Sighting the Enemy: How to Recognize the Signs of Termite Infestation
It is in the best interests of every homeowner, even those living in so called “low risk for termites” locations to be able to recognize the tell tale termite damage signs. Better yet, every homeowner worth his salt should also be able to detect termite presence before it results in actual damage by knowing the early indications that an infestation is occurring.
What to Look for: The Early Signs
By the time actual visual damage can be easily seen in a structure, the termite colony is usually several years mature, very well established and may harbor a population of over a million organisms. Some of the earliest harbingers of a termite invasion are:
• Sightings of what look like flying ants: termites in their king and queen reproductive or “swarmer” stage are winged. They resemble flying ants in body shape, but are generally larger than the average winged ant; swarmers leave an established colony to establish new ones. Presence of these winged swarmers may indicate either a pending invasion or an already mature colony that has released reproductive capacity releasing its own new generation to begin another colony.
• Discarded insect wings: Swarmers shed their wings upon finding a likely nesting site. Evidence of small piles of discarded wings around home foundations are one of the most frequently overlooked signs of an impending infestation.
• Obvious presence of termite feces – rusty brown residue found in mounds on and around foundations is another indicator of termite invasion.
• Mud tubes: these may be the first sign of subterranean termite invasion to be noticed. Intricate networks of mud “corridors” are the means by which worker termites invade a new feeding source. These tubes are the means by which workers are protected from predators as they travel from the soil surrounding a structure. Crushing a tube and finding live insects inside can mean that the invasion is in its early stages, mud tubes that are well dried and empty may indicate the presence of an already established colony which has abandoned the tube network to burrow through the wood itself.
What to Look for: Detecting Termite Damage
The signs of actual termite destruction can be easily confused with damage due to other causes, including water penetration into structures. Wood surfaces that appear to be swollen or buckling can be the result of water damage OR termite invasion, floors and ceilings that exhibit these signs with no history or risk of rain or other water leakage should be suspected to be caused by termites. Colonies can invade homes that are otherwise resistant due to use of non wood structural components, there to feast on wooden floors, appurtenances and furniture. Fences attached to houses provide an ideal avenue for termites to enter a dwelling bypassing even early warning termite monitoring efforts and they have been known to burrow efficiently through plaster and metal siding to reach wooden cabinets and interior food sources. Colonies also exude a smell that is not unlike mold and mildew. It may take an inspection by a certified termite inspector to determine if damage noted within a structure has been caused by water or termites.
It is possible to “sound” for termite damage. Subterranean termites, which generate the biggest swarms and the largest colony size, leave a distinctive “honeycomb” pattern of damage beneath the exterior veneer of wooden structures. Tapping walls, beams and supports with a tool can reveal a hollow sound that may indicate the presence of these hidden “hives” of termite activity. Dry wood termites have a smaller colony size and tend to not attack the structural supports of dwellings as much as they do cabinetry and furniture. Because of the smaller colony size their damage is slower and more insidious, but no less destructive or costly. Furniture should be routinely inspected for all type of signs of dry wood termite infestation, especially in geographic locations where they are known to be prevalent.
Other signs of damage to note include:
• Visible maze-like marks within the walls
• Wood is soft when probed
• Springy floors or steps
• Blistering paint on beams, walls or ceilings
• Noticeable depressions on the wood surface
• Pinprick holes in drywall—another rich food source for termites
• Sagging or discolored sheetrock
• Doors and windows that jam, especially in areas not known for wood swelling due to humidity
Costs of Termite Damage and Repair
As might be expected the cost of termite damage repair depends on the extent of the termite destruction on a structure or its contents. Termite damage can be minor and superficial or major and threatening to the structural integrity of a home.
Termite damage cost is almost never covered by standard insurance policies; therefore all expenses for detected termite damage must be paid out of pocket by the homeowner. Once a colony has been exterminated within a structure, repair can be more readily assessed. If the colony was small and the infestation caught early enough, a homeowner might be lucky enough to spend only a few hundred dollars on repair. Extensive structural damage can easily cost as much as $50,000 or more to fully repair and restore. Houses with obvious termite damage in the form of sagging floors and ceilings, buckling walls and disintegrating door and window frames are apt to require extensive restoration and remodeling which carry a hefty price tag.
There is no easy and quick answer to the question of how much termite damage repair costs; there are too many variables from case to case. Once extermination has been successfully completed, the affected homeowner should field estimates from an array of local contractors-preferably contractors with specific experience in termite damage repair.
Additional to the cost is the need for ongoing monitoring and protection from re-infestation by termite colonies. Many exterminators offer plans which include yearly inspections, on-site monitoring and barrier treatments for additional cost beyond the actual extermination services. In areas prone to termite invasions, these protective plans are high advised and can over the life of a home, pay for their cost many times over.
Termite Damage Photos
Because termite destruction can be mistaken for water and other types of damage (including that caused by the equally destructive carpenter ant species), a good sampling of photographic views of actual documented termite damage is invaluable to the homeowner. The images below can be beneficial for comparison against newly discovered termite infestation signs.