Technical Papers

Homeowners Guide to Termites

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 by Bill Cowley


Termite swarm on log

Termites are wood destroying pests that have been on the earth since the time of dinosaurs. Across the world there are approximately 2,300 species of termites with approximately 41 species of termites living in the United States alone. The Subterranean Termite (Family Rhinotermitidae) is found in every state in the U.S, besides Alaska, and is the most common termite in New Jersey. The name Subterranean indicates that this termite species lives underground in colonies and will infest your structure from the ground up.

As the ground warms in early spring, termite populations appear in search of structures to enter. The termite colonies send their “explorers”, also referred to as swarmers, in search of a hospitable building. Homes that have sustained damage during the winter months due to rain or snow are their first targets. Towns such as Rumson, Spring Lake and parts of Middletown, NJ still have a lot of damaged homes from Superstorm Sandy.

Termite Swarmer v Flying Ant

Termites versus Flying Ants

Unfortunately, swarmers are often times mistaken for flying ants. To distinguish between a flying ant and termite, a homeowner should look at the pest’s wings, body and antennae. Both the termite and the ant will have four wings (two per side). The ant will have a larger fore wing and smaller hind wing, whereas the termites wings are equal in size. The body of the ant has a constricted waist while the body of the termite has a broad waist. Lastly, the antenna of the ant is elbowed (bent) whereas the antenna of the termite is not. If a homeowner is not able to distinguish which pest they have in their house, it is important to bring in a pest professional.

Termites are stealth creatures often referred to as "silent destroyers" because they are able to chew through wood, flooring, and even wallpaper before a homeowner is aware they have a termite infestation. The average person may have difficulty identifying the evidence of termites, however, homeowners can sometimes recognize a potential termite problem if they carefully inspect areas in and around their home.

Conduct an interior inspection of your home

Termites destroy wood so it is important to check all wood in your home. If a termite has begun to feed on wood, it will feel soft. If you tap on the affected wood, you will hear a hollow sound. Wood structures may also take on a darkened or blistered appearance if termites have infested the home.

Conduct an exterior inspection of your home

Homeowners should look for “mud tubes.” Subterranean termites build distinctive tunnels, like this one in Freehold, NJ. often referred to as “mud tubes,” to reach Termite Mud Tubefood sources and protect themselves from open air. Mud tubes are about the size of a pencil and connect the termite’s nest to its food. The tunnels are made of broken mud particles and fecal material. Although a mud tube is proof of termite infestation, the absence of the tube does not mean that a structure is termite-free.

Why Do Termites Enter Homes?

Termites will enter a home because it provides the two things Subterranean termites need to survive: food and moisture. Termites enter homes in search of wood on which to feast and prosper in homes with a moisture source like leaks or condensation.

How Do You Prevent a Termite Infestation?

Since subterranean termites come into your home from underneath the ground, controlling moisture and water in the lowest levels of your home is of utmost importance. You can control moisture in the lower levels of your home, like basements and crawl spaces, by encapsulating and waterproofing those rooms. Encapsulating will seal out water and help to ensure that the lower level of your home remains clean and dry.

It is also imperative to keep water away from the foundation. Divert rain water away from your homes foundation by making sure that all of your gutters are clear of debris such as leaves. Once you have ensured your gutters are free of debris, make sure that your down spouts are functioning properly and are diverting water far enough from the foundation to ensure the foundation is not moist.

The maintenance of your yard plays a critical role in keeping termites at bay. It is very important to reduce the amount of contact any wood from your home has with the soil in your yard. There needs to be at least one inch of space between the wood portion of your home and the soil.Mulch can also cause a problem if it is not maintained properly. Make sure that mulch is at least fifteen inches away from the home’s foundation. If you store firewood on your property, make sure that it is at least twenty feet from your home.

Lastly, do not bury wood scraps or waste lumber of any sort in your yard. This kind of decaying wood is a magnet for termites.

Why is an Infestation Dangerous?

An infestation of subterranean termites can be devastating. The termites use their hard, saw-toothed jaws to bite off small fragments of wood one piece at a time. These small bites can have a huge effect on a home when colonies can contain as many as two million members.If a colony continues unchecked it is possible for it to damage the structure of a building enough that the home will actually collapse. Even if your home does not collapse termite damage can create a huge financial burden; it is estimated that termites cause $5,000,000,000 in property damage every year.

Termites can be difficult to identify for an average homeowner. If you have any reason to believe that you might have termites, it is imperative that you contact a pest professional.