Termite Control: How To Identify and Get Rid of Termites

They don’t just buzz, annoy, and sting. Termites chow down on a valuable asset: your house. And when those hidden, hungry explorers fill their bellies, humans have to empty their wallets to undo the damage. We’ll explain how to identify and get rid of termites so you can keep cash in your wallet and termites out of your home.

How to Identify Termites

Termites are a type of destructive pest that feed primarily on decaying wood. Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to a home without being detected. This is why it’s so important to know the different types of termites and how to get them out of your home.

Part of the problem? Some other bugs look like termites.

Most termites fall into three types: subterranean, dampwood, and drywood termites. Each has its own biology and behaviors, but treatments are the same. All of these termite species can be identified by their bodies, colors, antennae, and wings. If you see old wings, fecal pellets (droppings), or damaged wood, it could be one of these three.

  • Subterranean termite swarmers are black with white, almost translucent wings. The worker termites do not have wings and are cream-colored. These are found in just about every state but are more common in warmer areas.
  • Dampwood termites are larger than the other two types. They can range from dark brown to light brown to red, while nymphs are cream-colored. These termites are typically found in western states such as Montana and Washington.
  • Drywood termites are browner in color with two sets of darker, veiny wings that they usually shed. While the majority of colonies are smaller, there can be a few thousand in drywood colonies. They are commonly found in North Carolina and other warmer coastal states such as California.

Signs of Termite Damage

Seeing signs of termite damage can be difficult when the majority of it is hidden in the walls of your home. However, there are some indicators that what you’re seeing is the damage left behind by termites.

  • Mud tubes up and down the foundation of a building, which the termites build to travel through
  • Mud spots, peeling paint, or bubbles on walls
  • Holes in wood can indicate termites. By knocking on the wood, you can determine if it sounds hollow. If it does, it’s likely damage caused by termites.

“No question, without a doubt they certainly cause the most structural damage to a dwelling,” says Dr. Mike Potter, an entomology professor at the University of Kentucky. “Termites are really the ones that cause the most financial aggravation and worry to people.”

Termites routinely damage homes underground so the rot they cause isn’t discovered until it’s expensive. They’re pests, and you need to get rid of them.

Signs of a Termite Infestation

“Being able to know the signs of termites is the first thing,” Potter says.

If you see a winged termite flying around inside your home, he writes, you’ve almost certainly got a termite infestation — one that warrants action. Those flying termites are called swarmers, and they usually appear in the spring. 

The winged insects strongly resemble flying ants, but they have a distinct tell: Both flying ants and flying termites have two pairs of wings. A termite’s wings, though, will both be equal in size, while an ant has a larger pair in front and a smaller pair behind.

Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Look for Wings of Equal Size

So if you see what looks like a flying ant, but it turns out to have all wings of equal size, it’s bad news: You have a termite problem.

Finding them outside your home isn’t a reason to panic, though. Swarms of termites flying from tree stumps or piles of dead wood in your yard doesn’t mean they’re also in your house. But if they appear to be swarming from the foundation of your house, or from wooden porches or patios, they’ve likely moved in.

How to Get Rid of Termites

So all the telltale signs are there: the mud tubes, swarmers inside the house, and maybe infested wood fixtures that have been eaten away.

Maybe you had a pro come take a look, and the verdict is in. It’s termites. Now you have to make a decision on how to get rid of them: liquid or bait termiticides, heat treatment, or fumigation.

Liquid Termiticides

Liquid pesticide is the traditional approach to termite control. This involves applying the product under and around the building. A liquid provides a long-lasting chemical barrier around the house, either with a repellent that keeps them away, or a nonrepellent-but-lethal chemical.

Unfortunately, it’s also invasive. You’ll need gallons of the stuff, and it can require drilling and injection through porches, patios, and adjacent concrete around your house.

Pros of Liquid TermiticidesCons of Liquid Termiticides
✓ Long-lasting✗ May require drilling
✓ Easy to acquire✗ Invasive (several gallons are needed)

Bait Termiticides

Baits are less invasive. By using small amounts of materials termites like to eat, the slow-acting insecticide is ingested by the termite, which then takes it back to the termite colonies, spreading the poison.

