Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Finding termite damage can be incredibly costly, given that most home insurance policies do not cover termite damage. Usually, surface damage is a sign of a more significant issue underneath, which needs to be addressed as soon as possible. But does termite damage mean the end of your home?
Termite-damaged wood needs to be removed when the damage goes beyond the surface. If the colony has penetrated your home’s structure, it is safer to replace the wood, especially in load-bearing areas. However, for superficial damage, you can clean and add support with wood hardeners.
In this article, we will explore what termites are and how you can easily spot an infestation. We will also discuss how to completely eradicate a colony and what needs to be done to fix the damage.
What Are Termites?
Though termites look similar to the common ant, they are actually more closely related to cockroaches. However, like ants, termites do tend to live in colonies and have segmented body shapes. They differ in their color, which is whitish and often translucent, but also seek warm and moist areas into which they can hide. This is why they are typically found deep in your home’s foundation.
If you have termites in your home, chances are the damage goes far beyond the outer surface. These tiny creatures prefer to burrow into the structure of your home, including floor beams, support posts, and wall studs. Once inside, they will eat away, weakening the building while leaving the outer layers more or less untouched.
The good news is that it is rare for the damage in your home to be beyond repair. This is typically only the case in homes that have been empty for extended periods, allowing the colony to thrive.
How Do You Know if You Have Termites?
Termites will usually find their way into your home through cracks in the foundation or by building mud tunnels at the base of pipes and downspouts. Unfortunately, they can be challenging to identify.
One of the simplest ways to determine that you may have an infestation is during the warmer months. At this time, winged termites will fly from the existing colony. This swarm can be seen in and around the house until they disperse in search of a new area to start a new colony.
You can look for signs of termite damage in your home by checking for the following:
- Termite wings that have been discarded
- Bubbling under wallpaper
- Wooden surfaces become paperlike
- Buckling in wooden structures and beams
- Swollen flooring or ceilings
- Holes in firewood or nearby trees and stumps
- Droppings that look like sawdust
Unfortunately, termite damage can often look similar to water damage. If you are sure that the area is dry and no water has leaked, chances are you have termites.
How To Get Rid of Termites
Before you can look into repairing your home, it is critical to eradicate the termite problem. It is recommended to call a pest control professional, especially with larger infestations, to ensure that your home is entirely termite-free before beginning any necessary repairs. However, there are steps you can take if you believe the colony is not too big.
Find the Colony
Begin by locating the most likely area of the colony. You may see mud tunnels running up the side of your house or notice large termite wings that the swarm has discarded once it finds its new home. From within, look for swollen surfaces or droppings, and listen for signs of an infestation. Soldier termites will knock into the wood to alert the colony of nearby danger.
Since termites feed on cardboard, you can set up a trap by stacking wet sheets of cardboard near the colony. Monitor the trap until you notice it has become infested. Termites will leave their colony in favor of the new food source. Once you have enough termites, remove the trap and burn it. You will have to repeat this many times to ensure you get as many as possible and will not completely destroy the colony.
Beneficial nematodes are tiny worms that are parasitic in nature. They burrow into their hosts, causing death within a couple of days. Available in most gardening stores, they need to be planted in moist soil as soon as possible.
If your termite problem is with furniture rather than your home’s structure, try putting the piece outside. Termites can only survive in darkness, and the sun’s UV rays and heat will kill them, though it may take a few days. Try adding a cardboard trap nearby to catch any termites that try to escape.
Boric acid is one of the main ingredients in most termite insecticides and is available in most hardware stores. It works by dehydrating the termites that come into contact with it, killing them and parts of the colony effectively. The acid needs to be sprinkled over areas close to the colony so that the termites will come into contact. Replenish as needed.
What To Do With Termite Damaged Wood
Once you have the termite colony dealt with and you have worked to ensure no further infestations can occur, it is time to repair or replace the damage left behind. In some cases, the damage will be minor, and it should be possible to cut away and replace small sections. In other instances, you may need to remove much larger areas of your home.
There are two main avenues you can take when looking to repair termite damage:
- Remove and replace damaged wood with new.
- Clean out the most damaged areas and attach new wood as support for the old.
Though it is always advised to call a professional when dealing with potential structural damage, you may be able to fix the damage yourself. Unless the termites have drastically degraded support beams or weight-bearing posts, it is possible to remove and replace or add supports to the area affected.
For superficial damage, if the termites could not move deeper into the structure, you can repair minor damage with adhesives and wood sealants. Be sure to clean the area thoroughly and check that the damage does not extend too far. Once you have the site ready, apply wood hardeners to secure the spot, followed by a sealant on the damaged area and surrounding beams.
If the termites could penetrate further into the wood, you will likely see rotten, damaged spots in the area. This may look water damaged and present as crumbling or discolored. Before attempting to fix this, always clear away the decayed wood to determine the extent of the issue, as it may go deeper than it looks.
For moderately damaged areas, you should be able to clear away rotten wood, sand it down, and fill in any holes with a wood hardener and sealant. If the damaged area is slightly more extensive, you can either add extra wood for support or completely replace the damaged section.
When working with hardwood floors, it is typically easier to remove and replace beams and find varnish or paint to match them to the old ones. This will better ensure the integrity of the floor in the future.
When the damage goes beyond a few boards, it is best to call a professional. In such instances where the colony is large enough to cause swelling in the floor or ceiling, there is a much greater risk of areas collapsing.
However, if you feel confident doing the work yourself, start by examining the amount of damage and adding support beams where needed. For example, if the ceiling is swelling or support beams have become infested, you will need to provide support to bear weight when working on the area.
Working slowly, clean away surface damage, working into the wood until you reach healthier parts. During this clean, you may find that entire boards have become compromised and need to be removed completely. The deeper the colony was able to burrow, the more likely you will need to remove the damaged wood and replace it with new.
For non-supporting areas, you might be able to add wood supports to the sections rather than removing the wood altogether. But in load-bearing areas, it is safer to remove and replace with fresh, strong wood.
Surrounding areas can be cleaned and treated with wood hardeners, and a sealant should be applied to the affected and unaffected areas to prevent further issues.
If you are lucky enough to catch an infestation early and stop the damage before it can affect your home’s structure, you should be able to clean away the rotten areas and fill them with a wood hardener. In some cases, you may need to add extra wood for support. However, if the colony is deep within the structure or foundation, chances are you will need to remove and replace specific boards that are beyond repair.
- Orkin: Repairing Termite Damage
- Advanced IPM: What are Termites & What Do They Look Like?
- How Stuff Works: Termites and Structural Property Damage
- Mighty Mite: How to Restore Wood and Other Surfaces After a Termite Infestation
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