(ARA) - Your home may have something that it has been hiding from you, but it cannot keep secrets forever.
Termites can slip into homes through openings as thin as 1/32 of an inch, and once inside, the wood-destroying insects can live for years before being discovered. Spring can give homeowners a chance to uncover the problematic pest.
"Termites and the damage they cause are typically hidden from view, but they will yield clues that homeowners should heed," says Dr. Rudolf Scheffrahn, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida.
Subterranean termites, the most common species in the United States, build drinking straw-sized mud tubes that allow them to travel above ground. These are commonly found along the foundation, in basements or crawl spaces.
In some cases, firmly tapping wood within the home will produce a hollow sound, a clear indication of damaged wood. The most obvious sign of a termite infestation is the presence of flying termites.
Termite colonies contain winged members that take to the skies each spring to find a mate and establish new colonies. Warm, sunny days following a rain provide ideal conditions for a swarm.
"During a swarm, homeowners can be inundated with thousands of swarmers," says John Chapman, Terminix entomologist and manager of technical services. "It can be a very surprising and troubling experience."
After swarming, termites break off their wings because they will never fly again. Finding their papery appendages near windows and doors is an indication that termites have recently swarmed within the home.
Termites live in every state except Alaska and cause more than $5 billion in damage in the United States annually. Most insurance policies do not cover the damage, leaving homeowners to pay an average out-of-pocket expense of close to $3,000 for repairs, according to Terminix.
Early detection is important when battling termites. "If left alone, they can cause significant problems," says Chapman.
Experts agree that homeowners should not try to control termites with do-it-yourself products. If termites are suspected, contact a trained professional.
Use these five steps to help tackle the problem of termites:
Step 1: Clean and repair gutters, and ensure that downspouts direct moisture away from the home. Clogs and drainage problems can allow water to accumulate near the home's foundation, which can serve as a source of moisture for termites.
Step 2: Fix roof or plumbing leaks. Even small water problems can be enough to support a termite colony. A leaky spigot, sink or roof can allow termites to live above ground and in your home.
Step 3: Eliminate all wood-to-soil contact around the foundation of the home. Items like firewood can serve as a conduit for termites when stacked against the home. When storing firewood near the home, keep it off the ground and covered with a tarp.
Step 4: Keep mulch away from the home's foundation. Mulch beds are generally areas of high moisture, and some organic mulches can serve as a primary food source for termite colonies. If using mulch, it's best to keep a barrier of several inches around the home.
Step 5: Have your home inspected by a trained professional at least once a year. Prompt treatment and regular inspections can save thousands of dollars in damage repair. Courtesy of ARAcontent