How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
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How do termites infest a house and remain hidden while doing major damage?
Friday, June 29, 2018
Termites have a vulnerability that works to their advantage to conceal themselves while munching on the wood in your home. They are soft-bodied and require a moist environment to survive. A termite will dry out and die within minutes when exposed to the open air and sunlight. This is why subterranean termites create tiny, protective mud-tube tunnels from the ground up into the wood in a house, and also why you will never see a line of termites walking up the wall or across your kitchen counter.
Plus, they are extremely small. Worker termites are only about 1/8” long and less than half the size of the head of match, which enables them to easily fit through tiny cracks in the floor or exterior walls of a home. High-magnification photos, like the one above, make them appear bigger than they actually are. When we get called to come out and examine a location where homeowners think they may have seen termites, they are often ants. Because termites don’t go out in the open, they can usually only be found by breaking open a mud tube or probing into termite-infested wood.
So the combination of their reclusive lifestyle and small size means you will probably never find actual live termites. The one exception is termite swarming season, which we will get to at the end of this article.
Professional inspectors focus instead on looking for signs that they are present in a home, called “evidence” by inspectors. Here’s a list of what they look for:
1) Thin finger-like mud tubes running up an exterior or interior wall of the home, like in the photos below.
2). Any damaged, pock-marked, or soft spots in a wood surface when probed. The baseboard of a home’s interior is one of the first places this is often found. Termite-damaged wood will have small turnnels running through the wood, called “galleries,” which is a way to tell the difference between wood damage caused by termites or rot. The galleries of subterranean termites will be packed with their fecal pellets.
3). Small piles of tan to brown fecal pellets on the floor, above kick-out holes in the wall or ceiling—an indication of drywood termites. Many people compare them to granules of brown sugar, but on close inspection with a magnifying glass you will notice they are egg shaped with ridges, like in the photo below. The photo after that is of roach fecal pellets, which are irregularly shaped in comparison.
4) The one time you will see live termites is when a colony has grown large enough in size to send out a swarm of winged termites, searching for a place to start a new colony. A special category of termites grow wings only for the swarming season, and shed them shortly after landing at their destination. It can be a dramatic event, with thousands of what appear to be winged ants on the walls and floor of a home.
Termite wings or dead winged termites found in the home are another indication that termites are present.
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To learn more about termites, see these other blog posts:
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