21615 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, CA 95014

Jen Oh

Got Termites?

I am writing this post because I’m the next door neighbor of someone who apparently has (or in our case, had) termites. We have a new neighbor. He hasn’t moved in yet and we only met him for 5 minutes the other day. I only wish that in those 5 minutes of talking to him (while he told us how much he loved the house and neighborhood), he would have mentioned that the next day we’d walk outside to see his house tented with warning signs informing us that a poisonous gas was in use.

For those that know me well, they know that I have been posting like crazy everywhere to obtain as much information as I can regarding the chemicals used in fumigating for termites. I decided I’d post what I discovered regarding termite extermination in CA.


In researching eradicating termites, I had to learn more than I ever wanted to know about them first. I had no idea there were multiple types of termites and that some are more prevalent in areas of the country than others. The University of Kentucky: College of Agriculture’s Termite Control report has an easy to read FAQs on termites. For information more specific to CA, check out University of California Statewide IPM Program’s Termite report. However, I learned that the biggest culprit are drywood termites. These are the little suckers that cause us so much grief. Again, the University of California Statewide IPM Program’s Drywood Termites report is awesome. It not only spells out who/what they are (with pictures), but it also gives you facts on how to even prevent them, let along how to get rid of them.

Apparently, in CA, you can spot treat and/or you can whole house eradicate termites. Check out the CA Consumers Affairs Termite Fact Sheet. This will explain the different types of extermination. If you are doing a whole house eradication, there are only 2 types – heat and using sulfuryl flouride. Regardless of what you do, I highly suggest using a licensed exterminator for this. Termites are evasive and they can keep coming back, if not taken care of properly.

There are many people who will say that sulfuryl flouride is the best alternative (or at least a good one). But for me, the “Warning – Poisonous Gas” signs caused concern and I wanted to see what it was and how it would effect my family.

From my search online, I found the National Pesticide Information Center’s (NPIC) fact sheet on sulfuryl flouride. Since sulfuryl flouride is a toxic gas, the home must be evacuated and you may not eat any foods that were left in the home during fumigation. I wanted to know – what about those that live nearby? Our home is extremely close to our neighbors. I can easily see inside their kitchen window from ours and we could easily communicate from window to window. So what happens if the tent leaks? Or when they open up the tent to release the gases? How does this effect those that weren’t even informed or evacuated? Will the gas effect my organic garden?

I called the NPIC to ask these questions. What I learned is that sulfuryl fluoride is a true gas, which means its odorless, tasteless, and clear. They mix it with Chloropicrin (tear gas) so that you can smell it if there are leaks. The most dangerous times of fumigation is actually when the house is untented (as long as their are no leaks during the tenting process). It is often suggested that when a house is untented – fans be put in the house and the tent is only opened at the roof. This forces the gases up and away from the ground. However, often the house is just untented however is easiest.

Since we have a 1 yr old and a 4 yr old – it was suggested that we NOT allow them to go outside and we don’t open our windows. Since it’s summer and we are having a heatwave, he suggested that we at least not open the windows on the side of the house closest to the tented home.

I did learn that sulfuryl fluoride dissipates quickly and since it is a true gas, has virtually no residue. It also does not effect soil – so our garden should be safe. Though, I did read that it is suggested to dampen the ground where your foundation and soil meet. This will prevent leakage and create a barrier, so the gas will not have a way to be absorbed into the ground. I am uncertain if this is true, but I did make sure that our garden was watered before the house was untented, just in case.

Last year, sulfuryl flouride was under review to ensure it’s safety. I found several documents that stated that sulfuryl flouride has an atmospheric lifespan of approx. 30-50 yrs. However, the NPIC says that is inaccurate. If you read their fact sheets, they spell out all the testing that they did (in simple terms) and explains why they view it as safe.

The Journal of Pesticide Reform disagrees. They show studies and tests done that prove that sulfuryl flouride is dangerous and should not be used.

