How Does Heat Treatment for Termites Work? Termite Treatment and Fumigation

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Pest Control | January 4, 2024

Person wonders how does heat treatment for termites work, what is house tenting for termites, tenting preparation tips, and how long does a termite treatment last?

You may be looking for a natural and safe way to deal with your termite problem and wonder, how does heat treatment for termites work?

Termite treatment and fumigation aren’t limited to just chemical means, and a popular treatment for termites that doesn’t involve chemicals and is safe for humans is heat treatment.

But, just how does heat treatment for termites work?

This complete guide explains the process of tenting for termites and how it can be used to treat your entire structure safely.

How Does Heat Treatment for Termites Work?

Regardless of the treatment process, the first thing any exterminator will do is inspect your home to look for the signs of infestation, identify the type of termite, and see which treatment will be best based on the desires of the homeowner and the requirements for the treatment.

Heat treatment is recommended if you want to avoid the health risks and risks to the environment associated with termite fumigation treatment.

Graphics that compare the termite caste based on their identification.

Heat treatment for termites requires that your home is first properly sealed off with a tent in order to maintain an internal temperature.

Items that are sensitive to heat will also have to be removed from your home. Once your house has been properly dressed with a tent, termite treatment can begin.

Using a machine, your house will be heated to a temperature that will kill the common termite. Wood that is infested must reach at least 130ºF in order to properly eliminate the infestation.

The exterminator will decide whether heat treatment is an appropriate approach or not. This can depend on the size of the infestation since a larger termite swarm in house boards and ducts might mean the heat won’t be able to reach them.

In that case, fumigation may be better than heat treatment. Termites, bed bugs, and roaches all can be killed as long as they are exposed to temperatures of at least 130ºF for up to 1.5 hours.12

After the duration has been met, the house will be unsealed, and the hosing and tubing will be removed in order to allow the house to cool down to normal temperatures.

What Are the Benefits of Heat Treatment for Termites?

There are multiple benefits of heat treatment for termites instead of using the chemical process of fumigation.

  • Fumigation can require that you leave your home for 3 days or more in order to allow time for the chemicals to leave the home. With termite heat treatment you will be able to enter your home after, at most, eight hours.
  • You will not need to move furniture since you don’t need to make areas accessible for the application of pesticides.
  • Less preparation is required for heat treatment than for fumigation.
  • It is better for the environment and does not leave chemical residue, which may be dangerous for the inhabitants.
  • There is less risk of damage to the home when using heat for termite treatment. Tenting for heat treatment doesn’t require alterations to the roof, unlike for fumigation, which can lead to damage.
  • Heat treatment can successfully kill the eggs of termites while fumigation does not.
  • Heat treatment can also successfully kill bacteria, mold, viruses, dust mites, and other pests like bed bugs.6

What Are Termites?

Termites are social insects that live in colonies. They feed mostly on wood and inhabit areas underground or within wood structures.

They can consume up to 5 grams of wood each day in an average colony of 60,000 termites.1 Termites can slowly eat your home from the inside, causing structural damage that can require a lot of money and work to fix.

Treatments such as heat treatment for termites are necessary if you identify the presence of termites.

How To Identify if You Have Termites

Each year termites cause around 5 billion dollars worth of damage, and infest over 600,000 homes.2 Termites infest the wooden structures of your home since they feed primarily on wood.

Graphics about identification if termites are infecting the house in which house tenting for termites is one if its step.

Their small size and hidden activity can make it difficult to know if they are in your home.

Here are some signs to look out for to see if you may have a termite problem:

  • You notice termite droppings from ceiling cracks or holes. Sometimes termite droppings can be confused with sawdust since they are so small.3
    However, termite droppings have rounded ends with six depressed surfaces and six ridges.4
  • You can hear them in the walls. What do termites sound like if they are so small?
    Large infestations will cause rustling, clicking, rattling, and buzzing sounds in the walls.
  • If you notice damage to any wood members, especially window sills or trimming this may be a sign of infestation.
  • You find trails that are mud or dirt-like outside of your house or in crawl spaces. Termites build shelter tubes in order to enter a home.5
    If you break the tube and find termites or if the tube is repaired in a couple of days it is a sign of an infestation.
  • You find shredded wings around the home. Termites tend to shed their wings and these can be found near windowsills since they enjoy being near light.6
  • A hollow or shallow sound coming from solid wood structures can be the result of termite infestation since they can create a lot of space by eating wood.
  • Kickout holes may appear in wood structures, which are holes less than 2mm in diameter that termites use to kick out waste.4
  • You notice structural damage to your home or weaknesses.

