Cost of termites

The cost of repairing termite damage, typically $20,000 to $50,000, is not covered by most homeowner insurance policies.

Homeowners can purchase a termite bond, or contract, from a pest control company. Some cover termite treatment or retreatment only. Others cover full damage and repair. In each case, it’s important to read all the exclusions.

Rates for termite bonds vary from company to company. Homeowners should expect to pay $800 to $1,200 for the initial inspection and bond. In addition, a recurring annual fee of $175 to $200 usually is required for follow-up inspections and treatments.

Preventing infestation

Divert water from a home’s foundation with gutters, downspouts and splash blocks.

Reduce humidity in crawl spaces with ventilation.

Eliminate wood contact with a 1-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of a building.

Fill cracks in cement foundations and places where utilities pass through walls with cement, grout or caulk to curb termite access to a structure.

Keep vents free from blockage, including plants.

Ensure that trees and shrubs are not planted too close to the structure and don’t allow them to grow against exposed wood surfaces.

Suspected infestation?

Contact a licensed pest control professional about getting an inspection and possible treatment. There are chemical and nonchemical treatments.

Chemical treatments widely available include soil, bait and wood treatments that may be used in combination.

Nonchemical treat- ments include physical barriers such as steel mesh and sands of particular sizes and biological control agents such as nematodes and fungi.

Sources: National Pest Management Association, Environmental Protection Agency and local experts

Chris Leigh-Jones has been involved in renovating about 30 neglected homes on the peninsula. His company looks to invest in those that are 100 years or older and a challenge to repair.

Formosan facts

Where do Formosan termites come from? In South Carolina, they were introduced to Charleston during the mid-1950s through port shipments from Asia.

Where have Formosan termites been found in South Carolina? Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties as well as in Beaufort, Orangeburg and York counties and on Hilton Head Island.

What do Formosan swarmers, which will appear around Memorial Day, look like? They have a brown body, are about 1/4-inch long, and have wings with lots of hairs.

Are Formosans super-termites resistant to termiticides? No, but there are millions of Formosans in each subterranean colony compared with a few hundred thousand in native termite colonies, so they do more damage in a shorter time. They can be controlled, as can native termite species.

How much termite damage is caused by them in the Lowcountry? More than 90 percent of the termite damage done in the Lowcountry is caused by Formosans.

Source: Clemson University

Thanks to Formosan termites and the damage they cause, he has not been disappointed.

“The little beasts will take away all of the structural timber,” says Leigh-Jones, co-owner of the Luxury Simplified Group.

He recently found extensive Formosan damage in a house at 20 Percy St.

In the coming weeks, the class of Formosans called swarmers will fly from established underground colonies by the thousands to start new colonies, says Clemson University entomologist Pat Zungoli.

They typically begin around Memorial Day and fly through the first part of June, but they eat on structures year-round, she says.

Leigh-Jones says that in munching on the wood what they leave is something akin to a honeycomb. “The wood has the structural strength of a wasp’s nest. I have put my fingers into a 10-by-10 timber,” says Leigh-Jones, who also has fallen through a floor a time or two.

The Formosans at 20 Percy didn’t go back to their ground colonies like the native Eastern subterranean termites that first infested the house, Leigh-Jones says.

“Once there is a nest that is well-established, they make satellite nests throughout the structure. You’ll have to take out the internal walls and floors, but some of the external cladding generally stays. You can’t fix it with a weekend trip to Lowe’s.”

He adds, “It’s not for the faint of heart. The house must be stripped to its bare bones.”

And it if the damage is not removed, “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”

Strength in numbers

The Formosans are not super termites, but their colonies, which can shelter millions, are much larger that those of native species, which may house hundreds of thousands, says a Clemson University fact sheet.

So many more Formosans are available to establish additional colonies, find and exploit weaknesses in structures and engage in their classic feeding frenzies.

“Yet homeowners don’t need to be frightened by Formosan termite infestation,” says Zungoli. “The important thing is to have an inspection on a regular basis by a good pest management professional, and if termites are found, to act on them.”

Formosans, an exotic species, were introduced to the Lowcountry during the mid-1950s when infested shipments from Asia arrived here.

The subterranean species is found as far inland as Orangeburg, she says. They are known to spread when infested wood such as railroad ties used to delineate garden beds are moved.

From year to year, it’s difficult to say for certain whether there will be more or fewer swarmers, Zungoli says.

“It stands to reason that because insects are cold-blooded and we have had a mild winter, they have had a longer reproduction season and will be seen swarming in larger numbers,” Zungoli says.

The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites of all types cause a total of $5 billion in damage nationally each year.

Local hot spots

Bart Snyder of Palmetto Exterminators says termites cause about $75 million to $100 million in damage annually in the Lowcountry alone. Snyder says the Hampton Park area is ground zero for reports of termite infestations in homes.

Hot spots for infestation also include Daniel Island, I’On and Hamlin Plantation in Mount Pleasant, and homes near Charles Towne Landing and along Orange Grove Road west of the Ashley, he says.

Hurricane Hugo felled trees on Daniel Island, which remained undeveloped for many years, Snyder says. Those trees provided a lot of termite food.

“The populations grew unabated because they had a free environment, undisturbed to grow in. Later, developers were careful not to disturb the trees. Many of them have massive Formosan termite colonies.”

Termites from those trees have infested some of the new homes. “Every infestation is manifested differently,” Snyder says.

It could take a few months or years before the homeowner sees signs of a problem. Seeing a termite in your house does not necessarily mean there is an infestation. Nearly all will have come inside because they were attracted by the light when feeding on the trees nearby.

“But when termite mud tubes are popping out of the walls, there usually is an infestation,” he says.

The primary treatment is to apply chemicals to the soil. Baits can be used to supplement soil treatment. Chemical wood treatment sometimes is used during construction.

When you have an existing infestation, a powder is injected into the area where the termites are active, Snyder said. When the termites come into contact with it, they carry it throughout the nest, spreading it to other termites.

“We let them die out and then open up the wall and pull the nest out,” Snyder says. When the damage is repaired, new wood will be treated before the wall is closed.

Randy Bishop of AllPro Pest Management says Formosans swarm from late afternoon until early evening.

Some residents have a difficult time distinguishing swarming termites from swarming ants, Bishop says.

“If you don’t know whether what you are seeing are termites or ants, check the wings,” Bishop says. All four wings of the termite are the same length, while two of the ants’ wings are shorter.

Service contract

Bishop estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of homeowners are not covered by a termite inspection or treatment contract.

In some cases, they have purchased a house and assumed that a termite bond comes with it, but it doesn’t. They may misunderstand a clean South Carolina wood infestation report to mean they have a bond for termite protection.

When a house changes hands, most companies will reassign the termite bond to the new owners, Bishop says.

But the companies want the opportunity to talk to the new owners to be sure they understand what is and what is not covered, Bishop says. About 70 percent of the companies are charging for the new assignment.

Also, sometimes people don’t realize that if the company they purchased the bond from goes out of business, they no longer have a bond.

Though not usually thought of in a positive light, termites do serve beneficial purposes in nature.

“Termites are one of the primary decomposers of cellulose material, like wood,” Zungoli says. “They break down rotten tree limbs so the material can be returned to earth to create nutrient-rich soils. Termites also are food for many organisms such as ants and birds.”

Still, repairing termite damage can be costly, so home maintenance, even for those with bonds, is essential.

“The biggest thing I try to impress upon people who didn’t have termites where they use to live,” Snyder says, is that the average termite damage claim is $20,000 to $50,000. “If you get termites in a rotten window frame that we have asked you to get fixed, termite damage repair will not be covered.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.