Termites and Termite Damage


TermiteTermites can seriously damage the structure of a house or building.  Many 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 home or building had no termite damage or structural damage.  In some cases, there was serious termite damage to the structure of the home or building that was not found until after the purchase.

In addition to the pre-purchase inspection performed by an Engineer, have a termite inspection performed by a qualified termite control specialist.  The termite control specialist can recommend treatment options to control an existing termite infestation.  A qualified termite control specialist can also recommend 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 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 Licensed Professional Engineer evaluates the structural impact of any accessible termite damage in the home or building.  If repairs are needed, Heimer Engineering's expense analysis in the engineering report can help you understand the expenses.

Termite control specialists and Licensed Professional Engineers check differently for termite evidence.  Licensed Professional 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 termite control measures.

For these reasons, it is strongly recommend that you have the house or building checked for termites by both a Licensed Professional Engineer and a termite control specialist.  This maximizes your chances of finding termite activity and structural damage.  You should also obtain a warranty against future termite activity from the termite control specialist.

Click here to view a sample inspection report.


Termites Feed on Wood

Termites attack wood that is close to the ground.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.

Carpenter ants sometimes feed on termites.  For this reason, you will usually not find both insects in the same areas of a home or building.


How Old is the Termite Damage?

Damaged houseUnder 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, and 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.  A Licensed Professional Engineer evaluates the structural effects of termites.  A termite control specialist can will 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.


Termite Colonies

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 termite reproductives, termite soldiers, and termite 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 termite reproductives swarm from a parent colony.


Termite Reproductives

The winged termite reproductives are dark brown or brownish black and have two equal size pairs of wings.  These wings extend well beyond the termite reproductive's body.  Swarms of termite reproductives are common in spring and fall, but can occur at any time of the year.

After a short flight, the termite reproductives shed their wings.  These wings are often the first sign of termite activity in a home or building.  The termite reproductives pair off and search for sources of wood and moisture in soil.  The pair of termite reproductives dig a chamber in the soil near wood, enters the chamber, and seals the opening.  After mating, the termite queen starts laying eggs.  The termite queen may live as long as 25 years and lay over 50,000 eggs annually.


Termite Workers

Termite workers are wingless, blind, and creamy white in color.  This is why termites are sometimes referred to as white ants.  In early stages, termite workers are fed pre-digested food by the king and queen.  Once termite workers are mature enough to digest wood, they provide food for the entire colony.  The termite workers perform the labor in the termite colony.  Termite workers live up to five years.

Click here for photographs of Termites.


Termite Soldiers

Termite soldiers are wingless and blind.  Termite soldiers are equipped with two jaws, but depend on worker termites for food.  Termite soldiers defend the colony against invaders, and can live for as long as five years.


The Difference Between
Termites and Carpenter Ants

Carpenter antTermite
Carpenter AntTermite

Flying ants and swarming termites can be difficult to tell apart.  Flying 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 control options.

Some home inspection companies offer "free" termite inspections.  Click here to learn the truth about "free" termite inspections.


Heimer Engineering PC performs pre-purchase home, building, condominium unit, and co-op unit inspections, and provides other Engineering services.  Heimer Engineering PC only provides Engineering services in the State of New York.  Heimer Engineering PC does not provide contracting, construction, building, or repair services.  Heimer Engineering PC is not associated with any contracting, construction, or repair company.  This helps assure you of unbiased professional advice.