Residents may be in denial, but termite problem is spreading

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Thursday, November 29, 2007
— Janesville’s a hot spot in Wisconsin.

For termites, anyway.

And we’ve been a hot spot for more than 30 years.

Insect expert Phil Pellitteri said he wouldn’t buy a house in Janesville unless it was first inspected for termites.

And Mark Mumm of Orkin Pest Control said the termite problem in Janesville is “more widespread than I think people know.”

In the past, many believed that termites couldn’t live in the colder northern climes.

But termites now can be found all over Wisconsin and as far north as Green Bay, said Pellitteri of the UW Extension.

Other so-called “hot spots” include La Crosse and Endeavor.

“I’m hearing a lot of stuff out of Racine and Kenosha,” Pellitteri said.

“Generally, I have seen termites get worse in my career.”

He places the blame on central heating, which keeps the soil surrounding a structure warm and gives the termites an easier time of surviving.

“Once they get here, then it’s like a slow cancer that continues to get bigger and bigger,” he said.

Janesville’s infestation is ongoing and has been spreading slowly for quite some time. Pellitteri estimates that at least 100 structures have had termite problems.

“We don’t normally in Wisconsin request termite inspections,” he said. But, “I would not buy a property in Janesville without a termite inspection. I think it is common-place enough.”

Charlie Fisher of Fisher Pest Control inspects for termites but does not treat them.

He recommends that potential property buyers have a structure inspected if it is within a mile of the landfill.

Termites also have cropped up in homes in the so-called Indian Reservation near Palmer Park.

“I’ve seen houses where the floor has literally had to be replaced, where the wood flooring, beams and joints had to be replaced,” Fisher said.

Mark Mumm, branch manager of Orkin Pest Control, Madison, said he’s seen termites in old and newer homes throughout Janesville.

“They’re not special to any one area,” he said.

Pellitteri said the infestation started well before his time—30 years now. But it is speculated that it started with infested railroad ties when the landfill was a quarry, he said.

In LaCrosse, they figure the termites came from discarded ballast.

Termites live in colonies that keep getting bigger and bigger.

“It’s just one house after another, and when it stops, it stops,” Pellitteri said.

Some building practices could be improved in the north to discourage termites, he added.

A classic mistake?

Contractors who bury lumber scraps instead of taking them to the landfill. If they bury the scraps right under the porch steps, the wood is in contact with the ground and the house, providing a passage for the termites.

Lorillee Castiglioni, a Realtor with Suzy Lawton & Company, said the problem has grown worse over the years, especially on the east side.

“I always advise buyers to at least have it checked,” she said. She has seen termite damage even in a brick house.

People selling their homes must fill out property condition reports and declare any termite activity.

Termites seem to carry a stigma, probably because of the cost of the yearly maintenance program, Castiglioni said.

About termites…

The termite questions below were answered by Phil Pellitteri of the UW Extension and Mark Mumm, branch manager of Orkin Pest Control, Madison.

Q: What termite lives in Wisconsin?

A: The Eastern subterranean termite.

Q: How do they get here?

A: In almost every case, from infested wood, such as railroad ties or landscape timber. Termites establish colonies and can spread.

Q: What do they look like?

A: Worker ants are small, cream-colored ants that are found in mud tubes or infested wood. The winged termites, or swarmers, are dark brown to black with long, clear wings.

Q: How do they live?

A: They burrow up through the ground into your home in mud tubes. They eat the cellulose in wood and wood products. Colder weather slows them down. But they also can come up into your house below the frost line.

Q: How can you detect them?

A: Watch for swarmers in your home or wood damage. Look for mud tubes up the foundation and into the structure. Inside, they might be difficult to spot if you have a finished basement.

Q: What should you do when you find them?

A: Immediately treat for termites. The longer you let it go, the more damage will be done, just like ignoring a leaky roof for 10 years. Termite damage is usually a slow process.

Choose a company that specializes in termite care and one that you figure will be around for a while. This is not a do-it-yourselfer project.

Q: What is the treatment?

A: Insecticide is injected along the foundation and under the floor to make a poison envelope. That prevents the termites from coming into the house.

Or poisoned bait is used. Termites take the bait back to the colony, where the insects are poisoned. That does not bring an immediate end to the termite activity, however. The bait is less toxic than insecticide, and holes do not need to be drilled into the floor.

Possibly, both methods will be used.

Q: Is it expensive?

A: Cost will depend on the size and kind of home you have. But a cost of around $2,000 is not unusual. The maintenance cost is around $500 to $600 a year. That is an insurance policy—the company inspects for termites annually and treats for them if they reappear.

Q: Can a homeowner do anything to prevent termites?

A: First, make it easier to inspect your home.

The building code requires a foot of foundation between the ground and siding, and that forces termites to make their mud tunnels in the open.

Never pile dirt up against the siding. Clear foliage so you easily can inspect around your home.

Never abut wood against your home, creating a runway into your home for termites.

For instance, don’t build a wood step to a patio door. If you cover it with outdoor carpeting, it might be a while before you see the termite damage.

Don’t provide a ready food source, such as wood mulch, right around the structure.

Last updated: 9:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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