Termites are very destructive, and the outside appearance of wood doesn’t necessarily indicate what’s going on inside.
Not long ago, a very nice listing of ours went under contract. During inspections, evidence of termites was discovered in several rooms of the home. The inspector seemed to think that the termites had been in the house for quite some time, due to how far they had spread. After hearing this, we were very fearful of what damage they may have done. In this series of posts we are going to show how they were discovered, the extent of the damage, and what the final outcome was.
This picture shows a baseboard in one room of the house. At first glance, it appears normal, but if you look closely, you can see faint lines in the wood. A couple of those lines have dark spots or cracks in them. One can easily be fooled into thinking this is just the grain of the wood, but these actually indicate the presence of termites.
What you are seeing are the slight indentations caused by the paint “sagging” into the termite tunnels which were eaten away on the edge of the wood. Those dark spots are where the paint has cracked through, exposing the hollow beneath.
This next picture points out what I call a “pinhole”. Although termites eat wood, they will also tunnel through sheetrock, searching for wood or a source of water. When they pop through the sheetrock, they leave a small hole, often filled with what looks like sawdust, but is actually termite waste. As you can see, these holes are tiny. In this house, holes were spotted high up on the walls, which is never a good thing.
Not only is termite evidence often subtle, but in this case it was behind furniture, which is why it was not spotted before inspections took place.
Since we now knew the house had termites, the next step was to eliminate them.
This picture shows another section of infested baseboard. In it, you can see:
- A small hole drilled by the pest control technician. Through this hole, he sprayed a foam version of Termidor, which is an effective termite control agent. That foam coats the inside of the wall. This particular company (River City Pest Control) wisely foams the walls in this manner at any spot where termite evidence is found. This is in addition to doing a full perimeter treatment around the exterior of the home.
- This hole at the top of the baseboard is where paint fell away, revealing the cavity beneath where termites ate the wood away. You can also see waviness in the paint along the top. This indicates that you’re looking at only paint, with nothing below it.
- These lines and gaps also indicate the presence of termite tunnels just underneath the surface of the paint.
Here you see the technician injecting the Termidor foam into the wall at another spot with termite damage.
Now that the house had been fully treated for termites, we knew that no further damage would occur. At this point though, we needed to determine the extent of the damage already done.
Many contractors told the homeowner that pulling off lots of sheetrock was the only way to know for sure. Technically they are correct. However, such invasive techniques are very expensive, as the walls are essentially ripped apart, and must be repaired afterwards.
A reputable contractor was located who would remove the baseboards and carefully cut away about 4” of sheetrock at the bottom, behind the baseboards. This would expose the bottom plate and lower end of the studs. He would also remove crown molding, and in the attic carefully inspect the top plates and other exposed wood there. The homeowner felt this was a reasonable compromise. It would avoid large-scale demolition and repair, yet still provide a view inside the walls.
In this picture you can see that the baseboard, shoe molding, and sheetrock have been cut away. Look at the interior of the baseboard – it is riddled through with termite tunnels.
The next 2 pictures show the back side of baseboards from 2 different rooms in the house. The extent of damage to the baseboards is unbelievable! One of them is like Swiss cheese!
Termite damage was also found in the wooden flooring at one spot. Therefore, that flooring was pulled up, as shown below.
Some of the crown molding in the affected rooms, fully 9 feet above the floor, was damaged much like the baseboards! Evidence of vertical tunneling in the sheetrock was observed. Termites will eat the outer paper on sheetrock, leaving the paint, much like they did on the outside of the baseboards.
As bad as this damage was, it was so far only cosmetic. The termites had tunneled into baseboards, shoe molding, flooring, and crown molding. Several sections of the wooden trim were extensively damaged, as was a small section of flooring. There were pinholes in the sheetrock, and spots where termites had eaten the sheetrock’s paper. After the damaged trim and flooring were removed, the homeowner needed to know whether any structural damage was done.
With the bottom of the sheetrock behind the baseboards cut away, the bottom plate and lower end of the studs were open for inspection. In the picture below, you can see that those items are completely free of any visible termite evidence. To our utter amazement, everywhere the studs were revealed, we saw the same thing – solid, undisturbed wood! During an extensive inspection of the exposed structural wood behind baseboards and crown molding, as well as in the attic, the contractor saw no evidence that termites had attacked any of it! It appeared that they remained mostly in the baseboards, then found the crown molding at the top of the walls. Apparently the softer, finer wood was more to their taste, so they gorged themselves on it without moving into the structural members of the house.
We documented the inspections and repairs extensively for the owner. He provided the buyer access to the house throughout the entire process, and gave them all reports and invoices.
The contractor did a great job of replacing all the damaged trim and flooring, and repairing the few areas of sheetrock damage. When it was done, it looked beautiful!
In spite of the unpleasant discovery of termites and the damage they caused, the buyer was satisfied with the thoroughness of the inspection, treatment, and repairs. They moved forward with the purchase, and were very happy with their new home!
There are several lessons to be learned from this:
- If you own a house, ALWAYS keep it inspected and under contract with a REPUTABLE termite company.
- If you are buying a house and evidence of termites is detected, don’t assume that a small amount of surface evidence means a small amount of damage. As you saw, some of these baseboards looked nearly perfect on the outside, but were severely eaten away within. Perform whatever inspections are necessary to determine the extent of the damage, then make an informed decision.
- If termites are detected in a house, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the damage is catastrophic. We discovered termites in our own home AFTER it had been treated by and was under contract with a local “big name” company! (Contact us privately if you want to know who they are.) Live termites were found in 2 separate places. Needless to say, we did not use the company we had been with. We called River City Pest Control, who treated our house and have had it under contract for us ever since. Only a few pinholes were found at one spot, and none at the other, so we felt that the chances of large-scale damage were slim. We definitely weren’t going to rip our walls open! Knowing that the termites were now dead, and won’t be back, we were able to breathe easy.
Contact us with any questions you may have about our experiences with termites, pest control companies, or anything else related to real estate!