Termite swarming season is here! This means homeowner calls and inspections are about to increase. It is always good practice to review the basics of identification and inspection information, even for seasoned veterans. This month’s focus will highlight some tips on conducting a termite inspection. Next month’s newsletter will contain information on identifying damage in the absence of live termites.

Exterior Inspections

The key to any good inspection is to take your time. When it comes to termite inspections the devil is in the details. You are looking for subtle signs of termite activity or water damage, which can take patience and a keen eye. Rushing through inspection is where errors are made, and the details are missed. Depending on the nature of a termite call, many termite inspections begin on the exterior of the structure. There are many ways to conduct a correct termite inspection, but here are a few simple tips and guidelines that reinforce the basics.

Fig 2. Termite mud tubes at the foundation of a home. Photo by J. Castner, University of Florida.

Make two (or more) passes around the structure. It is easy to get tunnel vision when looking down or up. Focus your attention during your first walk around the structure inspecting from head-height, down. On the second pass, inspect from head-height, up (Fig 2).

Fig 3. Exterior door frame creating a structural joint along the foundation of the structure. Photo by M. Bently, University of Florida.

Termites seek moist environments, so signs of moisture intrusion in a structure can be your red flag to indicate areas that warrant further investigation. Common areas for water intrusion into a structure are where joints are made: This means where two materials come together (window frames, doorways, roof lines, siding joints, and the structures foundation) (Fig 3).

Fig 4. A: Gutter downspout without proper splashguard to direct water away from structure. Structural walls with hard-water residue indicating signs of overspray due to sprinklers. B: Gutter with correct installation of splashguard. Photos by M. Bentley, University of Florida.

Inspect around gutter downspouts and sprinkler heads close to the structure.  When gutters are not directed away from the foundation, or sprinklers overspray regularly onto the structure, they become areas where moisture intrusion can occur (Fig 4A, B).

Fig 5. Stray cellulose left along the foundation of a structure. Photo by M. Bentley, University of Florida. 

Areas along the foundation of a structure should be further investigated when stray cellulose is found. It is also recommended to remove this cellulose from the area if possible (Fig 5).

Interior Inspections

Interior termite inspections commonly focus on the points in the home where pipes and conduits enter a structure. This includes the bathrooms, laundry room, kitchen, and any other rooms that may contain water heaters, showers, or sinks. Since the majority of these locations are in the dark, a good flashlight and a small inspection mirror are a must!

Mud tubes and water damage are what to watch for when inspecting water lines in kitchens, bathrooms, or utility rooms.

Fig 6. Termite damage to door frame. Photo Credit: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/formosan_termite.htm

Baseboards, door frames, and trim that may have termite activity will often appear blistered or cracked. Dirt or mud can also be associated with these areas (Fig 6).

Treat the interior inspection of the structure similar to an exterior inspection. Use the baseboards as a guide to inspect in a continuous path around the interior of the home, looking for signs of termite activity.

Fig 7. Termite mud tubes located behind a book case. Photo Credit: http://entemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/forosan_termite.htm

Ensure that items such as book shelves and furniture are pulled away from the walls to allow for continual visibility along the baseboards and walls (Fig 7) or document those areas as inaccessible if you cannot move them.