Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Termites?

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Termites?  

According to Orkin, termites damage over half a million homes each year, accounting for over 5 billion dollars in damage. These prehistoric pests are a homeowner’s worst nightmare. Termites sneak in through cracks in your foundation, invade your home’s wood structures, and begin eating away. They are hard to detect, even harder to remove, expensive to exterminate, cause tremendous property damage, and are not covered by homeowners insurance. 

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Termite Damage? 

Unfortunately, there is no insurance coverage for termites. Insurance companies list termites as one exclusion. Exclusions are certain types of damage not covered by policies. While each policy is different, most include exclusions such as war, flooding, poor maintenance, neglect, mold, and earth movements like landslides or earthquakes. One exclusion almost always included is pests; this includes damage caused by infestations of rats, chipmunks, and, of course, termites. 

Is There Ever a Situation Where Termite Damage Is Covered?

While highly uncommon, there are some specific situations where home insurance policies will cover damage caused by termites. These situations usually fall into one of two categories: 

  • Uncontrollable circumstances attract the termites: Occasionally, unforeseen perils will damage a home in a way that makes it vulnerable to termites. Hail, for example, can damage and remove shingles from the top of a home. When shingles do not protect a house, it becomes more susceptible to termites, especially if rain can soak in. Since the termites were drawn in by circumstances the homeowner could not control or foresee, their policy can cover the damage. 
  • The termite damage is unforeseen and causes immediate and extreme damage: This situation is far rarer, and its coverage is highly dependent on the specifics of the policy. In some instances, termites slowly wear down a home’s structural stability over several years. In these situations, the termites stay within the core structures of the house, presenting no reasonable means of detection. This damage builds up until a portion of the home or the entire house collapses. In these situations, the homeowner must prove there was no way to detect the termites and that the damage was not readily apparent until the home’s collapse. If you can prove these factors to your insurance provider, they may cover the damages.

Why Isn’t Termite Damage Covered By Homeowners Insurance?

Homeowners insurance is supposed to help cover the damages and losses caused by unforeseen tragedies, referred to as perils by most policies. Commonly covered perils are events such as fires, lightning, hail, explosions, vandalism, or theft. The specific perils covered by a policy depend on the issuing company and the type of policy the homeowner chooses. But, regardless of the specific perils covered, they are going to be unpredictable, unstoppable, and unforeseen events. 

Homeowners insurance policies do not cover termites because they are considered preventable and the homeowner’s responsibility. Termite damage is slow and manageable with proper maintenance and diligence from the homeowner. Furthermore, homeowners insurance does not cover termite inspections, preventative measures, or exterminations.

What is a Termite?

Termites are highly social insects from the order Blattodea – this is the same order as cockroaches, with recent paleontological studies indicating termites may have evolved from cockroaches. Termites burrow into, nest within, and consume wood, thriving on the cellulose in the wood. There are over 2,000 different species of termites, with over 40 in the United States. Termites inhabit most states but are common along the Southeastern coast. The states most at risk for termites are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Some outlier states that also host high termite populations include California and Texas. The only state devoid of termites is Alaska. 

While each species of termite has a slightly different appearance, most have the following traits:

  • They possess soft, milk-white bodies. 
  • They have rust-brown heads.
  • They possess long, dark-brown to black pincers.
  • They are a quarter-inch to half an inch long. 
  • Some termites, namely those who reproduce, have wings.

Like wasps and bees, termite species confirm a strict biological caste structure. These castes contain three levels: swarmers, soldiers, and workers. 

  • Swarmers: Also called alates, this is the reproductive caste. The alate caste consists of males and females, also called nymphs, that a colony begins producing once it reaches a specific size. Once large enough, the colony will create swarmers in mass, with numbers in the hundreds or even thousands if the colony is large enough. These swarmers will wait until the late summer or early fall, on an overcast day, to spread out and create new colonies. They do this by flying off in pairs, finding a suitable location, mating, then shedding their wings. This final step can be a powerful indicator for homeowners. Finding a pair of tiny, semiclear wings on windowsills can be one of the earliest signs of a termite infestation. 
  • Soldiers: This is the warrior caste responsible for protecting the colony from predators, their main enemy being ants. Soldier termites have larger heads, elongated bodies, and large front mandibles. While soldiers may look intimidating, they are not known to be aggressive to humans but can still bite if handled. If bit by a soldier, don’t fret; termites do not carry diseases or possess venom, with bites only creating mild irritation. 
  • Workers: This is the backbone of the colony, making up the majority of its population. Workers are the smallest of the colony, whose duties are building tunnels, breaking down materials, and collecting food. Workers also feed swarmers once it’s time for the colony to expand. This cast is also responsible for most of the wood damage caused by infestations.

Different Types of Termites 

There are three primary species that homeowners are likely to come across, drywood, Formosan, and subterranean termites. Each species has different signs, habits, preferred nesting locations, and levels of risk associated with them. 

Drywood Termites

This species’ name comes from its nesting habits, living exclusively in dry, hard wood. Unlike other termite species, these pests do not need contact with soil, obtaining all the moisture they need from the wood they consume. These termites love to feed on the wooden structures of your home, such as furniture, baseboard, support beams, joists, and even wooden picture frames. 

These termites live in smaller colonies that lack a worker caste, with the bulk of the construction duties completed by juveniles. But just because their colonies are smaller does not mean they are any less dangerous. In fact, due to their smaller size and tendency to burrow deep into wooden structures, detecting these termites can be extremely difficult. These termites are known to live inside of homes for years doing damage undetected. 