When I was on the phone with the NPIC, they conceded that they were aware of the studies that the Journal of Pesticide Reform wrote about. The guy on the phone also stated that if we were concerned and had an alternative place to stay, than we should just do it. Which is exactly what we did. We left our home for 3 days, sealed it shut, and when we came home aired it out.

So, you may wonder why people aren’t just using the heat method to eradicate termites? Well, for most, it’s the cost. I have no idea why, but it can cost up to 4 times more than sulfuryl flouride. Heat fumigation consists of heating your home to a minimum of 120F degrees for at least 4-6 hrs. Different states have different parameters because houses are made differently in different parts of the country. The biggest concern that I read about are 1. removing all heat sensitive items from your home (which can be a lot: electronics, plastics, etc) and 2. ensuring that no heat leakage happens. Often times, where the frame of your home hits the foundation – heat can leak and you must ensure that all the wood in your home heats to 120F degrees, or you will probably still have termites. The good things is that after your home is heated for the 4-6 hrs, it is untented and you can enter the home at anytime.

For our neighbor, I am sure he had no idea the concern we would have regarding his fumigation. But it did cause us concern. In fact, we left our home for 3 days as soon as we saw the tent. The suggestion by the NPIC to not have our children outdoors or open our windows, in the heat of the summer, would have made us miserable. How do you explain to a 4 yr old that he’s not allowed to ride his bike in front of our house (and our neighbors). And a big red tent? That’s just asking for a little boy to see what’s inside.

Fumigation is a common enough event. No need to let your neighbors know…or is there? Right when it happened, I was so upset I wrote a letter to our neighbor, but I never delivered it. Finally, a week later, I decided I had to let him know. I stressed that we didn’t want to dictate what he did in his home, but that to please consider letting us know if toxic chemicals were going to be used again. I included print copies of all the info I linked to above. I tried to be as cordial as possible. Will it change our relationship? Will he actually inform us next time? I don’t know, but at least one more person is aware that toxic chemicals effect more than just the termites.

40 Comments

  1. Beth Palmer

    Thank you for sharing your research. I was uneasy about seeing the tent on our neighbor’s house for a reason. It is, unfortunately, becoming instinctual to wonder if “that’s okay” – like watching coworkers microwave their lunches in plastic containers. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

  2. ktils

    Thanks for sharing this information. Our neighbor just told us they were having this done tomorrow and I too wondered if it might affect my young children (1 & 3). I think we will be checking into a hotel too. Better safe than sorry.

  3. Kim

    I read your post about termites and wanted to mention that I recently launched http://www.termites.com and have been trying to get the word out. If possible I would like to discuss helping me out with a link to our new site.

  4. Jay

    YES, yes, we live in a townhouse community with many 4 to 6 units in each complex. If one whole building of 4 or 6 units is tented for fumigation due to termite, imagine the amount of gas being used and released, especially when the tent is opened up to release the gas for re-occupancy. Imagine the wind happens to blow your way for several hours and you/your kids are breathing the diluted gas for several hours / days. Well, is it hazardous?? Should there be a notification protocol?

  5. admin (Post author)

    I wish there was a notification protocol. Unfortunately, from what I could find out there is no notification protocol because all of the gases/techniques used in fumigation are legal and within EPA limits. Supposedly the gas is so light that it immediately rises and therefore is not a true danger to humans. The concern I had is that the gas is odorless and colorless – so you have no idea if there is a hazard: leakage, too high quantity, etc until it’s too late. It’s part of the reason that we left for 2 days. It was in the middle of summer, we have no air conditioning-so our windows were open and I have young children.

  6. Tammy Pitteger

    I am disappointed as I am 7.5 months pregnant and live very close to my neighbors house which was just tented. The new neighbor mentioned she was doing it today… and that is was totally safe for me, my husband, unborn child and children. Their garage is in our backyard, so part of the tent is in my backyard. I do not trust that any chemical is safe and I do not feel a tent is safe either. I wonder if we should leave for a day when they remove the tent of for the whole thing. If it is safe… why did they post warning signs everywhere?

