Pick Your Poison: Common Treatment Options

Until recently, the only way to get rid of termites was with nasty toxic pesticides, many of which are now banned or being phased out. Today's chemicals are safer — some even approved for homeowners to apply — although they don't last as long.

Baits
Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites
How It Works: Termites take pesticide from in-ground stations buried around the house and carry it back to the nest. Eventually the entire colony dies. Professionally installed baits are monitored monthly during an infestation and four times a year after that.
Pros: No poisons or drilling in the house. Uses little pesticide, which remains in a tamper-resistant container. Can protect inaccessible areas.
Cons: May take months to work. Termites can infest a house before finding bait. DIY versions lack the reliable monitoring and more effective baits of pro systems.
Cost: About $1,200-$2,800 to install, plus about $250-$350 for annual follow-up inspection

Borates:
Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites (also carpenter ants, many wood-boring beetles, and rot fungi)
How It Works: Operator sprays exposed bare wood with a boron solution or fills enclosed wall cavities with boron-laced foam. Not toxic to people and most mammals.
Pros: Provides permanent protection. Doesn't smell or change the look of wood. Easy for homeowners to apply.
Cons: Take weeks to work. Hard to reach exposed wood in existing houses. May leach out if wood contacts soil.
Cost: About $800-$1,500 for pro treatment. About $15 for 1-lb. bag (treats 200 square feet)

Spot Injection:
Targets: All termites
How It Works: Operator drills into wood or cavities where termites are feeding or nesting, then applies a foam or liquid pesticide. Generally used in conjunction with other treatments.
Pros: Confines pesticide to the places it's most needed. Works quickly.
Cons: Can miss areas where termites are active. Holes need patching after treatment.
Cost: About $250 and up

Fumigation:
Targets: Drywood termites (and many wood-boring beetles)
How It Works: Operator tents the entire house with tarps and injects poison gas. Look for fumigators who use sulfuryl flouride, which, unlike its predecessor methyl bromide, doesn't deplete the ozone layer and leaves little residue and no odor.
Pros: Usually 100 percent effective.
Cons: Family and pets must move out for two nights; food and medicines must be bagged. Offers no residual protection.
Cost: About $750-$2,000

Soil Drench:
Targets: Subterranean and Formosan termites
How It Works: Operator pumps a continuous chemical barrier into soil around and under the house. Repellent pesticides only keep termites away. More costly nonrepellents can kill the entire colony.
Pros: Works fast. Protects for at least 5 years.
Cons: Uses many gallons of pesticide. May affect nearby wells and waterways. Repellents leave a smell temporarily.
Cost: About $800-$1,500 plus about 10 percent of initial cost for annual renewal and inspection

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