Real Estate Inspections...what's really important when it come to problems? By Steve Gladstone Chief Inspector Stonehollow Inspections Part 3

Home Inspector with Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections & Testing

Termites :

from www.

Termite workers, soldiers, queens, swarmers


Termites are social insects.  Their workers are best described as "little white things" or "little white ants" that are often found in damp, rotting wood. Termites have a strict caste system, which consists of worker termites, soldiers, winged reproductive termites, a queen termite, and a king termite.

  Termite images, termite description


TERMITES: Termite Worker

Workers represent the majority of the colony population and are responsible for caring for eggs, constructing and maintaining tunnels, foraging for food and feeding and grooming of other caste members.  They are white and soft bodied.

TERMITES: Termite Soldier

Soldiers are responsible for defending the colony.  They are white, soft bodied with an enlarged, hardened head containing two large jaws, or mandibles, which are used as a weapon against predators.

Termite Winged Reproductive/termite swarmer

Winged reproductives produce the offspring in the colony and swarm at certain times of the year.  Colonies can have both primary reproductives (one king and one queen), and hundreds of secondary reproductives to assist in egg laying and colony growth.  See Flying Ants article for more. 


The King termite assists the queen in creating and attending to the colony during its initial formation.  He will continue to mate throughout his life to help increase the colony size.

Termite Queen

The Queen termite creates the colony by laying eggs and tending to the colony until enough workers and nymphs are produced to care for the colony.  She can live for more than ten years and produce hundreds of eggs each year.  Colonies can each several million termites with the help of secondary queens who also produce eggs.

So I spent over two hours on this really nice piece on termites, only to try to spell check it and have it all dissappear into the activerainbarrel. Uhh, so frustrating.  Well it only follows that computers are another nightmare of the inspection world. Whether it's trying to balance the needs of your clients or becoming obsessive spell checking your report, I often wonder whether the computer is a smart upgrade or another way to waste hours... 

Anyway the blog was on insects, and mostly about termites and carpenter ants.  Forgive any mis-spellings at this point I'm tired and can't bear the idea that I am re-writing this again.

They tell you not to sweat the small stuff, and yet these damn bugs are just that. They hide half the time and sneak around trying to quietly destroy anything made of wood or more specifically cellulose. There's few things worse then the pained look of a client whe they learn the home has an infestation.

Can you tell me honestly which one of these eats the most wood?  Carpenter ants or termites?  I'll hold off a few lines before I clue you in.

For most of us we must be very careful what we say about insects. In some states you must be licensed even to talk about them, in others no one cares. Many years ago I went through a very long and tedious course, a written and oral exam and secured my Supervisory license in Pests. What a job , and I must do continuing education annually to maintain the license. But it has kept me looking very carefully for these little home wreckers.

In any event the Realtor will probably ask you, whether you are licensed or not... "are they active?" and the more scary question..."what's the extent of the damage?" Be careful with that one! We are looking for suble signs of damage and yet they are tiny and secretive.

Of course you must also be aware that in the Northeast we deal with Carpenter ants and Subterranean termites, Down south they've got different creatures and in Africa they are so big...well the point is you better learn what lurks in your area and get smart about them, as most houses have termites or they are going to have them.

Termites near me eat plenty of wood, and they go down into the soil to get water. They build termite shelter tubes to stay moist and out of the sun.  Most people do not even realize the home is being eaten and years can go by if no one knows what to look for.  They bring the food and water to the nest which unlike the carpenter ant nest is usually out in the ground. The termites regurgitate and feed those not lucky enough to spend their days wandering back and forth.

Carpenter ants love wet wood and they hang out building nests in areas where they can forage for food. They like diswashers, under sinks in homes and will look for sweets and carry them back to the nest. 

So the answer is Carpenter Ants do not eat wood... they damage it and build their nests in it but don't eat it.

Carpenter ant nests generally are clean galleries and look like the nest has been sanded. Termites leave debris in their galleries that looks like the shelter tubes...spit, poop and sand.

The colony is like the old feudal manor with everyone trying to do their own specialized job... some take care of the queen some get food and some protect the colony an others fix damaged tubes. The reproduction is interesting but I'll leave that for a friday night!

The damages are like everything else with homes...usually linked to water problems. Areas we look for are poor drainage or foolish landscaping. Trees too close, mulch heaped up against wood siding, lack of flashing details... etc.

I find termites and carpenter ants on the sills, band joists, around wood trim buried in the dirt or being splashed by dirty gutters or poor drainage. 9 times out of 10  look behind the stairs, under the entry doors, or near a wet basement area and golly...they're they are. Treatments for Ants are easy... remove the food, spray the ants several months in a row and maintain a warranty.