  7. admin (Post author)

    Tammy,

    I hope everything went ok. I felt the same way when I saw the tent on my neighbors house. As I said in my post, I called the NPIC, they suggested not opening any windows or doors or allowing any fumes to enter our house. Due to the heat of summer and no A/C – it was impossible for us to not open the windows/doors at least for a little bit.

    Hopefully, you were able to spend time away from the house during the day, etc.

    Best of luck,
    Jen

  8. Lianne Downey

    Thank you for this post! Fortunately, we had the sense to keep our close-to-the-neighbors windows closed for 2 days, but they removed the tent today & I did not want to open those windows yet, or spend time in our yard where we usually eat lunch. I’ve just looked at the ivy & other plants growing near the fence where the tent was on the other side and they have leaves that have turned entirely white, in a trail across the bank. Is it coincidence? Or?

    Your research confirmed our instincts to keep windows closed, and if we had pets or young children, this would certainly be a reason for leaving the house for a few days. I don’t trust the laws to protect us, or the info from the companies that profit from these fumigations. At least our neighbors gave us a couple days of warning. If it happened again, I’d try to close our house & leave home. But what a disruption and expense to our lives, and my home office work, for something that was not our decision. We are also in California, and have been sleeping & living in stuffy rooms, but I’m glad we did. Thanks again for the info!

  9. Heather

    Just wanted to thank you for your blog. Thanks to your info, I convinced my neighbor to put off fumigation for a day so I have time to book a hotel for me (pregnant) and my family (including a toddler and dog.)

  10. admin (Post author)

    I’m so glad my info helped!

  11. Tori

    Thanks so much for such an informative post. My hubs and I are in the process of buying a bank owned home in SoCal. We were just notified that the house will be tented in two days, after being told that there was minimal termite damage at the beginning of this process. I guess a second termite co found the dry wood kind, so they’re tenting. I’ve got a 3 year old and we will move in a month after the tenting, but I was wary about those chemicals being in our future home. I’m going to have it cleaned and carpets replaced after. Would you do anything else to make it safer for your little ones?

  12. admin (Post author)

    Tori- I would consider going to the new house and making sure it’s aired out really well. Besides that, all of the fumes should be off gassed enough by the time you move in. Good Luck!

  13. Jennifer

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to post this. I’m in exactly the same situation, except that my children are teens. Perhaps I’ll spring for a hotel for a couple days.

  14. Eve

    Found you because I smell the smell of chloroform (apparently-thanks for the info) leaking from the house across the street. What a terrible bummer! I didn’t read about your experience with termites, but I did a lot of research too and what I found is that all tenting processes are guaranteed for a max of only 6 months. We opted not to.

  15. Alan Ewald

    Thank you VERY much for your research, and generosity in sharing the results to others (like me and my wife and 3 cats). The links really backed up your observations.

    We are now in the exact same situation as you and your son. I came home from work about an hour ago, and for once early, so I happened upon our neighbors in the process of being tented. Same situation, our departed neighbors have put the house up for sale and now it is being fumigated. No word, no warning was made.

    I did talk to the lead exterminator and was told the fumigation was “heavily regulated” and nothing to worry about. They are using Vikane, a brand name of sulfuryl flouride. It’s going to rain for the next few days, and I mentioned my concerns and was told the rain actually helps lessen exposure.

    Forgive me if I wasn’t reassured. I am going to talk to my wife tonight, but unfortunately due to lack of any warning that fumigation was going to happen, any evacuation will necessarily be rushed and some exposure will not be prevented; it’s happening as I type this in fact. And what about our 3 cats, who are family to us? Can we find a hotel who’ll accept them, or will we have to be surreptitious?

    Anyway, I really just felt I must thank you for taking the time and effort to publish your findings. At least now I KNOW something about it, and any decisions we make will thus be better informed ones.

    All good things to you and your family. Thanks again.

  16. Jennifer Rogers

    Thank you for your research and taking the time to post the information that you found. It was exactly what I was searching for while concerned about my four small children after our close neighbor fumigated.

