Everyone buying or selling a home knows that almost everyone will opt for having a termite inspection. In fact, some loans even require you to get one. Those who work in this profession and see termite inspection after inspection, though, understand that the answer to “Should I treat for termites?” isn’t a simple yes or no.
Don’t possibly lose the sale of a house because of arguments about if termite treatment is even necessary. It’s time for all buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals to understand why treating for termites can be so complex.
What can termites really do?
Termites are nothing to joke about. It’s estimated that they cause up to five billion dollars of damage and repair costs in the United States annually. There are a variety of types and termites are active year-round in most states, although not quite as active in the winter. They cover a total of 49 states in America, with Alaska being the only one lucky enough to not have these nasty creatures.
Termites eat wood from the inside out, so the damage that they’re doing to your property is oftentimes not found until it is already extensive. And don’t think that only your wood is in danger! Termites can also feed on paper, books, insulation, and sometimes even swimming pool liners and filtration systems!
What do inspectors look for?
Finding termites aren’t easy. These pests like to stay hidden in dark areas that are oftentimes very difficult to spot unless the damage is severe. The good news is that most types of termites eat relatively slowly, even if there are tens of thousands of them.
So if the inspector catches it in time, you probably won’t have to deal with too much damage. What exactly do they look for?
See any swarmers?
Swarmers are a type of subterranean termite inside of a colony that fly away after reaching maturity to create a nest of their own, typically in the springtime. You need to keep an eye out for these, as the other termites in the colony stay hidden.
Swarmers look similar to winged ants, but there are a few differences. The termites’ lower set of wings are the same size as their top set. Ants’ lower set is smaller. Termites also have wider wastes and straight, beaded antennae.
The fact that termites spread out in this way is why some experts recommend getting treatment even if the termites are right outside of your home. Termite nests are said to be spread out underground over areas up to one-half acre or more in size.
There is no unanimous agreement about if you should treat a home that was found to have termites in wood very closely nearby. Some believe that you should simply keep a closer eye on your home and have more frequent inspections to make sure it stays secure.
Others, though, think that if termites live very close to your house, it’s only a matter of time until they infest it if they haven’t already, and you should stop the damage as soon as possible.
As there is no universal answer, consider getting a second opinion and working this out with the buyer and seller specifically.
Mud tubes or mud patches
Termites are actually smarter than you think. They dehydrate quickly and need to stay in an enclosed, humid environment to live. They also cannot be exposed to predators as they have no strong protective features.
So, how do they overcome these problems? They create what are called ‘mud tubes.’ They essentially function as tunnels, allowing the termites to travel, protected, through your home.
They also love comfort, so they will fill any holes or cracks in with this mud substance. If you notice a small hole in your foundation that is now filled with mud, this could be a sign as well.
The mud tubes can be found in many locations leading into your house, such as around pipes, the foundation, the crawlspace, support piers, sill plates, floor joists, and more. Mud tubes have a diameter similar to a straw, although occasionally are thicker, and look exactly like their name has you imagine.
The termite inspector will crack these open to see if any white worker termites are moving through the area. Sometimes if they don’t see any termites, they will leave a space in the middle opened. If the center is sealed back after a few days, termites are certainly using this tunnel.
This is another area where termite specialists disagree, though. Some say that if there are no signs of active termites, these mud tubes could simply be from an infestation years ago that has already been taken care of. Others, though, argue that termites often desert certain tubes while foraging in a different area.
This decision, then, usually comes down to when the last treatment on the house was. Here, though, even if there was a recent treatment, there could have been a mistake and termites could still be active.
So, do I need to treat for termites?
I wish I could tell you a straight yes or no, but it’s just not that easy. Much of this comes down to the specific inspector, their experience, and their opinion.
For example, while termites eat the wood from the inside out and are extremely difficult to spot, experienced termite inspectors have a trick up their sleeves. They simply tap at pieces of wood that could possibly be affected to see if it sounds more hollow than it should. While an expert inspector can usually be right, it’s not an exact science.
If there are termites on your property near the home, all experts believe you should take extra precaution, but does it really mean that you need to treat at that time? If inactive mud tubes are spotted, does this mean that the termites are gone or simply in a different area now? Many lean towards this meaning that the termites are no longer at the house, but others disagree.
The bottom line is that you need to find a highly trusted and experienced inspector and rely on their expert decision. If you need any recommendations, feel free to send me an email or give me a call and I would be happy to direct you to some great termite inspectors in East Tennessee.