Infestation of drywood termites calls for drastic measures
From the outside, Frank Sherwood’s Lost Creek home almost looks like a makeshift circus tent.
Covered in gray and green tarps, every detail of the home has been obscured from the outside.
Inside, the sunlight has been blocked out and each cabinet and furniture door has been flung wide open.
Sherwood’s home has been tented so that sulfuryl fluoride, a poisonous, odorless gas, can be sprayed inside. The goal: to rid his home of drywood termites.
Tenting a home is fairly rare in North Texas. While the drywood termites are present in North Texas, they are a much bigger issue along the Gulf Coast.
Sherwood, a 90-year-old architectural engineer who is still working, said he had to look across the state to find someone to remove the drywood termites, which infest, as their name implies, dry wood.
Sherwood hired a Texas City company, Bevis Pest Control, which has been dealing with drywood termites for decades, in million-dollar Galveston beach houses as well as the homes of professional athletes, said Bryan Springer, the company’s owner.
Unlike the eastern subterranean termite, which is the predominant termite in North Texas, drywood termites are much harder to detect. And a simple spraying of pesticide won’t kill them off.
“There are several different species of termites and this particular species never goes back in the ground to get water,” Springer said. “Once they’re in the home, they don’t leave.”
That’s where tenting comes in.
The gas, which is sealed in the house for about 20 hours, is highly effective once it is sealed in the house with tarps. But it can also be lethal.
No pet left behind
Before spraying, Steve Defoore, the on-site manager-site, releases tear gas inside to ensure no dogs or cats or other animal is hiding inside.
“We check and re-check, but (we) want to make sure,” Defoore said. “We’ve had cats hiding beds that come running out when we set off the tear gas. We don’t want anything left inside.”
The gas takes about 20 hours to effectively kill all of the termites inside.
Once the tarps are removed, the gas disperses quickly and doesn’t leave behind any residue, said Mike Merchant, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension urban entomologist.
Fortunately, Sherwood’s dilemma is pretty unusual locally.
“The drywood termites are pretty rare as far as we know,” Merchant said. “They don’t actually spread very fast in North Texas. They typically get in homes in infested wood that was brought into the home at the time of construction or through infested furniture.”
Sherwood isn’t sure how they got in his home but the previous owner remodeled after damage from the 1995 Mayfest hail storm and he believes they may have been brought into the home in some infested antique furniture.
Before spraying, Sherwood had the local neighborhood association inform his neighbors.
Next-door neighbor Dale Fisher had his house checked, and it was termite-free.
“It was a relief for sure, but I feel bad for Frank,” Fisher said. “I hope all of the other neighbors had their place checked out.”
Looking for signs of termites
Homeowners need to be on the lookout for termites around their home, especially in the spring when they’re the most active. Earlier this year, Terminex said, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston were among the 15 most termite-infested cities in the U.S.
“The most obvious sign is swarming termites emerging from your house,” Merchant said of the subterranean termites. “They are usually a dark-colored insect about the size of ant with long whitish wings. The other thing you need to do is look for unusual crusts of dirt between the soil and the outside of the house.”
While drywood termites aren’t widespread in North Texas, they are here. Springer estimates he has done about 200 jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the past few years and has another scheduled at a commercial building in Northeast Tarrant County this summer.
More common are the subterranean termites, which thrive in moist soil. They can be treated with a liquid pesticide or bait, according to Texas A&M.
“Both techniques have advantages,” according to Texas A&M’s citybugs website. “Unlike conventional liquid termiticides, which provide a chemical barrier to termites, baits are designed to suppress or eliminate the termite colonies. Baits incorporate a slow-acting toxicant or growth regulator into a suitable termite food.”
Subterranean termite: The native subterranean termite is the most common in Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Damaged wood and mud tubes are two ways of spotting them. Besides having your house inspected annually, regularly painting and caulking is an effective way to keep them out.
Drywood termite: The first sign is often from young winged drywood termites swarming from small openings in the wood. Inspecting the wood inside the building is the best way to determine an infestation. Not common in North Texas, but they have been found on occasion.
Formosan termite: These are the so-called super termite that can devour a house from the inside. They were first found in the Houston Ship Channel area near Pasadena in 1956 and are very aggressive. According to Texas A&M Agrlife Extension, young Formosan termites “swarm at night from early May through June and are attracted to lights.” Rarely found in North Texas.