  17. Aimee

    There is a third kind of whole house treatment you can use, and in my experience it’s the best: amorphous silica.
    http://www.drywoodtermitecontrol.com/compare.html
    (I have no connection to this company, I’m just someone with a lung condition who was grateful to find it)

  18. Veronica

    I had the same thing happen to me. I have a 3 yr old and 1 year old. Thank you for you research. It really helped!

  19. Melanie

    Thanks so much for this info, I am currently being forced by our landlord to get out of my apartment for three days due to the treatment with such gas. I am so concern about any possible effects the treatment may have, but reading through your comments makes me feel better. I will clean all after I return. Thanks again.

  20. Huntin Organics

    Thank you VERY much for your research, and generosity in sharing the results to others .The links really http://termicon.huntinorganics.com backed up your observations.

  21. Carey

    You are all lucky you were notified. I was not. After finishing work one day, and pulling up my driveway, I was horrified to see my
    neighbors house completely enclosed in a tent. I panicked, because my cat was out of the house, and that house is right next to my house and vacant. I went straight to the tent & started calling my kitty, and horrifyingly he calls me back! Inside that tent. Opened it up, and got him to a vet, but after being inside for four hours he died, with blood coming out of nose inside an oxygen tent at the vets. It’s not about the cost, it is about my family. Why, why, can’t I be notified? He would have been kept in that day. Plus, by the way, my eyes are burning.

  22. Chris

    Thanks so much for the info! My concern was my organic garden and I was glad to see you had one too and could comment on it. Mine is so close to the tent. My greens, like kale, arugula, and also beets and peas are about 3 yards away. I also have a cat who loves to scope out the yard and I tried keeping her inside as much as possible. I didn’t think of leaving, but I kept windows closed. I just noticed that they opened the tent, but at the back and not the top! I sure wish they had to notify neighbors when this happens. Again, thank you so much for all the good information! You were the first website I went to and you have answered so many questions…along with all the wonderful comments!

  23. Chris

    I just looked at the website that Aimee mentioned…the http://www.drywoodtermitecontrol.com/compare.html. It kills by dehydration, with NO chemicals. I thought I’d mention Fleabusters, which has the same/or similar type of dehydration material for killing fleas. My cat contacted fleas and what a horrible time that was! My house was infested and my poor cat was in misery! I finally found Fleabusters and was thrilled with the results! No chemicals! Basically, just a salt-like substance, which dehydrates the fleas…and when the eggs hatch later, the babies meet the same demise. Nothing toxic that would hurt babies, children or animals.

  24. admin (Post author)

    I’m so sorry this happened to you! We were not notified… my husband just saw that they were putting the tent up. It was a new neighbor who was moving in and it didn’t even occur to him to let us know because he was informed that it was perfectly safe… ugh

  25. Chris2

    I was very happy to find this blog to find others were worried about the neighbor’s house fumigation. This morning I noticed workers next door covering the house in a tent… no, we were not warned, the neighbors sold the house and did their final move out yesterday it appears. I am worried about us because I have a compromised immune system and another has emphysema. We also have an organic garden. More so, I’m worried about our cats since they might try to explore next door. Carey, it was really sad to hear your story about your cat.

