The Latest In Termite Controls

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - October 11, 2006
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Few columns I’ve written brought more e-mails than the one advocating termite extermination by the sodium borate spray method versus tenting - the latter still being the predominant method in Hawaii.

I heard from pesticide companies, homeowners and termite researchers at UH. Here’s an update.

Two local companies were honest enough to tell me they could-n’t get an effective ground seal around my house for a gas-tent. I’d be wasting money. My alternatives were over-the-counter termite sprays or treatment with sodium octoborate tetrahydrate - basically a boron-based salt (borax) mixed with water. I chose the borate.

It is relatively new here as house treatment. It has been approved after extensive University of California and University of Florida studies. You don’t have to remove food, pets or plants during treatment. If it gets on antiques or upholstery, it wipes off like any salt solution.

Tenting immediately kills all insects but they can come back next day. Gas has no residual effect. Borate spray penetrates the wood and eventually kills the queens and keeps killing new colonies. The idea is to make your house continual poison for termites.

There are some glitches. I discovered that not all the termites disappear right away. I’m three years into the experiment and I’ve had to call the exterminator back for persistent termite findings in a plywood door, a ceiling panel, a piece of furniture and the floor.

My borate exterminator says it’s a gradual process. Our house was heavily infested. He did the house frame and floors inside and out but didn’t treat every closet, drawer, or piece of furniture. Those, he spot treats when I call, and at no additional cost. Gas tenters don’t come back for free and re-tent.

Then there’s termite-hole spotting. The owner of the company I use is very good at it. Not so all the people he’s trained or hired.

Borate is a much cheaper treatment than tenting. My onetime payment was $952 with four years of free re-treatment.

But I know that many of you expect every termite to be instantly gone. That isn’t in the cards with the spray method if you have a heavy infestation.

One big upside is the environmental issue. I’m not much on poison gas and insecticides. Sodium borate is the infusion treatment used for most building lumber. New Zealand has made it the mandatory termite treatment.

The Environmental Health Coalition, which doesn’t endorse brands or companies, says: “Sodium borate leaves no toxic surface residue. The sodium borate is left as micro-crystals of borate salt inside the wood which will not decompose or volatilize (vaporize) like synthetic residual pesticide poisons. This means the sodium borate will keep providing broad spectrum protection with little impact on the environment or your health.”

I believe it’s the house treatment of the future. But if you want every termite, every roach, every bug make-die-dead the day you set foot back in your house, yes, you’ll have to spend the bucks and go through the temporary inconvenience of gas-tenting, if your house can be ground-sealed.

Those over-the-counter sprays, I’m told, mainly chase termite colonies from their current nest to another area. They smell it and move. They cannot smell sodium borate.

Please do not e-mail and ask me for a recommended company. You have to determine if they have insurance, are licensed in Hawaii, what they charge and if they offer borate spraying. How many years will they come back and spot treat at no extra cost? Demand four or five years. Will a tenter do that?

It’s a regulated business, but it’s a bit like picking roofing and home repair businesses or mortgage refinancing - you do have to ask lots of questions and do your homework.

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