March 23rd, 2017
Termites lead a “hidden” lifestyle, so it is often difficult to identify them when they have infested a home. These tiny insects are always hidden from view either beneath the surface of the soil, beneath the surface of the wood, or in mud tunnels, which makes them so successful in invading buildings. Termite activity in a home can be undetected for many years, and some signs of activity may show up unexpectedly, or discovered by accident or during home repair. Common entryways for termites are fairly small and may be found in a slab wall, in lumber in contact with the soil, in an earth-filled stoop, expansion joints, or foam insulation in contact with soil. Most termite infestations occur in basements and in structural timbers above cellar walls, and termites typically prefer areas around furnaces, chimneys and hot water heaters and pipes. The presence of termites is not detected until damage becomes evident or termite swarming takes place. However, there are some signs of termite infestation, including mud tubes, termite swarms, and wood damage.
Termites die when exposed to open air and sunlight, so they travel tubes made of mud, bubbled paint, or wooden surfaces that are damp and cool to the touch. The moist earth-colored tubes may also be used as swarming exits for winged termites. Owners should be on the lookout for these narrow tubes running along the base of their homes; these mud tubes are a tell-tale sign of a termite infestation. These mud tubes extend from the ground to the infested wood. The tubes used for shelter by the termites are muddy in appearance, flattened, and the width of a pencil. Mud tubes are most obvious to the human eye when they extend over concrete foundations and other exposed surfaces, including cellar walls, wooden posts, exterior masonry, and trim around doors and windows. However, if the tubes are running along crack, underneath flooring, or behind siding and baseboards, owners will be unable to see them.
Reproductive termites swarm during spring inside or near a building or window. Winged termites will emerge from indoors or outdoors from swarming tubes adjacent to the infested structure, and may sometimes shed wings, which makes it easy to detect termite infestation. These swarming termites are attracted to light, and may be found indoors around lighting fixture, windows, doors, and vents. The winged termites may sometimes be confused with winged ants, so it is important for homeowners to be able to distinguish between the two. Ants have narrow waists, much like the wasp, while termites have broader waists, and ant’s wings are the same length as its body, but a termite’s is almost twice the length of its body. Homeowners should lookout for swarming termites inside and outside of the home, and discarded piles of wings or seed-like pellets left behind by termites. Wood damage is the most common indication of a termite infestation.
A common indication of termite infestation is the presence of dark areas and blisters in wood flooring. However, some damage may go undetected because termites only eat the spring wood, and often leave the grain and exterior surface of the structure intact. Tapping the wood, every few inches with the handle of a screwdriver will help detect damage that is not visible. Damaged wood will sound hollow and the screwdriver may break through the wood into galleries, and worker termites may fall out during the intrusion. Wood that has been infested for a while, may be hollowed out with passages, and may even appear rotten. Homeowners should be on the lookout for pinholes in drywall and wallpaper, damaged or hollow wood, cracks in walls, or blistered areas on the floor, wall or window frame. Piles of sawdust caused by wood damage may also appear on the floor, and may be another indication of termite infestation.