Updated Dec 2, 2022
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Termite damage is an extremely serious concern for homeowners all over the U.S. It’s expensive to repair and it can present danger to you and your family. There are several ways you can see if you have termite damage so you can prevent the infestation from growing or taking root in the first place. It is best to have professional annual termite inspections, just to stay on top of a termite problem before it has a chance to begin.
The following are the most common termite species found in homes in the U.S. In Florida, conehead termites are becoming more widespread, and dampwood termites present a problem in some areas, but these are the big three that you need to watch out for.
Drywood Termites: These termites need dry wood material like dead trees, attic wood, old fences, or anything they can burrow into. They create lots of sawdust during this process. Drywood termites are not as damaging as subterranean termites simply because they have smaller colonies. They are physically smaller, and they inhabit smaller pieces of wooden structures than the following termite types.
Subterranean Termites: These termites do not prefer to make their homes in dry wood alone — they also need moisture, which is why subterranean termite colonies typically begin at the foundations of your home. This is where they can construct their mud tubes, which then reach up into the wooden structures of your home. They often start by creating significant damage to your floorboards before moving on to other areas of your home.
Formosan Subterranean Termites: The main difference between Formosan termites and subterranean termites is in appearance. Formosan and subterranean termites both have translucent bodies, but Formosan termites are orange, and subterranean are typically gray or brown. Formosan termites have longer bodies and shorter heads, and both varieties have two pincers.
Another major difference between the two is the amount of damage they can cause. Both types of subterranean termites cause intense wood damage, but a Formosan termite colony can obliterate wooden structures within a month because of the colony’s huge size. This is much faster than the other types mentioned above.
Because of where they attain their food sources, termites are found in specific places in your home, sometimes all these places at once, depending on the severity of termite infestation. Drywood termites digest cellulose found in anything made from wood, such as wooden drywall, fences, decks, floors, staircases, trim, and even the attic and roof. Subterranean termites typically perform their damage from the ground up.
Termite damage on trim can mean damage to these places in your home: baseboards, door frames, windowsills, and even wooden trim and lining on your staircase(s). These places are especially susceptible to termite damage because they are close to entry points for subterranean termites, and they receive a lot of wear and tear in your home.
Termite damage on trim can appear in the form of blistered paint at first, and then the wood will start to show under the paint. Under the blistering paint, there are tunnels through the wood that worker termites have created, and this leads to the structural integrity of the trim being compromised. The trim can then feel spongey and weak, and eventually signs of termite infestation show in buckles and holes in the wood.
This is where you’re going to see subterranean termites wreak havoc. Since the floorboards are close to the foundation of your home, where a subterranean termite infestation almost always originates, it’s the natural next step of the colony’s progression.
Termite damage to hardwood floors first presents as discoloration. The affected areas won’t match in color anymore to the main stain color. You will then see further signs of a termite infestation because the outer layers of wood will begin to peel and expose the layers beneath. Like the trim, the floorboards will become spongy, and if the damage is extensive enough you may even have the misfortune of finding this out by putting your foot right through the floor.
Signs of termite damage to furniture are usually the last of the warning signs you will catch when you have termite damage. This is because furniture can look completely intact and unaffected when you look at it, but termites are small and once they chew holes to get inside your furniture, they do their damage from the inside out.
You may notice small spots on your tables or chairs that resemble water damage. However, if you peel away the outside layer of affected furniture, you will see tiny holes and tunnels crisscrossing over each other, and you may even see intricate maze-like structures within and piles of sawdust throughout. This is a sure sign your furniture has been feeding termites.
There are several tell-tale signs that you can look out for so you can do your own cursory termite inspection although you may not be a pest control professional yourself. If you catch these signs in time, you can avoid thousands of dollars of repair costs. Keep an eye out for these signs of termite activity.
Termites routinely lose their wings throughout different stages of their life cycle. Alates are flying termites, and they use their wings to find suitable places to establish new colonies. These individuals are able to breed, and alates make up groups known as “swarmers,” which is when a termite colony swarms and flies away all at once to colonize new places. You can see discarded termite wings in the locations where termites decide to live; once they reach a new colony location, they shed their wings and enter the next life cycle stage.
