Termite Tutorial & FAQs
Every year termites account for over 1.7 billion dollars in structural damage in the United States. As a homeowner or builder, it’s critical to understand methods for termite prevention and recognize signs of infestation.
There are three primary species of termites in the United States; the Subterranean Termite, the Drywood Termite, and the Formosan Termite. It’s vital to familiarize yourself with each type of termite, and have the ability to distinguish the different signs of infestation.
Reproductive termites swarm in the spring and the fall. If you discover small, large winged insects flying or lying dead in your residence, you may have an infestation. Reproductive termites are easily recognized by their small body, four large transparent wings, no waistline, and straight antennae.
Light brown in color, the Drywood Termite does not require much moisture and actually lives in the wood. Drywood Termites are extremely destructive because they grow their galleries inside walls, making them difficult to reveal. Often Drywood Termites are not discovered unless the structure is undergoing rebuilding or renovation, so major damage can be taking place with few signs of infestation. The behavior of Drywood Termites exhibits the importance of regular inspections.
The Subterranean Termite is the most common termite species. Brown to black in color, the Subterranean Termite feeds on wood but must return to the ground for moisture. They build their colonies deep beneath the soil, spawning millions of offspring per cubic yard. Subterranean Termite habitats house several queens, endless workers, and countless reproductives, making them a stubborn adversary unless expert treatment methods are employed.
Introduces to the United States from Asia, the Formosan Termite is light brown to red in color. Like it’s Drywood cousin, the Formosan Termite nests within the wood, only this little beast is far more aggressive. Formosan Termites can cause serious damage in as little as six months, making a regular inspection and prompt treatment essential.
OTHER SIGNS OF INFESTATION AND CONTRIBUTING FACTORS INCLUDE:
- Mud tubes, usually found in the foundation
- Small hole in your home’s siding
- Staining on the walls and ceiling or rotting wood
- Plumbing leaks
- Wood to ground contact piled against your home
The most important lesson in learning about termite control is to be proactive looking for signs of infestation and to be diligent getting an annual inspection. Hume & Company is always available for controlling moisture in and around the home with a prompt, affordable inspection. If you happen to have a problem, we’ll be there with cutting edge, non-toxic treatment techniques maximizing effectiveness and minimizing the negative impact on your home and your families health.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SIGNS OF TERMITES?
Because so much of the damage caused by termites is within the inner walls of a structure, it can be difficult to know if you have a termite problem. However, there are warning signs to help you determine if you have a termite problem.
- BLISTERS IN WOOD FLOORING
These areas or blisters can indicate termites feeding within or below. Subterranean termites can cause damage to the subfloor, which can make your wood flooring appear as if it has water damage.
- HOLLOW OR DAMAGED WOOD
Wood damage can be found below and behind surfaces like walls, floors and more. This can be caused by termites chewing through wood in search of cellulose, leaving behind long grooves. Over time, these grooves weaken the wood and create structural damage. Hollowed wood usually has a honeycomb interior and an empty sound.
- EVIDENCE OF SWARMS
Discarded termite wings can be found near closed windows, doors and other home-access points. This is caused when termites swarm out of their nest to mate and find a place start a new colony. When they land, termites intentionally twist their wings off because they will never need them again. Termite wings are all the same size while ants have one pair of larger wings (front) and one pair of smaller wings (rear).
- MUD TUBES
Pencil-sized mud tubes can be found wherever the ground meets your house or any other possible food source like a tree or shed. This is because subterranean termites’ nest underground and forage up to their food source, which is often a house structure. These termites require certain temperature and humidity levels to survive. Their tunnels help block out cool, dry air, effectively turning your home into an environment where they can thrive.
- DRYWOOD TERMITE DROPPINGS
Drywood termites nest inside of wood. While tunneling and eating the wood they’re infesting, they create galleries that they like to keep them clean. To keep them clean, they create kick out holes where they remove their excrement. And since drywood termites eat wood, their excrement is wood, which essentially creates mounds of pellets. These mounds of pellets, resembling sawdust or coffee grounds, may indicate the presence of drywood termites.
TERMITES, DEAD OR ALIVE
Winged termites are often the first sign of a termite infestation. Swarming termites are attracted to light and are often found near windows, doors, vents and light fixtures. Experiencing a termite swarm is the #1 sign that your property has a termite problem. Worker termites are small, light-colored insects that move quickly when exposed to light. They are also the family members that cause the most damage to a structure. Even if you haven’t seen signs of termites, check windows, heating vents, doors, sinks and bathtubs for dead termites or termite wings.
