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5 Ways to Check for Termites, and What to Do If You Have an Infestation

September 13, 2016
Termites together outside.

Termites are one of the most destructive pests homeowners can come across. Known as “silent destroyers,” these insects feed on dead trees and plants, including wood. And their aggressive appetite can lead to significant damage to your home – both inside and outside.

But we’re not here to talk about what termites eat and their lifecycle. We’re here to talk about how to detect termites. By now, you have a pretty good idea that your home is infested with these pests, but you need to make sure.

We’re going to tell you how to detect termites, so you know whether to call in an exterminator.

Read more about Termites

Need to hire an exterminator? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.

How to Check for TermitesThe wood door with termites damage.

There are several ways to check for termites, but some of the most common and effective ways include:

Termite Damage

The most obvious sign of a termite infestation is damage. But damage can also be an indication that the infestation is getting out of control – which means you’ll need to act quickly.

Termites do their dirty work in hidden places, and in the early stages of an infestation, most homeowners don’t notice any damages.

But once the infestation progresses, damage becomes more apparent – and repairs are costlier as a result.

With that said, damage is the most effective way to check for termites. And these pests can cause damage to a number of areas in and around your property.

Need to hire an exterminator? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.

What Does Termite Damage Look Like?

What the damage looks like will depend on what the termite is destroying. We recommend looking for termite damage pictures to get a better idea of what you should be seeing. Here’s what to look for:

FoundationTermite damage on wooden fundation.

While most modern homes have concrete foundations (which is something termites don’t eat), tiny cracks and holes may give these insects more than enough space to get into your home – where they can do some serious damage.

You might not find any damage here, but you might find evidence of these pests if they’re making their way into your home through here.

Walls

Termites feed on the cellulose in timber, and over time, their damage can cause cracks in the wall. If you see any unexplained cracks, it may be time to investigate further. These cracks are often a sign of a termite infestation.

Other signs of termite wall damage include:

  • Tiny pinholes. If the termites have eaten through the wallpaper or paper coating on your drywall, you may see tiny holes. If you’re dealing with subterranean termites, they also leave dirt in the holes.
  • You hear a hollow sound when you tap the wall.
  • The paint on your walls is bubbling or peeling
  • The baseboards in your home crumble under light pressure.

If you notice any signs of termite damage in your walls, it’s important to call in an expert as soon as possible, particularly if the wall is load-bearing wall (these support the upper floor or roof of the home).

Floors

Evidence of termites can also be found in your flooring. These pests can damage laminate flooring and skirting boards as well. They’ll eat the backs of laminate, and they’ll outright attack hardwood flooring.

Immediate signs of damage include sagging in certain areas of the floor and blistering in the case of laminate flooring.

You may also hear excessive squeaking when you walk across the floor. Termites weaken floors, which are extra-sensitive to movement. If damage is present, the floorboards may rub against one another and nails, which is what causes the squeaking noise.

Ceilings

Ceilings are just as vulnerable to termite damage from both drywood and subterranean species. When these pests attack ceilings, it can pose serious safety risks.

When assessing your ceilings for damage, look for:

  • Areas that are buckling or sagging
  • Loose shingles or tiles.
  • Wood that appears to be eaten away.
  • Mounds of frass, or termite fecal matter, in your attic. Frass mounds look like piles of wood pellets.
  • Unexplained cracks in the ceiling.

Cracks can appear when termites damage the ceiling’s structural timbers. When this happens, timbers can shift and create cracks.Termites are making their mud tubes.

1. Termite Mud Tubes

One of the most common signs of termite infestation is mud tubes, and these are one of the first things exterminators look for when inspecting.

Mud tubes are like roadways, and you’ll often find them near the termite nest. These pencil-sized termite tunnels can also be found on stone or concrete foundations as well as wood structures.

There are three main types of termite mud tubes, according to Terminix:

  • Exploratory: These paths extend only from the soil.
  • Working: These create a path between the nest in the soil and the wood.
  • Drop: These create a path from the wood back to the soil.

Termite tubes are most commonly used by subterranean termites, and you’re likely to find bits of dirt inside. That’s because the tunnels are made of a combination of wood and soil.

If you see a mud tube, don’t panic just yet. You be looking at an inactive tunnel from a previous infestation. The best way to determine if the tube is still active is to break off a section in the center. If the damage is repaired in a few days, you know the termites are still active.

Termite tubes can extend up to 60 feet or more, and they’re most likely to be found on buildings that are at least two stories high.

2. Termite Holes (A.K.A. Exit Holes)

As termites tunnel through wood, they sometimes open up a tiny hole to the outside world. Those holes are often quickly covered with soil particles and other materials these insects have on hand. Covering the hole helps keep the termites protected from predators, and keeps their workspace warm and moist.Texture of termite damaged wood with termite holes.

But at times, those holes are not covered, and these are what’s called “exit holes.” Exit holes are usually seen just before mating season, and appear as small markings in drywall, wood and other materials termites eat. In some cases, these holes serve as escape routes for winged termite as they take their first flight out of the nest.

After the flying termites escape, nymphs will cover the hole using a substance made of soil, feces and wood particles.

It’s important to note that other wood-eating insects will also create exit holes, including carpenter bees, beetles and carpenter ants. But most of these insects won’t bother to cover up their holes. Carpenter and acrobat ants will cover holes, but usually with a powdery-like substance that is similar to sawdust.

The best way to determine whether you’re looking at a termite exit hole is to assess the size of the opening. Termite holes are 1/8” or smaller, and the filling substance will be brown and plaster-like.

3. Evidence of Swarmers

When a termite colony is well-established, they begin producing winged adults, which are sexually mature and able to fly off in the spring when temperatures heat up.

If you see winged black termites in or around your home, there’s a very good chance that a nest is nearby.

But how can you tell if it’s termites and not ants? That’s right – there are flying ants, too. And they look very similar to termite swarmers.

Here’s how to tell the difference between the two:

  • Termites have wider waists, whereas ants have wasp-like waists.
  • A flying termite’s back wings are the same size as its front wings.
  • Termites have straight antennae, while ants have antennae with jointed bends and elbows.

Discarded swarmer wings are another sign of a termite infestation. The shedding of their wings is a natural behavior, and you’ll typically find them near emergence sites, spider webs and window sills.

Read more about Flying Termites

4. Noise

Yes, termites can make noise, and you can hear it.

While these pests do their best to stay hidden and quiet, soldiers will sound the alarm if something is wrong. They make noise by banging their heads into the wood.

Termites can make other noises, too, like paper rustling. When these insects tunnel close to the surface of the wood, their activity can sound like papers rustling together.

And of course, termite infested wood will make a hollow sound when tapped.

It’s important to note that termite sounds are typically faint and not heard by homeowners. Exterminators use a stethoscope to hear them at work and the alarm bells they sound (i.e. banging their heads into the wood).

Watch this video about Termites Noise

Hiring a Professional to Inspect Your Home

If you believe you might have termites in your home, you can use the methods above to confirm your suspicions. However, it’s important to have a professional exterminator come in and perform a thorough inspection.

Termites can cause serious damage to your home and property, and professional extermination is recommended to tackle the problem as quickly and safely as possible. Extensive termite damage can render a home uninhabitable, and depending on the severity of the infestation, the damage can reach these levels relatively quickly. In other words, this is not a pest problem you want to tackle yourself.

Once you’ve confirmed that you are, in fact, dealing with a termite infestation, the exterminator can offer recommendations on how to best remedy the problem and help you rid your home of termites once and for all.

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