A Termite Inspection is a visual inspection of accessible areas for evidence of wood destroying organisms. Termites cause billions of dollars in damage each year. They primarily feed on wood, but also damage paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems. Termites can injure living trees and shrubs, but more often are a secondary invader of woody plants already in decline. While buildings may become infested at any time, termites are of particular importance when buying or selling a home since a termite inspection and infestation report is normally a condition of sale. Besides the monetary impact, thousands of winged termites emerging inside one’s home is an emotionally trying experience — not to mention the thought of termites silently feasting on one’s largest financial investment.
A termite inspection includes looking for signs of termite infestation like earthen (mud) tubes extending over foundation walls, support piers, sill plates, floor joists, etc. The mud tubes are typically about the diameter of a pencil, but sometimes can be thicker.
Termites construct these tubes for shelter as they travel between their underground colonies and the structure. To help determine if an infestation is active, the tubes may be broken open and checked for the presence of small, creamy-white worker termites.
If a tube happens to be vacant, it does not necessarily mean that the infestation is inactive; termites often abandon sections of tube while foraging elsewhere in the structure.
Termite-damaged wood is usually hollowed out along the grain. With bits of dried mud or soil lining the feeding galleries. Wood damaged by moisture or other types of insects (e.g., carpenter ants) will not have this appearance. Occasionally termites bore tiny holes through plaster or drywall, accompanied by bits of soil around the margin. Rippled or sunken traces behind wall coverings can also be indicative of termites tunneling underneath.
Oftentimes there will be no visible indication that the home is infested. Termites are cryptic creatures and infestations can go undetected for years, hidden behind walls, floor coverings, insulation, and other obstructions. Termite feeding and damage can even progress undetected in wood that is exposed because the outer surface is usually left intact.
Ridding a home of termites requires special skills. Knowledge of building construction is needed. To identify the critical areas where termites are likely to enter. Most entry pointsare hidden and difficult to access. Termite control also utilizes specialized equipment such as masonry drills, pumps, large-capacity tanks, and soil treatment rods. A typical treatment may involve hundreds of gallons of a liquid pesticide. Known as a termiticide, injected into the ground alongside the foundation, beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls.
Subterranean termite colonies may contain hundreds of thousands of individuals, foraging in many different directions. Localized or “spot” treatments are generally a gamble except in cases of retreatment for the homeowners. Most reputable pest control firms will not warranty spot treatments. Since it’s likely that termites will eventually find other points of entry into the structure.
Some companies may offer to do a so-called “perimeter” treatment, using one of the non-repellent liquid termiticides (Termidor, Premise, etc.). Typically this will involve a thorough application around the entire outside foundation wall of the building, and spot-treating any infested or high-risk interior areas. If the homeowner is considering such a treatment, they should inquire whether it will be accompanied by a service agreement in case termites return. Service renewal agreements usually state that if termites return, the company will return and retreat the affected areas at no additional charge provided the renewal agreement is maintained. It’s a bit of a gamble to purchase any termite treatment option without an ongoing service agreement.
All liquid termiticides are supposed to control termites. For at least five years, when applied according to label directions. The actual length of control on a given structure will depend on such factors as thoroughness of the application, environmental conditions, and density of termites in the area. If termites swarm again and continue to be a problem the year after treatment, it’s usually not from degradation of the termiticide — but because termites have found an untreated gap in the chemical barrier.