If your neighbor has termites, should you worry that these pests might make their way onto your property and start feasting on your home? It’s a question worth asking.
Termites can spread from house to house if they want, but they don’t usually spread this way. If your neighbor has termites, it probably means there’s a nest in the nearby area. If you’re close enough to this termite nest, the termites might spread from their nest to your house underground or by flying into your garden.
In this article, we’ll look at why and how termites move from place to place, how far they can travel, how to protect your home, and how to tell if termites have moved in.
Why termites spread from place to place
Termites don’t move from house to house just because the houses are next to each other. Termites move into an area for very specific reasons, and they will only move onto your property if they come looking for and find what they need.
Termites spread from one place to another for three reasons:
- To find food
- To start a new colony
- Because termite-infested wood was moved there
Let’s look at each reason in more detail…
Termites spread to find food
Termites live together in a well-organized nest. A group of termites living in a nest is called a colony, and one colony can have as many as 1 million termites in it. Each termite has a job.
The termites in a colony need to eat – a lot. It’s the worker termites’ job to go out and find food for the colony, which the colony eats or stores for later.
Worker termites can travel up to 400 feet from their nest to find food.
Termites eat cellulose. Cellulose is a plant fiber in wood that makes a tree trunk strong enough to hold up the entire tree.
Because cellulose is in tree trunks, it’s also in any man-made products made from tree trunks, such as wood furniture, paper and books, boxes, drywall, structural timber, etc.
When worker termites find a food source, they eat as much cellulose as they can and go back to the nest. Here they regurgitate the food or secrete it from their anus, yes, it’s true, and feed it to other termites in the colony.
The worker termites keep coming back for more until the food source is finished or the weather gets colder and they become less active.
Termites spread to start a new colony
When the colony gets big enough, some termites leave the nest and fly away to start new colonies. This usually happens about once a year.
These fly-away termites are called swarmers. They aren’t strong flyers and can only fly about 250 feet from their nest, unless a strong wind catches them and pushes them further out.
When a swarmer pairs with another swarmer, the couple lose their wings and mate.
This process results in termite eggs, with each newly hatched termite baby having a job such as building a nest or going out to look for food.
And so a new colony begins.
It’s easy to confuse flying termites, called swarmers, with flying ants. Below is an explanation of how to tell the difference:
Termites are transported from place to place on wood
Sometimes termites are eating wood or have nested in a large piece of wood when the wood gets taken from one place to another by someone who doesn’t know the termites are there.
If these are worker termites, they cannot survive for long without other termites and a nest so they soon die. They cannot reproduce to start another nest.
If there’s a mating couple and some other termites in the moved piece of wood, then it’s possible for the nest to continue to thrive in the new area, and for swarmers to go out and start new colonies in the surrounding area.
How to stop termites from moving into your house
If your neighbor has termites or you know there are termites in your neighborhood, it probably means there’s a nest nearby. If termites find a food source near your home, they will start eating that food and are more likely to move to your house next if they find something to eat there.
Here are a few steps you can take to stop termites from spreading to your house:
- Remove all loose wood and tree trunks from your backyard and around your house
- Inspect any wood, firewood, or construction wood before taking it home with you
- Keep any mulch and firewood at least 20 feet from your house and off the floor if possible – there shouldn’t be any direct soil to wood contact near your house
- Seal all cracks in your house’s walls, floors, etc. – termites can squeeze through any crack as small as 1/64th of an inch wide
- Termites love moisture. Direct moisture away from your house through downspouts and gutters, and try to make it so that the ground slopes away from the foundation, so that any surface water quickly drains away
- Make sure your basement, attic, and crawl spaces are dry and well ventilated
- Repair leaking faucets, downspouts, gutters, water pipes, and AC units immediately
- Keep gutters clean. Leaves that are left to decompose in gutters can make the nearby wood soft and attract termites
- Trim the branches of trees so they don’t touch your roof and give termites another way in
Experts say that you shouldn’t use termite treatments to kill termites if you aren’t sure you have termites. It’s better to take the above steps to prevent an infestation.
If you think you might have termites and want to confirm this, it’s a good idea to have a certified Wood Destroying Insect Inspector come to do an inspection and show you proof. If you have termites in your house, a professional pest control company is equipped to come out and treat the infected area with a termiticide.
If you act on the problem early enough, it can prevent a full-blown infestation, which can be much more costly to treat.
How to tell if you have termites
Termites can be hard to find because they are often out of sight.
Here are some ways to tell if there are termites in your house:
- You see mud tunnels along walls, the roof, fencing, or anywhere else, which is how termites move around without being exposed to sunlight
- The paint on your walls becomes uneven or looks like it’s bubbling
- You notice wood around the house that’s getting darker or blistering
- When you tap on wood along walls, windowsills, or baseboards around your home, the wood sounds hollow
- You see termite droppings that look like little wood-covered pellets or sawdust
- You find discarded wings on window sills, on your porch, or near light fixtures from swarmers
- You see swarmers. These flying termites can often be mistaken for flying ants, but they have straight antennae and soft bodies that are pale in color
If you’re still unsure, call a professional inspector to identify the problem and let you know the full extent of your termite issue. This isn’t an easy DIY problem.
Can you treat a termite infestation yourself?
It’s not a good idea to try to control a termite infestation on your own. Once termites infest your house, you’ll need to the help of a trained pest control professional who knows about building structures and how to get to the termites that you won’t see.
There are two common treatments that pest controllers use to treat a termite infestation – liquid and bait.
Liquid termiticides act as barriers in the soil and are put around the perimeter of a house, stopping termites from crossing over and reaching your house. Termites that do come into contact with the liquid often die. Since their water supply gets cut off, termites inside the home die as well.
Termite bait is made of a cellulose-rich food combined with a slow-release poison. Pest controllers determine where to lay these traps outdoors, underground, or wherever termites are active, such as above a mud tunnel.
The worker termites eat the bait and take it back to their nest to share with the colony, which then kills any termites that eat it. It could take a few months to get the colony under control or kill it off completely, depending on the size of the colony and what time of year it is.
Termites can move from house to house but usually don’t. Worker termites leave the nest to find food and swarmers leave the nest to start new colonies. They go where they find what they need, not just to the next house because it’s convenient for them.
By keeping your house well sealed and well ventilated, you’ll stop a lot of termites from moving in.
If you do get termites, get an inspector to assess the problem so you can get the right help to solve the problem as soon as possible.