  26. susan

    I appreciate all of your info and am also so very sorry to hear of the death of the cat. That happened once to a friend of mine. Horrific! And sorry for everyone else going through this. I saw my neighbor out front yesterday morning.She said good morning but gave no warning at all of what was to come. I was working in my home office which is the absolute closest room to her home. It is only about 4 feet away. I heard people on her roof but assumed they were getting a new roof as when I peeked out for a sec I saw what looked like black tar paper being laid. I worked for 6 or 7 hours and did some laundry in the garage- same distance from her house but even less well insulated! It was a good 8-9 hours before I went outside and was shocked to see the whole house covered with a black “tent” with about 100 little patches of duct tape covering holes and an area on the roof that was exposed, probably due to high wind gusts. It is also covered in tarp material- like you would buy from Home Depot- not like the professional tenting material that looks stronger and more rubberized. This stuff is far more porous! Probably a cheap fly-by-night company! She moved in recently so I have no way of contacting her, or the company as they only have generic “Poisonous Gas” signs. Thank god my 2 cats happened to be inside all day, but I had let my dog outside a couple of times during the day. We stayed here as I had nowhere else to go with all the animals. Now that I woke up the next day I am not feeling well. I have a sore throat, my eyes are bothering me-left one had a strange pus -like substance oozing from it that I’ve never had before and it feels like something is wrong with it. Vision is slightly blurry.I also have what can only be described as a slight tremor feeling in my body that I have never had before.Can this be a coincidence? This is very upsetting and my pets seem ok, but with these very vague symptoms, it is too hard to tell if they are experiencing them too. My older cat with thyroid disease is sleeping more than usual and the younger one is flying around the house in a state of restless agitation, but may just be antsy to go outside? I just don’t know. I too am very angry about getting no warning and having pretty much no choice in the matter and probably no recourse. If they said not to open windows, what about all of the times I have and will have to open my doors in the next 3 days? And how am I supposed to water my flower garden right by her house? In 3 days it will die with no rain but I sure don’t want to be 3 feet from her house! Ugh! Thanks for this to allow me a place to vent my concern and frustrations! Curious about anyone else experiencing any health symptoms…I too do not trust chemicals or the companies who profit from them!

  27. Rev Carole

    Thank You so much for taking the time to research this information, and all the helpful information that others have posted.

    We live in a mobile home park and our mobiles are placed close to one another.
    This morning my husband woke me up with the news they were tenting the vacant mobile next to us. My first concern was getting the termites from them, the second concern was my husband who has cancer from Agent Orange from serving in Vietnam, he does not need more chemicals. (my second concern should have been the first, but I really didn’t know how the chemicals would impact us.)
    My husband was wise enough to shut all our windows on that side of the mobile immediately when he saw them tenting the next door mobile.

    My husband spoke to the mananger of the park we were assured that it was safe. Hmmm Thats what they told our servicemen in Vietnam in the 60’s Agent Orange was safe….Now 40yrs later my husband has cancer related to the Agent Orange,plus many other servicemen.

    So I started to look to see if we would be safe here or not. It seems very apparent that we might not be too safe here and our pets. We will be packing and leaving as soon as I finish posting this.

    Fortunately for us we have a RV that is on land in Arizona, so we will be taking our 3 precious kitties and our service dogs to Arizona so all will be safe including my husband.

    I really wish there was a law that homeowners and Mobile home Park owners have to contact at least the next door neighbors of the Tenting of a home for extermination reasons. This is really not right. it is an hardship for many people.

    My heart goes out to the lady who lost her cat. I know how I would have felt.
    I am glad she posted as I was concerned about our indoor cats and the effect it might have on them.

    And the others that posted about their cats and the concern they had. Thank you for posting, that helped us make a decision on leaving and going to Arizona.

  28. Jane Ong

    Tenting is a bad idea and very harmful to human health. I won’t trust anybody who tells me that it’s safe, people are just lying….Few years down the road when people have cancer or some horrible degenerative neurological diseases, they will wonder why they ever exposed themselves to all these insecticides….

  29. Jim

    We share a building with a neighbor that is planning on tenting. We do not want to live in a house that’s been fumigated with toxic gas, so it looks like we’ll have to sell our retirement home and face some financial losses. I realize that the fumigation company needs our signature to proceed. We don’t want to hold the neighbors off forever as they would probably sue us.

  30. admin (Post author)

    Hi Jim,
    According to most of the info – the off-gasing from fumigation doesn’t last that long. I would look into being out of the home (and removing any food items, etc) for awhile before considering selling. I’m not sure where you are located…but selling would be an extreme for many. From what I read, most of the toxins dissipate quickly. Personally, for my family, we left for a few days and my children stayed with my mom for a week. Afterwards, we opened up all the windows and I cleaned all surfaces (with vinegar, baking soda, and water). Plus I washed everything that could be washed. I’m not a scientist, but I did as much as I could to try to remove any residual toxins from my home.

