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Unlike drywood and dampwood termites, subterranean termites dwell in colonies surrounded by moist ground-soil ground. The eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) is the most destructive termite pest species in the US, and their colonies are abundant in suburban and urban areas of Massachusetts. Since subterranean termite workers initiate infestations in homes from the ground up, substructural wood members that are located close to the ground-surface are particularly vulnerable to subterranean termite attack. Attached decks and patios that are made of wood are frequently attacked by subterranean termite workers, and once an infestation is established in an attached structure, workers are usually able to gain access to indoor structural wood.

Boston is located in a geographic area where termite infestations are relatively frequent, and many, or even most urban and suburban structures in and around the city are located above multiple subterranean termite nests. Mature subterranean termite colonies are at least five years old and contain tens of thousands workers, and older colonies can contain millions of workers. One study found that an eastern subterranean termite colony containing 60,000 individual termites will eat the equivalent of 2 feet worth of 2×4 lumber in one year. This means that a colony containing around one million individuals can inflict major damage to structural wood in homes within a short amount of time. In addition to damaging wood, subterranean termites are also known for damaging insulation within wall voids, sometimes resulting in higher heating bills.

The thermal resistance of a home’s insulation is known as its “R-value,” and all insulation materials have an R-value. The higher the R-value of insulation, the more resistant it is to heat loss. Although increasing the R-value of a home’s insulation can be expensive, such improvements tend to pay for themselves because they keep heating bills low. In order to maximize resistance to heat-loss, most insulation products are covered with a layer of plastic-lined paper. Since paper contains cellulose that termites naturally consume, workers never miss an opportunity to eat insulation lining. This type of termite damage decreases the R-value of insulation, thereby increasing heating costs. While workers will not eat the fluffy insulation material, they will tunnel through it to reach wood or the paper lining, causing further damage to insulating properties. Insulation that is missing portions of its paper lining may indicate that a subterranean termite infestation has been established.

Have you ever found insulation in your home that appeared to have been damaged by pests?