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Signs of a Termite Infestation

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The swarming of winged termites occurred this spring, but that doesn’t mean that termites aren’t still around. While winged termites are one of the most obvious signs of an infestation, many infestations go unnoticed for years and years until wood damage becomes so severe that something buckles or breaks with catastrophic results. A homeowner might see winged termites but not know what they are, or the swarms may occur outside where they disperse unseen. Most of the swarming has occurred for this year, but be sure to keep an eye out for these signs and conducive conditions that can support termites around your home:

1. Live termites.
Termite workers look like fat, white ants with short legs. At a glance, they may appear as maggots in wood. The winged termites may be mistaken for winged ants, so be sure you know how to tell them apart. Termites have straight antennae that look like a string of beads under magnification, while ants have antennae with a joint or elbow. Termites are plump with thick waistlines, while ants have pinched waists. While both termites and ants have four wings, termite wings are all about the same size. Ants have forewings that are larger than the hindwings.

2. Shed wings.
Winged termites shed their wings after mating and start looking for a place to call home. Piles of wings may indicate that you were recently visited by swarming termites.

3. Mud tubes.
Termites are soft-bodied and dry out easily. The world above ground is a harsh place for such squishy little things. They construct mud tubes to keep moist air around them at all times. If you break open a mud tube and it is empty and has no termites, then the tube may be from an old infestation. Even if termites are not present, the presence of tubes indicates that your home has all the right conditions to support a colony. Consider ways to reduce these conducive conditions: modify downspouts to drain away from the foundation of your house, replace mulch with gravel, and remove old tree stumps and wood debris from your yard, among other things.

4. Moist wood.
Wood with a moisture content above 20% can support the growth of wood-decay fungi and termites. Fungi can also cause serious structural problems. Crawlspaces that lack a moisture barrier or have inadequate ventilation tend to stay damp. Such conditions are favorable for termites. Consider installing a moisture barrier and automatic vents (vents that automatically open and close depending on the temperature) to keep your structural wood as dry as possible.

5. Damaged wood.
Termite-damaged wood may look like water damage, but upon closer inspection may have live termites or damage which is indicative of termites. Termites eat wood along the grain. The wood will also be filled with fecal material and soil, giving it a muddy appearance. The wood may sound hollow if you knock or tap on it. When wood is in contact with the ground, the risk for termite infestation increases dramatically. Fences and railroad ties used in gardens are common areas to find termites, which invites termites to your property and gets them uncomfortably close to your home. Consider using alternate materials if they must be in contact with the ground or ensure that wood is at least six inches above ground level. Pressure-treated wood is resistant to infestation, but it is not guaranteed to fend off termites forever. It should not be used in place of a termite home prevention program.

6. Wall damage.
As termites feed on the structural timbers behind walls, cracks or waves may form on the wall itself. Looking down the wall with a flashlight will make these waves much more visible. Paint may bubble or blister. The damaged area may sound hollow when knocked or tapped.

7. Floor/ceiling damage.
Termites feed on structural timbers, causing floors and ceilings to sag or blister. The damage may resemble water damage.

It’s always preferable to be proactive and have termite prevention before an infestation takes root. Not only can damage be very expensive to repair, it can also cause injury if a floor gives way or a ceiling caves in. If you are noticing any of these signs, call a professional to have an inspection performed. A termite inspection should be performed annually and include both the inside and outside of your home. A proper and thorough inspection should take around thirty to forty-five minutes to complete – anything shorter than that is not comprehensive.