The quick and dirty guide to spotting termite damage in your home

We do home inspections all over middle Tennessee, and we’ve seen first-hand the damage that termites can do.

Termites are more than just pests; they are one of the most destructive species in the animal kingdom. Every year, they are responsible for an estimated $5 billion worth of property damage in the United States alone.

The idea of a termite infestation is a nightmare for any property owner. They can easily go undetected for years as they gradually eat away at the structure of your home. However, it’s not all bad news. If a termite infestation is caught early, serious damage can be avoided. Property owners just need to know what to look for, and when to call in professional pest control services.

termite damage can happen in wood or your foundation

Are they ants or termites?

Seeing the insects in your home would be an obvious warning sign of termite damage. The problem is that many people have trouble telling the difference between ants and termites. At a glance, most people will assume termites are ants, and they won’t worry as much. That is why you need to look a little closer.

If you are looking for ways to distinguish termites from ants, there are some key considerations. Termites tend to be lighter in color, ranging from a light brown to almost translucent. Ants are usually a darker brown, red or black. Termites also have rectangular, almost tube-shaped bodies, while ants have bodies that are noticeably segmented. Furthermore, there is behavior. Termites are more likely to avoid light, so you won’t see them walking in a line out in the open like ants.

Swarmers and Wings

Chances are that you will not see the worker termites that do all of the damage unless you go looking for them. It is much more likely that you would first see the termite alates. Commonly referred to as swarmers, the alates are the reproductive termites. Depending on the type of termite, they will leave the nest at different times of the year and pair up to establish new colonies.

You can generally identify swarmers by their two sets of equally sized wings. Since they lose these wings when they pair off, you can also view the discarded wings as a sign of termite infestation. If you are looking to know what different types of termites look like and the different stages in the lifecycle of termites, you could find an online termite guide that will break it down in detail.

Termite Noises

Termites are not the noisiest creatures out there, but they do make noises that can indicate their presence. If you were to put your ear against a piece of wood that is infested with termites, you would be able to hear them eating and working in the wood. You might also hear clicking and tapping noises that come from pieces of termite-infested wood.

Tunnels in Wood

A piece of wood can be filled with termite tunnels before it becomes noticeable, but if you do start to see tunnels in pieces of wood around your property, it is a sure sign of termite infestation. Since the tunnels can be hard to spot, professional inspectors and pest control specialist will use various techniques and pieces of equipment that can help them to detect the presence of termites in wood.

Mud Tubes

If you are talking about subterranean termites, mud tubes or tunnels can be an indicator that there is a problem. Subterranean termites live in the ground, and they build mud tunnels to the food source. You could find the tunnels on the concrete foundation of the home, or you might find them directly on a piece of wood.


Frass is the term for termite droppings. If you happen to see piles of these pellets, it could be a sign of drywood termites. As the termites eat and digest the wood, they need somewhere for their waste to go. To take care of this problem, they open small holes in the wood and push it out. With subterranean termites, you usually will not see frass because they use it in their tunnel building.

man inspecting wood floor for termite damage

Hollow or Weak Wood

Termites can consume a piece of wood from the inside and leave just a thin layer on the exterior. It can look fine to the naked eye, but if you tap on it, it will produce a hollow thud that indicates it has been almost completely eaten away. In some cases, you might not even notice until something strikes the wood and it just breaks apart.

Tapping wood to listen for the sound can be a good way to test if it has termites. If it is not readily noticeable, you could also try probing the wood with a screwdriver or a knife. You might also want to look for things like paint that has started to crack or peel, and windows and doors that have started to stick.

When it comes to termites, an absence of evidence is not evidence of their absence. While these are all signs that you should be worried about termite damage, these insects are known for being difficult to detect. If you want to be certain that you do not have a termite problem, you need to call in a professional pest inspector. Professionals have experience, training and equipment that make it possible for them to detect termite infestations that the average person would never be able to find on their own.

Guest Post from Alexander Dance:

Alexander writes about the effective habits that make up a happy and healthy lifestyle. He is the owner and writer at Biz Think Tank