Chapter 3: Signs of Termites
Recognizing a termite infestation is not always easy. Termites are sneaky critters that go about their work undetected for years. It usually takes the help of a professional to find the signs of an infestation.
Finding winged termites inside the house is almost always evidence of an infestation because it takes years for a colony to get big enough to produce swarmers. Therefore, homeowners typically discover termites during swarm season, or when they are renovating their home and access its structure.
Even though termites are skilled at staying out of view, there are still ways to find them before an infestation causes too much damage. In this chapter, we'll show you everything to look for when inspecting your property for termites. If you're not sure whether or not you have an infestation, it's recommended to reach out to experts immediately. A termite infestation is not something you want to take lightly.
What Attracts Termites Into the House?
Termites will enter a house in search of food. Termites mostly prefer eating wood, and they even like certain types more than others. For example, even though eastern subterranean termites will eat hardwoods without complaint, they especially enjoy pine and other softwoods. In general, termites prefer moist wood.
Wood is not the only item in a termite's diet. They are attracted to almost anything that contains cellulose. Cellulose is a type of carbohydrate and gives termites the nutrition they need. Although humans are unable to digest cellulose, termites have special organisms and substances in their guts that allow them to break cellulose down into usable nutrients. Cellulose can be found in household items like:
Some homeowners may be surprised to find termites infesting a book collection or box of paper. They may also be found in mulch, construction debris and dark, moist, warm areas. They'll damage a range of materials that they don't usually eat as they search for food.
Termites constantly look for more grub and will search hundreds of feet from their colony. They'll tunnel through the first 6 to 12 inches of soil with the hope of finding wood. If rocks or other hard materials keep them from traveling underground, they'll build mud tubes above the ground. They'll forage in random directions from the nest site until they find a food source, and then recruit other workers to help them build tunnels to the supply. If a piece of wood has a large amount of moisture and food, they might even establish a nest in the source itself or nearby.
How to Tell If You Have Termites
It can be hard to know you have termites because subterranean termites form tunnels in wood, which may look completely normal from the outside. Plus, they stay in the soil to keep from drying out, which is why they also build mud tubes to forage above ground. There are still clues you can look for to discover an infestation, such as signs of termite damage. Check for the following:
- Mud tubes: Mud tubes are brown, thin tubes that may be found running along the foundation or exterior walls of a building. These tubes, along with termite nests, are made of mud and carton. Carton is a material consisting of chewed wood, feces and soil packed together. These tubes protect termites from predators and dry air as they search for food.
- Drop tubes: Subterranean termites might also create drop tubes. Drop tubes are another type of mud tube that suspends from a wooden structure and extends to the ground. They may be lighter in color than regular mud tubes because they typically contain more wood fiber from the structure.
- Swarming tubes: Termites build swarming tubes when it's time for swarmers to take flight. These tubes generally extend 4 to 8 inches above the ground and provide an exit tunnel for winged reproductives to leave the colony.
- Wings: Discarded termite wings are typically found near windows or floors. They are equally sized, thin, papery and about 1/4-inch long.
- Rippled paint or wallpaper: Termite damage may resemble water damage in wallpaper or paint. Sunken trails underneath a wall's coating can indicate termite activity and moisture related to their presence.
- Hollow wood: Hollow-sounding wood or wooden surfaces that are easily punctured shows that termites have been feasting there. Subterranean termites form galleries in wood by following the grain, while drywood termites create tunnels that cut against the grain. As an example, one person discovered a termite infestation when their vacuum cleaner smashed right through the baseboard.
- Droppings: Termite droppings may be a sign of drywood termites and are usually found near wood surfaces. They may look like piles of sawdust or tiny pellets. Pellets are only about 1 to 2 millimeters in length and have a unique six-sided shape. They range in color from cream to black.
- Wood changes:Dark areas or blisters in wood flooring or paneling may be a sign of a subterranean termite infestation. Just like the walls, termite destruction can look similar to water damage on floors.
- Winged termites: Swarmers emerging from the foundation, porches or anywhere indoors are a pretty strong sign of an infestation. Even swarmers appearing near a house may indicate a problem worth investigating. Swarmers are attracted to light, so you may find them flying around windows, doors, TVs or light fixtures, and they'll leave a large number of wings behind.
- Cracks filled with soil: Soil packed in crevices and cracks may also show an infestation. It's not uncommon for termites to enter a home through cracks in concrete or any opening they can find near the ground as they search for wood or other cellulose-containing materials.
What Are the Signs of Termites in the Drywall?
The top two signs of termites in drywall are the appearance of trails under the paint and mud spots on the walls.
Although termites will not eat the gypsum in drywall, they will consume the paper coverings. As much as 10% of a drywall panel may be composed of cellulose — a termite's favorite ingredient. If termites are working underneath your walls, you might find narrow, sunken trails beneath the paint. You might also find tiny mud spots covering small holes in the walls. These pinholes appear by accident, and termites quickly repair them with mud to prevent exposure to the outside air. If you find mud covering a hole you recently scraped away, you can assume a termite worker patched it up. You might even see a termite investigating a newly uncovered hole. By this point, it's time to call a pro.
What Do Termites Sound Like?
Soil is an excellent insulator, so it can be challenging to hear termites at work. However, if you have an infestation and listen carefully, you might hear a rustling sound as workers chew their way through the wood. Soldier termites are the loudest of all because they headbang. Headbanging is when soldiers quickly and repeatedly slam their heads against a surface, causing it to vibrate. This sends a message to workers that a threat is nearby. Humans can detect a rattling sound when this occurs, but termites will react to the vibration.
How Long Does It Take for Termites to Destroy a House?
It usually takes several months or years for subterranean termites to cause significant damage in a home, but this also depends on factors such as the weather. For example, in northern regions, termite activity declines in the winter but may continue year-round if the insects find protection from cold temperatures. Regardless, prevention is key to protecting a house from severe termite damage and is the reason why homeowners should take immediate action if they suspect an infestation.
How to Inspect for Termites
Most homeowners are unaware that an infestation exists until they find a visible sign.
There are three main things to look for when inspecting your home for a termite infestation, which are:
- Mud tubes
- Damaged wood
Any of the above may indicate a termite problem. Pay special attention to wood mulch and any areas where wooden structures in the home contact the ground.
Also, make sure to inspect any cracks or openings in your home and look for mud tubes or packed soil. Even though termites cannot eat through a concrete foundation, they can enter through the cracks. Termites can also get in the home through sewage lines and electric conduits, which must also be inspected.
If you notice any signs of termites, make sure to hire a professional to conduct a thorough inspection. A professional examination should be conducted before treating the issue. A professional will make sure you have termites and not another type of pest so they can handle the infestation properly. They'll also know where to look and can take steps to prevent future infestations.