  31. Nancy Kramer

    Termite Tents? Vikane Gas? Hell to the no. I’ve been exposed to indoor returning home and before getting over that, a year later, I was exposed to outdoor drift. The side effects are unbelievable – you can get much sicker than you’d ever imagine and try as you might to get back to your normal life, it just won’t happen if you are affected. Please visit my you tube channel. I have three short videos – if you want to experience termite tents, you risk yourself, your family, your pets and your property and the stigma and disbelief that will follow. The system doesn’t want people to know the truth. I’m trying to wake people up. You can reject vikane gas. Non-volatiles are out there. sodium borate is non-toxic and nobody gets hurt. Trust me. Exposed twice – I am out of commission many, many days. It is also very difficult to get representation because the system has paid a lot of people off. WAKE UP. Don’t turn into me.

  32. Nancy Kramer

    Folks, there is NO CURE, only treatment. And, treatment “takes time”. It takes maybe forever. Wake up. I want you to.

  33. Lynne

    We had two spot treatments and two heat treatments done on our home and none worked. We are currently being tented and there’s no way I will let my 9-month old son in the house until it has aired out for at least 24 hours and been cleaned top to bottom. I removed absolutely every item of his from the home and put it in a storage pod outside of our home. I’m not taking any chances. Termite tenting is safe, just like GMOs are, right?!

  34. Annie Reinosa

    If you could afford ONE night for a hotel, would it be now, as they are finishing up tents and then the gassing (for 90 min or so they said) or TOMORROW night when they open tents between 5-6p?

  35. admin (Post author)

    That’s a tough one! In our case, we only new after the fact…so we were gone the evening they tented and the next night. I would take a look at how well you feel they tent. Supposedly, when they open the tent – it is supposed to be opened from the top and the gas rises and dissipate. If I were afraid of leaks/gas escaping while tenting – I’d leave now, as they are finishing the tents. Hope this helps!

  36. Bonnie Cadieu

    As i write this, my sister is fearful and heartsick that her two family cats may have been trapped under her neighbor’s house which was tented for termites. My sister was not informed that the house was going to be tented. Her beloved cats are inside and outside cats. They have been known to go under the neighbor’s house, and this neighbor was aware of that. But the neighbor didn’t tell my sister about tenting for termites.
    My sister and i are just sick at the possibility that her two precious loved kitties are dead under the neighbors house. The kitties didn’t come home today for dinner. The house was gassed at 6 pm and my sister works until 7 pm.
    If the worse happens, i will fly to see her because we will both be heartbroken.

  37. admin (Post author)

    I”m so sorry to hear this! I hope your sister finds that her kittens were elsewhere and alright!

  38. Concerned Parent

    I realize this is an old post but I was researching sulfuryl flouride because my grandmother recently informed me that she had her house tented for termites. I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old and we visit her in her home once a week for several hours. They have toys in her house, which my grandmother didn’t remove prior to tenting. She said she followed all of Orkin’s (the company she used) instructions prior to tenting. I have kept my kids away from her house for two weeks now but I’m still fearful of returning. I’m not sure she properly aired the place out (she said the company did that before she returned). What would you do if you were in my situation? I don’t want to hurt my grandmother’s feelings, but I am really concerned about exposing my kids vikane.

  39. Concerned Parent

    Tried leaving a comment yesterday. Not sure if it posted. My grandmother recently had her house fumigated and I’m concerned because I bring my four-year-old and one-year-old to her house weekly. I’ve stayed away for the past two weeks, but I’m still fearful of bringing my kids back, especially since there are toys they play with that weren’t removed during the fumigation process. How can I be certain the house was sufficiently aerated? Do you think it’s safe to return, and are there any steps I can take to ensure my kids’ safety? I’ve read so many disturbing things about the effects of sulfuryl flouride particularly on children, I’m really worried.

  40. admin (Post author)

    I did a little research last night – seems that most cases where off gassing or too much sulfuryl fluoride is used (which would be my main concern 2 weeks out) show up within the first 7 days. I would guess that all the gas has dissipated and that its be ok to go to your grandmother’s house. I might hand wash or wipe down the toys they play with and open windows while I am there. Hope this helps!

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