For Drywood Termites, fumigation is the most effective method of controlling and eliminating active termite infestation.
You may have seen the tell tale sign of a fumigation, the colorful circus-like tent, spring up on a house in your neighborhood. Most owners only fumigate their property when they sell. I recommend to fumigate every 10 years to keep up with your routine maintenance. Condominiums and Apartment buildings are more difficult to fumigate than houses and tend to be fumigated less often, maybe once every 20 years.
Fumigation is inconvenient. During a fumigation, every occupant must vacate the premises for two to three days, remove their pets and plants, and bag their food. Apartment Buildings sometimes pay their tenants a per Diem to stay in a hotel or live with a family member or friend while the building is being fumigated. Condominiums are typically the hardest to fumigate because they have the most decision makers.
Most HOA’s in Los Angeles are underfunded because owners want to keep their association dues as low as possible. This usually means skimping on routine maintenance like fumigation. Getting the HOA to approve a fumigation can be a tall order, unless someone on the board has termite problems of course 🙂
Why Fumigate? Fumigation kills termites and Prevents Wood Damage.
Termites pretty much keep to themselves, living in the walls of your house and eating wood. The only evidence you will find on a daily basis will be frass, which are their droppings, that they eject out of the wood. The only time that termites are really annoying is when the temperature changes from Hot to Cold or Cold to Hot in the fall and spring. This change in temperature triggers a mature termite colony to release swarmers which are winged Queen termites that fly to a new location and start a new colony. When termites are swarming there can be 1,000’s of these ugly buggers crawling everywhere. They look really gross, and termite companies get a lot of calls when termites are spraying.
Given enough time, termites will eat your house hollow. The structurally stability of your supporting wall studs and joists can be compromised It may take 50 years or more for termites to eat a house, but left unchecked they eventually will. Your neighbors won’t be happy either, because termites from your house will infest theirs. In the short term, 10-20 years, termites can make the house shift and sag. Replacing termite damaged wood can be very expensive because with wood that is not exposed, like floor joists in a raised foundation house, or open rafters in a garage or attic, you have to tear out the drywall to replace damaged wood. Mudsills, windows, decks, areas around vents, and foundation piers are common areas where termites damage.
Drywood termites are eliminated by fumigation. Fumigation does not kill Subterranean termites because their colonies are underground, to exterminate subterranean termites you need to spray chemicals into the ground. Fumigation uses Vikane gas that is lethal to them. The fumigant has no odor, no color, and leaves no residue behind. Fumigation is very safe when you prepare for it properly. Since fumigation is a gas, it is only effective when the gas is in use. When the gas is gone there is no longer any residual affect. Termites can start to come back as soon as the tent is off, however it may be some time before they return, and once they are there another several years for a new colony to become mature. With Termites, it’s not a question of IF, it is a question of WHEN.
The first step in the fumigation process is sign some disclosures and waivers from the termite company. The next step is to turn off the gas, the termite company will do this for you. Once the gas is turned off, the termite company puts a tent on the house and pumps in the Vikane Gas.
The bright colors of the fumigation tents are to attract attention and keep people/pets away while the house is being fumigated. Being inside the property or tent while the house is fumigated is dangerous. The termite company mixes in a small amount of tear gas so that if somebody mistakenly wanders into the home the it is unbearable to stay in there. The gas is left in the tent for two to three days. Long enough so that the fumigant penetrates the wood, and kills the drywood termites. At the end, the tent is taken down and the house is aired out for about a half day. The technician measures the levels of gas and when it is safe to go inside they post a notice of reentry onto the doorway. You can eat off a plate left out, without washing it first, during a fumigation, as soon as you can go back inside. Some owners feel more comfortable waiting a little longer. Fumigations are usually guaranteed for 2 years.
Fumigation might have an added benefit of also killing other pests like spiders, ants, and roaches, however termite companies make no guarantee that it does that. Fumigation gas doesn’t kill insect eggs, this is true for Drywood termite eggs also, but when the drywood termite workers hatch from their eggs there will be no other termites to take care of them and they quickly die.
Cost of Fumigation
The price of fumigation is based on cubic feet of the property being fumigated. The cost is based on how much gas is needed, the larger the property the higher the price. You can expect to pay somewhere around $1/sqft for fumigation with a miniuim of $2,000 on any size house.
Expert Fumigation tip:
Termite companies will contact the local gas company on your behalf to turn off the gas before a fumigation. However, they will not call to turn it back on- so remember to call the gas company during the fumigation to schedule the gas to be turned back on while the fumigation is still underway and you will avoid any delay in restoring your gas service. Gas service is important because it is usually the source of your hot water for the water heater, and fuel for cooking with your stove. Most owners are pretty unhappy when they have no gas because they have to eat out and take cold showers until its turned back on.
You may here the term “Secondary treatment” for termites thrown around. If a fumigation is a primary treatment, everything else is considered secondary treatments. Remember when I said that fumigation is the most effective way to treat drywood termite infestation? That is because a fumigation will kill all termites inside the structure. You will only have to worry about eventual termite re-infestation from a neighboring building that has them (every building does). It can take a long time for a new termite colony to mature, so a fumigation knocks termites back to square one. A secondary treatment is usually spraying chemicals or drilling holes and injecting the chemicals directly into the walls. Secondary treatments can be useful as in-between measure to bridge the gap between periodic fumigations, especially when fumigation is difficult or when there is not enough infestation to warrant the higher expense of a fumigation. However, since the chemical that is sprayed is only effective when it comes into direct contact with the termites- a secondary treatment will not kill all the termites. If there is a mature termite hive, it will continue to annoy you as the termites find new areas untreated by chemicals to move to. The residual affect of the chemicals is for six months. Secondary treatments are a band aid solution and signs of the termites will probably return within a year of secondary treatment. For that reason termite companies almost always recommend Fumigation first (and probably because it is more expensive also). Secondary treatments have a shorter guarantee than fumigation. You usually only get 1 year guarantee on secondary treatment, and the guarantee only covers the areas that were treated, so if they show up somewhere else you are out of luck and will have to pay again. Secondary treatments cost about $500-$600 for each area that is treated.