Mud tubes provide shelter for termites and have a muddy, flattened appearance approximately the width of a drinking straw. Look for mud tubes along cracks, beneath flooring, around baseboards, on pipes, piers, chimneys, behind siding, plumbing and other fixtures. Mud tubes may also extend over concrete foundations and other exposed surfaces.
Another way to check for termites is to tap wood along the walls, baseboards and windowsills every few inches with a screwdriver handle. Damaged wood will sound hollow and, if the area is extremely damaged, the handle may break the wood’s surface. If the area is active, you may see worker termites inside. Dark areas or blisters in wood flooring are an indicator of a subterranean termite infestation. Because subterranean termites are preventable, it is a good idea to have your property regularly inspected by a trained specialist.
HOW MUCH DAMAGE CAN TERMITES REALLY DO?
Termites cause an estimated $5 billion in property damages and repair costs annually. In fact, termites damage more homes than fires, floods and tornadoes. More than 4 million homes in the United States are at risk of infestation this year.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE WINGED ANTS OR SWARMING TERMITES?
Winged termites have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front pair is much larger). Flying ants shed their wings like termites. Termite wings are all the same size. Collect a few and call Hume & Company to have them identified if you want to be sure.
HOW CAN I IDENTIFY A TERMITE?
Termite workers are pale, soft-bodied insects about one-quarter of an inch or less in length. They appear to have a head and body because their thorax is broadly joined to their abdomen. Their antennae are straight.
Termites are mistakenly called white ants, but are not ant-like in appearance. Ants are usually heavily pigmented and have three distinct body regions: head, thorax and abdomen. Ants also have a very narrow or pinched “waist,” and their antennae are “elbowed.”
Winged termites, also known as swarmers, have pigmented bodies with broad waists and two pair of wings that are equal in size and shape. Subterranean termite swarmers have bodies about one-quarter of an inch in length. The swarmers quickly shed their wings after a brief flight. Winged ants, on the other hand, have pinched waists and two pair of wings that differ in size and shape (front are much larger).
HOW CAN I TELL IF PEST EXCREMENT IS FROM TERMITES OR OTHER INSECTS?
Drywood termites produce small bun-shaped excrement. This often accumulates on surfaces directly below infested areas. Evidence of activity can include small “pin holes” in the surface of the infested area and the droppings accumulating below. Swarmers might also be observed. The adult reproductives swarm to start new infestations in other areas of the structure. This usually occurs between early summer and late fall depending on where you live.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT TERMITE MUD TUNNELS ON MY DRYWALL?
Mud tunnels are one of the top indicators of subterranean termite activity. Contact Hume & Company as soon as possible.
DO TERMITES REALLY EAT WOOD?
Yes, termites really eat wood! In nature, termites play a useful role helping wood be recycled to the soil as humus, an organic material that provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water.
Using bacteria, protozoa and microbes that live inside their stomachs, termites are able to digest cellulose, the main constituent of wood. They are extremely well organized and persistent in their search for new food sources. Contrary to what one might think, they will eat anything containing cellulose – wallpaper, books, boxes, carpet backing, drywall and even furniture.
CAN TERMITES MAKE THEIR WAY THROUGH CONCRETE?
Termites cannot go through solid concrete, but they can get through a crack only 1/32nd of an inch wide. Openings this size or bigger often occur where two pieces of concrete abut – like when poured separately – and around plumbing penetrations through the concrete or where the concrete has cracked.
HOW LONG DO TERMITES LIVE?
A worker termite may live from one to two years. A queen termite may live for decades.
WHY DO WINGED TERMITES LOSE THEIR WINGS?
Swarmers use their wings to fly a short distance from their nest. They then break off their wings and never fly again, burrowing themselves in the soil to spend the remainder of their lives building a new colony.
WHAT WILL TERMITES DO AFTER THEY SWARM?
Subterranean termite swarmers attempt to pair with a swarmer of the opposite sex within their colony. They must locate a suitable habitat to establish a new colony of their own. They need moist soil, preferably in direct contact with wood, in order to survive. The termites that swarm inside a structure and cannot get out will quickly die from lack of available moisture. The termite colony that produced the swarmers will continue to be active after the swarm has taken place.
HOW DO TERMITES GET INSIDE MY PROPERTY?
Termites don’t need much room to squeeze inside your home or business. In fact, they can enter a structure through a space as small as 1/32nd of an inch.
Subterranean termites usually enter a building from the soil along its foundation or through cracks in the slab, expansion joints, weep holes, voids in brick or block and around plumbing. Decks, porches and other wood structures in direct contact with the ground are also easy access ramps for termites.
