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Signs of a termite infestation & how to know when you need termite treatment

Home > Blog >  Signs of a termite infestation & how to know when you need termite treatment

Termite infestations are an unfortunate, but a widespread nuisance that affects an average of 600,000+ homes each year across the United States.

Termites are the most destructive bunch of Houston pests. Annually, they cause $5 billion worth of damage to homes in the US. And fixing that damage isn’t as easy as replacing carpeting or adding weather stripping to your doors.

The construction of residential homes in America commonly uses wood as a primary building material. Because the termite’s primary source of food is wood, the private residences of everyday Americans are at high risk of termite infestations.

The city of Houston is rated as “Very High” under the Termite Infestation Probability Zones Map, or TIP Zone map. So, knowing the options for termite treatment should be a priority for Houstonians in particular. 

As soon as you get a termite infestation, the colony (which can contain more than 1 million termites!) will be eating the wood in and around your home constantly - 24 hours each day and every day. That’s how such small creatures are able to do so much damage in a short time.

To understand a termite infestation and the treatments, you need to understand what a termite is, the different types of termites and how these pests manage to make your home their home.

What are termites and how do I identify them?

Termites are small, ant-like insects usually between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch long. 

These troublesome critters have soft bodies with straight antennae and can range in color from white to light brown depending on the type of termite. 

Termite season can begin at various points of the year, but will generally start in the warmer and wetter months. However, the beginning of the termite season largely depends on the area in which you live and the type of termite present in that area.

In Texas, termite season usually begins in early spring, making this an ideal time of year to get your home inspected for termites so that you may detect the presence of these pests as early as possible.

Early termite detection allows you to get effective termite treatment that will save your home and family from an overwhelming infestation and the high cost of damage repairs.

What are the different types of termites?

Termite colonies operate on a caste system where there are three different classes of termites, with each type carrying out different roles in contributing to the colony or nest. These three types of termites are called soldiers, workers, and winged swarming termites.

Worker termites are those that are responsible for constructing and maintaining the nest where the termites live. This type of termite also collects food for the colony, including the wood in your home, and builds the mud tubes which the worker termites use to travel between wood sources and the colony.

The soldier termite’s main purpose is to protect and defend the termite nest by plugging any broken walls, mud tubes, and areas where the nest might have become compromised.

Once a termite colony reaches a certain capacity and is ready to expand, winged swarming termites, or alates, will take flight from their nest in search of a nearby location to establish a new colony. This is when winged swarming termites will find a mate with which they will start their new colony. Mating for the termite begins the business of building and starting a new colony.

Based on the location of their colony, termites are generally classified into three different groups — subterranean, dry wood, and damp wood termites. But, no matter the type of termite, successful termite treatment is always vital when any type of infestation occurs.

Subterranean Termites

As the most common type of termite within the United States, the subterranean termite exists in all states except Alaska and is the most destructive termite species in America. That’s why subterranean termite treatment is the most needed termite treatment in the USA.

These termites establish colonies in the soil below ground or in secluded moist environments above ground to protect themselves from the open air. To access their preferred above-ground food sources from their colony below ground, the subterranean termite will build unique mud tubes, also known as ‘galleries' or ‘tunnels’. Some colonies can have more than one egg-laying female, allowing the number of termites in the subterranean nest to multiply at alarming rates. 

Subterranean termites can often infest homes for years undetected, making the response to early detection and the use of quick and reliable termite treatment, like that provided by Natran, a necessity for the structural integrity of your home.

There are different identifying features that you can use to tell subterranean termites apart from other types of termites. In a subterranean termite colony, the winged swarmers, or alates, will generally appear to be dark-brown or black in color with two pairs of wings that are equal in length.

The worker termites in these particular colonies do not have wings, are approximately 1/4 of an inch or less, and are cream-colored. Subterranean soldier termites have large mandibles, a creamy-white body with a brown head, and are wingless.

What makes subterranean termites so frustrating for homeowners is that sometimes they don’t leave any signs of an infestation at all.

Because they often burrow so deep underground, it’s often difficult to detect them, and many homeowners don’t know there’s a problem for weeks or months. Unlike dry wood termites, subterranean termites use their frass to build tunnels, so you won’t see any dark power at the entrances to their colonies.

Termites are determined workers, so when they want to build a colony, very little will stand in their way. So long as there are fewer predators around the area, they will continue to grow and thrive.

Luckily, there are some tools that can help detect subterranean termites. Experts at Natran like to use moisture, heat, and sound sensors to try and pinpoint exactly where the subterranean termites might be building a nest. The quicker we can find them, the quicker we're able to get them out of your home.

