Thursday, November 7, 2013


Some of our customers are surprised to learn that there are several types of termites in our neighborhood and that infestations, damage and treatments can vary greatly. So! Here is everything you ever wanted to know about termites and never dared to ask… 

Termites are small xylophagous (wood eating) insects that consume dead wood and other wood bi-products containing cellulose like cardboard, paper, laminates and other wood based composites. Like ants and bees, termites are eusocial insects with generally one queen, soldiers to defend the colony and mostly workers who forage and feed all the members of the colony. The male (or king) will die shortly after mating with the queen who will be pregnant for the remained of her life (15 to 30 years depending on specie). Soldiers and workers are all drones and the workers are the ones who actually cause wood damage, ingest the wood and feed others through regurgitation known as trophallaxis.

Termites have protozoa in their intestinal tract that allows them to digest wood cellulose. Curiously, they are not born with these protozoa in their gut, but acquire it through feeding from others. Lab research has shown that termites without protozoa will die of starvation, even when fed wood cellulose.

What Are Termite Swarms?
In addition to the queen, king, soldiers and workers, and once the colony is big and mature enough, some of the colony members will grow sexual organs and wings to become winged reproductive males and females also known as Alates (future kings and queens). Once fully developed, they will patiently wait for the perfect time to fly or swarm. Their sole purpose during the swarm is to mate and start a new colony. Swarmers will be fed by workers until the swarm occurs and they will not feed during the swarm. Termite alates swarm in large numbers, as their chances of survival are quite small. Most will fall prey to predators (birds, other insects, spiders, lizards, frogs, etc.), many will die of dehydration or exhaustion in the wrong environment before they can mate, and the few lucky ones to find a mate may not find a suitable place to start a colony. Yet in spite of insurmountable odds, some do survive to start new colonies.

Swarms occur several times a year between early spring and late fall. Customers often ask if swarming termites sting or bite; But termites do not have any biting or stinging mouth parts, do not feed on blood and are not interested in human or pet skin. Termites aren’t even interested in live trees and only feed on dead wood. The good news is that they do not carry nasty virus or bacterial diseases like some rodents or blood-sucking insects (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and bed bugs to name a few). They are even picky on their choice of wood and will favor softer sappier pinewood over hardwood, younger redwood or cedar. They will avoid the hardest and driest old-growth redwood.

Subterranean termite swarmers are small (1/4 to 3/8th of an inch) and black with see-through wings.
Drywood termite swarmers are medium (1/2 to 5/8th of an inch) and maroon with see through wings.
 Dampwood termite swarmers are large (3/4 to 1 inch) and brown with a red/orange head and brown see through wings.

Where do Termites Come From?
Termites dating back to the cretaceous period (125 million years ago) have been excavated, and well-preserved termites were found in amber (fossilized tree sap) in the Baltics. In entomology, termites belong to the Isoptera order and according to Cornell University; there are 2761 known species of termites. Termites are indigenous to warmer climates and depending of the specie, colonies can have millions of members and several queens with secondary colonies. Termites have a place in our ecosystem by braking down dead trees and returning them as carbon rich nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately termites don’t distinguish dead trees from lumber and are pests when they infest structures. The word “termite” comes from Latin "termes" and from Greek "tetranien", meaning "a worm eating wood".

In the US, Termites are present in most coastal and southern states:
a)      The most popular is the Subterranean termite with several species depending on the location
b)      The Drywood termite found in southern states from Virginia to California
c)      The Formosan termite found in coastal areas from North Carolina to southern Texas and Hawaii
d)      The Dampwood termite found in the southwest, pacific coast states, Florida and Hawaii

In Northern California the three most common and indigenous species of termites are: Subterranean, Drywood and Dampwood termites. Each has a different pattern of infestation, different frass or debris and require different treatments, the details of which are explained below.