While most subterranean termite infestations can be traced to a colony living in soil outside the structure, some infestations begin above the ground. This occurs when a termite king and queen begin a new nest within a structure or when foraging termite workers become isolated and cannot return to the parent colony. Such conditions are most common in high-moisture areas. Structures with flat roofs or chronic leaks can also be at risk because the structure can retain enough moisture for a termite colony to establish itself. Constant moisture allows a termite colony to survive even without a connection to the soil. In such cases, the structural moisture problems may be as damaging to the home as the termite activity.
Common construction practices can also contribute to termite problems by providing termites admittance into a structure or creating ideal damp conditions for colonization. Some examples of these practices include wood-to-soil contact, form boards not being removed after construction is completed, wood refuse buried under the slab, improper drainage and stucco below grade.
Spreading mulch over the soil adjacent to a structure’s foundation can also provide an inroad for termites to creep into a building.
DOES THE BUILDER OF A NEW HOME USUALLY PROTECT IT AGAINST TERMITES?
There are only a few states that require soil pretreatment for control of subterranean termites during construction. It is usually the mortgage lender that requires this, especially in termite-prone areas.
I HAVE AN OLD TREE STUMP INFESTED WITH TERMITES. SHOULD I HAVE IT TREATED?
You don’t need to treat the stump, but you may want to give your home termite protection. In areas of the country where termites are common, it is not unusual to find them in the ground, in tree stumps or in debris near a structure. If your home has not been treated to control or prevent termite entry, you should maintain a close watch for termites and have a Hume & Company specialist inspect and implement a termite control program.
Subterranean termites nest in the ground and forage for food (cellulose or wood) over areas up to one-half of an acre or more in size. There is a high probability that if they are detected close to your home, they will eventually infest it – if they have not done so already. Treating the stump will not have any great impact on the colony or its continued search for new food sources. Contact Hume & Company for an inspection and to find out your control options.
Preventative action makes good sense in any termite-prone area, and you should also consider having Hume & Company implement a termite control program before you notice an infestation.
Remove all wood debris from around your home, especially after new construction and remodeling. This includes wood form boards along foundations, tree stumps and roots, as well as firewood stacked near the house.
Since termites need moisture to survive, grade the soil around your foundation so it carries water away from the house. Keep gutters and downspouts in good repair.
WILL SUBTERRANEAN TERMITE SWARMERS INFEST MY HOUSE, FURNITURE, CLOSETS, ETC.?
Subterranean termite swarmers are looking for moist soil in close proximity to wood in order to start a new colony. The likelihood of these conditions existing inside your home is very low, so unless the swarmers get outdoors, they will not survive.
THERE ARE HOMES WITH TERMITES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD. HOW CAN I PROTECT MY HOUSE?
Termites forage year-round and they spread most commonly underground. If your home is currently termite-free, it could become infested by termites that are active nearby. A preventative termite control program will help avoid termite infestation. Contact Hume & Company for additional information about termite biology, habits and treatment options.
I LIVE IN A STUCCO HOME. SHOULD I BE CONCERNED WITH TERMITES?
Termite problems are common in stucco homes. Usually this is because the stucco exterior finish extends beneath the soil level around the outside of the structure. This creates a small space between the foundation and the stucco finish, permitting termite entry that is completely hidden from view.
Another situation involves the “synthetic” stucco finishes that have a base layer of rigid foam board. This type also often extends beneath the soil level, and once the termites access the foam, they can move anywhere around the structure. This type of exterior finish is also prone to moisture intrusion, which will help support the termites once they get in.
HOW DO I GET RID OF DRYWOOD TERMITES?
More than likely, a home infested with drywood termites will require tent fumigation. Fumigation involves covering your home with tarps and introducing a fumigant gas to penetrate all infested wood. It is the most effective method of controlling drywood termite infestations.
MY HOUSE DOES NOT HAVE TERMITES – SHOULD I STILL GET A TERMITE TREATMENT?
Yes. Without an effective prevention program, your home is open to termite damage, which could remain unnoticed until it becomes a serious problem.
Keep in mind that just because you don’t see termites does not mean your property is safe from infestation. Subterranean termites live in colonies that can house hundreds of thousands of termites. They work 24 hours a day and are often difficult to detect since 80 percent of the wood they eat is hidden within the structure.
HOW DO I CONTROL TERMITES AND AVOID FUTURE INFESTATIONS?
There are many effective options based on the type of termites found at your home. Hume & Company recommends a Termite Inspection in order to determine the best method and treatment plan. Liquid treatments use applications to the soil at potential entry points into the structure. As the termites forage for food sources, they come into contact with the treatment area if they try to enter the structure.
Soil treatments are intended to control termites for extended periods of time, although they may be breached because of physical disturbance of the treatment zone (landscaping activities, construction, erosion), tree roots growing through the treatment zone and natural degradation of the termiticide, among others. For these reasons, most termite control programs are renewable.