Baits are typically installed below ground around the perimeter of the building, usually in the form of a hollow plastic cylinder with slits on the side. The termites that tunnel through the bait leave a colony-specific scent behind that draws more termites to the bait. 

As with liquid termiticides, bait systems also have drawbacks. The first? Getting termites to locate the bait. It could be months before the baits take effect. Baiting can also be more costly. More visits may be needed to monitor activity and add or replenish slow-acting bait stations.

Pros of Bait TermiticidesCons of Bait Termiticides
Less invasive (smaller amounts) Costly
Easier placement Requires more monitoring
No guarantee termites will find the trap

Heat Treatment

If you’d rather stay clear of harsh chemical treatments around your home, pest control specialists recommend heat treatments. Heat treatment is the process of heating all wood in a given structure using heaters. 

During the heat treatment, temperatures rise to a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and stay at that temperature for at least 33 minutes. The extensive heat eventually kills the termites, leaving your home infestation-free.

It’s often used in apartments and condominiums due to its ability to treat areas of large structures separately. Another benefit of heat treatment is that you won’t need to be out of the house for more than a few hours, making this treatment more convenient than fumigation, which requires homeowners to leave the structure for several days.

This treatment is not without its drawbacks. For heat treatment to work, it requires heating structures where termites live to a very high temperature, so you’ll need to remove heat-sensitive items. In addition, sometimes it can be difficult for wood on concrete or tile to reach lethal levels of heat. Because of this, this treatment isn’t always 100% effective.

Pros of Heat TreatmentCons of Heat Treatment
Less time-consumingGetting the wood heated can be difficult
Non-chemical treatmentHeat damage to home objects
Offers spot or whole-area treatmentNot always 100 percent effective


Fumigation is a very effective termite treatment, but also the most expensive.
Photo Credit: ArmchairBuilder.com / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If the infestation is extreme, you may need the big gun of termite treatment methods: fumigation. In this treatment method, the home is covered by a huge, airtight tent. A precise amount of gas fumigant is pumped in and left to work. It penetrates deeply into all parts of the home.

Typically, the gas includes both an odorless active ingredient to kill the termites, plus an odorous ingredient to warn humans they should not be there. Though the active ingredient does not linger, you must stay out of the house for at least 24 hours after application. No matter what types of termites you have, this is a sure way to get rid of them.

Pros of FumigationCons of Fumigation
Most effectiveLonger process
Kills all pests, not just termitesRequires families to relocate

How to Prevent Termites

So you’ve cleaned and dried up all the areas near your foundation, but your house still feels vulnerable? Call in the big guns. “A preventive treatment … is the most assured thing you can do to protect your home and protect against future problems,” Potter says.

Preventive treatments range from pre-construction chemical applications to chemical and physical barriers. Even if your house is 100 years old, you can take some of the same termite prevention measures:

  • Remove cellulose materials such as mulch, stumps, and wood scraps from within 25 feet of the house.
  • Ensure adequate drainage surrounds the house’s foundation.
  • Don’t let untreated wood contact the soil.
  • Install screened vents on crawl spaces and attics to eliminate moisture accumulation.
  • Don’t stack dead wood near the house. That’s a termite buffet.
  • Have splash blocks for your spigot and gutters to eliminate the buildup of moisture around the foundation.

Have all those boxes checked but want to really be sure you’re warding off future infestations? Hire a professional to establish a preventive barrier.

Pre-construction Treatment

The Arizona Extension says pre-construction liquid chemical barriers are the industry standard.

Following a termite inspection, a termiticide is applied to the soil within the foundation footprint before concrete is poured.

Post-construction Treatment

After construction, soil treatments are applied around the wooden structures in a trench, dug 6 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Chemicals used in the trenching will either repel or kill the termites.