Subterranean Termites:
Common in California is the Western Subterranean Termite (Reticultermes Hesperus). These termites nest in the ground and infest wood below & above ground (debris, fences and structures). It is a common misconception that termites do not eat redwood or cedar. They favor softer woods like douglas fir and poplar, they will eat any and all dead wood that is to their liking. Because redwood and cedar have a red tannin with a bitter taste, termites will avoid it when the wood is recently cut. But with time the tannin and bitter taste will dissipate and termite will eventually eat redwood and cedar. Additionally, termites prefer softer sappier wood to harder denser fibers and knots in the wood. This is why it is rear to find them in old growth redwood.

Research from UC Riverside and UC Berkeley has shown that Subterranean Termites will travel long distances, leaving trails of pheromones as markers for colony members to reach the food source. Though they don’t travel long distance at once, they pass the foraged food from one termite to another until it reaches the nest where most colony members and the queen live. Termite drones, workers and soldiers, and the queen are generally whitish or cream colored, which is why they are sometimes called “white ants”. They are cryptobiotic, meaning they live in a dark and enclosed environment with a specific humidity and temperature. That is why they build mud tubes, against foundations, posts and sometimes free standing, to reach the food source.

Treatment entails injecting a registered termiticide in soil in areas of infestation and around the exterior perimeter of the structure. Marin Termite uses minimal impact Altriset or Termidor termiticides and provides a 5-year warranty against re-infestations of subterranean termites with complete perimeter treatments. Both Altriset and Termidor are water based products that are odorless, colorless and tasteless termiticide and attract termites without impacting the soil, plants or emanating any smell, vapors or fumes. Other termiticides like borate based TimBor or Boracare and orange oil are not used for subterranean termite treatments as they are ineffective against subterranean termites and toxic to plants. Subterranean termites will often swarm on warm days following a rainfall from early spring to early fall.

Drywood Termites:
Indigenous to California, the Bay Area and Marin County, the Pacific Dark Western Drywood Termite (Incistermes Minor) from the Kalotermitidae family is generally found infesting the warmer side of structures. Unlike their subterranean cousins, the whole colony, queen, soldiers and workers, all live within the infested wood members without any ground contacts. Drywood termites infest the structure aerially by flying into cracks and crevices or vents. Drywood termites swarm in hot static weather in the summer or early fall (Indian summer). As their name indicates, they favor a hotter and drier environment with certain air moisture content often found near coastal areas. In Marin County, they are most often found near Tiburon, Sausalito, Stinson Beach, Bolinas and Point Reyes, but also occasionally infest other areas.

Drywood termites carve galleries within the wood members producing fecal pellets that are stored in some areas. When Drywood Termite workers decide do some “spring cleaning” they clear some of the galleries by carving a kick-out hole on the surface of the wood through which they expel the pellets then re-plugging the holes with pellets. When this happens in wall voids, attics or crawlspaces, the infestation may remain undetected until it is exposed or discovered. Sometimes, the pellets are expelled into living areas though the sheetrock, door or window trims or from open beam ceilings. For small infestations, a local treatment consists in injecting infested wood members with Termidor termiticide and treating topically the infested wood with a borate termiticide (TimBor or BoraCare). Other termiticides such as Premise 75, Optigard-ZT, XT-2000 orange oil are less succesful and are often used with Termidor and/or TimBor or BoraCare. For larger infestations or inaccessible areas like attics and ceilings, the structure needs to be tented and fumigated with Sulfuryl Fluoride fumigant such as Vikane or Zythor.

Dampwood Termites:
Indigenous to Northern California, Oregon and Southern Washington states, the Pacific Dampwood (or Rottenwood) Termite (Zootermopsis Angusticollis) is one of the largest varieties of termites on the planet at 30 millimeters with wings. This variety of termite requires a higher moisture concentration to infest wood members and are most often found in fallen trees and stumps in the forest and by water sources (creeks, streams, ponds, rivers, lakes).

Occasionally they infest homes with plumbing leaks (toilets, showers, kitchen and laundry rooms) or with wet faulty grade such as built-up planters and exterior soil grade against wood siding. We also find them in areas of moisture intrusion like below leaking roofs, skylights, faulty flashing at windows, doors and exterior siding.

