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Few things can annoy homeowners quite as much as discovering drywood termites in their homes. Given enough time, these nasty little critters have the potential to cause thousands of dollars of damage.

Unlike other unwanted insects, drywood termites don’t bite, spread disease, sting, or contaminate food. Instead, they invade the wooden structure of your house and cause severe structural damage. Homes with compromised structural integrity can be unfit to live in — and a fortune to fix, if the damage goes unnoticed for too long.

If you find drywood termites in the early stages of infestation, a pest control company might be able to exterminate them with standard applications. However, since drywood termites often start their infestations in the attic, they can go undetected for a long time. When this happens, the only option is tent fumigation. 

What Exactly is Tent Fumigation?

Pest control companies use tent fumigation when a drywood termite infestation is too extensive to be impacted by standard spot treatment practices.

First, they place a rubber tent made of a PVC coated material over the entire house — yes, almost like a giant circus tent. (Sorry, this isn’t one of the things you can keep from the neighbors.) Gas fumigant is then released into the tent to kill the termite infestation throughout the structure. 

What Should Homeowners Do Pre-Fumigation?

The thought of vacating your home for fumigation can be stressful and daunting, to say the least. Knowing what to expect and what you can do to make the experience less overwhelming will help! 

Here are a few pre-fumigation tips that will ensure the safety of your family, pets, and home in general: 

Arrange suitable alternate lodging

Plan to stay with friends or family during the tenting process. Your pest control company will let you know how many days you’ll be out of pocket. If you’re looking for silver linings, reserve a room at your favorite hotel and treat it as a mini stay-cation.  

Take your pets with you 

Pets should under NO circumstances be left in or near the home, not even out in the yard. Take them with you or arrange alternative boarding. If you live in a house built on a crawl space, please double-check that there aren’t any pets or wild animals under your home before leaving. They will not survive the fumigation.

Gather any open food or unsealed foodstuffs

This includes fruit and veggies on the counter and anything NOT in its original, sealed, airtight container. (For example, canned goods and bottled water will be fine.) Remove all other consumable products from the house: everything in the refrigerator/freezer, toothpaste, medications, and tobacco products.

The state of Florida is VERY strict about this! It was possible to protect food with special fumigation bags in the past, but this is no longer an option.

Open all the doors between rooms

Opening all the doors, cabinets, and drawers will increase fumigant exposure to eliminate as many insects as possible. 

 Trim outdoor plants

The exterminator will give you more specific guidelines, but in most cases, you’ll need to trim vegetation back enough to allow at least two feet of bare soil around the foundation. This will enable a good tent seal to the ground.

You’ll also want to remove all indoor plants as well. Due to the nature of the gas and high temperatures under the tarps during treatment, most plants under the tent will suffer greatly.

Leave a set of house keys

The exterminator will require access to all parts of your home (including safes and gun cabinets, which will have to be opened) during the fumigation process. Plan to relocate items stored in safes to another location before fumigation.

This can feel invasive, so make sure you’ve chosen a company you trust. Speak to your fumigator if you have specific security concerns.

Notify your neighbors

It might seem obvious that you’re getting your home “tented” when the pest control pros start placing a tent over your home. You might also feel that what happens on your property isn’t any of your neighbors’ business.

However, bear in mind that dangerous products will in use on your property. Informing your neighbors prevents inquisitive children and pets from wandering onto your property during the process.

How Long Does a Termite Tent Fumigation Process Last?

Depending on the nature and level of infestation, average tent fumigation could last anywhere from three days to a week. (It usually takes about 24 hours exposure to kill the termites, but 36 or more for the building to properly ventilate.) Your fumigator will use special tools to detect the gas, as reentry is not permitted until it has completely dissipated

Ask your exterminator for the worst-case scenario and make your lodging arrangements based on that. 

What Should Homeowners Do Post-Fumigation?

When the fumigation is over, there’ll be a few things to do before your life returns to normal. 

Unlike products used in the past, Sulfuryl Flouride, often marketed under Vikane, is odorless, colorless, and leaves no residue. Once the structure has been adequately ventilated, there is no trace of the gas whatsoever.

To do so, open all the windows and doors to let in fresh air. Run box fans or the HVAC on “fan” mode to speed things up. 

The first things you’re likely to encounter upon reentry are dead bugs and lizards. You won’t see termites because they will die in the wood where they live. Other bugs that may have been hiding out of sight are wasps and hornets living in eaves. You’ll see them dead on porches and similar areas. Remove these as quickly as possible to avoid an influx of ants. (Ants are attracted to these bodies and could become a problem.)

Although not completely necessary, many want to wash bedding and cooking utensils. It can’t hurt, so feel free to use this as the last step in reclaiming your home from a long, tiresome process.

It’ll All Be Fine!

Tent fumigation is an extensive and unwelcome process. Fortunately, it could save you thousands of dollars in damage and will eradicate nasty termites from your home. By following our suggested tips for getting through the fumigation process, you might be able to avoid too much stress. 

Write down a list of any questions and concerns you have, and ask your pest control professional for all the information you need. Make the necessary provisions for your family and pets and say good-bye to your termite invaders for good!

Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.

Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control