A no-tent termite attack

A no-tent termite attack

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Setting the record straight (Publ. 11/03/2007)
An article about eradicating termites quoted a source who erroneously said that sulfuryl fluoride was once used
in executions. Sulfuryl fluoride has not been used for that purpose.

We knew we had a problem when black “dust” started showing up on the windowsills of our daughter’s bedroom. Clearly, the leaky greenhouse windows that had seemed so charming and filled her room with light had created a dark, damp home in our walls for one of California’s most prevalent pests.

Suddenly termites seemed to be everywhere – swarming around outdoor light fixtures, creating a six-inch-long crack in our hardwood floor and leaving their tiny pellets behind as evidence that their silent chewing was literally eating away at our house.

But the idea of draping our home in a tarp and pumping it full of toxic gas or injecting the soil around it with toxins just didn’t sit right with me, in spite of the fact that friends, neighbors and even my parents had all been through it, and the pest-control guy who came out with his clipboard to assess the problem was ready to sign us up for the $3,000 job that same day.

It turns out that tenting, the long-accepted method of sealing and fu-migating a wood house to rid it of termites, is not the only option. And there is ample reason to question whether it is the cheapest, safest or most reliable method.

Know thine enemy

North America has at least 50 species of termites, with 17 species in California, says Professor Vernard Lewis, a faculty member at the University of California-Berkeley’s department of environmental science policy and management. If you live in a wood house, you are likely to encounter one or perhaps all of the three most common to our state – dampwood, drywood and subterranean:

Western subterranean termites are the most common and the smallest at less than a quarter-inch long. They form large nests in the ground and “forage out to attack wood” via their handy mud tubes, which you might have seen along a wall if you are unlucky enough to have them. These tubes, which are three-dimensional and tan, are built from chewed-up wood, excrement and soil.

Western drywood termites attack wood above soil. They are middle-sized termites whose colonies develop slowly. These termites are easily transported through infested furniture and other wood items. They prefer timber with a moisture content of less than 12 percent.

Pacific dampwood termites are the largest at more than half an inch long. They create tunnels and favor softer, damp wood. One colony can contain as many as 4,000 individuals. These are most common in damp climates.

Cost of termite trouble

Nationwide, termite control and damage repairs cost nearly $5 billion a year; the outlay in California and Hawaii alone exceeds $1 billion, Lewis says.

“We have a lot of people and a lot of vulnerable habitats,” says Lewis, whose Web site features a plethora of research and information in addition to a snappy little video of him digging to uncover termites; see www.cnr.berkeley.edu/lewis.

“We battle mostly subterranean termites, the ones in the ground, the drywood ones above ground, and then we have the big ones that fly in the lights at night,” he notes.

Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology and coordinator of the insect-identification hotline at the University of California-Davis, likens termites to cows, since they both eat materials they can’t digest (grass and wood) but carry microorganisms in their digestive tracts that take care of the digestion.

While Kimsey says evidence of termites is not an emergency, it is wise to seek a professional evaluation if you see “small piles of insect wings,” swarming winged insects or the black dust we later learned was evidence of “their bathroom,” according to one biologist. Perhaps the trickiest part of getting rid of termites is finding their “kitchen” and shutting it down.

As with any pricey service for your home, experts recommend getting three bids from reputable pesticide firms. The pest-control industry’s professional organization, Pest Control Operators of California, can provide information on whether a particular company is affiliated and complies with required standards of operation. The California Structural Pest Control Board (www.pestboard.ca.gov) provides licenses and regulates the industry, allowing you to check whether a particular company has had complaints in the past. If you go the fumigation route, expect to spend more than $2,000 for a house of around 2,000 square feet, although prices vary depending on difficulty of access and other specifics.

The most common fumigant, a euphemism for poisonous gas, is Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride). A nylon tarp draped over the house is secured at the ground before the gas is pumped inside. In 12 to 24 hours the tarp is removed, and the house is aired out for at least six hours. Vikane is extremely toxic to people and depresses the central nervous system if ingested. Exposure also can cause blood and bone disorders. Pest-control operators who use the stuff must complete training and carry a license.