Treatment includes removing the moisture source and water proofing areas of infestation as well as treating with a borate based fungicide/termiticide like TimBor or BoraCare. Dampwood termites swarm in early to late fall shortly before sunset because it is the warmest time of day. They are big and attracted to lights like most insects and are often found caught in spider webs near outside lights on indoors if any windows, doors or skylights are slightly open.

How Can I Prevent Termite Infestations?
Since termites are indigenous to California, the best we can do is to deter them from infesting our homes:
a)      Keeping crawlspaces clean and free of moisture and debris
b)      Fix any plumbing, roof, window and door leaks
c)      Lower soil grades to avoid earthwood contacts with 3 inch clearance between soil and wood
d)      Keeping the exterior of the house well sealed, painted or stained
e)      Don’t store wood piles, compost and other wood bi-products in subarea or against the house
f)        Don’t build planter beds against the house and adjust sprinklers to avoid spraying the building

And have a periodic inspection every 3 to 4 years. It is long enough for a trained professional to detect infestations and not too long for termites to cause substantial structural damage. A limited inspection and a treatment is less costly than extensive structural damage found after many years of infestation.

For more information, call us at (415) 456-9620 and check our website at

Thursday, April 4, 2013


A fumigation is the process of tenting and saturating an item (mattress, furniture, food, etc.) or structure (building, boat, railroad car, truck, silo, etc.) with a fumigant, commonly called a gas, to eradicate infestations.

In some instances infestations (drywood termites, beetles, bed bugs, etc) can be so widespread or extend into inaccessible areas that a local treatment is no longer feasible or even possible.  Since year 2000 Sufuryl fluoride has been used to replace methyl bromide. Sufuryl Fluoride is a true gas, not a mist, vapor, powder or suspension. The gas is used to replace the oxygen in the item or structure and asphyxiate the target insects.

Larkspur City Hall & Fire Department
Each year thousands of small and large fumigations occur; mattresses with bed bugs, furniture with beetles, shipping containers, railroad cars and trucks transporting food with pests, and large structures infested with drywood termites, beetles or bed bugs such as multi-unit apartment buildings, university dorms, barns and silos, warehouses, shopping centers and even public buildings like churches, schools, libraries, airports, and museums - only to name a few.

Sufuryl fluoride (SO2F2) is an inert fumigant gas commonly used because it easily penetrates wood members to reach into inaccessible areas where insects live and feed. When fumigating the structure, the treatment reaches into every areas and wood members of the structure (attics, walls and floors) killing all target insects.

Pros and Cons of Fumigation
The biggest pro of a fumigation is that it is a sure kill to all areas and since this is a true gas that is lighter than air, there is no residual effect on the fumigated structure or its content. The fact that there is no residual effect is a great advantage, whether it is crops or structures, but it is also its greatest short coming as once the fumigation is completed, there is nothing keeping pests from re-infesting the structure or its contents.

But fumigation has cons too: It is a costly process that requires vacating the structure for several days. The length of the fumigation will vary depending on the insect to be eradicated:  1 to 2 days for bed bugs, 3 days for drywood termites and 5 days for beetles. The cost and dose of the fumigant used will also vary with different insect infestations: 1 dose for drywood termites, 3 doses for bed bugs, 10 doses for beetles. Fumigation is more costly and inconvenient than local treatments, as the structure to be fumigated will require preparation.

The Process
Single Family Home in Point Reyes
Prior to fumigation, owners and occupants must do some preparation to the structure: Removing pets, plants, medicine, food and opened containers, as well as trimming plants and disconnecting attached fences, arbors and the gas meter. Since the fumigation will lessen the oxygen content in the structure, the pilot lights must be extinguished before and re-lit after the fumigation. The fumigant is lighter than air, so before injecting the fumigant, the structure is completely sealed with tarps (tenting), which contains the fumigant in the building so it penetrates wood members and kills the insects (termites, beetles, bedbugs, etc.). Once the fumigant is injected, the building remains sealed for 12 to 72 hours depending the infestation, building, location and job complexity. Large visible warning signs are posted around the building to notify people to keep out.

