. Soil serves as a source of moisture that helps protect termites from the drying effects of air. It also shields termites from predators (ants, birds, lizards, etc.) that feed on them.
Cellulose (especially wood) is the main food source for subterranean termites. In nature, termites feed on dead wood, including roots and stumps. Around homes, termites readily feed on wood mulch used in landscaping. However, any type of mulch provides termites with needed moisture and protection from the elements. In homes, termites often first attack wood that is located close to the soil (i.e., lower parts of the house). They then can follow the framework of the house to gain access to upper levels and floors. As they feed, they excavate galleries in the wood. Termites also can tunnel through inedible materials such as foam insulation, plaster board, etc. as they search for food.
Employ any of the following measures to help disrupt the termites' ability to locate moisture, food (wood), and shelter.
Problem: Cellulose (wood, dead plant material, paper, etc.) in contact with soil provides termites with ready and unobservable access to food.
Problem: Moisture accumulation near the foundation provides water needed for termite survival.
Problem: Poor ventilation in crawl space provides water needed for termite survival.
Problem: Hidden termite access.
Termite Entry Points
A. Suspended slab-on-grade construction
B. Crawl-space construction
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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
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