The Signs of Termite Infestation
With its warm, humid climate, Florida makes a terrific home for termites of all kinds. There are four basic groups of termite present in Florida. Subterranean termites require a moist environment. Dampwood termites require constant moisture and prefer water-saturated wood. In the case of the drywood termite, as its name indicates, it requires very little moisture in the wood it infests. There is also a fourth group of termites called conehead termites. This exotic termite can be found in isolated parts of south Florida. It requires a moist environment similar to the subterranean termite, but performs its foraging and nesting in a unique manner.
So how can termites get into your home? One way subterranean termites find their way into buildings is through foraging. Most of the members of a subterranean termite colony get the job of looking for food to feed themselves and their nest mates. They will travel hundreds of feet to find cellulose material (wood, cardboard, paper, etc.) to take back to their nest. During their travels, they may stumble upon the wood members of your house and begin feasting.
Another way termites could end up infesting your home is through a process called swarming. As the population of a termite colony grows over time, winged termites called swarmers may be sent out to start new colonies elsewhere. You may have even noticed these swarmers flying in large numbers at certain times of year. Different varieties of termites will swarm at different times – so you could see swarms throughout the year, even in fall and winter. However, most termite species will swarm in spring and summer.
Before we discuss some signs of termite infestation, we should understand the types of termites that could damage your home:
Subterranean termites – Subterranean termites (both native and Formosan) are very common in Florida. These pests live in the soil and will create mud tubes as they forage for food above the soil surface. The food might be a fallen log, scrap wood or your home! As a result, it’s important to make sure you’re protected from these hungry pests before they cause damage to your biggest investment. Another way subterranean termites could establish themselves in your home is during their swarming season. Native subterranean termites typically swarm in the spring on humid afternoons. The Formosan subterranean termite (an introduced species) starts swarming in the spring and may continue to swarm into the summer. Their flights consist of tens of thousands of swarmers and tend to occur in the evening.
Drywood termites – Homes are also at risk of drywood termite attack. Unlike their subterranean counterparts, drywood termites need no contact with soil to survive. They can inhabit sound wood and have even been known to nest in wooden furniture! These termites generally swarm during summer evenings. Preventive treatments are available to protect your home from these pests; the alternative is waiting until you have an infestation and possibly having to fumigate your home!
Dampwood termites – Dampwood termites are not considered a significant structural pest. They require such a high amount of constant moisture that structural infestations of these termites are rare.
Conehead termites – Conehead termites were first discovered in the early 2000’s in Broward County. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been involved in an eradication program to keep this pest from spreading to other parts of Florida. Because of its limited area of known activity in south Florida, it is not yet considered a statewide pest.
Signs of Termites
If you have a termite problem in your home, you may notice this during the spring and summer months. As mentioned previously, this is the time of year many species of termites in Florida swarm to start new colonies. If your home is infested, you might find large numbers of termite wings from swarmers inside your home on windowsills, in light fixtures, etc. Many people mistake flying ants for termites, but the two have different characteristics when inspected closely.
In addition to swarming termites, subterranean and drywood termites also show more subtle signs of their activity.
Subterranean termites will usually leave a sign of their activity: the termite mud tube or dirt build-up in places where dirt should not be (such as inside walls, baseboards, window sills, etc.). Since these termites tunnel in and feast on wood, one way to check for subterranean termites is to look for buckling wood, warped wood, hollow-sounding wood or even areas that appear to have water damage. Probing these areas may cause you to break into their tunnel, exposing dirt material and possibly the termites themselves.
Drywood termites will colonize directly inside wooden members, such as inside of walls or within furniture. One of the first signs of a drywood termite infestation is the presence of their tiny fecal pellets. Drywood termites are better housekeepers than their subterranean cousins. In order to keep their termite tunnels clean inside the wood, they will create “kick out” holes to discard their fecal pellets. If you see small holes in furniture or walls, probe the area and knock lightly to see if fecal pellets fall out of the hole. Be on the lookout for additional pellets dropping from the hole after you’ve cleaned them up. If fecal pellets do reappear, you may have an active colony, especially if your home has never been fumigated.
Removing an Infestation
With termites, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth more than a pound of cure. The easiest way to avoid a termite problem is to protect your home from termites before you have a problem with them. Contact All State Home & Building Inspections to safeguard your home against infestation.