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Got termites?

Experts say you likey do

Termites are everywhere in Hawaii — it is estimated these pests cost residents $100 million or more annually. Are they in your home?

“Especially in Hawaii, our homes are often the biggest investments we make in our lifetime. A termite problem can significantly impact us, as they eat our homes from the inside out, often undetected,” says Maria Aihara-Sasaki, who has a master’s degree in entomology from University of Hawaii at Manoa, and has studied Formosan subterranean and West Indian drywood termites for more than 17 years. “Almost every older home in Hawaii has some termite damage.”

Part of Aihara-Sasaki’s resume includes 20 years as a research associate at UH, where she was the laboratory manager and project coordinator for the termite program: Educate to Eradicate. She explains there are two types of prevalent termites in Hawaii — drywood and subterranean — and, she points out, both types fly, though they colonize in different ways and require different methods of treatment.

The most common infestations these days — where the most calls originate from — are with drywood termites.

Drywood termite problems are generally slow to develop and the colonies relatively small. Their presence is best detected by the sandy droppings they leave behind, though it’s possible they can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls or under floors.

“A single-family home in Hawaii may have a dozen or more small colonies,” says Aihara-Sasaki. “They can live in cabinets or furniture for years before you even know it. And, it’s very difficult to know how many small colonies a house may have. To determine where termites are in between the walls is a guess,” she adds.

Which is why the recommended remedy for drywood termites is almost always tenting. Spot treating may work if you can get the chemical to reach the termites, but if there are additional hidden colonies, they may be left to continue to grow/spread. That’s always the concern.

However, the most destructive are the subterranean termites. They nest underground (as opposed to in wood). Homeowners may never know the true size of the underground colony, which may span a half-acre, or may be located in a neighbor’s yard, and may grow from several thousands to millions of termites in just a couple of years. Undetected, these colonies can cause major structural damage within three to five years.

While tenting may kill all termites in the house on the day of treatment, the more effective remedy for subterranean termite colonies is soil treatment and/ or bait stations.

“It’s rare that you’re going to ever find an older home in Hawaii with no termite damage. But the problem is, no one can really tell you how old the damage is?” Aihara-Sasaki warns. “Advice seems obscure and it’s difficult to figure out what to do, or how to address the problem. Adding to the confusion, is the shift in trends, and alternative treatments, which may not be effective.”

Termite problems often go undetected, and homeowners may opt not to take any action until the problem is serious and urgent.

But in Hawaii, that is not what the experts advise. If your issue is drywood termites, tenting/fumigation, applied properly, should kill everything present in the house, but once the gas clears out, it provides no residual protection, which is why re-treatment may be recommended every five to seven years.

Bait stations and soil insecticides, used to control subterranean termites, can last for years as long as the chemical is active, bait is replaced, and stations are monitored regularly. Your home can be well protected with soil termiticides, and entire colonies can be eliminated using bait stations.

Aihara-Sasaki’s advice is to talk with a professional and get several estimates. Experienced professionals can inspect your home, and help you come up with the best strategy for your situation.

Odds are, if you live in Hawaii, you have termites. You just don’t know it yet. Knock on wood.

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