Know the Signs of Termite Infestation
Most of us will never make a bigger financial investment in our lives than our homes which represent not only a financial commitment, but our shelter, our families our future. Just as we protect our homes from fire, from theft, from weather, we must also be eternally vigilant for more insidious threats.
Damage from termite infestation can destroy a home. In extreme cases of invasion by this pernicious pest, the complete structural integrity of homes has been lost—they’ve collapsed under the weight of the colony or had to be demolished because the insect damage was too severe to fix. To prevent such dire outcomes, the homeowner—even in those areas where termites are not as great a threat—must learn the signs of having termites and recognize damage before it becomes extreme.
The earliest signs of termite infestation are often the hardest to recognize, but preventing a colony from seizing control of a dwelling is 9/10ths of the battle. The wary homeowner will be on the lookout for and sound the alarm at the discovery of any of the following termite warning signs:
• Presence of winged insects resembling flying ants. The reproductive form of the termite is a winged creature that leaves the colony to establish a new one. Termites are often mistaken for ant in all their forms but winged reproductives tend to be larger than winged ants. Be wary of any winged bug flying about the foundations, eaves and outside lights of your house.
• Associated with the above sign, the presence of discarded wings around the foundations, and joists of a home indicate that reproductives may already have landed and are establishing a colony—upon reaching a new food source, this form of the insect sheds its wings and immediately begins burrowing into wood to establish a colony nest.
• Rusty brown mounds or trails of tiny pellets are evidence of termite droppings or “frass”. Depending on the species, the appearance of frass can vary from looking like sand, sawdust, or coffee grounds and can range in color from light beige to black depending on the kind of wood that is being consumed by the insects. It may take the services of a professional exterminator to distinguish “termite sawdust” from legitimate sawdust particles.
• Most commonly mounds accumulate beneath “kick holes” behind which can be found the tunnels and galleries of nests, but termite droppings may also be left in trails. Be wary of accumulations of any suspicious substance in out of the way areas in attics, basements, behind appliances, furniture, in corners of rooms and window sills.
• Subterranean termites invade homes from the ground surrounding the dwelling. This species has the largest colonies and the biggest invading swarms and probably does more damage per capita than any other termite species. One distinctive sign of the species is termite mud tubes—intricate networks of mud and feces mixed with dirt that are the means by which the insects travel through open air in search of food. Lines of termite tubes are often found snaking up the sides of exterior walls of structures, on support beams within infested homes, across walls and ceilings of heavily invaded dwellings. Fresh termite tubes broken open to reveal worker forms within may mean the colony is young and the invasion ongoing; older dried out mud tubes will often indicate that the honeymoon stage of an infestation is over and the termites have established themselves fully within the deep structures of a home.
Know Signs of Damage:
Depending on the species of termite, a colony can take years to establish and actual damage caused by the invasion to become apparent and quite often it is these signs that are the first indication a homeowner has of termite problem. Even at an advanced stage, termite infestation signs can be mistaken for water and other types of damage, and because termites burrow deep into wood structures, surface damages may be minimal.
The physical signs that a home has termites may include:
• Swollen, buckling wood. This may be the result of leaks from pipes or weather damage, but termite infestation should always also be suspected until ruled out.
• Musty moldy smell to structures that cannot be attributed to actual mold or mildew. Colonies and their waste products produce a smell that is not unlike that of mold.
• Hollow sounds in wood that is sharply rapped with a screwdriver or hammer. Solid healthy wood should give a distinctive sound when tapped. Any variation to a solid thump may indicate the distinctive honeycomb infestation of a colony beneath the wood surface.
• Visible maze-like marks within the walls are the evidence of a colony at work
• Wood is soft when probed—if a formerly solid wooden surface has developed “give” or crumbles beneath firm poking termite infestation is likely to be well established.
• Springy floors or steps. As termites undermine the solid support of subflooring and the frames of steps and stairways, treads and floors may be noticed to have more pliancy than before.
• Blistering paint on beams, walls or ceilings are often the first signs that a termite colony is establishing itself beneath the surface.
• Noticeable depressions on the wood surface. As termites eat their way through solid wood, the surfaces will begin to sag even though they may not have a breath or crack. Always be suspicious of wood that has developed dips and depressions in its surface.
• Pinprick holes in drywall (which another rich food source for termites), these tiny holes are generally the “kick” holes for the removal of debris and waste. Termite dust found beneath these small openings is a sure sign that a colony is active.
• Sagging or discolored sheetrock, again sheetrock has high cellulose content and is very attractive to termite colonies.
• Doors and windows that jam, especially in areas not known for wood swelling due to humidity. In some areas the relative humidity in the atmosphere makes doors and window sills swell. However, in areas where this is not a problem the development of this issue can be a sign that termites have invaded the dwelling and are burrowing through door frames and jambs, window supports and sills causing the door to swell.
The detection of a termite colony is not always a straightforward experience of seeing the evidence and following the clues—many times a colony is well established with none of the usual termite signs being noted by the homeowner. Some signs of termite infestation are arguably difficult for even the professional exterminators to recognize and differentiate from other types of damage that homes are prone to in the normal course of things. It is better to sound the alarm, however, and have a termite infestation ruled out, than ignore signs and end up with an expensive problem that can take tens of thousands of dollars to rectify.
Know the signs and call for the professionals—in termite prone areas periodic inspections by the experts will more than pay for themselves in the long run—when they present. A termite infestation is rarely a do it yourself project, and the earlier you bring in the big guns, the better chance you have of protecting your home.