If you own a home in Florida, it probably contains wood components. If it does, then you need to know about wood-destroying organisms and options for protecting your home.

This primer is aimed at Florida homeowners who want termite protection, but aren’t dealing with an emergency situation.

Unlike some pest problems, termites can’t be handled effectively with a do-it-yourself approach. You need professional help. As with any professional service you might seek, it’s a good idea to become an informed consumer before you pay for termite treatment.

Pest-management expert Faith Oi, an associate Extension scientist with the UF Entomology and Nematology Department, offers these 10 tips:

  1. Educate yourself about the four main types of wood-destroying organisms in Florida: subterranean termites, drywood termites, wood-destroying beetles and wood-destroying fungi. Subterranean termites cause far more damage than the other three, so we’ll focus on them here.
  2. Homeowners can discourage subterranean termites, wood-destroying fungi and some wood-destroying beetles by eliminating moisture around wooden building components, and avoiding the use of construction materials that wick water into the walls. Eliminate any sources of standing water beside the house. You should also rake mulch away from exterior walls, and keep all landscaping plants and design elements at least 12 inches from exterior walls Keep at least 6 inches of space between the ground and all exterior stucco, siding and wood components. Fix leaks in roofs, interior pipes and outdoor faucets as soon as they are noticed. If you have a sprayer attachment on your garden hose, turn off the faucet when the sprayer is not in use, because the faucet may drip otherwise.
  3. It’s difficult to guard against drywood termite infestations. Prevent access by screening vents and openings in soffits. Have regular inspections done. If you have a serious drywood termite infestation, fumigation is an excellent option. Some of the wood-destroying beetles prefer dry wood as well. Early detection is key to halting infestations before they grow severe – some tell-tale signs of beetles and drywood termites include blistering or warping on wood paneling, small holes in wood components, and the presence of dust-like material or tiny, barrel-shaped pellets near holes or crevices in wood.
  4. Florida has an enormous amount of subterranean termite activity. These insects thrive in our warm environment, and Florida has become home to several invasive species that can cause significant damage in a shorter period of time, compared with native subterranean termites. Subterranean termite protection should be high on your list of home-maintenance priorities.
  5. The more wood in your home, the greater the risk of subterranean termite damage. But keep in mind that even a home with a brick or cinder block exterior probably contains lumber in floor joists, wall studs, rafters, cabinets, furniture and personal belongings, and it’s possible for subterranean termites to infest components far from ground level, if conditions are right.
  6. Subterranean termites can find small access points to your home, such as cracks in exterior walls, cracks in the foundation, and holes where wires or pipes penetrate through walls. Openings of this type should be inspected and sealed to the extent possible.
  7. Educate yourself about termite treatment methods. Federal law prohibits arbitrary pesticide application for termites – a company can’t come out once a year to apply a barrier treatment of insecticide around your home without evidence that it’s needed. Pest-management technicians and homeowners are required by law to follow label instructions when applying pesticides.
  8. Educate yourself about termite contracts. There are three types of contracts in Florida: treatments, annual renewal and the “WDO inspection” for the purposes of a real-estate transaction.  “WDO” stands for “wood-destroying organism.” Contracts related to treatment will contain the phrases “re-treatment only,” “re-treatment with damage repair” or “no warranty.” Be aware of what type of contract you are signing. “Annual renewal” contracts are for a yearly inspection to your home. The “WDO inspection” is for the purposes of a real-estate transaction. The state of Florida requires that form 13645 be filled out for WDO inspections, so if you have this type of inspection done, be sure to ask for a copy of the form for your records.
  9. Ask friends and acquaintances or members of your local Better Business Bureau what companies they use for termite protection. Find out whether they’re happy with the services they receive, and why or why not.
  10. Before signing any contract, check the terms carefully and make sure you’re getting what you expect. Be aware that Florida termite contracts usually don’t cover every termite species, and may specifically exclude some. If there’s going to be an inspection, make sure you understand where the technician will look, and what methods will be used.

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General background on subterranean termites 

General background on drywood termites 

General background on wood-destroying beetles 

Map of termite distribution in Florida

Choosing a Licensed Wood-Destroying Organism (WDO) Inspector