In the United States, termites cause billions of dollars in damage every year. It may seem impossible for small insects to be so destructive. How do they do it? They eat. Termites feed on cellulose, which is one of the main components of wood. They live in large colonies consisting of 3 million termites or more, and they eat day and night. In these numbers and with that appetite, it doesn’t take very long to do significant wood damage. If you have recently built a fence, you may be concerned about these pests making Swiss cheese out of your wooden investment.
There are three main types of termites to be on the lookout for in the United States.
Drywood Termites: These termites are unique from other termites in that they like their cellulose dry and hard. They are most commonly found in the Southwest and coastal Southern states living in hardwood forests. However, they are just as happy to feed on hardwood flooring or furniture in your home if given a chance.
Dampwood Termites: Found mostly in heavily forested areas, these termites prefer moist, decaying wood. They feast on outdoor woodpiles and rotting tree stumps. They are most common in Pacific Coast states. Because they prefer wet areas, they are less likely than other termites to invade your home where the wood is likely dry. However, they can prove a significant threat to outdoor structures like gazebos or fences.
Subterranean Termites: The most prolific termite eaters in the contiguous 48 states, these insects can be hard to spot. They like to nest underground near a food source and build tunnels to get from the nest to the wood. Thus, they can be difficult to spot before they cause damage.
The best way to protect your new fence from becoming termite food is to take steps to prevent the insects from moving into your yard in the first place. Some of the best tools for keeping termites away are simple steps that make your yard less hospitable for unwanted guests.
Wood Choice: While most experts agree that subterranean termites, in particular, are not very picky about their food, some wood species are less appetizing to them. In particular, cedar wood and redwood have become popular fence options because they repel wood-destroying insects and hold up well in harsh weather conditions. Teak and cypress woods also show evidence of being naturally resistant to termite infestation.
The chemicals used in pressure-treated wood protect it against pesky invaders as well. However, it is less than ideal for a couple of reasons. First, its chemical resistance wears off over time, giving your fence less protection with each passing year. Second, pressure-treated lumber doesn’t last as long as other woods when exposed to the outdoor elements.
Composite wood fencing can be a good termite-resistant choice. Being manufactured of a mixture of wood products and plastics, composite does not contain as much cellulose as natural wood. Because it is composed of synthetic, man-made materials, it is a poor food source. This fact alone can lead the termites to pass on by without taking a bite.
Sunlight: There is some evidence to suggest that the sun can be damaging to termites. The sun also serves to evaporate moisture from rain, snow, and sprinklers. Clearing or trimming back shrubs and other vegetation from the fence can allow the sun to do its job in keeping your soil and fence dry.
Paints and Sealers: Although the termites may like the wood species that you used to build your fence, they may not like what you put on it. Oil-based stains can make your fence undesirable to the termites. Because these stains penetrate deep into the wood, the termites have difficulty getting past the stain into fresh wood.
If you prefer paint to stains, be sure to use an oil-based primer on the wood prior to painting. This primer layer gives the wood an added layer of protection from insects as well as the weather. Like the oil-based stains, oil primer repels termites as well.
Grading and Drainage: Most termites need a moist environment to live and feed. Ensuring that your yard effectively drains water away from your house, fence, and other structures will go a long way towards keeping pests away.
You chose the best wood and used the best sealer. You cleared dead wood from your yard and improved the water drainage. You have done your best, now wait and hope that they don’t find your fence, right?
Preventing termite damage requires watching for signs of invading pests. If the problem is caught early, it is much easier and cheaper to repair. Since many termites live underground, though, it can be challenging to find them. Take a look at your fence periodically and watch for the following signs.
1. Tubes of Mud – Termites invade from the ground up. They build mud tunnels to get from their nest to your wood. If you see signs of mud tubes around your house or fence, call a professional to investigate further.
2. Termite Droppings – Termites are often confused with flying ants because they have wings. As they mature, they drop these wings. You may find piles of wings or piles of droppings that look like a pile of sawdust. Unless you have recently been cutting wood in your yard, the appearance of sawdust can be a tell-tale sign that termites have moved in.
3. Bubbling Paint and Hollow Sounding Wood – As termites tunnel their way through fence posts, they damage the wood’s structure itself. This damage can cause the paint to crack or bubble up. You should check these areas further by knocking on the wood in question. If it sounds more hollow than neighboring boards, it may be indicative of termite tunnels inside.
Termites have a well-deserved reputation for causing widespread destruction very quickly. These voracious eaters are experts at staying out of sight. Thus, an infestation can go unnoticed until the damage becomes significant. Make sure that you take measures to protect your fence. Starting with the right wood, sealing it properly, flooding your yard with sunlight and ensuring that rainwater properly drains away will help keep these mega-munchers at bay.