Physical barriers that prevent the movement of termites are getting more popular across the country, the Arizona Extension says. That’s generally because they have no chemicals associated that could contaminate the environment. They work as a pest management tool by keeping the termites from crossing the barrier and eating your house.

Physical Termite Barriers

  • Copper termite shields installed on the top of the foundation serve as a physical barrier but can be expensive.
  • Stainless steel mesh can be established within the walls of the foundation or wrapped around pipe frontage.
  • Impasse is a brand of polymer plastic sheeting with an insecticide locked between the two layers of plastic. It is laid out in large sections along the foundation.
  • Sand can also be used to keep termites at bay. A 4-6-inch layer of uniform sand under the foundational concrete can deter termites.

Cost of Termite Treatment

If you’re a do-it-yourself fan, home supply stores sell termite poisons and baits for as little as $20 per gallon. As with any DIY project that involves poison, follow directions closely.

If DIY isn’t for you, you may wonder how much professional termite treatment costs. For those who hire a professional pest control service, homeowners can expect to pay the following:  

TreatmentAverage Cost
Overall Average Cost for Termite Treatment$275 to $863, or $558 on average
Bait Treatment$7 to $11 per linear foot
Chemical Treatment$4 to $14.50 per linear foot
Fumigation$1 to $4 per square foot, or $2 to $8,000 for a 2,000 square foot home
Heat Treatment$1 to $2.50 per square foot

Termite Damage Facts and Figures

Photo Credit: Bart Everson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Nationwide pest control company Orkin says that each year, termite damage impacts around 600,000 American homes.
  • On average, a homeowner spends $3,000 on termite damage repair. American homeowners spend roughly $5 billion annually to control termites and repair termite damage.
  • The Centers for Disease Control says subterranean termites are the “most-destructive pests of wood in the United States.”
  • Annually, termites cause more property damage than fire and windstorms combined.

That’s even more impressive when you realize that large swaths of the country see virtually no termites at all. Termites heavily damage the Southeastern U.S., Hawaii, and California’s coast.

A new pest, the formosan termite, invaded Texas and Florida beginning in the 1960s. But most of the country sees light to moderate termite activity; the northernmost states have little to no termite activity.

FAQ About Termites

What are the First Signs of Termites?

Structural damage, swarmers, and mud tubes. These are the first telltale signs that you have a termite problem. Other signs such as discarded wings and fecal pellets or “kick-out holes” can also be attributed to our wood-chomping friends.

What Attracts Termites?

Termites are attracted to moist wood. They get into your house through damp wood that is piled against your home. Firewood, newspapers, and cardboard all attract termites and should be kept away from your home’s foundation. Use mulch sparingly around your home, as well, since the bark can attract these bugs.

What is the Most Effective Termite Treatment?

The most effective termite treatments are liquid termiticides, bait termiticides, heat treatment, and fumigation. Which one is best for your situation will depend on a number of factors, including:

• Where the termites are located 
• The extent of the infestation 
• Whether you want to use chemicals
• Type of termite

Pre- and post-construction liquid chemical treatments are also effective at eliminating termites on a home site. Heat treatment is an effective non-chemical solution that is popular and convenient for many homeowners. Other non-chemical treatments involve a physical barrier such as steel mesh or sand. 

Biological control agents, such as nematodes and fungi, are another chemical-free option. However, biological control agents have mainly had success in a laboratory setting and are not EPA regulated.

If there is a termite infestation, it’s best to call an exterminator to help you determine the most effective termite treatment for your situation.

Saying Goodbye to Termites

Whether you’re seeing swarms or a few dropped wings, where there’s one, there are usually more. Don’t wait to address your termite concerns. Call a local pest control pro today for termite or other pest control issues.

Main Photo Credit: Tongman501236 / Canva Pro / License

Derek Lacey

Formerly the agriculture writer for the Hendersonville Times-News, Derek Lacey’s articles have appeared in U.S. News & World Report, The Charlotte Observer, News & Observer, and The State. He has won 15 awards from the North Carolina Press Association and GateHouse Media, for pieces ranging from news features and investigative reporting to photography and multimedia projects.