Homeowners often become aware of a colony through droppings, kick-out holes, and discarded wings. Droppings are found below kick-out holes and resemble small, dark brown pellets. Kick-out holes are how these termites enter wooden structures. Termites will also use these holes to remove the wood they have eaten or excavated. They are small, about the size of a pen tip, and do not last long, as termites are quick to fill them with wood shavings or feces. 

Formosan Termites

These nasty critters are often called “super termites.” They possess larger populations than other termite species, with queens laying 1,000 eggs per day. Furthermore, their population contains more soldiers. The soldiers of this species will attack invaders aggressively, swarming and attacking any nearby object upon provocation. Horrifically, soldiers can also fire a white-gray defensive fluid from a large hole in their head called. 

Formosan termites do not individually deal more damage than other species. But, due to their colony’s size and fast-acting nature, they can cause damage to homes far more quickly. Formosan termites are known to completely hollow out wooden structures, leaving only a thin outer layer of wood. They then fill these hollowed-out cavities with a substance called carton, creating nests. Carton is a combination of wood pulp, feces, and moisture. Most subterranean termites need to return to the ground to retain moisture, while Formosan termites use carton nests to avoid this by bringing moisture into their tunnels.

Subterranean Termites

As their name suggests, subterranean termites nest underground. They eat softwood, ignoring and eating around hardwood portions of structures. These termites will infest any wood that touches the soil next to their colony and utilize mud tunnels to reach anything else. These tunnels resemble pipe-like tubes along the outside of the house, connecting the soil to wooden structures that rest above ground-touching brickwork. 

Subterranean termites are the most widespread species, containing several subspecies like dampwood termites. While present in every state, they are more common in wet, hot locations along the southern coast. Like Formosan termites, they are highly destructive, possessing quick reproduction with colossal colonies ranging from 60,000 to two million. These colonies can stretch under large portions of the ground, invading multiple structures at a time. Even worse, subterranean termites are less hostile than Formosans, allowing for overlapping colonies. When this overlap occurs, several colonies can work together to destroy structures simultaneously. 

Thankfully, subterranean termites are more noticeable than other species. Since they need to return to their underground hive, they leave telltale mud tubes along the outside of homes. These pipes can be a homeowner’s best indicator of an underground colony having taken up residence in your lawn

How to Spot Termites Before They Become a Problem 

Each termite species is different, but there are several general signs of termite infestations.

  • Hollow-sounding wood: All termites consume wood and will create tunnels throughout the wooden parts of your home. These tunnels change the sound of the wood when struck. So one of the best methods for finding signs of termite damage is a good tap from something solid. If the wood creates an empty, hollow sound, it could be termites.
  • Shed wings: All termites swarm when their colonies grow too large. When this happens, alates will seek out ideal nesting areas. Once they settle in and mate, they immediately shed their wings. So if you spot two sets of semi-cleat, gray wings on your doorstep, windowsill, porch, or doorframe, it might be the first sign of a termite infestation.  
  • Cracks in wood: As termites burrow, they weaken the overall structure of the wood. If the wood is already weak or under strain, it can crack or break. 
  • Bowed floors: As termites further infest a home, they wear down the structure of the floors. This weakening results in floors bowing under the weight of everyday use. This bowing can sometimes be noticeable at a glance, but you will likely discover this by stepping on it.
  • Buckling walls and ceilings: Like floors, walls and ceilings will lose their structural stability as termites chow down. They will begin to lose the ability to support the structure’s weight, resulting in noticeable sagging or buckling. Eventually, this can lead to collapses, making your home highly unsafe. 

How To Prevent Termites 

Preventing termites in your home comes down to making it as unappealing a target as possible. Termites are attracted to several environmental factors, so you should do the following to keep them at bay.  

  • Keep firewood far from your house: Termites feed on firewood and lay their eggs in it. You should always keep your firewood at least 20 feet away from your home. Keeping it off the ground and wrapped in a plastic tarp reduces the chance of termites spreading to your home and yard. 
  • Patch cracks in foundation and walls: Most species of termites enter a property through small cracks in your home’s foundation. Termites only need a crack a quarter of an inch in size to find their way inside. To keep them out, you should fill gaps in your foundation with silicone caulk or liquid cement. 
  • Keep moisture away from your home: Termites, especially subterranean species, are attracted to moisture and water damage. If your gutters are draining directly next to your home, it creates soil perfect for their colonies. To stop this, ensure your gutters drain several feet from your house. 
  • Remove debris from your yard: Termites are attracted to loose, rotting, and damp wood. Loose tree limbs, stumps, mulch, and wooden debris can draw them to your yard, then eventually to your home. 
  • Schedule annual inspections: This is a useful pest control practice that can help prevent a wide variety of harmful critters. Scheduling an annual inspection with a pest control company can save you thousands in the long run.

Conclusion

Termites are some of the most destructive pests out there. They are hard to spot, easy to attract, and can do thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home. Except for some rare exceptions, homeowners insurance will not cover these wood-craved creepy-crawlies. You can prevent termites by keeping a clean lawn and garden, ensuring that firewood is far from your home, practicing good home maintenance, and maintaining basic pest control practices. If you discover a sizable infestation in your home, your best bet is to contact a pest control company. Pest control companies can help you assess the damage caused by termites, exterminate them, and help you prevent them from returning.

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