Good fences make good neighbors, but when a termite infestation hits your neighborhood, a fence can't protect you. (If the fence is made of wood, it might even lure some of those destructive little pests onto your property!) Depending on what kind of termites are plaguing one home, it's certainly possible for them to venture out to nearby property. Your next-door neighbor's termite problem could become your problem too, but it's not guaranteed to happen.
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Termites can spread from one house to another if the homes are in close proximity or if termites are unintentionally transported via clothing or other items.
How Termites Spread
Common termites fall into one of a few categories. Some termite species live in either dry or damp wood. They create their nests within the wood and get all their nutrients there, so they don't need to leave the home or tree where they live.
Subterranean termites, however, live in the soil. They build extensive colonies and then create mud tubes that allow them to travel up to the soil's surface and infiltrate wood sources, like homes and trees. Because they can spread out and move through the soil, subterranean termites will sometimes travel from one home to a neighboring home that's nearby.
It's also possible for termites to spread through portable items, like clothing. These insects are attracted to cellulose, an organic compound found in anything with vegetative origins. This means that natural materials, such as cotton, may attract termites.
Say termites get into bags of old clothing down in your basement, but you don't notice them and move the bags to the basement in your new home. The termites could breed and infest your new home. Store out-of-season clothing and other fabric items in latching storage boxes to minimize the chance of that happening. Also, carefully inspect wooden items before moving them from one home to another. The free wooden swing set that you found at someone's curb could be sheltering termites that make themselves at home in your yard.
Preventing Termite Spread
If your neighbor has a termite problem, it's not automatically an indication that you're next, but it's definitely time to make your home inhospitable to these insects.
First, walk all around the outside of your home and look for cracks in the foundation. Termites can't invade solid concrete, but they can fit through even tiny gaps. Closing those gaps makes it harder for them to get in. Also, look for places where wood meets soil and try to create space between them. If you have wooden pallets or scrap wood laying around by your home, move them off the ground. Sweep mulch away from your foundation, creating a barrier of at least a foot of space. Otherwise, termites drawn to these wooden chips might move straight into your home.
Controlling moisture is important too. Termites love damp spaces, so address any leaks right away. Make sure your sprinkler heads aren't pointing at the home's foundation and that other water sources (like your gutter's downspout) are directed away from the foundation. Finally, learn to identify termite damage vs. wood rot so you can act quickly if there is any termite activity around your home.
Managing a Termite Outbreak
So, you've spotted mud tubes on your foundation, or you've seen termites swarming near a doorjamb. What next? Once you're confident that you do have termites, you can try several DIY termite-killing remedies. One method involves spreading diatomaceous earth throughout any area in which you see signs of termite activity. It's made of fossilized algae and is safe to use around kids and pets, but termites will die when they walk through it. Another popular option is to use a borax termite treatment. There are also commercially made termite-killing products available.
These methods may eliminate a minor termite population or slow the spread, but they aren't necessarily a substitution for professional treatment. Left alone, termites can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage and leave your foundation dangerously weakened. Contact a pest removal agency as soon as you see signs of termite activity around your home.