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Troubleshoot challenging subterranean termite jobs with this helpful checklist

Austin M. Frishman, Ph.D.

In nature, subterranean termites serve an important function by recycling cellulose from dead trees. However, when builders come into an area, they remove trees and other vegetation to build their structures. In desperation, and perhaps delight, termites below ground adjust their feeding patterns and start eating what humans built for them.

With more than 50 years of experience trying to resolve difficult termite cases, I have never seen a termite management company have 100 percent success all the time. Here is my list of why we sometimes fail with subterranean termite control — use it to help address your retreatment options.

  • Unique construction favored the termites. For example, there was a double cinder block wall, and only the first set of blocks was treated.
  • The crawl space was hidden or passed over during the inspection.
  • Tree roots grew through the treated soil, making a pathway for termites to travel without coming in contact with the product.
  • The soil dropped below the slab, leaving a void. The termiticide went into the soil, but the termites were huddled on the underside of the slab and ate their way up through the corks.
  • A building without rain gutters enabled rainwater to flow down from the roof and slowly wash away the termiticide.
  • The soil was clay, so the product didn’t penetrate or disperse laterally.
  • Landscaping occurred after the treatment, and treated soil was removed and replaced with non-treated soil.
  • Heavy hurricane flooding diluted the termiticide.
  • A leak in a pipe or the roof helped an above-ground subterranean termite colony develop more rapidly.
  • Drill holes were too far apart, or a few holes were accidentally not treated.
  • The product didn’t spread evenly because the soil was frozen.
  • Pests like rodents, armadillos or iguanas dug a hole through your treatment.
  • Too much mulch was placed on top of the soil, which allowed termites to tunnel above the treated soil.
  • Drill tips were straight, when they should have been angled back up under the drilled slab.
  • Lateral rodding was done at too great of an angle, so the tip of the rod was too far below the termite colony in the center of the structure.
  • Trenching was not completed (rodding alone is not effective).
  • A lack of proper agitation meant the product did not get mixed properly in the tank.
  • You kept retreating where termites were swarming (for example, near light fixtures), but the actual area of infestation you should have treated was 100 feet away.
  • The product was injected too far away from the foundation. A difference of a few inches can result in the product not reaching the foundation.

I did not learn about these overnight. I just had the privilege to learn from termite control companies who ran into their own challenges like these. Does this mean you should walk away from every job? No, but it does mean you must recognize these potential problems ahead of time and alert the customer, including charging them accordingly for the job.

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