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Termite tenting or termite fumigation is a process whereby a structure, such as a house, is completely covered with a sealed, nylon tent, then filled with a poisonous gas to eradicate drywood termites. These insects burrow into and through wood, leaving worm-like tunnels in their wake as they eat away at the structure. Left unheeded, the damage done by drywood termite colonies will eventually weaken the structure. Tenting is one way to deal with drywood termite infestation.
This extermination method is expensive and normally takes one or two days. During this time, the house is sealed off, so arrangements must be made to stay with friends, family or at a hotel. The fumigant, usually sulfuryl fluoride, is colorless, odorless, and leaves no residue, but left long enough, it penetrates the pours of wood, killing resident termites.
Preparation for termite tenting includes removing pets, fish tanks and bowls, and all living plants from the house beforehand. Food and medicine must be sealed in special plastic bags, sometimes provided by the fumigator service, or the items can be removed from the house. There might also be special instructions regarding mattresses or pillows that are wrapped in waterproofed covers. These items might need to be removed from their covers or removed from the house.
Outdoor shrubs and plants should be cleared along the perimeter of the house to create a walkway for workers and to allow tenting to reach the ground. A homeowner might need to remove a plank or two from fences that meet the house if a gate isn’t nearby. The ground bordering the house should be soaked to keep the fumigant from entering the soil and affecting plants. Rooftop antennas will need to be taken down, along with weather vanes and certain kinds of chimney caps.
Once the house is tented and sealed, lethal gas is pumped into the interior. Fans, provided by the termite service, are left running inside to circulate the gas, allowing it to seep through the structure, even killing colonies hidden inside walls. After a period of time, the service removes the tenting, airs out the house, and tests the quality of the air with sensing instruments. When safe, owners are allowed to return.
Termite tenting is extremely effective against killing drywood termites. The gas does not effect eggs, but when nymphs emerge, there will be no worker termites to feed them and they will quickly die.
Despite the effectiveness of this form of extermination, it has drawbacks. It does not prevent new infestation, and the moment the house is safe enough for residents, it’s safe for new termites. Termite tenting also does not kill subterranean termites that might be located at the foundation of the home, living in the soil and lower extremities of the structure. Many people also dislike the idea of poisonous gas penetrating everything in the house, including carpeting, furniture materials, clothes, bedding, and so on, and environmentalists point to the obvious negative in releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.
As people have become more concerned about insecticides and fumigants in general, there has been a push towards developing new, non-poisonous controls. Some alternate methods include freezing termites though pumping infected wood with liquid nitrogen; using a microwave generator unit to blast infected wood with radio waves, overheating moisture in the termites’ cell membranes; and firing a pulsating 90,000-volt shockwave through wood with an electrogun, electrocuting the insects.
Cost, hassle, and environmental issues aside, termite tenting isn’t always justified; often, spot-treatment can do the trick. Tent fumigation should be reserved as a last resort, saved for jobs with such heavy infestation that no other method is practical. In some places, however, it is required before selling a house to guarantee it is free of drywood termites for the incoming buyer.