How to Spot and Handle Termite Damage

Call it a gnawing concern
Post Damage
Photos by iStock / Getty Images Plus: Joe_Potato

There may be nothing that strikes more fear in the hearts of homeowners than one small, two-syllable word and the even smaller insect it represents: termites.

Termites are estimated to cause billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in the United States each year, and the average bill to repair termite damage in a private residence can easily reach into the thousands. In some rare cases, termites can completely destroy a home before a homeowner even knows they are there. Small pest. Big problem. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Whether a home is decades old, currently under construction or anywhere in between, there are a few tried and true measures that homeowners can take to ensure their dwellings are protected.

Watch out for water. Termites of course eat wood, but wood that has been softened by water damage is an especially easy target. Leaky gutters or plumbing, like that trap under the sink, can create the type of environment in which termites thrive. The same goes for sprinklers, plants and mulch too close to a home’s foundation. It may be more aesthetically pleasing to put shrubbery as close to siding as possible, but if those environments are damp, they can put termites at the gates.

If there’s exposed wood around the home, it can be a good idea to treat it with a termite repellent such as borate. Diluted with water, these treatments pose minimal risk to people and pets but are toxic to termites. Even better, a treatment doesn’t affect the appearance or structure of the wood, and a single treatment can be effective for many years.

Consider placing physical barriers around the home’s foundation. Termites need only the smallest of openings to enter and wreak havoc on a home, so it’s important to seal off as many “gates” as possible. Termite barriers are designed to do just that.  Often installed during a home’s construction, these barriers are designed to keep termites out. There are several varieties, some that use chemicals and some that don’t.

If building a new home, consider using woods that are naturally resistant to termites. These include white cypress, tea tree, redwoods and yellow cedar, among others. There’s also heartwood-grade lumber, which comes from the central portion of a tree and is darker and denser than other timber, making it less susceptible to termites.

Even if proactive measures are in place, vigilance is still encouraged. And although a professional inspection might be required to examine every inch of a home, there are still things that homeowners can do to detect the presence of termites before their houses are compromised.

Check the wood Termites often eat wood from the inside out, which means wood will make a hollow sound when knocked or break apart when pressed.

Peel the paint Bubbling or peeling paint can be a sign of moisture. And moisture can be a sign of termites. And if termites have compromised the wood of a painted structure, that paint can be peeled or cracked as there is nothing behind the paint to hold it in place.

Keep an eye on your lights Termites can see and will search for light sources after dark. If a termite colony has gathered near an outdoor light, it could be making its way toward the adjacent home.

Finally, homeowners might consider a termite bond, which is offered by many pest control services and acts as something of an insurance policy against the pests and the damage they cause.

Termite bonds are not legally required in Florida, but the state’s humidity and climate can make it a good idea to have one. But make sure to read the fine print before signing a contract. Some bonds include damage repairs and treatment, while others only include treatment.

Another consideration: A transferable bond could make a home that much more attractive to a potential buyer.

Termites are a fact of life for homeowners, particularly in the South. But with a little bit of mindfulness and vigilance, they don’t have to cause the headaches that they once did.

Categories: Gardening