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5 Signs It's Time to Tent for Drywood Termites

Drywood Termite Tent

How to know when to tent for drywood termites

5 Signs It's Time to TentUnless you live in the southern part of the coastal U.S. from Texas to North Carolina, or in Hawaii or California, you may not be aware of a type of termite called the Drywood Termite. Unlike subterranean termites (which make their colonies in the ground) or dampwood termites (which make their colonies in and around moisture-saturated wood), drywood termites make their colonies in perfectly sound, dry wood. Although a typical drywood termite colony size is much, much smaller (up to 5000) than subterranean termite colonies (up to 1,000,000), they can still cause significant and costly structural damage if left untreated. 

As the termite control industry has evolved in recent years, so too have drywood termite treatment options. Long the standard in drywood termite elimination, whole structure tent fumigations now share the treatment space with a host of other treatment options, including localized spot treatments, heat, electrocution, freezing, wood injection, chemical termiticide liquids, dusts, foams, microwaves, and more. But why do these other drywood termite treatment options exist and how well do they really work? And how do you know when it is time to tent for drywood termites? 

Why do non-tent drywood termite treatment options exist?

Alternative solutions for drywood termite treatments have increased in popularity due to demand on the customer side and practicality on the side of the pest control provider. From a customer perspective, fumigating is a cumbersome, inconvenient, and often costly enterprise. On the flip side, the overwhelming majority of pest control companies in the United States do not have the necessary expertise and licensing to be able to safely and legally perform tent fumigations. On top of that, the investment necessary to adequately equip a company to provide these types of services prevents most pest control operators from making this part of their slate of service offerings. And going a step further, the liability insurance associated with tent fumigations can raise premiums to unmanageable levels for some smaller pest control companies. So in many ways, alternative treatment options were an inevitability, whether the work or not, due to the many inherent disadvantages or inconveniences associated with tenting. 

Disadvantages of tent fumigation for customers

  • Costly. In addition to the actual cost of the fumigation itself (which may
    cost several hundreds to several thousands of dollars depending on the size of the structure), there is an added expense of finding accommodations for 2 or 3 nights while the house needs to remain vacant during the fumigation. Additional preparations can also start to add up, such as disposing of many food items, damage to interior plants and exterior foliage near the exterior of the home, removal of structural attachments, and much more. Damage to roof tiles is also not uncommon as part of the fumigation process.
  • Inconvenient. A structural fumigation for drywood termites requires removing all living things (people, pets, plants, produce, etc...) from the treated environment and staying out for 2-3 days. If it is just you, maybe that isn't much of a hassle. For some, it can be. 
  • Risk of exposure. Tenting for drywood termites includes introducing large quantities of gas into the home so that the toxins penetrate throughout all wood members at levels strong enough to kill any termites inside. Unfortunately, this gas isn't only lethal to termites. And although instances of lethal exposure to humans is rare, there are enough documented cases of death and injury to at least give pause before proceeding. In 2015, a Florida family's 10 year old son, Peyton McCaughey, experienced severe brain damage after re-entering their home following a tent fumigation. In 2016, Terminix was fined 10 million dollars for poisoning a family in the Virgin Islands with a fumigant. Deadly exposure would be most likely to occur if somebody remained inside the treated structure throughout the fumigation process. More commonly, however, is exposure after the fumigation is completed by reentering a home that has not been sufficiently cleared of toxic fumes, or when the gas has been trapped inside some type of material such as plastic and later released. 

The Structural Tent Fumigation Process

Although each fumigation company has its own processes for executing a structural tent fumigation, the following is a general guideline for what is involved (time between steps may vary a bit from one company to the next based on several factors, including size of home, pest being fumigated for, concentration of fumigant, and other considerations):

  1. House is covered and sealed with heavy tarps, and the fumigant is slowly introduced. House remains sealed for 12-36 hours (typically about a day), allowing the toxic fumigant to penetrate through all wood members of the home. Some companies will use specialized equipment to ensure adequate levels of fumigant are maintained in all portions of the home throughout the fumigation process, as escaping gas can render the fumigation ineffective.
  2. After about 24 hours (give or take), the fumigation company removes the tarps and lets the aeration process begin. The home remains on lockdown during this time, as it is not yet safe for re-entry. 
  3. After a day or so of airing out, the fumigation company returns with specialized equipment to check the concentration of any remaining gas in all parts of the home. Provided gas levels are below what is required for safe re-entry, the home will be open back up to the homeowners. If gas is still detected in certain parts of the home, the aeration will continue until such time that it is safe for reoccupance. 

Disadvantages of tent fumigation for pest control companies

  • Expensive. Setting up a fumigation crew is one of the most expensive endeavors a pest control company can take on, which is a big reason few companies choose to get involved. In addition to flat-bed truck or other vehicle with the capacity to transport several heavy (expensive) tarps, other costly equipment includes respirators, fumigant gas, clamps, warning agents, signage, and much more.
  • Licensing. In order for any company to perform tent fumigations, they must first be licensed to do so. This typically requires having an employee who has passed a state fumigation certification exam, which requires an increased level of technical expertise. While most states have lots and lots of certified pest control applicators licensed to do standard pest control work, few of those applicators are licensed in fumigation. 
  • Liability. Liability associated with tent fumigations is rather extreme as compared with most pest control service offerings, and justifiably so. Storing, transporting, and injecting lethal gas raises the stakes in terms of making sure no mistakes happen. In the case of fumigation, mistakes can have deadly consequences. 
  • Training. Operating a fumigation company requires the highest levels of training and a commitment to process, procedure, and documentation. This requires, among other things, a commitment of time, resources, and money. 