Is gas the only way?

Not long ago, chemical control (either pumped into the ground for subterranean termites or pumped into the house as a gas for drywoods) was the only way the industry treated termite problems. In recent years, though, a plethora of other approaches, from microwaving to excessive heat or freezing techniques to orange oil and even electrocution, have become available. Recently, radio ads have been touting a new termite solution – orange oil – with a singsong (800) ORANGEOIL commercial that promises to rid your house of termites without poison.

Published scientific research on each of these methods, however, is not extensive, so it is still hard to know which techniques provide a high degree of success in getting rid of termites. Researchers such as Lewis say there’s a long way to go before a non-toxic, environmentally friendly solution becomes widely available. Each technique shows promise, Lewis says, but none is yet thought to be as effective as whole-house fumigation.

The traditional approach is to have someone from a pesticide company make a visual inspection of your home. He or she will walk around the premises looking for telltale mud tubes, wings, live insects or pellets, and damage that indicate termites. The problem is, it’s easy to spot residue that means there were termites, and much harder to know if they are still active or where exactly they are living. Thus, gassing the entire house is the most often-used remedy.

After the inspector measures your house and any carports, garages or other nearby structures, you’ll be given a bid for several thousand dollars. If you go this route, you’ll need to take all the food out of your home, kiss any plants next to your house goodbye and then move out with your pets for a minimum of 24 hours. Though the pest-control company representative who came to my house told me fumigation was perfectly safe and residue was “almost non-existent,” I still would want to remove my clothes, bedding, towels and rugs, just in case they could absorb the toxic gas used to kill the termites.

And lest you believe the claim that the fumigant is “not very toxic,” as one pest-control inspector told me: Remember that it kills everything it touches, from spiders and ants to cats and dogs.

Call me paranoid, but I’d prefer to avoid going this route.

There is another way

Given the cost, potential toxicity and plain old hassle of tenting my house, I was more than a little relieved when Lewis referred me to Gee Chow, a biologist who worked in Lewis’ lab before forming his own termite company.

“We were always getting calls from people asking us to just come out and help them by using our detection equipment to locate exactly where the termites were,” recalls Chow, who describes himself as an environmentalist. Today, his company, Southern California-based Bell and Chow Services, travels the state with its $3,400 Termite Tracker doing just that. Each discovery of termites is treated with a small mount of locally applied poison.

Pest-control companies base their treatment plan on a visual inspection, “but a lot of times they get a false negative or a false positive because of what they can’t see,” Chow says. “They don’t know if they are detecting active termites or seeing residue left from termites that have moved on.”

Enter the acoustic emission technology that Bell & Chow employs to listen for chomping or moving termites. Nothing new to the scientific field, this listening device was designed in Lewis’ lab to identify exactly where the problem lies so just that area can be treated.

The Tracker drills one-eighth-inch holes into wood where termites are suspected, then measures termite activity by picking up the sound of the little bugs actually breaking wood as they eat. It also picks up the sound of soldier (i.e. worker) termites hitting their heads in their “galleries,” which is believed to be a means of communicating with each other.

A termite inspection with the Tracker costs $300, but if termites are found and treatment administered, the $300 goes toward the treatment. Each spot that is treated costs $300. Just like other pesticide companies, Bell & Chow guarantee their work. Unlike other companies, they use a what they say is a less-toxic but equally effective chemical called Premise foam, with the active ingredient Imadacloprid, also used in flea collars.

“The main benefit is we only use the amount of chemical needed,” says Chow, who owns the two-man company.

“From my experience in the field with drywoods, it’s usually just a couple areas that are infested,” he says. “On average, with a residential structure we find one to four locations.”

So this month the Termite Tracker team is coming to Palo Alto to apply its sleuthing skills to our wood-frame home. I’m hopeful that whatever termites are left since we replaced the obvious sections of wood where we found live ones will be eradicated with a much smaller amount of poison and pain. My husband, though skeptical, has agreed to give it a try.

