Termites and Termite Damage
Termites can seriously damage the structure of a house or building. Years ago, it was considered sufficient to have only a termite inspection performed before purchasing real estate. If there was no evidence of an active termite infestation, it was assumed that the building had no termite damage or structural damage. In some cases, there was serious termite damage to the structure of the building.
In addition to the pre-purchase inspection performed by an Engineer, have a termite inspection performed by a qualified termite control specialist. This specialist can recommend treatment options to control an existing termite infestation. A qualified termite control specialist can also recommend control options to help prevent future termite infestations. Check the National Pest Management Association web site for more information on termite inspection and control options. Click here for photographs of Termites.
A qualified termite control specialist cannot assess the structural impact of termite damage. You need a Licensed Professional Engineer to assess the structural impact of any termite damage. The Engineer will evaluate the structural impact of any accessible and observable termite damage in the home or building. If repairs are needed, the expense analysis in the engineering report can help you understand the expenses and negotiate the purchase price.
Termite control specialists and Engineers look differently at termite evidence. Engineers look for the impact of the termites and termite damage, particularly if the damage is structural. A termite control specialist is looking at the need for treatment.
For these reasons, it is strongly recommend that you have the house checked for termites by both a Licensed Professional Engineer and a termite control specialist. This maximizes your chances of finding any termite activity and related structural damage. You should also obtain a warranty against future termite activity from the termite control specialist.
Termites Feed on Wood
Termites feed on wood and serve an important function by converting dead trees into organic matter. Termites (sometimes called white ants) have microorganisms in their digestive system that help digest cellulose. Although termites are soft-bodied insects, their hard jaws bite off small fragments of wood. As the termites feed on the wood in buildings, they can cause serious structural damage.
In the northeast, termites nest in the earth and attack wood that is close to the ground. In a forest, this is beneficial as dead branches from the trees are recycled and enrich the soil. In a building, termites can be quite destructive. Some areas, such as Long Island, have a lot of termite activity. Other areas (such as Northern Westchester County) have lower levels of termite activity. Regardless of the level of termite activity in your area, it is essential to check for evidence of a termite infestation, as well as any structural damage caused by termites. All of our Licensed Home Inspectors are also Licensed Professional Engineers, and can evaluate any structural damage in the house or building.
Note that carpenter ants sometimes feed on termites. For this reason, you will usually not find both insects in the same areas of a building.
How Old is the Termite Damage?
Under conditions favorable to termites, a termite colony of 60,000 workers can consume a one-foot length of two by four in as little as four months. Under less ideal conditions, it can take as long as eight years for termites to cause noticeable damage. Multiple termite colonies will consume more wood.
Termite activity may remain undetectable even after serious termite damage is done. Termite activity may remain undetected for many reasons, including:
- Termite swarms that have been ignored by the current owner of the house or building
- Termite activity may be ongoing, but be hidden behind walls and under the floors
- Termite activity may be concealed behind stored materials in the basement
- Termite activity typically occurs beneath the surface of visible wood beams structural elements
Nobody can see through walls or through wood beams. An Engineer can look for the structural effects of termites. A termite control specialist can also look for termite evidence, and issue a warranty covering treatment of future termite activity.
To maximize your protection, a termite inspection should be performed by both a Licensed Professional Engineer and a termite control specialist.
Subterranean termites live in nests called colonies. A colony of subterranean termites may be as deep as 20 feet below the soil surface. Termites travel through mud tubes to reach food sources. A mature termite colony has reproductives, soldiers, and workers. A termite colony takes about five years to mature and may include up to 200,000 workers. New termite colonies are formed when winged reproductives swarm from a parent colony.
The winged reproductives are dark brown or brownish black and have two equal size pairs of wings. These wings extend well beyond the body. Swarms are common in spring and fall, but can occur at any time of the year.
After a short flight, the termites shed their wings. These wings are often the first sign of termite activity in a building. The termites pair off and search for sources of wood and moisture in soil. The pair of termites digs a chamber in the soil near wood, enters the chamber, and seals the opening. After mating, the queen starts laying eggs. The queen may live as long as 25 years and lay over 50,000 eggs annually.
Workers are wingless, blind, and creamy white. In early stages, they are fed pre-digested food by the king and queen. Once workers are mature enough to digest wood, they provide food for the entire colony. The workers perform the labor in the termite colony. Workers live up to five years. Click here for photographs of Termites
Soldiers are wingless and blind. Soldiers are equipped with two jaws, but depend on worker termites for food. They defend the colony against invaders, and can live for as long as five years.
The Difference Between
Termites and Carpenter Ants
Flying ants and swarming termites are often difficult to tell apart. Ants have elbowed antennae, while termites have relatively straight, bead-like antennae. Flying ants have two pairs of wings, but one pair of wings is much larger than the other pair.
Termites have two pairs of wings that are of almost equal length. The thorax of the ant is joined by a narrow waist, while the thorax of the termite is broadly joined. When seen in homes and buildings, termites are much smaller than this illustration. Click here for photographs of Termites.
Regardless of whether you see ants or termites, you should have the situation evaluated by a qualified pest control specialist. Check the National Pest Management Association web site for more information on termite inspection and treatment options. Some home inspection companies offer "free" termite inspections. Click here to learn the truth about "free" termite inspections.
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Heimer Engineering PC performs pre-purchase home, building, condominium, and co-op inspections, and provides other Engineering services. Heimer Engineering does not provide contracting, construction, building, or repair services. We are not associated with any contracting, construction, or repair company. This helps assure you of unbiased professional advice.