Home Buyers Beware: How to Spot Signs of Termite Damage


Termites can pose a serious threat to those owning or looking to buy a home. According to the National Pest Management Association, Americans spend more than $5 billion each year to repair the damage they cause and treat infestations. These pests are a greater threat to wood-based structures than flood, wind and fire, and can compromise your structure’s stability and safety. It’s crucial to catch a termite problem early in order to limit the amount of destruction they can do, but this can be tricky. Here are some tips that will allow you to spot an issue while it’s relatively new, and save yourself a lot of time and money down the road.

Termite Types

There are two main varieties of termites that affect U.S. homes: subterranean (live underground) and drywood (live entirely in wood). Those that live underground construct soil colonies, whereas drywood termites are found in furniture, hardwood flooring, and a building’s frame.

Subterranean Termite Signs

You may not see indications of interior harm from these termites until you have a full-blown infestation. Subterranean pests have a headquarters in the ground and then build tunnels that connect their nest to their food source. Look out for:

  • Honeycomb wood patterns: a result of soft wood consumption and eating along the grain
  • Mud tubes: built on a home’s foundation or exterior walls (to give moisture while termites hunt for food), these are made of saliva, fecal matter, soil, etc., and can be inspected in order to see active termite infestation – old ones will fall apart easily.
  • Signs of water damage: termite destruction often resembles water damage, so can appear as swollen ceilings and floors, buckling wood, etc. They can also give off a mold or mildew odor.

Drywood Termite Signs

These termites construct their colonies within wooden structures that they then feed upon. They are present inside furniture (especially antique pieces) or walls. Often you may not be aware of a drywood termite infestation until it has burrowed so thoroughly inside an infested item that you can see the following alerts of their presence:

  • Veneer cracks
  • Maze-like tunnels
  • Frass: wood-colored droppings that pests produce as they consume infested wood. You’ll see them on surfaces beneath infested wood sections.
  • Hollow wood sound: tap a piece of wood you suspect of infestation with a hammer and you may hear a dull thud. If you then carefully inspect the surface, you will likely see tunnels that run parallel to the grain of the wood.

Additional Indications

If you see a swarm of what appears to be flying ants, particularly near light sources, this could point to a nearby nest. These swarmers are a group of adult female and male pests that has left their nest to build a new colony.

Next Steps

If you have a hunch that you have a termite infestation, call a licensed pest management professional to carry out an inspection. They can locate the source of the infestation and offer a unique treatment and prevention strategy. This may include wood treatments, baits, liquid repellants and possibly fumigation. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the evidence of a termite problem – it won’t go away and can only get worse.

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