If all else fails, I have a Plan B. Apparently the sloth, armadillo and anteater are all the termite’s natural predators. What a perfect Christmas gift.

After his two-hour inspection, which included crawling under our house and using the Tracker in suspicious areas to detect the sound of a live colony, Gee Chow said our termite problem was not what we had been told. The dampwood termites he found in one small area would not have been successfully treated by fumigation or poison pumped into the soil, which works for drywoods or subterraneans respectively.

We had an unusual, previously misdiagnosed, problem.

The evidence we had seen and the previous inspector had noted was from an old subterranean colony no longer active, and thus not needing treatment. There was no evidence of drywoods, the only type of termite that would have warranted fumigation, i.e. tenting.

After typing and delivering his full report on the spot, Chow suggested we treat the one spot he found to have live activity, and recheck the house in two years. Grand total: $300.


Can termites be treated without tenting

Learn how many unscrupulous pest control operators take advantage of the fact that most homeowners do not want to have their home tented.

Many homeowners have been deceived into thinking that NO TENT termite control actually works. They are told that merely spraying the wood with various chemicals will take care of the termite problem. But before we explore the process and find out for ourselves if this is true, we need to know a few facts about Drywood termites and simple construction. After you read this eye-opening report you will be able to make a “common sense” decision whether your property can be effectively treated using the “no tent” method and not get ripped off as have many misinformed South Florida property owners.


Unscrupulous pest control operators use this “bait and switch” method. They know the average property owner usually does not want to “tent” their building because it’s such a big deal – you have to move out, take the food out, worry about damaged shrubbery and people walking on your roof, to name just a few concerns. If someone tells them that “tenting” is unnecessary they’re all ears.

So here’s how this con works. The inspector checks your home and then gives you the bad news . Your home does not qualify for the “no tent” method because the Drywood termite infestation has spread too far. He further states that your home will have to be fumigated to eliminate the infestation. Do you really want to do business with people who gain access to you by using false premises?


Most of us who do termite control know if you treat a certain area where a visible termite colony exists, the termites will not return to that area again as long as the chemical remains active. Many times this gives the property owner a false sense of security since they see no more activity in the visible treated area(s). They assume that the termite problem has been eliminated. They don’t realize that the termites could also be active (and causing continuous damage) in many areas inaccessible to visual inspection. Unscrupulous pest control operators neglect to mention this fact to their prospective customers. They actually convince the unknowing customer they can treat all the wood in the home with chemicals to eliminate all infestations of Drywood termites including the roof, the walls and all other areas where the termites can form colonies.

Let’s examine the following
examples to see if this is true

Drywood termites are the species with which the ” no tent ” treatment method is used. This is because the entire colony of these termites lives in a small localized area above the ground in any piece of dry wood from the roof to the floor and also the furniture. Since we know this we can kill them either by “tenting’ or with a “spot treatment” – which is effective only if the infestation made by the entire colony is visible and accessible.

Termite droppings are found in a door, a door frame, or a baseboard. The entire termite colony is located in a piece of wood where the infestation is visible and accessible for treatment. A “spot treatment” using the ELECTRO-GUN and/or the drill and t reat method could solve the problem here because the technician could treat the entire infestation. (Remember the entire Drywood termite colony lives in a small local area).

Termite droppings are found in an attic. If the technician can get into the attic and then crawl over to where the infestation is found, then a “spot treatment” may solve the problem ( NOTE: this is rarely the case). But if the technician can’t reach the infestation and then tries to spray it from a distance, there is simply no way of telling whether the chemical actually covered all the wood. Property owners must be on guard against an inspector/salesma n who promises that simply spraying the infested area from a distance will eliminate existing infestations . Without actually injecting the infested wood with a chemical or electricity you will not, in most cases, kill the termites inside.

