Termite Inspections & FAQ
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
In Hawaii, its customary for a termite inspection to be completed as part of the transaction process. Below is a helpful FAQ for what to expect in this process.
Does an inspection guaranty there are no termites in the house?
An inspection, properly done, should be able to give a strong assurance there are no termites but can not guaranty there are not termites that have recently infested in some area that is not accessible. Ground termites that have entered through a plumbing access in the slab may stay confined inside the wall for months. Drywood termites that have recently infested a piece of wood may not push out droppings for several months and leave no other clue they are there.
How long is the Termite Inspection Report good for? The report states that it should be “considered reliable for fifteen days”. This is due to the fact that termites are living creatures and capable of infesting a house in a short period of time. Ground termites can build their mud tubes at the rate of about six inches an hour.
How can you tell the difference between ground termites and drywood termites? The termites are somewhat similar in appearance. They are a cream color and ¼ to 3/8 inches. Ground termite colonies have large numbers of soldiers who have dark mandibles on their heads. When the colony is disturbed they will rush to defend against any attackers. Ground termites need a lot of moisture and will build with mud to seal in the humidity and keep out predators such as ants. This mud is quite apparent and is often the first thing visible. They are capable of a lot of damage and will eat the wood all the way to it’s center.
Drywood termites have relatively small colonies and live in the wood. They have no source of water other than moisture in the wood they eat, typically 11% in Hawaii, so they need to recover that moisture. Therefore, moisture is recovered from their fecal droppings before they are excreted. It is these hard, somewhat round droppings that is usually the first sign of termites.
Do dark colored droppings indicate old infestation? No. The color of the droppings has nothing to do with their age although newer droppings have a little bit of a shine and are not covered with dust as older droppings may be. Color is dependent not only on the type of wood being consumed but also the part of the wood. Droppings from oak floors or furniture is generally blonde like the wood. Droppings from Douglas fir, our most common building material, can vary from reddish brown to dark brown.
If the inspector doesn’t find live termites does that indicate there are no termites in the structure? The inspector is looking for “visible evidence” of active infestation. We usually try to find a live termite but that is not always possible. If there are droppings coming from a high ceiling or other area difficult to reach it can be assumed there are live termites. Drywood termites can be very elusive and sometimes the inspector would do more damage trying to locate one than is done by the termites. Conversely, if there is an active ground termite infestation there are usually lots of termites and extensive damage.
Who decides how to treat the termites? The inspector will recommend the type of treatment he considers most effective. If there are drywood termites in a single family dwelling this will usually be tent fumigation. If there are termites in one area it can be assumed there are other infestations that are not visible. Fumigation is the most effective method of control for drywood termites as the fumigant will penetrate the walls, attic, floors and sub-floor space and kill all the termites. In a condominium or townhouse this may not be possible so the infestation can be spot treated by injecting liquid insecticide into the termite galleries. This is not as effective as a fumigant but under the circumstances it may be the only remedy.
Ground termites can be treated by treating the structure with one of several termiticides or installing the SENTRICON baiting system.
Every situation is different and the inspector will use his best judgement.
How does SENTRICON work? SENTRICON represents the newest generation of pest control techniques. For centuries people have relied on toxic pesticides to control insects. Probably the first was arsenic and it was used up until about thirty years ago. It is an element and worked in its basic form. Another was pyrethrum which is derived from a type of chrysanthemum flower, Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium. Another is nicotine from tobacco. During the Second World War and the following years there were a number of pesticides developed most of which fell into three chemical families. Chlorinated hydrocarbons such as chlordane, and heptachlor. Carbamates such as sevin and Baygon and organophosphates such as Diazinon and Dursban. All of these insecticides worked because they were toxic to insects, usually affecting the nervous system. They were also toxic to fish birds and mammals. The idea behind SENTRICON is to feed the termites a hormone that will disrupt their life cycle. SENTRICON works because it prevents the young termites from molting. If they can not shed their skin they can not grow and will remain in their juvenile form. As the mature termites die there are no workers to replace them. Consequently, the colony will perish as there are no termites bringing in food. SENTRICON is for ground termites only, not drywood termites.
Are there still liquid insecticides for controlling and preventing ground termites? Yes, there are several. One of the first replacements for Chlordane after it was discontinued were the synthetic pyrethroids. They are applied to and bind with the soil around and under the house. They work primarily by repelling the termites.
Newer termiticides such as Termador and Premise do not repel the termites but kills them as they travel through the treated soil.
How often should a house be treated to prevent ground termites? This depends on the type of construction, the termiticide used and how wet the area is. The pesticides will break down if exposed to water so it stands to reason they will last longer on the dry Waianae Coast as opposed to the wet areas of Kaneohe. You should consult with a representative of a pest control company for recommendations of your house but usually it is every three to five years.
What are some of the most common conducive conditions? Soil-to-wood contact. Ground termites are constantly foraging underground for food and if soil has accumulated against a post or the wood siding they will eat it then use it as a bridge into the house. Fence posts attached to the house is a classic example. A four-by-four fence or gatepost is put into the ground adjacent to the house then nailed to the house for support. Ground termites enter through the bottom of the post travel up through the center then move into the house completely undetected.
Water. They need a source of moisture and if there is plumbing leaking under the house, downspouts draining against the house or sprinklers keeping the soil adjacent to the house wet the termites will be drawn to the house and will eventually find their way in. Water will also deplete any pesticide that has been applied to the soil to keep the termites out.
Cold joints. This is where two concrete slabs join, usually where there is an addition put on after the original construction. Frequently this cold joint is covered with a wall and it is not visible so the termites can enter undetected. A similar situation exists where a concrete slab-on grade addition has been made against a house with post and beam construction. Too often the concrete is poured up against the wood posts. The ground termites build a trail over the slab, onto the post and in only a few days can infest the rim beam under the house. Few people ever crawl under their house so the infestation goes on for months with serious damage to posts, beams and floor joists.
Hollow tile walls, especially retaining walls. Hollow tile walls generally sit on a concrete footing below the soil. Ground termites can enter at the bottom and travel up until they find wood that may be in the attic or a beam supporting the walls. Houses built into a hillside often have soil back-filled against the hollow tile foundations. Ground termites are capable of secreting an acid that dissolves the mortar used to set the block.
Untreated wood. Most older homes were made with wood that did not have an insecticide/fungicide applied to it and this allows termites to easily infest it. Only on rare occasions will drywood termites infest pressure treated lumber.
What does the term ‘treated lumber’ mean? Lumber is pressure treated by placing it in a large tank called a retort. A chemical solution is introduced to the retort, usually it is hot and the tank is pressurized to force the solution into the wood. Sometimes the wood may be serrated with hundreds of small cuts to aid in the process. The solution often contains a combination of copper and arsenic or a newer process uses borax. All three are elements and therefore will not breakdown over time thereby providing a long-term preventative against termites. Usually the solution does not penetrate all the way to the center of the wood so if the wood is cut or drilled its efficacy has been compromised and the cut end should be treated.
It is very rare that drywood termites infest treated lumber and when it does happen it is because the wood was cut and not painted with a treatment solution.
Ground termites are capable of eating through the treated exterior to get to the center although they will usually enter through the cut end.
Source: Jaime Neely, Entomologist. Serving the Real Estate Industry in Hawaii since 1973. Member Entomological Society of America. www.jamieneely.com