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Termites, little insects that feed on wood, can easily go unnoticed in building structures for some time. As spring quickly approaches, it’s now prime time for these destructive pests.

In fact, termites are one of the most destructive pests on the planet, chewing through wood at an alarming rate and causing an estimated $6.8 billion in property damage annually. While some might assume termites are just a household pest, the truth is, these pests do not discriminate and pose a serious threat to the structure of commercial facilities. This Termite Awareness Week, March 3–9, 2024, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is sharing the tell-tale signs of an infestation that all facility managers should be aware of.

Sign #1: Swarmers
Swarmers are young female and winged termites that often invade structures in the springtime. They especially seek out buildings that have sustained damage from severe winter weather. Once swarmers have determined your facility to be a good fit, it’s likely that the rest of the colony will follow.

Sign #2: Discarded Wings
The discarded wings of swarmers can often be found near windows and doors and are often the first and only outwardly visible sign of a termite problem.

Sign #3: Wood Damage
Termites tend to eat wood from the inside out, so wood that sounds hollow when tapped often signifies a termite infestation. Facility managers should also look for rotting wood.

Sign #4: Frass
Drywood termites produce wood-colored droppings as they eat through infested wood. If a facility manager or employee finds a small pile of what looks like pellets inside or outside the building, it could be a sign of a drywood termite infestation.

Sign #5: Mud Tubes
Subterranean termites build mud tubes to provide moisture when they travel between their colony and a food source. Mud tubes are most often found near the building’s foundation.

Tackling Termites

Now, to prevent an infestation and costly damage, NPMA recommends facility managers eliminate or correct any moisture concerns. It’s also important to schedule an annual termite inspection with a licensed pest control partner who specializes in termite control work, as they can properly identify the species and treat the issue before it gets out of hand.

To learn more, Facility Executive spoke with Dr. Jim Fredericks, Chief Entomologist for the National Pest Management Association, to discuss what else facility managers should keep in mind when it comes to termite infestations in commercial facilities.

Facility Executive: Are termite infestations becoming a bigger problem for commercial facilities? When you say termites have caused an estimated $6.8 billion in property damage annually—has that number been increasing overtime?

Dr. Jim Fredericks: The negative impact of termites has gotten worse over time. For instance, the cost of repairs and materials continues to grow. Additionally, invasive termites, like the aggressive Formosan termite, continue to expand their range. This termite which has especially large colonies, is found in the Southeastern states and was recently reported for the first time in Norfolk, VA. In Canada, Eastern subterranean termites, the most commonly encountered termite species in North America continues to expand its range in large cities like Toronto despite the northern latitudes.

FE: What kinds of damage can termites do to facilities? Is this kind of damage often overlooked, until it becomes a much larger issue?

Dr. Fredericks: Termites can eat through any materials containing cellulose, which means these pests are typically attracted to wood used to build commercial facilities. However, termites feed on any material containing cellulose, so things like drywall, wallpaper, stored items in cardboard boxes, files, and books are all fair game.

Termite damage is often hidden behind undamaged finished areas, so termite damage may be overlooked by facility managers who don’t know what to look for. This just emphasizes the importance of working with a pest control professional to perform regular facility inspections. Your pest control partner is trained on what areas to look at and what to look for in order to identify a termite issue.

One important, and often overlooked, threat that termite infestations pose to commercial facilities is the disruption that swarming termites can bring to business operations. Periodically, termite colonies will produce winged reproductive termites (which are sometimes confused with flying ants). When swarms happen inside infested structures, hundreds to tens of thousands of flying termites emerge together to create new colonies. Swarming termites don’t cause physical damage, but can disrupt operations, forcing business to shut down until the termites have been eliminated. This is an extreme concern for food -related businesses like restaurants, retail and processing facilities

FE: Facility managers need to eliminate or correct any moisture concerns as termites need water for their populations to thrive—what are some common areas moisture can appear that would attract these pests? Are certain areas within buildings more at risk for an infestation?

Dr. Fredericks: Rain can cause moisture build up around the exterior of a commercial facility if there are not proper drainage in place. Downspouts, gutter and splash blocks can help reducer moisture build up around the exterior.

The most common termites in North America are subterranean termites. These termites live underground and will bring moisture into buildings from the soil. But leaking roofs and plumbing inside walls can create the perfect environment for termites to form above ground colonies, which are completely separated from the soil and more difficult to identify and control.

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Facility Executive Magazine