Types of Termites

There are three main categories of termites:

  • Subterranean Termites: The most popular type of termite, these typically enter homes through the ground, and rely on moist conditions. They are typically active throughout the United States, but especially in climates that are not cold.
  • Drywood Termites: These termites can feed on trees and cacti and are most likely to be found in dryer climates such as those in the American Southwest, but can also be found throughout the U.S.
  • Dampwood Termites: This type of termite feeds on moist or damp wood. It is typically found on the Pacific Coast.

How Do Termites Infest Your House?

Most termite species have swarmers, which have wings and can fly into your home. Drywood and dampwood termites use this as a way to enter homes.

Depending on the species, swarmers will shed their wings completely once they find a home. or they will shed and regrow their wings.7

This is why one sign of an infestation is shredded wings. The swarmers are reproductive termites that will leave their current colony to begin a new colony elsewhere.

Subterranean termites have colonies in the ground so they will enter your home from the foundation, building mud and dirt tunnels to travel inside. Infestation typically occurs during the springtime since that is when swarmers tend to emerge.8

Termites usually have a king and queen, who are in charge of reproduction, soldiers, who defend the colony, and workers, who carry out the work of the colony. Some species don’t have workers but still have a caste that carries out the work of the colony.

From there termites will continue to consume their food source of wood, weakening the structure of your home. Depending on the species, termite colonies can reach numbers of between 50,000 and hundreds of thousands.9

Some can even grow to millions, although this is not as common, and colonies take several years to grow so large. Once your home has been infested and the signs are clear, it’s important to reach out to an exterminator immediately.

It can be hard to tell how large the infestation is until you get a professional in your home.

What Do Termites Look Like?

Identifying termites isn’t difficult but they can oftentimes be confused for ants. If you identify any of the signs up above you can be confident you have a termite issue.

However, if you only encounter the insect with no knowledge of the other signs here are some characteristics of the termite.

  • Termites can be various shades of brown, yellow, and tan.
  • Termites can range between ¼ of an inch and ½ an inch.10
  • Termites have wings, both front and hind. Compared to ants, a termite’s wings will be equal in length while ants have longer front wings than hind wings.
  • Termites have antennae that are straight while ants have antennae that are bent at ninety degrees.11

How To Identify the Termite Castes

Termites can be broken up into three main castes: soldiers, workers, and swarmers.

Characteristics graphic image of a termite.

Read along to learn more about them.


Swarmers are termites with wings. They have hind and front wings that are equal in length and they are dark brown, reddish brown, or black typically.

These are often confused with ants.


Workers are wingless and are the caste that does the actual damage to your house. Their job is to harvest the wood for the rest of the colony, and they are usually tan or light in color.


Soldiers have a similar protuno to the worker termite, but their head is much larger with large mandibles appropriate for defending the rest of the colony.

Fumigation Treatment Process (Heat Treatment for Termites)

As opposed to the heat treatment process, fumigation requires a few more steps in order to ensure proper eradication of termite infestations. The first involves tenting off the home to keep the chemicals contained in the home.

This allows the chemicals to seep into the hard-to-reach areas that termites may reside in. Even before tenting it will be necessary for you to remove any food, medicine, pets, or plants since they can be compromised or killed by the presence of the chemicals.13

Photo of an exterminator while executing termite fumigation.

(Image: Michelangelo Buonarroti20)

It may also be necessary to move or remove certain furniture pieces in order to allow exterminators to spray chemicals in hard-to-reach areas. Since the chemical used for fumigation is odorless, the exterminator will sometimes release tear gas to ensure no one is still in the home when the dangerous chemical is released.

After the chemical has been released it can take up to a week for the infestation to be killed, after which the tent and all sealing will be removed. You must allow the house to aerate for at least 3 days in order to ensure the chemical is no longer in the home.

Why Fumigation Treatment Is Dangerous

The typical chemical used for fumigation is sulfuryl fluoride, which is a toxic chemical that can cause vomiting, nausea, seizures, and can even, and has led to death.14 Not only are fumigation treatments dangerous to people, but they can also be dangerous to the environment and areas around your home.

Tenting is intended to prevent chemicals from leaving the home and entering the air, however, after fumigation has been completed the tenting is removed and those chemicals are sent out into the air anyway. These chemicals can settle on plants and soil, but worst of all can stay in the atmosphere for up to 100 years, becoming a strong greenhouse gas.15

Due to the known dangers and unknown dangers of fumigation, heat treatment, or the following treatments are recommended to treat or prevent termite infestation.

Other Commercial Termite Treatment and Prevention

Two other common commercial termite treatment and prevention methods include baiting and liquids. Baiting uses a poison that is slow-acting in combination with food bait.

Termites will take this poisoned bait and bring it back to the colony, which will slowly kill off the termite population. Liquids are used to create a barrier, which repels termites.16

It prevents termites from entering your home in the first place. It’s also possible to apply a Borate spray to wood during construction that will protect wood from termites.11

There is also wood that is treated to prevent termites from feeding on it in the first place. Other possible treatments include foam termiticide which is a foaming spray that leaves a liquid termiticide and dry termiticides.17

Both are better for smaller infestations.

