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Revise State Building Codes and Pest Control To Reduce Termite Damage, Says UF Urban Entomologist

GAINESVILLE—Termite damage and control costs in Florida exceed $500 million annually, but could be reduced with pending legislation that makes builders and pest control operators more responsible for termite protection, says a University of Florida urban entomologist and head of a state pest control study committee.

“For new construction, we are recommending standardized procedures for applying pesticide treatments,” said Phil Koehler with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “In many instances, pesticides are applied to the site of a new home or building, but the treatments are disturbed during construction.”

Koehler, who chaired a termite treatment study committee that included architects, builders, building code officials, pest control operators and pesticide manufacturers, said proposed changes in pest control regulations are being considered by the Legislature during the current session.

He said a 1994 survey of the pest control industry found that 72 percent of pest control operators had preconstruction treatment failures and 92 percent had post-construction treatment failures within five years of application. These failures occurred even though the chemical was applied according to recommendations on the pesticide label. In many cases, the causes for the failures were attributed to building contractor practices that disrupted the chemical barrier.

“We need better communication between builders and pest control operators, including some sort of tagging or other documentation showing the termite barrier has been applied correctly and not disturbed during construction,” he said. “This will simplify things in case of any warranty claims by the property owner later on.”

Koehler said subterranean termite damage currently is excluded from all homeowner insurance policies. Building contractors or homeowners must buy a special protection plan from pest control companies. The pest control contract will provide for re-treatment but usually does not cover repair so owners end up paying thousands of dollars to repair termite damage.

Similarly, most building codes currently have no requirements about responsibilities of the pest control industry or building contractors. “The pest control industry has been reluctant to provide full repair warranties for its work because building contractors can either disrupt their treatments, build hidden termite access into buildings or provide moisture that allows termites to enter buildings. These disruptions to their treatments are not apparent to anyone,” he said.

He said a new building code in St. Johns County could serve as a model for other Florida counties. It regulates home builders and pest control operators while protecting homeowners from termite damage. Koehler said proposed legislation would:

  • Eliminate termite food resources in contact with the ground such as building debris, form boards and grade stakes.
  • Prevent hidden termite access into the buildings via foam insulation that contacts the soil behind stucco.
  • Increase chemical barrier effectiveness by requiring down spouts from rain gutters to discharge water at least five feet away from the building.
  • Provide a $50,000 repair and re-treatment warranty for the homeowner if all precautions are taken.

Dempsey R. Sapp Jr., president of Florida Pest Control & Chemical Co. in Gainesville and chair of the Florida Pest Control Association’s legislative committee, said the proposed legislation will improve public confidence in the pest control industry.

“We want to stand behind our work with warranties for the property owner, but we need to make sure that our pesticide treatments are not disturbed during construction. We also must guard against hidden termite access that may result from legal but improper construction methods,” Sapp said.

Koehler said subterranean termites are the most destructive insect in Florida. “We must do more to prevent the kind of damage we’re seeing in thousands of homes and businesses around the state. Homeowners usually end up getting stuck with the bill for repairs because home insurance doesn’t pay for termite damage.

“Several termite colonies can feed on a house at one time,” he said. “You could compare each of these subterranean colonies to a 50-pound animal eating up to one pound of wood each day.”

Koehler said termite damage in a new $250,000 Gainesville home is an example of what can happen. “Even though the site was properly treated before construction and the homeowner renewed the annual termite protection contract after construction, termites destroyed all the wall joists along the front of the house. The pest control operator honored its contract and treated the home again with pesticide but the builder had no liability. The homeowner had to pay $20,000 to repair the damage,” he explained.

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