On the last day before removing the tarps, the structure is aerated by opening vent traps in the tarps. Fans are used to clear the building of the fumigant and restore the natural air environment. Once thoroughly aerated, a state licensed fumigator measures the level of any remaining fumigant to ensure it meets the strict EPA requirements before re-entry.  The gas will not be reconnected until the building is cleared for re-occupancy by a state licensed fumigator.

Are there any alternatives?
Other attempts have been made in the past to find alternatives to fumigation. Among them are: Heat, freezing, microwave and non-pesticide injections. All these options have advantages, limitations and drawbacks.

Heating: Lab test have shown that high heat does kill termites effectively. A heat treatment consists in bringing the core of infested wood members in a home or wall to 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (45-50 Celsius) for at least 35 minutes to an hour. The home is tented and heated until all wood members achieve the desired temperature. The treatment is very effective in a controlled environment but heat can cause damage to many components (plastics wiring, ABS drain lines, PVC pipes, vinyl windows, roof shingles, etc.) commonly found in structures and to heat sensitive furniture and belongings. Additionally, with today’s increasing price of energy, the associated cost has become less attractive than other treatments and this method is now seldom used except in a controlled environment like kiln dried lumber or crops that can be heated.

Freezing: A Freezing treatment consists in lowering the temperature in the core of the infested wood members to below freezing to kill termites. Sometimes used locally, it is not practical for entire structures as too many components can be damaged by the cold (plumbing pipes, windows, skylights, electronics, lighting, occupant belonging, etc.). Quite successful in test labs but impractical and costly in the real world, it is no longer used except in very controlled environments for smaller items.

Microwaving: Microwave treatment consists in mounting microwave generators on one side of a wall and a protective shield on the other side, then bombarding the wood members for a specific period of time. This has to be done one stud at a time and is limited to areas without metal parts such electrical wiring, plumbing, ducting, etc.). Though efficient in controlled lab environments, it is ineffective in areas that are inaccessible and is nowadays seldom used and not cost effective compared to local chemical treatments.

Bio-Control: Bio-Control or “non-toxic” local treatments have also been attempted using nematodes (microscopic worms) injected into galleries to kill termites. But results were disappointing and this bio-controlled treatment is no longer used.

Local Termiticide Treatment/Injection
Citrus or Orange Oils: Attempts have been made with citrus terpene such as orange oil. But results are disappointing, less reliable and orange oil treatments are often used in conjunction with other longer lasting termiticide treatments. Marin Termite Control has used orange oil in the past but treatments are less effective than other termiticides like TimBor, BoraCare and Termidor. Orange oil has become more a marketing gimmick than a dependable solution to eradicate termites and wood boring beetles (see our blog on orange oil treatments).

Borate Based Insecticides:Borate based inorganic material has proven successful; however this is type of treatment is only effective on small localized infestations. Marin Termite Control has used borates such as TimBor (disodium octaborate tetrahydrate) and still uses it against wood boring beetle infestations. However, since its interior approval in 2005, we have observed a greater success rate with the use of Termidor termiticide injections for local treatments against Drywood termites. 
Why Sufuryl Fluoride, and not Methyl Bromide?
Methyl Bromide (MeBr) is an odorless colorless gas that has been used extensively in the past as a fumigant against pest infestation. However, past studies and scientists have shown that methyl bromide contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer and the product has been phased out in the US and many other countries since 2000. It has also been observed that Sufuryl Fluoride penetrates and dissipates through wall coverings and wood members better than methyl bromide, leaving the fumigated structure with even less fumigant than methyl bromide.

How do we know when it is safe to return?
Tenting Before Fumigation
The state licensed fumigator will check every room, closet and space for any remaining gas in the structure. Once cleared, the licensed fumigator will post a notice of Re-Occupancy at the front of your building indicating the day and time for safe re-entry. Structures can only be re-occupied when concentration of fumigant is less than 1 part per million, this includes a considerable safety margin. Tests have shown that exposure to 100 parts per million presented no adverse affects on subjects. Fumigants are a true gas, not a vapor, leave no residue and aeration is rapid. Studies show that, in most structures, less than 1 part per million remain after tarp removal and no detectable levels of fumigant within 24 hours after aeration.

