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Battling Bug And Insect Infestation

By Jim Sulski

Summary: Insect infestations is a common household problem. Bugs can eat or burrow through a home's timber - such as floor joists, support beams and pillars - weakening the wood members. Jim gives the basics about termites, carpenter ants, beetle, wasps and bees.

Remember those science-fiction films from the 1950s in which giant insects would swoop down and destroy an entire house with a simple kick?
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In reality, of course, bugs can't destroy a home that quickly. But over time, left unchecked, insects can cause serious damage to the structural integrity of a home.

What bugs can do is eat or burrow through a home's timber - such as floor joists, support beams and pillars - weakening the wood members.

Technically, this problem is known as insect infestation.

Any home can be subject to insect infestation, which can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damages.

For example, worst case scenarios can include collapsing floors or stud and floor joists that need to be replaced because of bug damage. While you can't avoid bugs, what follows are steps you can take to minimize their presence in your home:


The "king" of damage-causing insects is the tiny subterranean termite. Experts estimate that one in 16 Chicago area homes have a termite problem.

Although termites can appear anywhere, they are more likely to be found where the ground is usually moist.

Termites cause damage as they eat wood, a staple of their diet. They are especially attracted to damp wood.

Because daylight is lethal to termites, they travel underground, burrowing until they come into contact with wood. They can enter homes through cracks in basement foundations.

Termites eat wood only from the inside - so you can't see them at work.

To minimize the chance of termites, eliminate any damp wood or standing water around a home by fixing gutters or leaks. And paint any exposed wood. Especially pay attention to wood that comes in contact with the soil, such as porch posts.

Also cut shrubbery or branches that may come in contact with the house, another path for termites.

To determine if you have termites, inspect the foundation walls inside of the home, especially near any openings, for termites tunnels - half-circle dirt tunnels that are about a quarter-inch deep.

Also, probe susceptible areas by jabbing an ice pick or awl into wood. If the instrument penetrates the wood by more than a 16th of an inch, you may have a termite problem.

Finally, check with your neighbors to see if they have had termite infestations.

If you do have termites, you will need a licensed professional exterminator to eliminate the bugs with toxic chemicals.

The cost can start at about $1,000, depending on the size of the house. Pay close attention to any guarantees offered.

If you discover wood damaged by termites, you should repair that damage by "sistering": Shore up the damage wood by attaching an adjacent piece of lumber to the original damaged piece.


Carpenter ants are also a threat to a home. As with termites, these large black ants are attracted to wet wood. Unlike termites, however, they use wood for nesting, not eating.

The presence of carpenter ants can be detected by finding the entrances to their galleries on joists and posts. Also, look for fine sawdust near those openings. You may also see the ants entering and leaving the galleries.

Then check the wood's integrity by probing with an awl or nail punch.

To minimize the presence of carpenter ants, again eliminate any sources of damp wood. Also, caulk and weatherstrip any openings or cracks to a home, especially around windows and doors. Repair any holes in screens and cut down branches touching the house.

Carpenter ants can sometimes be eliminated by spraying commercial insecticides into and around the galleries, said the experts. More severe cases can require the services of a professional exterminator.


Powder-post beetles are another insect that can damage a home's wood, by chewing into the wood to lay eggs. They prefer both dry and moist wood.

As with carpenter ants, powder-post beetles can be detected by searching for small holes in posts and beams. Also, look for fine sawdust below the holes.

Similar to carpenter ants, the beetles can be eliminated with commercial insecticides. To prevent further infestation, keep the wood dry and then seal wood with paint. Also, seal openings and cracks, and repair screens.


These flying insects can nest in a home's walls by working their way through an opening or crack on the exterior of a house. While they won't harm a home, their openings are a way for moisture to get in. In addition, they sting.

These bugs can be eliminated with commercial insecticides, but follow the directions carefully as not to disturb their nests. Professional exterminators can also remove their nests. To minimize their presence, seal any small openings on a home.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. February 1, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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