As a green pest control expert in Houston, we advise all residents to start learning the signs of termite infestations now to better protect their homes as the season ramps up.

Dampwood Termites

Dampwood termites are attracted to wood that has faced water damage or that sits directly on the ground.

You might find a damp wood termite infestation in a tree stump, a fallen log, or an area in your home that has been affected by water, such as a leaky roof or a cracked drain pipe. As damp wood termites infest your residence, they will eat away at the wooden support beams, weakening the structure of your home.

Dampwood termite colonies are among the smallest of all termite colonies, however, these insects are the largest in size compared to other types of termites. Each colony contains nymphs, soldiers, and winged swarmers.

Nymphs can be over half an inch in length and are light in color to the point of near transparency. Like nymphs, damp wood soldier termites can grow to half an inch long, but have dark brown mandibles that extend from their flat brown heads. Dampwood swarmers are dark brown with wings and can reach up to an inch in length.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites build their colonies inside of dry wood structures that can be present above ground level including fences and utility posts, door and window frames, and furniture. This type of termite does not need soil or a moist environment for its colony to thrive. 

Drywood termite colonies are small, usually with under 1,000 termites making them less destructive than their subterranean relatives. However, it’s still imperative that you seek termite treatment as quickly as possible to rid your home of dry wood termites.

Drywood termites have short legs, a thick waist, straight antennae and can be anywhere from 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch long. Particular identifying features of a dry wood termite depend on its place in the colony’s caste system.

Worker dry wood termites are cream-colored and can appear to look white against wood, soldier dry wood termites vary in color from cream to brown and have mandibles with teeth, while winged swarmer dry wood termites are brown or black in color with wings that are equal in length.

With the different types of termites defined and some information on how to identify them, it’s important to now learn the 9 major signs that your home has been infested by the most common type of termite, the subterranean termite, so that you know if it’s time for termite treatment.

9 Signs of a Subterranean Termite Infestation

Our termite experts in Houston have seen far too many homes that have been severely damaged by termites, and we want to help all homeowners spot the signs. 

When you know what key signs to look for, you can spot infestations right away before the colonies have a chance to grow and expand around your home.

Mud tunnels or tubes

One of the major signs that you’re in need of termite treatment in your home is the presence of mud tunnels or tubes. These tubes provide shelter for the termites as they travel between their nest and your home. At roughly the width of a drinking straw, these tubes have a flat muddy appearance and maybe present beneath your floors, on pipes throughout your home, along cracks, or around your baseboards and plumbing.

Hollow wood

Termites will often dine on the wood in your home starting from the inside of the wood source, hollowing out the middle of the wood, and leaving only a thin veneer behind. If you notice that the wood in or around your home sounds empty when you knock on it, this may be due to a termite infestation and indicates that it’s time for you and your family to look into termite treatment.

Termite swarms

When you see bees swarming around a tree branch, it means the bees have found a new queen, and they’re looking to start a new hive. They’ll swarm for a while, and when the queen is ready to lay eggs, they’ll build a hive or make one in the hole of a tree.

Termites swarm in a way similar to bees - they too break off from their colony with a female and fly off to mate and start a colony. Unlike bees, termites will shed their wings so they can no longer fly, which is great — until they start burrowing underground.

You can usually spot swarms of termites in trees or bushes. Trimmed trees and bushes will make it easier to see swarms. Like most insects, these swarmers are especially attracted to light sources. The presence of these swarms means that a termite colony might be nearby and that these critters are looking to begin a new one in close proximity to the existing colony. 

How to detect: Some people pull their cars into their garages, close the door and go into their homes without ever looking much around their yards. These homeowners will never notice a swarm or a problem with their backyards, and that’s a big problem.

You don’t need to spend every day in your backyard, but as a homeowner, you need to be familiar with your property. You should know the condition of your trees and whether they’re healthy. If you have bushes, you should be inspecting them regularly, especially if they’re near your home. Termite swarms love to hide in bushes where they often make their way to the ground. 

Piles of wings

During the swarming process, the two swarmers will land and prepare to establish their new colony. At this time, the swarmers will shed their wings, leaving them behind. Finding these discarded wings around your home, whether just a few wings or entire piles, means that you may be dealing with an active termite colony somewhere near your residence and that termite treatment could be necessary.

