Termites cost home owners billions of dollars every year in damage costs. These little creatures like feasting on anything from wood to insulation and can get it away with it for months and even years as they rarely reveal themselves.
So, how do you know if your house has termites? Does spotting one termite mean your whole house is infested?
Does one termite mean infestation? If you’ve spotted even just one termite, you most likely have an infestation inside or nearby. Termites are extremely social creatures and live in organized hierarchical colonies where they each have a specific job to perform. Where there is one, there are probably thousands.
Much like traditional feudal societies, termites are assigned tasks to perform according to their roles or castes.
Though spotting a termite may be the most obvious sign that you are suffering from an infestation, there are also other clues to look for that can help you avoid the costly damage and stress of a full-blown infestation.
There are plenty of steps you can take to prevent termites from destroying your home and even elimination methods that you can implement yourself. Click here to learn what to do.
Signs of Termite Infestation
Sadly, spotting a termite in your home means you should get a home inspection ASAP as you probably have an infestation.
However, there are many other signs of an infestation that you should keep in mind.
Knowing what to look for and catching an infestation early on before it spreads could end up saving you thousands of dollars.
Though seeing a termite is the clearest sign that they are around nearby, you should keep an eye out for other signs, including:
- Discarded swarmer wings.
- Mud shelter tubes.
- Bubbling paint.
- Wood damage.
Similar to spotting a live termite, spotting swarmer wings is a cause for immediate concern.
Termites each have a job they are assigned to complete, and a swarmer’s goal is reproduction.
Usually, around springtime, they emerge to mate and start a new colony. Often you will find their discarded wings on your window sill or near your doors.
Note that ant species also produce winged individuals that are commonly mistaken for termites.
Learn how to distinguish between termites and flying ants here.
Subterranean termites thrive in moist environments. To travel safely to and from their colonies to eat, they create mud tubes for protection.
These mud tubes trap and hold moisture to ensure a safe environment for colony members.
Mud tubes are generally found on your house’s foundation but can also appear on the interior or exterior walls of your home.
Similarly, spotting bubbling or uneven paint inside your home is a red flag.
Dry wood termites dine on the cardboard covering on drywall, all while keeping the outer layer of the paint intact.
Termites also enjoy the wood and paneling in your walls, eating them inside out.
If your walls sound hollow when you knock on them, you may have extensive wood damage from termites.
Frass is another bad sign. As termites eat through wood, they leave a trail of excrement.
These droppings are tiny, about 1 millimeter in size, and resemble wood shavings.
Frass can be found anywhere in your home where there is wood: floorboards, doors, and even in the attic.
Be sure to check with our complete home inspection guide for termites before performing a DIY check.
What to Do If You Find Termites
So, you’ve noticed a sign of termites in your home and believe you have an infestation, what’s the next step? Follow these tips to know what to do:
- Observe: Instead of spraying the termites, observe their behavior to figure out where they are entering your house and mark these points of access. This will help inspectors locate them more easily.
- Inspect: Once you locate entry points, it’s also a good idea to inspect the exterior of your home for any more signs of damage. Mark any areas with outward signs of termite activity or infestation.
- Home Inspection: There is no way to be sure of an infestation without getting a home inspection. Take your time in selecting a company and get a few quotes before committing. Devastating damage won’t happen overnight, so don’t worry.
What to Expect
Choosing the right company and beginning termite treatment will take some time.
Inspectors will check for moisture in your basement or crawlspace, wood remnants in your home’s foundation, and other potential trouble areas.
While you wait, make sure to vacuum up any discarded wings or termites that you see around the house and continue to observe their activity.
Note that termites are completely harmless to humans, so there’s no need to worry about getting too close.
Bites are rare and only mildly irritating. We explain more here.
Your inspector will decide on how to proceed with treatment to eliminate the termites.
How Do Exterminators Eliminate Termites?
Once you have a home inspection, you will be presented with treatment options on how to proceed with the elimination of the termites.
Localized treatments are used when an infestation is small and isolated.
In these cases, and depending on the location and degree of the infestation, exterminators have a few different methods.
These create a barrier between your home and outside, cutting off termite access to food sources.
These are extremely effective as not only does it prevent infestation, but all termites already in your home will be eliminated as they can’t return to the soil to supplement moisture.
Exterminators install plastic cylinders filled with poison in the soil around your home and sometimes even inside or near mud tubes.
The termites feed on the substance and share it with their colonies, slowly eliminating termite numbers over time.
Know that you can purchase termite bait stations (like this pack of 15) yourself to place around your home, but professional treatment is usually the route to take.
See all of our recommendations for bait stations and additional ways (including natural options) to eradicate termites in this article.
Often, termite colonies take residence in the wood of your home. To combat this, exterminators may use surface or injected sprays, foams, or Borate to treat the wood.
As the above methods are localized treatments and your home may have more of a widespread infestation, other methods exist, like fumigation.
Generally only used with dry wood termites, this treatment is reserved for widespread infestation or when termites are living deep within your home.
During the process, your home will be tented, then pumped full of gas that is lethal to termites and that can reach all the cracks and crevices where they hide.
After a few hours of treatment, your house will be aired out with the help of large fans.
Only after it has been tested for chemical levels can you safely return to your pest-free home.
Guidelines for Avoiding Infestation
Other than treatment, you can avoid extending termites an invitation altogether by following some general guidelines, including:
- Avoid having wood components of your home in contact with the ground.
- Reduce moisture levels in your home, including in the foundation or crawlspaces.
- Have a home inspection done yearly.
Preventing termites from accessing your home and building their colonies will help you avoid the headache and stress associated with termite extermination.
Be sure to read through our complete prevention guidelines and DIY elimination tips found in our article “How To Get Rid of Termites.”
Not only is the idea of having creatures feasting on your home bad enough, but termites can also cause extensive structural damage that could cost you thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, if you spot just even one termite, you probably have an infestation.
Seeing a termite is not the only sign of an infestation, as other things to look for include mud tubes, bubbling paint, or frass.
According to the nature of your infestation, exterminators will take different measures to eliminate termites and protect your home.
Ideally, treatments will be localized, and full fumigation won’t be necessary.
Make sure to have a home inspection done yearly, and take necessary precautions to avoid having to deal with these pesky creatures in the first place.