How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
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Does an inspector have to find live termites to recommend treatment of the home?
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Finding live termites is just one way to confirm the presence of termites in a house. The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) regulates termite inspection in Florida, and they require that a WDO/termite inspection report be written on their “Wood-Destroying Organisms Inspection Report” form (FDACS-13645). The form has a simple system with two categories that the inspector follows, looking for EVIDENCE or DAMAGE. Anything found in either category is a reason for treatment.
- Mud Tubes - Termites can only survive in a moist environment, underground or inside wood, and quickly dry up and die in open air. Subterranean termites construct slender fingers of mud with a hollow center for protection from dry outside air while going from the ground up to the wood in your house. Mud tubes are made with soil, tiny bits of wood, plus their own fecal pellets and saliva. The tubes can also appear on interior walls, as shown below, and in the attic as termites widen their search for more wood in the house.
- Termite Wings - After newborn termite queens and their male escorts fly away in the Spring of each year to start a new colony, they shed their wings where they land, because they are no longer useful after the brief flight. The wings have a characteristic shape and vein pattern that a termite inspector recognizes.
- Live Termites - We rarely get to see live termites. But it is always fascinating when they poke their tiny white heads out of a piece of damaged wood we are probing, or after popping open a mud tube. The short video clip below shows Greg opening a mud tube at the base of an exterior wall, and it will give you a good idea of how very small they are compared to the blade of his pocketknife. They were tunneling upward to get to the wood house siding above. Minor damage to a mud tube like this will be repaired by the workers within a few hours. When we came back the next day it had been resealed.
- Galleries - The sponge-like maze of tunnels that termites eat through the wood are called galleries. Inspectors locate them by probing soft spots in the wood. Because termites stop munching the wood just behind the painted surface, the head of a screwdriver will easily slip right through a smooth painted surface of termite-damaged wood into the honeycombed wood behind it. Another technique that some inspectors use is “sounding” the wood, which means tapping on the surface and listening to the sound. We use a piece of PVC pipe, but some inspectors tap with the head of a screwdriver. Wood that has been eaten up with termite galleries will make a dull thud sound instead of the sharp knock that indicates good wood. Galleries are considered both evidence and damage.
- Fecal Pellets - Piles of termite poop indicate termite activity and can be used to identify whether the infestation is the drywood or subterranean species. Drywood fecal pellets are egg-shaped and have ridges defining six sides. Subterraneans do not have the ridges and are used to line their mud tubes and galleries in the wood. Drywood termites toss out their fecal pellets thru kick-out holes (see below) that sometimes form small piles of what looks like dark brown sugar. Subterranean termites pack the galleries they have gnawed out of the wood with their fecal pellets.
- Kick-Out Holes - Excess fecal pellets are “kicked out” through tiny holes in a wall with a corresponding pile of fecal pellets below it. Only drywood termites produce kick-out holes.
2. DAMAGE - Any termite-eaten wood that is found gets noted in the damage section of the report. Even wood that is laying on the ground in the crawl space under the home.
Because a WDO inspector also looks for wood rot (wood-decay fungi) and several type of beetles that destroy wood, the report may additionally indicate other kinds of evidence and/or damage from those wood-destroying organisms.
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To learn more about TERMITES, WOOD ROT AND OTHER PESTS see these blog posts:
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