Termites are found in an attic. Some of the areas are accessible for treatment and some are not. Beware of an inspector who tells you that spraying the entire attic will eliminate all the infestations, whether they be visible or hidden. They may also tell you that the termites inside the wood will eventually come to the outside surface of the wood which was sprayed, eat through the toxic chemical and die. If one simply takes the time to check how an attic is constructed, they would soon see that it is impossible to treat the entire attic area simply because you can’t get to all of the areas to treat them. REMEMBER: DRYWOOD TERMITES CAN INFEST ANY PIECE OF WOOD ANYWHERE IN AN ATTIC.

INSULATED ATTICS – Forget it. I have yet to meet a termite inspector who will put on coveralls and a mask and then crawl throughout an insulated attic to treat all the wood in attic temperatures which can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Any termite inspector who tells you he can properly treat an insulated attic without “tenting” is scamming you. Tell him thanks but no thanks. This is where you need to use your “common sense”. (See insulated attic example pictured below.)

SWARMERS ONLY – Every spring thousands of South Florida property owners experience a “swarm” of Drywood termites. These termites swarm out of existing colonies to establish new colonies. In many cases there is no visible sign (such as droppings) to indicate the location of these existing colonies. Beware of the unscrupulous p est control operators who will try to sell you a “ no tent ” termite treatment even when they can’t locate the infestation.

As you can see, many areas of a building are inaccessible for inspection and/or treatment such as insulated attics, interior wood walls, wood behind built-in furniture and kitchen cabinets. These are just a few examples.

If you can’t find the infestation how can you say that your treatment worked . You can’t! That’s just COMMON SENSE.


There are only two legitimate ways to treat Drywood termite infestations.

Spot treatments as discussed above only work if the infestation is accessible. An example of such an area is: ELECTRO-GUN OF OPEN BEAM CEILING

Fumigation (tenting)

If you can’t visually locate the infestation(s) then the only proven method is fumigation.

Is “no tent” termite control a scam?
Use your “common sense”.

Call us now and we will:

Evaluate your particular problem correctly!

Give you a no nonsense “spot treatment” or

“tenting” proposal!

Termpest has faithfully served the South Florida Tri-County area for over 24 years. Our success has
come from satisfied customers recommending our NO NONSENSE COMMON SENSE services
to one friend, one neighbor, one family member at a time. That’s trust !


How to Kill Termites Without Tenting: Orange Oil Termite Treatment

April 21, 2014
Guest Post

The building I live in was recently treated for both drywood and subterranean termites this month. The traditional method of treatment is to tent the building and leaving your home for three days while a gas fumigant kills the termites. However, did you know there is an alternative to tenting that uses an orange oil termite treatment?

Since we live in a condo and it would have been costly to have everyone find lodging while the building is tented, we decided to use an alternative to traditional tenting methods.

After researching various companies, we ended up hiring a local company called Xtermite who have an orange oil termite treatment that doesn’t require tenting. The great thing about their method is that they can treat your home or smaller condominium in a day and you don’t even need to leave your home! We only have ten units in our building, so if you live in a larger condominium, they may need more than one day.

Orange Oil Termite Treatment

Orange oil is used to kill drywood termites. Drywood termites are very common in San Diego and tend to fly into your attic and feed off of exposed wood. Xtermite pumps orange oil into the infested wood members – usually in the attic and roof structure – and the oil wicks through to saturate the wood. The oil moves through wood like a gas, along the path of least resistance, filling up the treated piece of wood until the termites have no place to hide. Xtermite’s orange oil is created through a steam distillation process of orange rinds and is 95% pure d-limonene.

Subterranean termites live in the soil and can actually live off of your property and burrow their way into your structure from below. These termites tend to be more destructive than drywood termites. Xtermite treats these termites with an insecticide. Since they live in the soil and not the wood, Xtermite saturates the soil under your home with the insecticide and creates a barrier around your home so no termites can return.

To find out more about Xtermite visit their website at www.xtermite.com.

Lastly, Xtermite’s treatment prov >


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