How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
Why do termite inspectors tap the wood siding and baseboard wood in a home?
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Subterranean termites can be hard to detect, even when a house has a significant infestation. They become dehydrated quickly by exposure to air, so they crawl up into a house protected inside tiny tubes the workers construct from dirt, feces, and their own saliva; which are called, obviously enough, mud tubes. Shown below are several mud tubes we found last year, where the termites were coming up through a crack in the garage floor and climbing up the step, searching for wood.
As they rise through the mud tubes into the house, the first pieces of wood they encounter are the exterior siding and trim, and the interior baseboard. They immediately start eating tunnels through the wood, called “galleries,” as they work their way up through the walls to the attic, munching right up to the surface of the paint—but not through it. So termite-eaten wood will be mostly hollow, but often with paint surface still intact and unblemished.
Some inspectors, including us, use an old-fashioned technique called “sounding” as an adjunct to the normal visual inspection. Tapping the wood with the head of a long screwdriver or section of hollow PVC pipe will make a bright, knock-on-wood sound on solid wood, but a dull thud on wood with termite-eaten galleries. Sounding is not part of the baseline inspection protocol required by the Florida State Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over pest control inspectors, and not all inspectors sound the wood in a home.
Gently probing any suspicous-sounding areas with the tip of a screwdriver for termite or wood rot evidence is the next step. See our blog post Is the WDO (termite) inspector allowed to poke holes in my wood siding and trim? for more on this.
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To learn more about termites, see these other blog posts:
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