With termites it's trickier... The Old technology way was to create a chemical barrier around the home and if the bugs went through it , they would take it home to everyone else. The liability of pumping poison into a home was dicey , so now many of the really strong and very effective chemicals have been banned. The new stuff is environmentally friendly...that is after 5 years most of the active termidicide will be gone. So watch those warranties. Houses with wells in or close to the home cannot be treated with chemicals. Radiant floored homes are also very tricky to treat.

The new technology is baiting. Planting cylinders into the soil and monitoring termite visits. If they start eating the bait, then poisoned bait is added.  This can work well but may not attract those already eating the home. So many homes are candidates for a combination of treatments. Drilling and adding borates is also popular. Borates are another termidicide.

Older homes may have other wood destroying insects that generally cause damage but may often not be particulary serious, structurally. They may be different types of beetles... powder post, long horn and wharf borers.  Other homes may have damages caused by carpenter bees and woodpeckers. (yes, an orange headed bird, not an insect) Annoying nontheless.

Treatments for Carpenter ants- few hundred bucks. Not including wood repairs if needed.

Treatment for termites could be $1000-4000 depending on the problem , the damage, and the profit margin.

Always secure a warranty and arrange for annual inspection.

Our homes are particularly vulnerable to thes insects and being vigilant helps.

If you have additional questions go to the pesticide area of or write to me .

Stay tuned for part 4...



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Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX

These dudes are bad news. My wife is from Key West and they at one time would tent the entire house. Don't know if they still do that in Key West.

Everyone in our area have had termites. They came in through our patio and into the dining room overnite. Who looks up at their ceiling (certainly not "the inspector") Cost me #1000 plus to get everything fixed from the damage. We seldom use our dining room so didn't see what was happening.

Great Blog 

Aug 08, 2007 04:35 AM #4
Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX
Stephen: Like yourself, everytime I use Active Rain spellcheck it disappears into outerspace and never comes back. If I did not spell outerspace correct it is because I didn't spell check.
Aug 08, 2007 04:37 AM #5
Erby Crofutt
B4 U Close Home Inspections&Radon Testing ( - Lexington, KY
The Central Kentucky Home Inspector, Lexington KY

Here's a couple of tube pictures for ya!!


Kentucky Home Inspectors Termites


Kenrtucky Home Inspectors Termites

Aug 08, 2007 12:20 PM #6
Gene Allen
Fathom Realty - Cary, NC
Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate
Anything I see swarming is always flying ants.
Aug 08, 2007 12:24 PM #7
Kelly Cox
Pillar To Post® Professional Home Inspection - Melbourne, FL


As always, a great article!  Termite problems are a huge issue here in Florida.  What I find amazing is that the FHA is no longer requiring Termite inspections.  As such we have seen a significant drop in requests for termite inspection.

Aug 08, 2007 01:32 PM #8
David Helm
Helm Home Inspections - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp
Different parts of the country have different pests.  In Western Washington there are two kinds of termite, the subterranean like you have back east, and the dampwood, which I believe is unique to this area.  The dampwood do not require mud tubes to get their moisture.  Carpenter ants usually nest outside in a stump or tree and go into the house to establish a satellite nest.  In the Northwest, we are beset by anobiid beetles (often misnamed powder post beetles [lyctids]).  The anobiid only requires a moisture level of 13 per cent, and feeds on softwood (framing lumber).  It's life cycle is such that if found in any number, all affected wood must be removed, and the conditions that it likes must be removed.  All of these three can, if left alone, do major structural damage.
Aug 08, 2007 03:34 PM #9
Stephen Gladstone
Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections & Testing - Stamford, CT

Wow...thanks for all your comments. Yes the tubes are always remarkable Erby . We take pictures constantly as we are in awe of the little buggers! But after the first blog disappeared I was afraid to play around with more pictures.

David you are 100% correct (you already knew you were!) abouut the differences and the anobids. In the northeast we call them both pp beetles and the difference is the lyctids have a smaller bore hole and finer frass.  We however rarely see structural damage with them except in very old homes. 

Kelly- the fact that the FHA doesn't require something certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't recommend a pest certification for the safety of the client and by the way to reduce our exposure for liability. The wont sue the FHA but they will curse us and negative refer if we mis this stuff.

Kaushik- You made me blush. Thanks for your kind words.

Bob- make sure you wash your hands

and Gene there's lots of swarming that may not be termites or carpenter ants. Citronella ants frequently freak people out and they are harmless.

Thanks again everyone.


