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What Is Termite Tenting?

Termite tenting takes a couple of days to treat an entire house.
Termites can cause structural damage if left untreated.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Termite tenting or termite fumigation is a process whereby a structure, such as a house, is completely covered with a sealed, nylon tent, then filled with a poisonous gas to eradicate drywood termites. These insects burrow into and through wood, leaving worm-like tunnels in their wake as they eat away at the structure. Left unheeded, the damage done by drywood termite colonies will eventually weaken the structure. Tenting is one way to deal with drywood termite infestation.

This extermination method is expensive and normally takes one or two days. During this time, the house is sealed off, so arrangements must be made to stay with friends, family or at a hotel. The fumigant, usually sulfuryl fluoride, is colorless, odorless, and leaves no residue, but left long enough, it penetrates the pours of wood, killing resident termites.

Preparation for termite tenting includes removing pets, fish tanks and bowls, and all living plants from the house beforehand. Food and medicine must be sealed in special plastic bags, sometimes provided by the fumigator service, or the items can be removed from the house. There might also be special instructions regarding mattresses or pillows that are wrapped in waterproofed covers. These items might need to be removed from their covers or removed from the house.

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Outdoor shrubs and plants should be cleared along the perimeter of the house to create a walkway for workers and to allow tenting to reach the ground. A homeowner might need to remove a plank or two from fences that meet the house if a gate isn’t nearby. The ground bordering the house should be soaked to keep the fumigant from entering the soil and affecting plants. Rooftop antennas will need to be taken down, along with weather vanes and certain kinds of chimney caps.

Once the house is tented and sealed, lethal gas is pumped into the interior. Fans, provided by the termite service, are left running inside to circulate the gas, allowing it to seep through the structure, even killing colonies hidden inside walls. After a period of time, the service removes the tenting, airs out the house, and tests the quality of the air with sensing instruments. When safe, owners are allowed to return.

Termite tenting is extremely effective against killing drywood termites. The gas does not effect eggs, but when nymphs emerge, there will be no worker termites to feed them and they will quickly die.

Despite the effectiveness of this form of extermination, it has drawbacks. It does not prevent new infestation, and the moment the house is safe enough for residents, it’s safe for new termites. Termite tenting also does not kill subterranean termites that might be located at the foundation of the home, living in the soil and lower extremities of the structure. Many people also dislike the idea of poisonous gas penetrating everything in the house, including carpeting, furniture materials, clothes, bedding, and so on, and environmentalists point to the obvious negative in releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.

As people have become more concerned about insecticides and fumigants in general, there has been a push towards developing new, non-poisonous controls. Some alternate methods include freezing termites though pumping infected wood with liquid nitrogen; using a microwave generator unit to blast infected wood with radio waves, overheating moisture in the termites’ cell membranes; and firing a pulsating 90,000-volt shockwave through wood with an electrogun, electrocuting the insects.

Cost, hassle, and environmental issues aside, termite tenting isn’t always justified; often, spot-treatment can do the trick. Tent fumigation should be reserved as a last resort, saved for jobs with such heavy infestation that no other method is practical. In some places, however, it is required before selling a house to guarantee it is free of drywood termites for the incoming buyer.

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Discuss this Article

anon925020
Post 7

I will try to answer all inquiries if possible. Firstly, If the house was "tented" then that was definitely for drywood termites. No matter what company you used, they all fumigate with Sulfuryl Flouride. This gas should not ever stain stucco. I'd say that's an unfortunate coincidence.

If there is every any type of "ground" treatment, then that is for subterranean termites. This is an entirely different infestation which requires a whole different method other than tenting.

For the person whose neighbors never noticed a tent ever being on the home, that's kind of scary. Also $3000 is a lot of money! Firstly, even if the city paid for the job, by law you should have been presented paperwork for you to sign. Keep this handy, and by all means pay the warranty that is offered one year after fumigation date. Chances are, you'll need it. In fact, mark the date on next year's calendar. If the company is a shyster, then they wont even send you the warranty because they don't want you to pay it. If in doubt, always call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for your particular state. Here in Florida, I've tented 5,000 square foot homes for under $3000.

anon293239
Post 6

I had new stucco on my house in May. I found termites and had my house tented in September. Once the tent was removed, there was a "yellowish" line that goes all around my house just under the eaves.

Terminix says it is not from them and they won't fix the stain. It wasn't there before tenting. Anyone else have this problem? My stucco is Senergy and is a very good product. Help?

anon280593
Post 5

It is possible that they used another method of treatment. There are a couple of different ways to treat termites. You should check the ground around the house to see if there is any evidence of drilling, or a sticker under the kitchen sink to find out what product they actually used.

anon139857
Post 3

Concerned: Having a major rehab through the city of Long Beach HUD, for our home. We were told to be away from the home for several days. We hadn't moved in yet, so that was easy. Never thought to drive by and see if the home was really being fumigated.

We are second guessing the work the contractor did . The neighbors indicate they never saw the house tented, yet our loan has almost 3,000 in charges? What now? Without asking our contractor, how do I find out who they subcontracted and paperwork?

anon102795
Post 2

I don't have an answer but how dangerous are these poisons? How long do they last in the air and in the soil? What are the side effects if this poison is ingested by humans, birds or animals? Treatment?

anon36232
Post 1

How do you know its safe to enter your home after treatment is complete? Is there a detector?

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