Will Heat or Fumigation Treatment Completely Take Care of a Termite Infestation?

Heat treatment is best for smaller infestations since heat cannot always penetrate the entirety of your home. Larger infestations will be best solved by chemical treatment since the chemicals are more likely to reach into ductwork and hard-to-reach areas.

Even so, both heat and fumigation treatment will not successfully take care of infestations from subterranean termites since they still have colonies that reside in the ground under the home. Neither heat nor chemicals can reach their colonies and completely eradicate them.

Therefore you will need to use other treatment options like liquid barriers or baits to keep them from entering the home again.

Termite Tenting Preparation for Heat and Fumigation Treatment (House Tenting for Termites)

In order to prepare for your termite treatment, tenting the home will be necessary in order to keep in the chemical components used for fumigation. Exterminators will perform this step because it helps to contain the heat or the chemicals.

Photo that shows house tenting for termites to exterminate termites.

(Image: Matthew Field21)

Once your house has been appropriately fitted with the house tent, fumigation or heat treatment can begin. Prior to tenting the home you will have to ensure your home is prepared for either treatment.

This includes turning off sensitive or vulnerable instruments and removing items in your house.

Termite Fumigation Preparation: A Complete Termite Tenting Preparation Checklist

Both heat treatment and fumigation treatment require preparation before tenting. They can have dangerous effects on your possessions and, depending on the treatment can cause damage to your house.

Here are checklists for both methods of termite treatment.

Fumigation Preparation Checklist

The dangers associated with fumigation are prolonged contamination from the chemical agent. Here is a checklist of things you will need to do before tenting for fumigation treatment.

  • Move all furniture to leave all areas accessible.
  • Remove any objects that surround the structure, especially close to the wall to prevent any damage.
  • Turn off your gas service.
  • Remove cars and vehicles or allow them to be accessible.
  • All mattresses with any kind of plastic or vinyl covers must be opened.
  • Remove Foods, Medicines, Plants, Valuables, Pets/Living Things, Medical equipment.

Heat Treatment Preparation Checklist

Heat can affect different items than chemicals and has its own dangers. Here is a checklist for everything that needs to be done before heat treatment.

  • Fire sprinklers must be drained and capped.
  • Perishable foods should be placed in the refrigerator.
  • Deflate items such as bike tires or air mattresses.
  • Take down all pictures and wall hangings and lean them against the wall.
  • Remove Heat-sensitive items, Plants, Pets, Items made of vinyl such as records and IKEA furniture, VHS tapes, Carbonated beverages, Alcohol, beer, and wine, Valuables, Aerosol cans and lighters, Ammunition, Musical instruments, Fish tanks, Oil paintings, Wax products such as crayons and candles.

How Much Does It Cost To Treat Termites?

The cost to treat termites is dependent on multiple variables including the exterminator, the size of the infestation, and the type of treatment you are looking for. For example, Terminix pricing ranges between $400 and $1,500 with it possibly reaching as high as $1,700.18

Other exterminator prices can range from $1,000 to $12,000 or $800 to $2,500 for heat treatment for termites in particular.19 This again depends on the size of the house as it will take more time to heat a larger house and will require more preparation.

Regardless of the termite exterminator cost, many companies will offer a payment plan so you can pay over time.

It’s important to make sure your exterminator is licensed so they can properly execute heat treatment for termites.

Understanding the answer to the question, how does heat treatment for termites work, can help you decide if this option is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Heat Treatment for Termites

How Much Does House Tenting for Termites Cost and How Much To Termite Tent a House Per Square Foot?

On average, tenting off your home for heat termite treatment or fumigation treatment can cost between $2,000 and $8,000 depending on the house. Per square foot, tenting can cost $1 to $4 depending on the services.

Is Tenting for Termites Necessary or Is There Termite Treatment Without Tenting?

It’s necessary to tent off your home for both heat and fumigation treatment since it helps to contain either the chemicals or the temperature to ensure proper treatment. Other treatments such as bait and liquid don’t require tenting but are preventative methods.

Is Termite Fumigation Safe for Homeowners?

Although fumigation is deemed safe by the EPA, as long as inhabitants avoid the premises for 3 days after it’s fumigated, there are always worries associated with chemicals leaching into furniture or into the ground. For those homeowners looking for a more natural alternative, heat termite treatment is recommended.

How Long Does a Termite Treatment Last for Heat and Chemical?

Heat treatment only lasts 8 hours after which the inhabitants are welcome to re-enter their home, while chemical treatments leave the house uninhabitable for 3 days.


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