Is tenting for drywood termites the best treatment option? 

Sometimes. But not necessarily, and perhaps not always. What is the case, however, is that tenting for drywood termites is different from any of the other available treatment options for one very specific reason: structural tent fumigations utilize a gas to penetrate all wood members of the structure at the same time, effectively killing any drywood termites within. All other treatments only treat isolated areas of the structure. So at face value, it seems logical to reason that a tent fumigation is better because it is more comprehensive. Comprehensiveness, however, is often not the only consideration when comparing drywood termite treatment options. Sometimes, tenting for drywoods can be cost-prohibitive due to the requirement of vacating the structure for up to 3 nights at a time and the vast amount of preparation that goes into it. Sometimes a structural fumigation simply isn't necessary. That said, sometimes a tent fumigation absolutely is the most prudent course of action to get rid of drywood termites, and with our 5 Signs it's Time To Tent for Drywood Termites we hope to make your decision making process a bit easier. 

5 signs it's time to tent for drywood termites

1. Multiple points of drywood termite infestation. Because we know a few important things about the biology of drywood termites, we know that they spread by a process of swarming, where winged termites emerge from their colony in an effort to pair up, mate, and work their way as a couple back into a wood member to begin reproduction. They will also continually spread within infested wood members onto adjoining ones as the colony slowly expands over time. A fully mature colony typically takes five years or more to develop, eventually reaching upwards of 5,000 members. Multiple points of infestation in areas of the structure removed from one another indicate a high likelihood of having multiple termite colonies to contend with, along with a likelihood of having additional termite colonies in other areas that may not yet be readily apparent. If evidence of drywood termites has been discovered in more than one part of the house, it might be time to tent for drywood termites. 

2. Suspected drywood termites in inaccessible wood members. Each of the alternative treatment options requires direct access to the impacted wood members in order to be effective. Termidor Foam, for instance, is highly effective at eliminating drywood termites in cavities of wood when treatment is able to be injected directly into the damaged galleries. Treating an area 4 or 5 feet away, however, is unlikely to have any impact at all on the termite populations. The same can be said for wood injection or electrocution or surface spraying. If you believe you have drywood termites infesting wood that cannot be directly accessed for treatment, your chances of getting rid of drywoods entirely are almost non-existent. While alternative treatment measures may slow down the advance of termites to some degree, total elimination will be rather unlikely. So if you cannot access ALL infested wood members, it might be time to tent for drywood termites.  

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3. Drywood termites swarms for multiple consecutive years. Drywood termite colonies won't typically begin to swarm until they have reached a certain point of maturity, often between 3-5 years into development (sometimes longer). A termite represents the presence of an established termite colony that is now looking to establish new colonies in the surrounding areas. For this reason, a termite swarm should never be ignored. Recurring termite swarms year after year indicate the presence of well established termite colonies that would likely be hard to isolate in order for localized treatments to be entirely effective. If you've observed termite swarming for more than one year, it might be time to tent for drywood termites. 

4. Drywood termites swarms in an attic. In most cases, drywood termite swarms in an attic create particular challenges for localized treatment efforts because of the likelihood of infestation in inaccessible wood members. In some attics, plywood may be affixed to attic floor joists to create a platform for walking or storing items, which seals off the wood members below. Insulation, particularly the blown in type, can create additional accessibility concerns. Moving outwards towards the soffit area, the attic clearance generally becomes diminished to the point of inaccessibility. Air conditioning ducts, plumbing, electrical, and other conduits can also make some portions of attics inaccessible for termite treatment. And in some cases, multiple wood layers may house drywood termites in a way that makes localized treatment minimally effective. As a rule of thumb, if you've discovered drywood termites swarming in your attic, it may be time to tent.

5. Drywood termites in a wood floor. Active infestations of drywood termites in a wood floor can be especially challenging for a couple reasons. For starters, the thinness of the flooring itself may become compromised from termite damage to such a degree that it may not allow any termite foam or liquid treatment to optimally remain in the treated zone. Additionally, wood floors are often resting upon wooden sub-floors, sometimes comprised of multiple layers of wood. If drywood termites are also in the lower layers of wood, treating just the exposed wood floor portion is unlikely to eliminate the termites. So unless the termite infestation is caught early enough and is able to be isolated, termites in a wood floor is probably a sign that t may be time for a tent fumigation. 

What if these conditions exist but tenting for drywood termites is not a practical option? 

Tenting for drywood termites is altogether unpleasant. In addition to removing all living things from the structure for up to 3 nights, certain foods need to be discarded and other extensive preparations made both inside and outside the building. In some instances, like in multi-unit establishments such as apartment buildings or condominium complexes, tenting the auxiliary costs associated with tent fumigation can far outweigh the actually costs of the fumigation itself. If you are unable or unwilling to go through with a tent fumigation for any reason, you should look to consult the services of a highly trained drywood termite professional to execute a combination of localized termite treatment strategies. 

Should you do your own drywood termite treatment?

Only as a last resort. Inspecting, identifying, isolating, and treating for drywood termites takes a certain level of technical expertise and experience that untrained individuals are unlikely to have. However, if the only viable option is to do your own treatment, Pest Control Everything's Termite Control Guide can help you through the process. For newly introduced termites, one of the following ready-to-use termite foams provide an economical approach with a reasonable opportunity for effectiveness.

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