STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV)- Leaders with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service are offering tips to prevent termites around your home this year as they are the most economically damaging pest in Mississippi.

Blake Layton, an entomologist with the Extension Service, said the cost of termites is so large that it is hard to pin down.

“Fire ants are estimated to cost $250 million in the state each year, and termites cost considerably more than that. Nationally, termites are estimated to cost $5 billion to $20 billion a year. As they are not a problem in all states, Mississippi and other states in the Southeast bear the brunt of that cost, possibly as high as $300 million to $500 million a year,” he said.

Because of this risk and cost, Layton said all homeowners should be aware of the risks of termites and make sure their houses are protected. When termites do get inside a building, the cost of repairing the damage can range from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. Termite damage can cause entire buildings to be lost.

Buildings are not the only things at risk from termites. Wooden bridges, wooden signs and utility poles are among the many items that can also be attacked by the pests.

In nature, termites have the very important job of eating waste cellulose, or wood debris. If not for termites, there would be massive amounts of deadwood in forests, and waste wood material would take considerably longer to biodegrade.

That hunger for wood material makes termites a high risk to houses. The first line of defense is to have every house and building treated for the pests.

Treatment costs considerably less than repairs and remediation. The cost to treat a 2,000-square-foot house may range from $1,200 to $2,000, plus the annual cost of maintaining the protection.

Layton said there are two basic kinds of treatments. The first is to apply a liquid termiticide in the soil around the house. This treatment can last 12-15 years

A newer treatment method involves using termite bait stations around the house. The bait stations must be maintained annually to provide ongoing control.

Applying termite treatments is a job for professionals, but homeowners can take steps to remove or prevent conditions that promote termite infestations.

“Any moisture problem presents a real termite risk. In places where Formosan termites are present, the risk is exponentially more,” said Layton.

Untreated soil or layers of wood mulch or bark piled against the exterior of a structure provide open doors for termites to enter, sometimes through soil tubes they build on the side of a building. Arbors, trellises, ladders, landscape timbers, wooden steps or other features made of untreated wood also provide entry points for termites when attached to a structure.

“Make sure that the slope of the land the building rests on does not allow water to accumulate against the structure so the area stays moist. Make sure that sprinklers or irrigation hoses are not installed too close to the house, so they make the structure consistently moist,” he said.

Spray foam insulation can present problems with termite control. Although it is useful for sealing small gaps, termites can tunnel through the material and be completely unseen. Using spray foam insulation can lead to hidden infestations of termites.

Some termite control companies do not extend guarantees to structures with extensive spray foam insulation, as the insulated areas cannot be properly inspected. Some companies refuse to even treat structures where spray foam has been applied.

Other problems arise over misidentification of the termites being treated. Kohler said that both Eastern subterranean and Formosan termites are subterranean, but their control methods are different.