As a homeowner, you should be concerned about the potential damage termites can cause in and around your home. Termites are considered the top threat to wood-based structures, ahead of fire, flood and wind. In fact, termites cost Americans more than $5 billion in damage annually, according to the National Pest Management Association. Education on termite basics—identification, warning signs and preventive steps—is key to protecting homes from termites.
Two main species of termites affect U.S. homes: termites that live underground (subterranean termites) and those that live entirely in wood (drywood termites). Subterranean termites build colonies in the soil, whereas drywood termites can be found in the framing, furniture and hardwood flooring of homes.
Both species tend to be most active in areas with warmer climates, although subterranean termites can be found in every state in the United States, except Alaska. While you likely don’t care about differentiating between the two species—as termite damage of any kind is a threat to your home—a termite specialist will need to identify the species to effectively treat an infestation.
Although many people believe that termites are active only in the spring, they are actually active throughout the year. Swarms, the most visible sign of termite activity, occur most often in the spring, but detecting the less obvious signs of an infestation could save you a lot of money and stress. Be sure to partner with a trusted professional.
5 Signs of Termites
- Hollow-sounding wood: Termites prefer to be in dark, humid environments, so they do not typically feed on the surface of wood, where they would be visible to the human eye. In fact, the wood’s surface might appear smooth, even if termites are inflicting damage. If wood sounds hollow when tapped, it may be because termites are eating the wood from the inside out.
- Groups of winged insects (“swarmers”) or discarded wings: Reproductive termites called swarmers take flight to create new colonies. Subterranean termites typically swarm in the spring, whereas drywood swarms are less predictable. If you see a swarm of insects or groups of discarded wings, call a termite specialist to inspect.
- Cracked or distorted paint on wood surfaces: Swarming drywood termites can enter through openings smaller than the edge of a dime, so monitor and seal any cracks in the home’s foundation and near roof siding, vents and windows.
- Mud tubes on exterior walls: Subterranean termites build mud tubes on surfaces, such as a home’s foundation, to provide moisture while they are searching for food. Store mulch, firewood and wood chips away from the home to avoid creating moisture-rich habitats for termites to survive and thrive.
- Frass: Drywood termites produce wood-colored droppings called frass as they eat their way through infested wood. Keep gutters, downspouts and crawl spaces free of debris and cellulose materials to prevent food sources for termites.
Termites pose a serious threat to your biggest investment: your home. If you suspect termite activity, call a licensed pest management company to do an inspection. A termite specialist can recommend a customized treatment and prevention plan that may involve liquid repellents, wood treatments, baits and, if necessary, fumigation of the entire structure.