Wall Damage

Another sign of a subterranean termite infestation in your home is the presence of wall damage. Wall damage caused by termites often looks like water damage and can present itself in the form of discolored drywall, bubbling or peeling paint, or bulging walls. This damage can also lead to dysfunctional doors and windows as the wood in your home begins to weaken and warp or bend.

These signs of damage may be less obvious to the eye and if you’re noticing these signs, this might mean that the termite infestation has been present in your home for quite some time and that you should seek termite treatment as soon as possible.

Tight-fitting doors and windows

Imagine this scenario: it’s a nice, breezy day and you want to let that lovely breeze through your living room. You try to pull up the window, and suddenly, you nearly crack a nail when you try to pull up on your window. 

This often happens to windows and doors, and it’s not that your windows or doors have suddenly shrunk. The wood around them becomes warped, so the window or door no longer fits its frame. 

You might notice with doors that when you try to close them, they suddenly can't be shut all the way. This isn’t always a definite sign of termite damage. In fact, a lot of things can cause these problems with doors and windows.

Damp, hot weather can cause doors and windows to become stiff, and damp wood itself can become warped. If you do notice this happening with any of your doors or windows, it’s best to get it checked out by a green pest control expert, just to be on the safe side.

At any rate, dampness often attracts termites and mold, so having someone take a look is never a bad idea.

How to detect: Open and close your windows and doors often, especially on warm days. You’ll notice which ones come up easily and which ones don’t - if that changes, then it could be a sign of termites.

Termite droppings

Termites do leave droppings like mice and rats, but you won’t find any black pellets lying around so obviously in your kitchen. 

Termite droppings, known as frass, are typically seen with dry wood termites because subterranean termites often use their feces to build their tunnels. Drywood termites don’t do this. Instead, they push their feces out of their tunnels of small holes or the entrances to their nests. Frass typically looks like a dark, powder-like substance or black markings on your floor.

Most homeowners mistake frass for ordinary dirt, so they don’t notice a termite infestation until it’s too late. If you weren’t already vacuuming regularly, this is a good reason to start a regular schedule. A suspicious pile of dirt in the far corner of your living room will attract attention if you see it constantly there from week to week.

How to detect: Be on alert for suspicious piles of “dust” in the corners of your home because it could actually be frass.

Munching and headbanging

When you were young, your parents probably taught you to chew with your mouth closed and avoid making grunting or slurping noises. You may be teaching your kids these very same manners.

When worker termites eat, they are surprisingly loud for such small pests. If you were to pick up a log infested with termites and put your ear up to it, you would be able to hear termites munching on the wood inside. 

If there happen to be soldier termites inside that log when you pick it up, then you might hear another noise from the soldiers. When soldier termites detect danger to other termites or the colony, they will start to bang their heads on the wood. This causes vibrations that can be felt by other termites. This is the danger signal.

Humans can hear these munching and vibrating sounds if they place the log close to their ears, but in your own home, you can hear these sounds coming from your walls where termites may be eating or headbanging. 

How to detect: Relying on what you can hear from tiny insects possibly lurking in your walls may not be 100% reliable, but if you listen often to what your home sounds like, you can get better about hearing when something sounds off. 

When it’s quiet at night or in the early morning, what sounds do you hear every day? When you sit down to turn on the TV, take a second and listen for any unusual sounds.

Moisture patches

Now moisture alone is not an indicator of termites in your home, but if you find a spot on your walls or floors that has been exposed to dampness and moisture for a certain amount of time, then it might be worth having a termite expert come and check for these pests.

Termites love moisture, and as soon as they detect it, they will usually start eating in that direction. If your basement recently floored or a leak in your attic caused rainwater to leak in, it’s worth having an expert come out and sweep for termites. 

Termites can do a lot of damage very quickly, so it’s worth the peace of mind knowing no termites have moved in — or if they have that they can be stopped before they do serious damage.

How to detect: Be diligent about checking your home and do routine checks in your attic and basement to spot signs of moisture right away.

How do I know when it is time for termite treatment?

If you have spotted these signs in or around your home and yard, it is likely time for you and your family to seek subterranean termite treatment.

Natran’s goal is to implement preventive systems in your yard and home to lessen the threat of a termite infestation.

For existing termite infestations, Natran’s termite treatment uses baiting control for subterranean termites without subjecting your home and our planet to harsh chemicals, unless it’s completely unavoidable.

This method of termite treatment will eventually eradicate the underground termite colony, completely eliminating the infesting insects. After we’ve used our smart, responsible, and sustainable termite treatment, you’ll be able to return to a comfortable life in your termite-free home.

Contact us to schedule your free termite inspection in Houston.

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