Aug 08, 2007 04:08 PM #10
Respect Realty LLC
Respect Realty LLC - Milwaukie, OR
Brokers - Oregon / SW Washington Real Estate

Great now I'm going to have nightmares of those things crawling inside my house. - lol

We so often see people here put barkdust right up to the wood siding and gee when the carpenter ants get done eating the barkdust they only have one place to go - YOUR HOUSE!

Aug 08, 2007 06:21 PM #11
Monika McGillicuddy
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty - Hampstead, NH
Southern NH & the Seacoast Area
Good grief...all those bugs! I really feel like I got an education.
Aug 09, 2007 12:30 AM #12
David Helm
Helm Home Inspections - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp
Stephen, I went back to a post I made back in March.  I didn't know enough about posting to get it out to groups then, but I think it can be a companion post to yours. 
Aug 11, 2007 08:41 AM #13
Stephen Gladstone
Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections & Testing - Stamford, CT
If you want to link it to this blog go ahead David. I read it.
Aug 11, 2007 02:33 PM #14
David Helm
Helm Home Inspections - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp
Thanks Stephen, Here is the link: .  I think the more we all learn about these lovely critters, the better off we are.
Aug 12, 2007 02:37 AM #15
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS

Down here in Mis'sip'i, the bug guys are protected by statute from us pesky HI's.  We see tubes, we see (what may be described as wood destroying insects, but we have to pretend ignorance) termites, carpenter ants, little piles of sawdust, etc, and we have to simply refer it to the pest control guys.  Same thing as everywhere else, I suppose, except that we don't get to actually say that those little tubes are made by termites.

Great article, Stephen!

Aug 12, 2007 03:10 PM #16
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Sometimes it is good to remember there are a lot more insects than people .

There are also so many different kinds of insects that they are still making discoveries of new species all the time.

Here is a picture that may seem a little gross to some but is a picture of my shin after spending a nice weekend just north of Chicago.

I was at an area called Fox Lake which is the second most congested waterway for boating in the united states due to its popularity.

The best way to describe it is Mardi Gra on the water.Water planes, helicoptors,clubs on piers full of parrotheads.Really a good time.I paid for it.Ouch.

The next day I woke up with terriable itching all over my legs along with a feeling things were crawling on my skin.Welcome to what are known as Itch Mites     The outbreak just began sunday.

itch mites

Aug 14, 2007 04:51 PM #17
Rosario Lewis
DDR Realty - Newburgh, NY
GRI, SRES - DDR Realty - Orange County, NY
Bugs! I would like to live like a Buddhist and respect all living things. But nope. The bugs have got to go.
Sep 17, 2007 05:13 PM #18
Stephen Gladstone
Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections & Testing - Stamford, CT
Yes they are a reality. That's why we wear the tyvek suits, gloves and respirators...if you think the bigger bugs are gross you got to see the microscopic ones.  Thanks for all your comments, Steve
Sep 18, 2007 12:43 AM #19
David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

Stephen, very informative blog, I'm going to pass this on to my clients. In my experience I haven't seen the huge extensive damage like down in the Southern states. ~ Dave

Aug 12, 2010 10:53 PM #20
Stephen Gladstone
Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections & Testing - Stamford, CT

There's plenty of damage in our area as well, nothing like poking a termite probe right through the joist in a basement to shake up your client, the Realtor's and the homeowner... had one in Stamford the other day...

The problem with termites is rarely the visible damage.  It's the fear that there is more hidden damage behind the drywall.   Best Regards, Steve

Aug 13, 2010 01:31 PM #21
Bill Dean
Haggerty Team St. Louis, Mo. - Fenton, MO
William Dean - Broker, Salesperson

My question is what if all you find is the shelter tubes, but no insect parts or live insects.  In our area, these 2 types of evidence have different results as to whether treatment is needed.

Apr 17, 2014 12:41 AM #22
Steve Gladstone
Bill: If there are shelter tubes from a previous infestation the tubes are supposed to be knocked down when the treatment is done so the company knows whether the treatment has been successful over time... that is no bugs. Unfortunately there may be leftovers that can fool an inspector if they were not knocked down. As inspectors we must make a determination often looking at the conditions of the wood in the basement not the side facing the soil. Sometimes soundings (listening for hollow or soft sounds clue us in, fecal stains, exit holes often may be a giveaway that there is activity). Any activity requires treatment. Especially broken wings or evidence of a recent swarm. Remember also the bugs differ from across the country. Bait treatments appear to be much safer and most new homebuyer's do not want pesticides sprayed around the perimeter of the home, so that seems to be the path we are most often taking. But the final answer to your real question is I suppose do we treat or not treat if we only see tubes and no termites? The answer is maybe. And if I did it my choice would be bait stations near the tubes.
Apr 17, 2014 11:16 PM #23
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