If there’s one place to be in the termite-control business, Charleston is it. There are two kinds of houses here, experts say: those that have termite damage and those that will get it.
Formosan termites, among the Holy City’s most unwelcome residents, chewed their way into the headlines again recently when their destructive menace was discovered at Bethel United Methodist Church in downtown Charleston. Officials closed the doors to the 1852 Greek Revival church until experts determine how much damage the tiny timber-eaters have done and how it can be fixed.
The termite’s appetite for destruction is such that more than 130 licensed termite-control firms are in the Charleston area, among about 850 statewide, and there appears to be plenty of business to go around.
As the region has grown, so has the industry. What once was considered a one-man-band profession, in which many operators worked out of their cars, now large corporations such as Terminix and Orkin are on the scene. The latter started as a one-man operation more than 100 years ago and grew like, well, termites, into a company with 8,000 employees in more than 400 locations.
There’s even a local trade group called the Greater Charleston Pest Control Association.
Randy Bishop, owner of Allpro Pest Management Inc. and past president of the association, said property owners never should underestimate the mites’ might.
Bishop said he has seen property damage ranging from $10,000 to $30,000. In extreme cases, it’s sometimes more cost-effective to pull a house down and rebuild. He’s even seen termites devour clothes, books and shoes.
To termites, food is food. “They don’t know and they don’t care,” Bishop said.
Those who work in the industry have learned not to be surprised by anything. It’s not the bugs you can see that are the worry, experts say, it’s the ones you can’t see that cause the problems.
Termites often are called the “silent destroyer” because they hide and thrive in basements or attics without immediate signs of damage.
While each termite species thrives in different climates and eats different types of food, all termites require four staples to survive: food, moisture, shelter and an optimal temperature. All homes, regardless of their construction type, can provide ideal conditions for termite infestation.
Ultimately, prevention is better than cure, experts say.
“A lot of people gamble and don’t have their homes treated because they can’t see” the damage termites can cause, said Steve Surface of Superior Pest Control.
In Goose Creek last week, Surface finished treating a newly purchased home that at first glance looked untouched by the bugs. But as the new owner started to take a closer look, evidence of unwelcome tenants was clear to see: Termites had eaten through door frames and behind baseboards that skirted at least two rooms on the first floor. A door frame to the home’s garage was “hanging off the hinges,” Surface said.
The brick-built home stood on a concrete slab, a type of construction that leads many owners to believe they’re safe from the unwelcome visitors, Surface said. But almost all walls are built using timber studs, and the mites easily can squeeze through a gap just 1/32 of an inch wide in the quest for food.
Expansion joints in concrete, particularly where the main house meets a garage or addition, and floor and wall openings for plumbing and other utilities, often provide easy access.
No one is safe, Surface said.
“Termites are blind, and they never sleep,” he said.
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