The unseasonably warm weather we are having in Sacramento and Northern California has tricked lots of plants and trees into an early bloom, from daffodils to almonds. Such springlike weather may also mean another, less attractive early season—namely termite swarms.

Last March we got a frantic call from one of our pest control customers: she had just had a panicked call from her teenage daughter, who had arrived home from school to find the living room carpet swarming with termites. Our customer acted quickly—she told her daughter to get out the vacuum and start sucking up the bugs, then got on the phone to us.

Three types of termites are active in our Sacramento pest control region—dampwood termites, drywood termites and subterranean termites.

Although dampwood termites, which live only in wet or moist wood, can be found anywhere in California, they are more prevalent in damp, cooler coastal areas. When we do see them in structures in our area, it usually is an indicator of a moisture problem such as a leaky hot water heater or water line.

Drywood termites attack dry, sound wood, everything from dead trees and fencing to structural timbers and even furniture.

Subterranean termites, which are common throughout California, live in wood that has contact with the soil, such as fallen trees, or the structural wood in our buildings.

The most common species of termite in the Sacramento area is the Western Subterranean Termite. Although it is smaller than drywood or dampwood termites, it is the most destructive termite in California, according to the University of California Statewide IPM Program, due to the huge colonies it forms. A 2,400-square-foot home, for example, could sustain several termite colonies, each containing hundreds of thousands of individual termites. Because subterranean termites live below ground and inside wood, they are often impossible to detect unless a swarm occurs or a “shelter tube”—a mud tube formed by worker termites by mixing saliva with dirt, wood or bits of drywall—is spotted.

One reason the number of termite complaints goes up as the days grow warm in the spring is that warm weather triggers many termite species to swarm, which is how they reproduce and spread from structure to structure. In large termite colonies, a small number of termites, called alates or swarmers, develop wings, fly off in a swarm, mate, nest and form new colonies. Sometimes the sight of swarming termites is the first sign a property owner sees of a termite infestation.

Each type of termite—dampwood, drywood and subterranean—must be treated differently, and do-it-yourself remedies generally are not effective. Pesticides used in termite treatment are strictly regulated, and most are restricted to use by pest control professionals. At Pinnacle Pest Control, we offer a complete package of termite solutions, including detection, identification, prevention and elimination, each targeted to the specific type of infestation, customized to each location, and aimed at minimizing the environmental impact. So just in case warm spring weather brings a swarm of unwelcome guests to your home, don’t panic; just give us a call.

Every year about this time, the phone starts ringing in the Pinnacle Pest Control office with requests for termite home inspections and sometimes reports of swarms.

The subterranean termite species most common in our Sacramento region causes extensive damage that can remain hidden for years inside the walls and crawlspaces of your home. Historically “Delta Victorians” and “high-water bungalows” were built with crawl spaces and raised first floors as a defense against Sacramento’s historic floods. High water carried mud into the crawl spaces. Subterranean termites nest in the mud and build mud tunnels up the foundation walls and into the wood-frame home, where they burrow into the interior of boards, chew up and digest the wood from the inside. Termites eat 24-7—they never stop, unseen while the structure of your house grows steadily weaker. Winter rains leave the crawlspaces damp and muddy. In spring, temperatures climb to the mid-70s, leaving the crawlspace warm and humid, which triggers the termites to develop wings, drill an exit hole through the wall, and take off to establish new colonies. Often the swarm is the first sign a homeowner has that he or she has termites.

The damage caused by termites is extensive and economically significant. Termite damage cost estimates range from $5 billion to $16 billion nationwide, with the pesticide cost only a fraction of the total. By far the largest cost is for structural repairs, estimated at roughly five times the cost of pesticide control measures.

Customers who don’t see a swarm often have no idea they have a termite problem until the time comes to sell their homes, when they are required by law to have the homes professionally inspected for termites—potentially adding thousands of dollars to the cost of selling.

The first line of defense against termites is to get that all-important inspection. Catching a termite problem early can result in significant savings. A qualified pest control professional will conduct a thorough inspection of your property, inside and out, including your crawl space or foundation. In addition to termites, the pest control profession will also identify any dry-rot, water damage and other conditions that may make your home more susceptible to future termite infestation. The inspection may take from 45 minutes to one-and-one-half hours, depending on the size and condition of your property. Once the inspection is completed, you should receive an official report along with an estimate for any termite removal and damage repairs needed.

Termite are the stealthy menace of the pest control world, silently eating into the hearts of our homes while we eat, sleep, work and play, blissfully unaware. Be vigilant. It’s much better to invest in a professional, expert inspection today than be socked with thousands in repair bills tomorrow and a damaged home tomorrow.

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