Summerville Home Inspector Discusses Termite Damage

Submitted by Ray Thornburg on Wed, 03/16/2016 - 06:12

Summerville Home Inspector Discusses Termite Damage


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Weather or not you currently have termite problems it's important to know what attracts termites to your home and what signs to look for and why. Did you know for instance that every acre of land in South Carolina has over a dozen termite colonies. So since termites are probably already on your property the question is how do you recognize termite activity and what steps should be taken to discourage termites activity on your structures.

Defensive Measures

The first step is to always keep a termite bond on your property current. A termite bond is a type of contract with a pest control company. Bond types vary among companies but typically they offer some kind of warranty either against re-infestation, damage or both. They may have initial inspection and maintenance treatment requirements.


The second step is to eliminate the food source (wood) or at least make it hard for termites to get to its food source (your home). Any wood within 18” of the ground should be pressure treated. Untreated wood should not directly touch concrete even inside the home. Wood debris, tree limbs, firewood should be at least 20 feet away from the home and off the ground. This includes under the home (no wood debris). Often workers will pull a huge piece of cardboard under the home to work on and leave it there when work is over. Bad idea- Termites love cardboard. Make sure no wood, cardboard or paper is under the home. Avoid wood mulch (pine straw and bark are ok).


The third most important thing is to reduce or eliminate moisture. Both under the home and around the home. Consider improving grading, installing yard drains, sump pumps...whatever works. Even raking the leaves back from the home helps dry things out. Termites love moisture and they have to have it to live. They travel back and forth from your home back into the ground to get moisture. (Although there is a drywood type of termite but they are uncommon and we're not going to discuss them here.) Their need for water is so great that they have to build a type of mud tunnel to travel back and forth and to keep from drying out.

Visual Signs and Symptoms

Visually it may be hard to tell if termites are in a piece of wood. This is because the way termites attack often leave the outside of the piece of wood intact while the insides are completely gone. Below are some photos showing this.


cross section of termite damaged studAt left shows actual termites on the edge of a 2x4. As you can see visually the stud looks ok but when cut or pulled apart termites can be seen doing their damage. Live termites are elusive because when disturbed they release fear pheromones which warn all their teammates to scatter. This board may have been sprayed with a chemical thus stopping them from hiding. Click image to enlarge.




termite damaged joist   Just looking at this joist you would think it's ok but probing it with a screwdriver reveals just how weak it is. Sometimes a good deal of force is required to penetrate the wood because the outer part must be penetrated. This is apparent past damage because some parts of this home had been reinforced. As often is the case however not all areas were repaired.





termite mud At left is the bottom of a termite damaged board. Termite pack the inside of the wood with a mud like substance in order to stay moist. You can see that there is a good deal of mud and inside these termite galleries. Digging into a piece of termite damaged wood often reveals the galleries are packed with mud.







Hire a Professional Exterminator

Termites can be awfully clever creatures. They often go unseen for many years and cause quite a bit of damage before they are discovered. Home inspectors often discover the effects of their handiwork while doing a home inspection. While home inspectors do look for termite activity we also look for a variety of other building deficiencies. For this reason a Wood Infestation Report (CL100) is needed when buying a home in South Carolina. A CL100 is typically a two page form provided by a licensed pest control company that identifies past or present problems with wood destroying organisms (WDO). Since termites and wood-destroying organisms (WDO) are all they look for they aren't distracted by the myriad of other things a home inspector looks for. Because termites are so crafty it is important to note that only a licensed pest control company can assure you that any treatment has met its objective of eliminating termites from the home. Termite eradication is not something that you should attempt yourself.



Next we'll look at some signs and symptoms of termite activity.





fire ant mound At left is what remains of a huge fire ant mound in a corner of a shed. Ants and termites are natural enemies and a fire ant mound pushed up against the side of a building sometimes indicates termite activity. The ants will raid the termite mound for food. There was active termite activity in this well pump house due to excessive moisture there from condensation and minor leaks.







ants raiding termitesHere you see an actual ant making off with apparently a termite larvae. (Though ant eggs look similar). Ants are often found on wood being damaged by termites because the ants eat them. Occasionally flying swarms are seen indicating activity by ants or termites. Ants by the way have constricted waists and elbowed antennae; termites have a straight waist and straight antennae. In the winged versions termites have equal length wings while ants are uneven. Finding piles of equal length wings laying around indicates a termite swam was trying to find a suitable place to live.







termites in debris The Charleston area is rated high on the termite infestation probability map. It's never a good idea to leave wood laying on the ground near or under your home. This piece of plywood was infested with termites.









termite tubeAt left is a classic sign of termite activity....a termite tube. Termites will make a mud tube to travel through to get over an obstacle like a concrete block or brick or even over unsavory wood. The mud tube keeps the termites moist in their travels.













