To fumigate the house or not: that is the question
August 3, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

California people: what are your experiences with respect to fumigating a house for termites?

We have a small-medium sized house in Southern California (extended LA region). We had an inspection done a couple of years ago; the company found termites at several outside locations, such as the wooden frames of the roof overhangs and at the wooden patio deck in the back. Types of termites found (different types at different locations): drywood termites, "Kaloterme" drywood termites, subterranean termites. Original recommendations consisted of replacing some wooden parts, spot treating and fumigation. We had the damaged areas replaced or spot treated, but we, ah, didn't follow up after that. We really wanted to avoid fumigation.

However, 2 years later, we're having second thoughts. We think fumigation may be the right thing to do at this point, because we have to imagine that the termites weren't entirely stopped at the time and by now had to have spread. Before we go forward with tenting, though, we'd like to know more about people's opinions and experiences. Have you had fumigation done on your house? Do you think it's worth it? Do you have any thoughts to share either way?

We have reasonable trust in the company doing the inspection and work; it's not one of the big companies, but they're privately owned, been around for decades, and they were the pest control maintainer for this house under the house's previous owner. They haven't pushed fumigation on us and seem fair and sensible.
posted by StrawberryPie to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you have the company that you trust come back out and do a new inspection? There is no reason to assume that the termintes have spread further in past 2 years - since you got rid of the previous infestation, you don't know if you have more or less now unless someone looks.
posted by metahawk at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2011

My partner and I bought our house (a 1954 ranch) here in Northern California two years ago, and we had termite inspections done with all the other typical home-buying stuff. We got similar recommendations to yours: that is, to have some bits of wood replaced, spot treatment here and there, and fumigation. We ended up taking those recommendations...I can look up how much it cost later on if you want, if that's a concern at all.

But in any event, fumigation was no big deal for us, seeing as we hadn't actually moved all our stuff (or ourselves) in yet. We just slept in our old apartment for the 3 days or however long it was for the tenting and gas-dissipation. Clearly it would be a much bigger PITA to have to fumigate now, especially given we have pets (4 indoor cats and one giant goldfish in a 30-gallon aquarium) but I still plan on getting inspections done again in another 5 or so years and (if necessary) re-fumigating. It's a pain to deal with moving fish, boarding pets, removing all your exposed food and houseplants, etc., but I would take that any day over ending up with termite damage.

The thing about termites is that they like to hide in dark, difficult-to-access (by humans) places, so if you see ANY external evidence of their presence AND the house hasn't been fumigated in, say, 5-10 years you run the risk of ending up with a massive infestation that WILL damage the structure of your house in ways you can't even see until it's too late. Partner & I found loads of massive, disgusting "termite tunnels" pretty much everywhere we removed paneling in the garage to de-convert it from a family room back into garage space, and NONE of that was even remotely visible before we started ripping up walls. Of course the termites were long dead at that point due to the fumigation but still, the scale of their infrastructure was pretty astounding.
posted by aecorwin at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2011

What are your reasons for wanted to avoid fumigation?

I just had my house tented last month. Aside from the hassle of prepping the house (relocating house plants, cutting back foundation plantings outside, boarding pets and bagging or removing food), the process was a breeze. No damage was done and no smell was present when we returned.

As it's only been a month, I can't comment on the long term results but I'm no longer seeing the signs of our previous active (and ignored for a couple of years) infestation.
posted by the_shrike at 10:29 AM on August 3, 2011

Oh and the only "side effects" I saw from the fumigation were that (a) some of the shrubbery around the perimeter of the house turned brown (as it got caught under the tent) and (b) the garage and immediate yard area were weirdly devoid of bugs of ANY kind. Now we've got the usual population of garage-spiders and garden-ants, but for a few months after moving in it was almost *quieter* for the lack of creepy-crawlies. And the plants even bounced back, which surprised me, as they'd looked pretty awful.
posted by aecorwin at 10:44 AM on August 3, 2011

Best answer: I have now been through three fumigations. The first one I was like four and all it really meant to me was we got to stay in a hotel and it was awesome!

The second and third were in the house my parents bought. The second was a year or two after we moved in and the third was about 5 years after that. Our problem was the house next door was infested, like not even inhabitable kind of infested so they came back once all the wood was gone from there. The third time was after the local pest control guy bought the horrible house and tore it down (because that was really the only thing that could be done) and then tented his three neighbors' houses for cost.

But like everyone says above, as long as you have somewhere to go while it is happening it really isn't a big deal. You pack up your food and you remove anything living from the house and you have a mini vacation. It was really nice to have like no spiders or bugs of any kind for a while, I definitely remember that.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:54 PM on August 3, 2011

We had ours done a couple of years ago, and one of the nice results was that we got rid of a lingering problem with pantry moths ugh ugh ugh. The termites were out of sight/out of mind but getting rid of those awful moths was worth the price.
posted by jvilter at 3:07 PM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's comments, and especially for taking the time to write detailed accounts of your experiences!

Some answers to questions:
  • Why avoid fumigation? I guess we don't have a really reasoned argument against it, to be honest. I'm concerned about how truly safe the poisons are, after the process is done and the house is supposedly safe to live back inside, and don't have time to do in-depth research myself, so I'm left with an uneasy feeling about it. Also, I have this feeling that seeing a house tented up has some shame associated with it, so I worry about what our neighbors will think. None of that is really rational, I agree.
  • Why not have it reinspected? We should probably do that. However, since we didn't fumigate before, and the previous recommendation for some of the termites was to fumigate, I can't imagine the answer will be anything but "you're better off fumigating" again. So it seems like a waste of time and money. Nevertheless, we should rethink that.
Thank you again.
posted by StrawberryPie at 7:35 PM on August 14, 2011

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