Even if you don’t have termites, you should have your home regularly inspected. You will generally have to do one if you are selling your house, but all homeowners should think about having them done at least annually. Some termite control systems, like Sentricon, set up little monitoring stations around your home that are very easy to check every few months, so that you catch a colony in its infancy. That’s cheaper than doing a full inspection.
How often should I have one?
Annually. Termites are pretty slow to infest and damage a house, but if you have recently had an infestation, you will want to get your property looked at every 3-4 months for awhile afterwards.
Should I do it myself or get a professional?
Unlike many other pests, termites are something that it is usually not a good idea to try to deal with yourself. They are hard to kill, they often reinfest homes unless treatment is done professionally, and they can infest parts of the home that are difficult to inspect. I would not suggest relying on your own skills, no matter how much of a handyman you are.
How much does it cost?
This will vary, but it can range anywhere from $100 to $300. Part of that is based on the home price, part of that is that pest control companies sometimes give what is called a “Termite Bond” – a guarantee that they will either get rid of any termites if they find any or, in some cases, even pay for repairs.
What if I want to do my own inspection anyway?
That’s not ideal, but you can still look for a few signs of a termite infestation yourself. Here are a few of them:
1) Mud-looking material on wooden surfaces – This can often be hard to see, but termites will eat away at the interior of wood in your home. When it breaks or a hole is opened to the outside, they will try to patch it up. They use dirt as well as their own feces to create a substance to patch these holes, and it kind of looks like mud.
2) Wings – When termites are swarming, they fly around and ultimately shed their wings. If termites have gotten into your house or near it after a swarm, you will see big piles of wings. Wings can be near your house either because a swarm has come by, or because your house is infested and the swarm came from inside. Here’s a picture of some shed wings I took after a recent termite swarm sent a few into my house:
Keep in mind that there are about 40 different species of termites in the U.S., so they may look a little different.
3) Actual termites. Termites can be seen either inside the wood, in which case they usually look yellow or white, or outside as swarmers, in which case they look like flying ants. If your house constantly has swarms of termites near it, it is likely that you or someone nearby has a colony in your home. You can see some photos of termites here. You can see a closeup of a swarmer here.
4) Termite tubes. Subterranean termites, which are the kind that cause the vast majority of damage to homes, don’t just live in wood like people think. What they do is burrow underground, like ants, where they get moisture they need to survive. They build their colony next to a source of wood for food, and then burrow from the earth into the wood, going back and forth between each. To connect these earth and wood burrows, they build termite tubes – little tunnels of earth running along your house that let them run back and forth between the two.
You can see some pictures at this site here and here. Look for the tubes between the ground and any wood in your home. Try breaking them in one small spot if you see them. Usually there will be little termites running around in it – and if the colony is active, the tube will be repaired after awhile even if you don’t see any immediately.
5) Sawdust. If you see powder that looks kind of like sawdust around your home, that is a common sign of termites.
6) Small holes in the surface of the wood.
7) Paint bubbles. If the paint is on a wood surface, you may see little bubbles in it from the termites eating the wood underneath.
8) Check moist, dark areas. If you want to inspect your home for termites, you can’t just wander around the outside of it. Termites want a place where they can get both moisture and food. Look in any crawl spaces or areas under your house, any attics, your basement, any place you have in your house where you can see plumbing or pipes, cabinets, and any place where you can see the foundation.
9) Tap at wood with a hammer or blunt object. If it makes a hollow sound, there could be termites there. Check especially structural wood that should not be hollow (i.e., it’s pointless to do this to your walls).
10) Pick at wood with a penknife in various places. If there are termites just under the surface, it will come apart instead of resisting it.
There is also a very good page here with pictures of termite damage and some of the various signs of termite infestation. Go take a look before you do any inspection on your own, so you have an idea what you’re looking for.