What are the problems associated with fumigation?
Fumigations are more costly and inconvenient than localized treatments. The item or structure to be fumigated must be vacated for several days depending on the infestation. It is also more labor and material intensive and has a higher cost of treatment. However, fumigations are all encompassing treatment and come with a warranty against re-infestation depending on the insect. When the whole structure is treated, all target insects are killed, even the undetected and unreachable ones. This is particularly critical if more than one colony has infested the structure.

Fumigation is hard on the house and adjacent landscape. No doubt about it. Unfortunately, as careful as fumigators try to be, workmen walking around and tarping a structure may take a toll on plants, landscaping and roof shingles. We use reputable fumigators that are thoroughly trained and experienced to keep disturbance and interference to an absolute minimum. The vast majority of homes we fumigate, experience no damage.   

What about other residue & side effects?
Tented Multi-Unit Condominium
Understandably most people are weary when a gas is used in their home. Sufuryl fluoride, used since 1961, is non-flammable, non-corrosive, odorless and leaves no residue. Sufuryl fluoride is lighter than air, and after your house is thoroughly vented and tested by a state certified professional, the little fumigant that may remain in wall voids and attics will dissipate up into the atmosphere just as quickly as it penetrated the structure to eliminate drywood termites. Over a million buildings have been fumigated with Sufuryl fluoride. Many homes are fumigated each month with no problems. All precautions are taken to ensure not only your safety, but also ours and that of our inspectors and experienced crew members.

What preparations should be done to the house?
When a fumigation schedule is requested and a date is set, Marin Termite and the fumigation crew will provide you with printed instructions including a preparation checklist including a list of items to remove from the structure before the set fumigation date. Additionally, we remain available to answer questions via phone (415-456-9620)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Ads and marketing campaigns from large companies tout orange oil as a “green”, “organic” or “safe” alternative against termites. But is it truly effective against termites or just another marketing ploy? Is orange oil truly a green and organic product that is safer than others? How does it compare to other treatments and is it reliable?

History and Facts: Since the fifties the rind acid of citrus is mechanically, steam or chemically extracted to produce d-Limonene (C10H16), a hydrocarbon oil (terpene) also found in conifer trees and some other plants. Orange oil extract (OOE) is not a comestible product and should not be confused with orange juice. OOE is used as a fragrance, solvent, degreaser and dispersing agent in products like candles, paint stripper, detergents, cleaners, shampoo and sprays. In most insecticides citrus oil has been used as a mild repellent against fleas, mites and ticks. Since the 80s d-Limonene has been added as a fragrance ingredient in mild pest repellents againt ants, mosquitoes, spiders and other common household insects.

Is Orange Oil Organic, Green & Safe?  d-Limonene is extracted from the skin of various citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.) generally used for oils, enhancers and extracts and most likely from non-organic produce due to lower cost. Unless it is made exclusively from organic produce, orange oil would not qualify for the “Organic” label we expect on our local fruit stands. As a rind bi-product, d-Limonene would seem like a green and safe product. However orange oil is highly acidic and can cause skin and eye irriation and damage, it is flammable and should be use cautiously, and its vapors can cause respiratory problems. The MSDS for d-Limonene requires use of protective gear including goggles and oil compatible nitril gloves, clothing and a breathing mask suited for oil fumes to prevent skin, eye and respiratory injury. Orange oil is a powerful acidic product that should not be used on plastics, painted or laquered surfaces including hardwood floors, painted trim and baseboards, vinyl surfaces, wallpapers and cloth wall or floor coverings to prevent damage. It is not advised to use orange oil on crops unless diluted as the acidity of d-Limonene may damage plants.
Orange Oil and Termites – Separating Facts From Fiction: In early 2000 d-Limonene was once again revived and heavily marketed with the backing of Florida University researchers and big financial investors under a new exclusive name. Ads showing children drinking orange juice suggest that orange oil is as natural and safe as eating oranges. But orange juice is not to be confused with orange oil, which is acidic and a strong skin and eye irritant against pets and humans. These ads try to attract as many customers as possible and do not mention that orange oil is not effective against all types of termites and that the best results from research show limited effectiveness against drywood termites, the target pest of orange oil treatments.

