We try to be responsible home owners, but we lead busy lives and all of a sudden, ten years have passed since we bought our current home and had it fumigated for termites. When our painter said she couldn't paint the trim on a window because the wood was too termite-damaged, we realized we had to deal with it, and now. An inspection from my trusty termite expert revealed the worst: a complete fumigation for house and carport was required.
Rule #1: have a termite inspection at least once every 2 years. Most fumigations come with a 2-year guarantee—just do it. No fumigation will prevent a re-infestation. Be vigilant.
If time slips by and you have to fumigate, here are a few things we have learned that might save you some trouble.
Rule #2: don't be a pack rat, especially about food. Any food or drink that is still factory packed or sealed is ok, but think about all your spices, condiments, flours and sugars. You will have to either remove them or double bag them in special plastic bags the termite company will give you. Everything in your freezer and refrigerator that has been opened has to be bagged also. All your pet food. As my husband was clearing out our pantry, he held up one plastic bag filled with old boxes of tea. Who knew all that was in there?
Then there are medications and vitamins. I think we could open a health food store with what we found.
Basically, anything you ingest needs to be sealed, bagged, or removed.
All plants must be removed from inside. All vegetation near the house must be cut back or removed. If not, water it really well and hope for the best. Most established plants will come back even after turning brown.
All animals, including fish and birds, must be removed. Do you have a fishpond nearby? If the tent is going over it, you'll have to remove the fish or they will die. That was fun to do at 8 o'clock the morning before the fumigation.
Which brings us to Rule #3: Make sure you talk to the termite company in detail about what you need to do to prepare. Ask if you need to meet with the fumigator—because most termite companies subcontract the actual fumigation. My termite guy (whom I’ve worked with for many years, remember) said he told the fumigator to check out the property and to let him/us know what was needed since we have a hillside house and it probably needed extra staff and tenting.
According to all the literature, Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride, the poison used to kill the termites) leaves no toxic residue and once the gas is gone, the house is safe to re-enter. I spoke with a client who wondered if the teargas (chloropicrin) they mix with the Vikane has a damaging effect on anything. I haven't found any literature on that yet. He removed all his computers and other electronics when he was fumigated. I decided to take my chances with that.
Back home after 3 days. As we expected, a few plants were browned. The fish were okay, even the one that eluded our efforts to remove it from the pond. All the electronics were fine. Much as we would have wished differently, the ants were unaffected as well.
Is this the only way to get rid of termites? No. However, the only other method recognized by the California Department of Consumer Affairs for a complete fumigation is the heat method, where your home is heated to about 150 degrees, so the wood core will reach 130 degrees. According to a paper published in 2002 by the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program
, the only negative side effect of the heat system is the possibility of damage to the roof when walked upon, and to some heat-sensitive furnishings. What might those be? This could be big—plastics, cable wiring, computers and CDs, obviously candles and chocolate. Also, consider antique furniture with old fragile glue or varnish. The plusses are that you don’t have to move out or bag your food, and the process takes one day instead of 3. And there are no poisonous gasses.
When we first bought this house, we had the place tented with the heat method. We had it redone within the first year under their guarantee. I didn’t like the company we used and they were the only ones who did the work in Southern California at the time, so I conveniently forgot about keeping up on the termite inspections. Also, it seemed like it would be about the same amount of trouble to remove all the meltable items as it would be to bag the food. And I started hearing more about the things that could melt at temperatures of 150 degrees.
Another method is the orange oil treatment. Check out the details at Eco LA Termite
. Bottom line, the orange oil treatment people themselves say that they are best for local treatment.
Another good source for good information about termite is at Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner's website