One of the most obvious visual indicators of the presence of a termite colony is mud tubes, which are created by subterranean termites. These begin under your home in most cases, but they can also spread from door frames and other wooden objects across ceilings or up walls. They look like finger-width tunnels made from sawdust and mud. This is a sure sign that deeper damage lurks under the surface.
As we’ve mentioned above, wood damage is a sign of a termite infestation. It can look like water damage on the surface, but paint will begin to buckle and blister, and eventually, the wood underneath will be exposed. Wood damage can take the form of cracks or tears, especially in floorboards and baseboards. You may even begin to see vertical tunnel-like bumps begin to take shape in the wooden structures of your home.
Termites keep their tunnels and holes clear from their poop, and they generate a lot because of their method of burrowing. Their droppings are known as frass, and there will be a gathering of frass wherever there is the most concentration of their food source — wood. Frass can look like tiny brown pellets, but it can also be a liquid-like substance or a pile of what looks like droppings and sawdust. Where there are termites, there will be termite droppings (frass).
Termite nests can differ in appearance depending on the type of termite infestation you’re dealing with. They can take the form of small mounds, which are simply the entrances to vast subterranean tunnels and rooms. They can also be underground and therefore not visible.
Termites are arguably the most dangerous pest to have, as the structural damage they create in your home can lead to injury; they are definitely the costliest infestation to recover from, depending on how deep the damage goes. If you find out that you have a termite infestation, here are some steps you can take.
If the termite damage in your home hasn’t reached critical levels, there are some measures you can take yourself for termite control. For example, you can spread boric acid where you’ve seen signs of termites and termite activity. A container of this white powder should cost less than a dollar, and it’s toxic to pests. The termites will get it on their carapaces and clean it off, thus consuming the poison and eventually dying.
You can also use diatomaceous earth. This substance is also a white powder, but it’s found in the gardening section of the store rather than the pest control area. Diatoms are the remains of microscopic aquatic life that are tough and hard and act as an excellent pesticide when added to garden soil. You can just sprinkle it in the same areas you would place boric acid, and when termites cross over it, their exoskeletons will be cut and torn, thus eventually drying them out.
Termiticide barriers are another option. These are chemicals that termites cannot smell or taste, and you apply them around the perimeter of your home. Once they consume any material that you’ve applied it to, they will be poisoned and die. You can also use chemical treatments to flood their nests with insecticides. This will prompt the queens to emerge, and you can kill them as they do.
If your termite issue has gotten beyond your capabilities to handle, it’s time to hire either an exterminator or a pest control company to get rid of your termite problem for good. Exterminators’ methods are typically harsher and one-size-fits-all when it comes to eradicating infestations — their treatment should take a day or two and should take care of most if not all the termites in your home. Pest control professionals can get rid of your termite problem as well, but they may also do it on a multistep basis. You can also sign up for annual termite inspections with a pest control company, although many exterminators also offer free inspections in their service packages.
There’s a chance that what you suspect might be termite damage to your walls or floors could actually be dry rot. You can test the wood’s firmness level if it feels dry to the touch. Dry rot comes away in chunks, and it’s dry, as the name states. But if you can feel actual tunnels and the wood isn’t drier than usual, and especially if you discover that the wood is hollow, you’ve likely got termites.
If you do an inspection like this, be sure to check any furniture, especially old or untreated wooden furniture, for termite damage. It could cause you injury to sit upon what you think is a completely fine chair when it’s riddled with termite damage inside.
If you do not treat your termite infestation, it won’t take long for the colony to multiply, especially if you have been dealt the unfortunate hand of Formosan subterranean termites, which can destroy a home’s foundation within the span of a few weeks. Your home will be a food source for the termite colony for as long as there is wood, and the colony will continue to breed and grow. Your home will literally collapse around you.
You can apply a preemptive termiticide barrier like we mentioned under the DIY section. You can also use citrus essential oils, such as orange or grapefruit, and mix them with water to create a repellent. Spray this repellent in moist areas like your crawl space, under your sink, and around your trim and baseboards. Add ten drops of dish soap to your homemade repellent for extra potency (the oils can be deadly to termites, not just a deterrent).
You can use cardboard traps as well so you can monitor whether or not you have termites. If you see even one or two caught in the trap, it’s time to call a pest control professional right away to inspect your home. It’s also a great idea to use termite baits. These little traps can be placed anywhere in and around your home but it’s best to place them in the same areas you would spray repellent. The toxins within will kill any termite that enters.
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