Kitchener-Waterloo

Mild winter gives termites something to chew on in Waterloo Region

Termites are generally dormant in the winter, but the milder temperatures this year means they've been feasting all year-round.

Several areas in the region affected by wood-eating pests

A milder winter has meant that termites have been feasting on wet wood in some Waterloo Region homes all winter long, one expert says.

The warmer temperatures and moisture in the environment are ideal winter conditions for termites, Eric James, a termite specialist with Orkin Canada, told CBC News in an interview. Normally, cold winter weather drives them underground and they are dormant until spring.

While the Laurentian Hills neighbourhood in Kitchener has been battling the pests for a few years now, there are also other spots in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph where termites are being found.

"You get older areas up there (in Guelph) or even around Kitchener … termites get introduced in the first place and then they'll just start to spread," James said.

'All of a sudden' they'll find damage

Most people won't see termites, but instead will see the damage caused by the whitish-yellow insects or will spot frass, also known as termite poop.

"In people's homes, they might … open up a wall and all of a sudden they'll find all the damage, or they might find the termites in there," James said.

Frass often appears in a pile and can vary in colour.

Sawdust on the floor isn't actually a sign of termites but instead a sign of carpenter ants, while a "brown flour" type of substance is more likely from a different insect, according to James. 

Another sign of termites are mud tubes that appear to climb up the foundation of a house or building.

The average colony eats about five grams of wood a day. Not much, James said, but homes often have several colonies.

Get rid of wood underneath the ground

To avoid termites, the first step is to clean up wood that is touching the ground on your property, James said.

"The biggest thing is making sure you don't have wood underneath the ground," he said. "They like the damp wood, so if you had wood under a house ...  like (in) a crawl space ... once they get through that dampness they're going to quit looking for other stuff."

He said cottages, particularly in the Kincardine area, are often hard-hit by the pest because the buildings don't have foundations.

In Guelph, the city has been battling termites for years and in 2013, inspected more than 450 homes close to the downtown. In 2014, another 300 homes and the River Run Centre were checked.

James said Guelph requires new housing developments to pretreat the area around a house's foundation before they backfill around it as an added layer of protection.

"It does help," he said.

Anyone who suspects they have termites should call a professional exterminator and report it to the municipality, although Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo do not keep track of addresses where the insects have been found.

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