termite tube

Picture at left shows termite tubs coming up from the ground. Termite tubes can be inside the block or sometimes you'll see them exiting and entering a piece of wood for a few inches. If they're present then you have past or present termite activity and possible damage in which a contractor will have to evaluate.
















blistering paint

The blistering paint on this second story home in Charleston is a sign of termite activity. You'll have to peel back the blister and probe it to be sure. Termite damage on the second story is not good. This symptom often happens on baseboard too especially if it is touching concrete. Untreated wood should not directly touch concrete.







termites love foam  In this picture you can see how termites burrow through the foam backing of laminate flooring. The foam acts as a vapor retarder thus it keeps the wood and termites nice and damp underneath. Which is what termites love. While termites don't actually eat the foam;  it does make conditions right for them while it keeps the termites from drying out thus creating greater damage than if they were not used. Foam products should not be placed within 6" of the ground because of this. Also as in the case above the foam is designed to keep the laminate floor dry;  however the subfloor underneath may be trapped between the vapor barrier on the insulation under and the foam above thus creating moisture and mold issues. Building materials should be designed with provisions to allow natural drying.








termites under tile Picture at left shows a vinyl tile that was displaced slightly. Lifting it up revealed live termites. The vinyl tile helps to keep moisture down so the termites love attacking underneath them.











damaged oak flooringTermites seem to love oak flooring sometimes even jumping over other wood to get to the oak. In this picture several oak floor boards were slightly bubbled up. Probing it revealed the characteristic mud filled galleries indicating past or present termite activity.









termite tracking tube     I thought this was an interesting photo. Homes are often treated for termites after the original construction and typically the technician will drill two holes in each pier in order to treat the center of each hollow void in a concrete block. At left you can see two such holes (though smaller in diameter than typical). What we see here is an actual termite tracking tube coming out of the treatment hole. Maybe they drilled the hole and missed treating that pier....who any rate the treatment was ineffective.











termite shieldPicture at left does not show termite damage. The pier has a metal termite shield on top of it. Notice how this correctly installed shield is angled down a bit. Termites cannot climb over and around a shield made this way. This old fashioned method is surprisingly effective.











homemade termite shieldHere is a home made type of termite shield which may not be effective because it is folded down too much. Good try though.













termite damaged door jambAt left we can see a termite damaged door jamb. In this case the chimney beside the door had "shoulders" slanted toward the house (instead of away) and that contributed to the excessive moisture termites love. Although this slab home probably had soil treatment when constructed the termites found a way.










Modern Methods of Termite Control

 Traditionally chemical soil treatment was and is still used by builders to control termites. This requires the soil to be treated before pouring concrete with many (hundreds) of gallons of insecticide. The home is also treated with a perimeter treatment after construction and prior to occupancy. The disadvantage of soil treatments alone is that the insecticide may leach from the ground after a time (from rain, high ground water etc.) and if the house is close to the ground termites may find a way to the untreated wood just above the surface of the concrete.





green dye termite treatment     In this method green dye is added to the termite treatment on this new construction home. This  dye helps the pest technician, inspectors and everyone else know the home has been treated and where. When this method is used all wood is spayed up to at least 2 feet. The borate used in this method is not highly toxic to people and last for the life of the structure and also helps prevent other pests and fungi like mold. Some times this method is augmented my a perimeter soil treatment of a different chemical or termite bait stations. The only drawback on this method is that the chemical may not penetrate deep into the lumber.





termite bait station     Checking a Sentricon termite bait station at left. Although there are many kinds of bait products out there I have found the Sentricon system to be highly effective. It works by offering bait which the termites have a hard time refusing. Termites feed on the bait and share it with their buddies and the queen thus eliminating the entire colony. The baits are placed every 8-10 feet around the home and is always active as long as there is bait in the station. The bait lasts about seven years but needs to be checked occasionally to make sure there is still bait in the station. Your termite professional will have his own schedule for checking these but once or twice a year is probably enough. Checking them too often can scare the termites away from the station temporarily because of the pheromones termites use to warn other termites when they are disturbed. The advantage of this system is it non toxic so it can be used around places that chemicals would not be wanted like a well pump house, livestock barns, storage buildings etc. The other advantage is that it eliminates the entire colony where other systems only make the wood unsuitable for food or rely on a chemical barrier that may weaken over time. Also the Sentricon system can be used with other methods.  The disadvantage is that it does require maintenance by a professional.











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Submitted by Ray Thornburg on Wed, 03/16/2016 - 06:12


Anonymous | Fri, 11/09/2018 - 19:23

good and useful articles. it turns out that termites are very dangerous when they enter the house, they can destroy buildings. thank you for writing this article. Jasa pembasmi rayap