Orange Oil and Termite Treatments: Lab test and results from UC Berkeley, Davis and Riverside's Entomology Departments show that d-Limonene has a short life of only a few days after application. It lacks the required residual effect to effectively kill and prevent whole drywood termite colonies from surviving the treatment and re-infesting the treated wood members. Unlike other chemical treatment against Drywood Termites, it is critical that orange oil reaches each and every termite in the colony or the colony may survive. Unfortunately no current technology can tell if all termites have been killed at time of treatment, so most companies treating with orange oil also recommend using another residual termiticide such as Tim-Bor, Bora-Care or Termidor to leave a long term residual effect that orange oil does not provide.



Percent Death

After 3 Months

Type of Insecticide
Transfer Effect Between Termites
Residual Effect After Treatment
Termidor-SC (Fipronil)
BoraCare/TimBor (Sodium Borate)
Optigard-ZT (Thiametoxam)
XT-2000 (d-Limonene)
Premise 75 (Imidacloprid)
SOURCE: Dr. Vernard Lewis, UC Berkeley & Dr. Michael Rust, UC Riverside – 2009

Orange Oil vs. Fumigation:  After some companies claimed that orange oil treatments were similar or better than fumigation treatments, the California Structural Pest Control Board reminded pest management professionals not to confuse and misinform customers: “orange oil is another localized treatment tool…against the elusive drywood termite. It is not an alternative to all-encompassing methods of treatment” such as fumigations. Like Termidor, BoraCare and Tim-Bor, orange oil treatment entails injection or surface treatment of wood members. Sulfuryl fluoride fumigation is best for complete eradication of large infestations or to inaccessible areas where a local treatment is not feasible. Fumigation has been extensively researched and effectively used for decades with strict procedures and specific control safety measures reviewed and supervised by Structural Pest Control Board, EPA and Department of Pesticide Regulation. Every year, thousands of residential and commercial structures, freight railroad cars and trucks, food silo and storage depots are fumigated under strict supervision against termites, beetles, rodents and other food born pests. Fumigation is always considered a last result option and may be the only solution for large and widespread infestations where local treatments are not technically or financial feasible.We will discuss the pros and cons, advantages and inconveniences or fumigation in our next blog.
Orange Oil vs. Other Termiticides: Like other plant pyrethrums or pyrethroids, orange oil is a contact insecticide. The effectiveness and smell last only a few days and has no residual effect to kill or prevent termite re-infestation like TimBor. Orange oil does not have a transfer effect between termites like Termidor-SC or Altriset (non-repellent), and the scent of orange oil can be detected by termites who will avoid it. Given analysis and results, we recommend treatment with Termidor, BoraCare or TimBor for a more effective and lasting treatment, even when using orange oil as an insecticide.

Orange Oil & Health Hazards: Orange Oil can stain wall coverings and hardwood flooring and should be applied carefully. The volatile citrus oil is a repellent to many pets and can cause some humans and pets to experience allergies and breathing difficulties to asthmatics and citrus allergic subjects with Pantothenic Acid (or Vitamin B-5) deficiency. Though it is the product of citrus peels that may seems less toxic, 92% d-Limonene (orange oil) is a very acidic product that can cause severe skin and eye damage and it is still not approved as a retail pesticide, even after more than 10 years of research from the IPCS and EPA. Chemical treatments with orange oil require protective gear to prevent injury and should not be used without precaution. Diluted orange oil types of pesticides for gardening are available as mild repellents. In doubt, consult your doctor before treatment, tell your pest operator of allergies you may have to avoid reactions, always follow the label direction and always wear protective gear.

Conclusion: In spite of its ”green and eco-friendly" marketing appeal, orange oil is not as effective or long lasting against drywood termites as other termiticides like TimBor, BoraCare and Termidor-SC. Depending on the accessibility and size of the infestation, we apply local treatments using one or several reliable termiticides to combat and eradicate Drywood Termite infestations. 

For more information from one of our Licensed Inspectors or to have your home inspected call us at (415) 456-9620