Friday, August 29, 2008

The Truth about Arizona Termites

Here in Phoenix we count ourselves lucky for a number of reasons – great weather, moderate cost of living, no natural disasters, plenty of parking – overall it's an easy place to live. One thing that people don't tend to think about is how lucky we are with regards to our local termites.

I've had clients who moved here from The South (Florida, Atlanta, Houston). They talk about termites being the absolute worst thing you could find in a home; apparently if you have a termite infestation in The South, your home can be ruined within a year. It reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon where a swarm of termites turns the wood into sawdust right before your eyes! It's not like that here in Phoenix.

There are two different types of termites in Arizona – subterranean and dry-wood, and although neither one is going to eat through your home in a matter of months (or even years), the treatment for the two is very different.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites are the kind most often (frequently, actually) found during the inspection process of selling a home. They live underground (hence the name), and they make little tunnels up into the home to forage for food. These tunnels (mud tubes) are what the inspectors look for as evidence. The most common & most effective treatment is to drill holes 12-18 inches apart (either around the entire home's perimeter or just around the affected area) & inject a pesticide called termidor. Then, if more tubes are seen in the future, they can "spot treat" a given area.

These termites are very small, and because our air is so dry our wood is very hard, making it difficult for these little guys to do a lot of wood damage. Their mud tubes are usually seen in drywall rather than wood; they climb up through the drywall & occasionally take a taste bite of the wood.

Subterranean termites are commonplace in Phoenix. If you ask 100 homeowners in Phoenix about termites, probably 40% have had their homes treated, and another 40% have termites currently but don't know it – they might not find out for a few years until either there's lots of tubes in plain view or until they go to sell their home! (these numbers are my estimations, not statistical facts.)

a subterranean termite tube in my garage (after treatment).
a smaller termite tube from a treated area of my garage.

Dry Wood Termites

Dry wood termites are a little bit larger than subterranean termites. They will actually build their colony within the wood. Eating the wood creates more space, which allows for a larger colony, which causes more wood to be consumed in ever shorter time periods. These termites are found much less frequently, but they are a more serious concern.

Dry wood termites are the kind which require a more invasive treatment. A single colony can be sprayed, or the wood can be injected. Multiple colonies or difficult to access colonies could potentially require "tenting" the home & fumigating heavily. However, here's my opinion of how common this is.

I've lived in Phoenix for 35 years. I've known 2 people personally who have had their homes tented, and I've seen *maybe* 2 dozen homes tented as I've driven around. I've only seen dry-wood termites once, when I helped a friend remove a wood storage shed from his backyard. The wood floor was brittle, and as we pulled it back we could see their colony. He had that area of the yard sprayed, and never had any problems after that. I've been involved in hundreds of transactions as a loan officer and a realtor, and I've never come across a transaction where the home was infested with dry-wood termites.

More Information

Sexton Pest Control is one of the largest termite exterminators in Phoenix.

JS Pretreat is another large termite exterminator in Phoenix.

Here is an article about dry-wood termites.

I know it can be discouraging to hear that your home, or a home you're buying has termites. But if you step back and take a deep breath, they're really not that big a deal. Just make sure the home is treated properly, and that you get a warranty. Then you can have the termite company come out every year to do an inspection for you, and to treat any new evidence they find.

Personally, we've had subterranean termites in 2 of the 3 homes we've owned. In each case we got the home treated and never saw new evidence of termites after that.

Your hopes to never see Southern termites Realtor,

Chris Butterworth