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Termites! How'd They Get In?

The verdict is in. You've got termites. And you never saw them coming.

That's the trouble with termites. By the time you suspect you've got problems, you've got problems.

Termites cost homeowners billions of dollars every year in home repairs. And homeowners invest an estimated $1.5 billion a year to prevent and control termites.

"It looks like 1997 will be another busy year for termites," said Maxcy Nolan.

An entomologist with the University of Georgia Extension Service, Nolan hears from county Extension Service agents advising homeowners about termites.

If you don't want any surprises, Nolan's best advice is to inspect your home right now.

Nolan said critical spots to check for termites are where the carport or a dirt-filled porch join the house. The strongest telltale sign of trouble is dirt tubes.

"Tubes that run from the soil to wood are a good way to help you realize they're coming," Nolan said. "The tubes are like a highway system for termites. If you see any kind of soil debris on a foundation wall, find out what caused it."

Nolan tells homeowners to break the tube and look for activity. If they're active, you'll either see termites immediately or they'll have the tube repaired by the next day.

Termite tubes fan out from the soil like a trellis, unlike mud dauber tubes, which run in straight lines.

"Foam insulation in and around the foundation makes it hard to inspect your home," Nolan said. "Termites go behind and through insulation. Something as small as a termite that lives in the soil can move into a lot of places undetected."

Check obvious entry places. Termites like moisture, so check pipes in the bathroom and kitchen area, he said.

Every homeowner should know where to look for termites. But don't assume termite inspection is a do-it-yourself job.

"Have your home inspected annually by people who know what they're looking for," Nolan said. "I like for homeowners to be informed so they can ask questions. Be there when the inspector comes. Ask about key areas."

Georgia lies in a high-risk area for termites so Nolan recommends setting up a contract to control termites with a professional pest control company.

Review and understand your contract. It can either provide for retreatment if an infestation is found or it can cover repair of damage as well as retreatment.

"There is a night-and-day difference between these two contracts," Nolan said.

If you need to treat for termites, good products are still available.

"Termites are worse now than they've ever been because we've lost some chemicals to treat with," Nolan said. "But some new technology has so far proven to be extremely effective in helping control termites."

One new system calls for pest control professionals to monitor stations placed every 20 feet around the home. When termites invade the stations, the inspectors place bait in them which destroys the colony.

"This new system has a lot of good points," Nolan said. "There's no need to use large amounts of chemicals, and it's a good alternative for protecting the environment against chemicals. In fact, this is the first product approved by the Environmental Protection Agency under its new policy of reduced pesticides."

Another new method is to break termite tubes and place a bait station in the pathway. This system doesn't require monitoring stations, but the treatment doesn't begin until an infestation is already under way.