Identifying Termite Damage in Homes (Verify an Inspector’s Report)


Identifying termite damage early can save you thousands down the line. In many instances, termites are a hidden threat, given that they typically leave few visible signs of damage in spite of the considerable harm that these invasive bugs can cause to buildings. In one sense, these insects are actually very beneficial to the natural environment.

They add nutrients to local soils by breaking down detritus. For homeowners, however, they are an incredible nuisance due to the fact that this same activity can result in considerable losses in property values, structural aesthetics, and overall structural integrity. Following are several strategies for identifying termite damage in and around your home so that you can effectively put a stop to termite activities before property damages become widespread.

Table of Contents

  1. Know Where To Look
  2. Signs Of Termite Damage Inside And Outside Of The Home
  3. Signs Of Termite Damage At The Property Foundation
  4. Check Your HVAC System
  5. Signs That Building Residents Are Likely To Exhibit
  6. Disturbing Termite Colonies
  7. Why Working With Pest Control Professionals Is Best
  8. Further Resources for Identifying Termite Damage Early:
Video showing how to distinguish between wood rot and termite damage

Know Where To Look

There are four basic types of termites that can infest properties. These are subterranean termites, drywood termites, Formosan termites, and Dampwood termites. Most regions have large populations of only one or two types of termites, given that each species has a preferred climate and a preferred type of food.

Drywood termites are very common in the United States as these bugs commonly populate dry, hot areas and feast on dry wood. Subterranean termites, however, are also prevalent throughout the country. These are underground tunnelers that are more likely to feast on damp, basement wood than the dry wood that other structural features are often comprised of.

Thus, the first step in identifying termite damage is knowing which types of termite populations are most common in your region and learning more about their breeding, feeding, and overall living habits. This will give you an idea of the best structural features to check on your property when you suspect a termite infestation might exist.

Signs Of Termite Damage Inside And Outside Of The Home

An aggressive population of termites will burrow deeply into building materials and set up camp there. Their burrowing activities often leave long lines on the surface of wood features such as walls, floors, stair treads and structural posts.

Moreover, their droppings typically collect in large piles at the base of these lines. These droppings are small, much like piles of coffee grounds, and may be close in color to the wood that is being consumed. Under a microscope, you will notice that drywood termite droppings are six-sided. These are also very dry.

If left unchecked, a termite infestation can radically alter the appearance of various structural features. Ceiling and floors can start to sag. Other wood features may bear visible holes or simply start breaking and crumbling away. Common signs of termite damage also include:

  • A pervasive mold or mildew smell throughout the home
  • Swelling or buckling of the floors and ceilings
  • Cracks in wood veneer due to interior tunneling, particularly in antique furnishings
  • Structural damages that look similar to the signs of moderate water damage

Signs Of Termite Damage At The Property Foundation

Mud holes are a common sign that termites are present at the property foundation. These are mud tunnels that termites dig in order to access the wood portions of building structures. Much like the drywood termites that burrow through dry wood features and create intricate mazes and tunnels, subterranean termites will leave complex passageways of their own.

These passageways are likely to be littered with termite feces or frass, which can also mimic the color of the wood materials that the insects are feasting on. These waste products, however, will be much stickier than those of drywood termites and are often incorporated directly into the tunnel walls.

Check Your HVAC System

When evidence of termite damage is difficult to identify, you may want to check various aspects of your HVAC system. The presence of a large termite colony in or around the home will often cause this system to collect a considerable amount of debris and particulates that can be identified with the naked eye.

For instance, your HVAC vents and ductwork are likely to contain the small, silvery wings that termites frequently shed after swarming. These wings look a lot like tiny fish scales.

Signs That Building Residents Are Likely To Exhibit

Surprisingly, there are several signs that building residents are likely to exhibit when termite infestations are left unchecked. The particulates that are introduced into the indoor air through termite activity, termite feces, and termite saliva can have a very negative impact on those living with chronic respiratory conditions including asthma, COPD, and allergies among others.

Increased asthma attacks, heightened lung irritation, and severe non-seasonal allergies all indicate that termites may be active in or around the home.

Disturbing Termite Colonies

When checking for signs of termite damage, it is important to avoid spooking any colonies that you stumble across. This is true both inside and outside of the home, whether searching around the foundation or on the surface of structural materials.

These bugs spook easily and will quickly move to another location if they feel threatened. Identifying and tracking the location of an infestation without causing the insects to migrate is often important for the implementation of an effective termite control plan.

Why Working With Pest Control Professionals Is Best

There are a number of factors that you will need to consider when deciding whether or not to eliminate an infestation on your own. Foremost among these is the fact that these insects feed constantly and thus, it does not take long for termite damage to become extensive and widespread.

It is also important to understand the breeding cycles of these insects given that most store-bought treatments for killing insects in the home tend to be most effective for eradicating adult bugs only. Professionals have the ability to effectively break termite breeding cycles by strategically targeting all generations of bugs.

Moreover, implementing a plan that produces delayed results will not only allow for more widespread damage but can also be detrimental to any home residents who are experiencing increased symptoms of respiratory ailments due to negative changes in the indoor air quality.

Further Resources for Identifying Termite Damage Early:

  1. Subterranean Termites – University of Missouri
  2. Termites vs. Army Ants (Differences in Army Ant & Termite Damage) –
  3. Subterranean Termites: Their Prevention and Control in Buildings – U.S. Department of Agriculture

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