Termites are some of the most destructive pests in the country, especially for homeowners. Every year, termites cause damage to 600,000 homes in the United States, resulting in a whopping $5 billion spent on pest control services and home repair every year. But how exactly do termites get into your home and what can you do to stop them? Read on to learn everything you need to know about the many types of termites and how you can evict them from your property.

Types of Termites and How They Get into Homes

The primary motivator of any pests entering your home is to acquire a stable food source and security from predators. In the case of termites, which are colony insects, they must find a suitable place for the entire colony to make its home. Different types of termites go about this in different ways.

Dampwood Termites

These termites need both wood and moisture, as their name suggests, to make their homes. In nature, they typically burrow into wet, broken wood like fallen trees and rotting tree stumps, but in your home, they will find a wooden structure that is sodden from either leaky pipes or water that enters your home through rainfall. Like all termites, dampwood termites consume the cellulose found in wood and from this, they also build their homes. They are larger than the two varieties mentioned below, although across the US today, they are not as common. They are mostly found along the Pacific Coast because of the heavy rainfall and abundance of wood.

Unless you live in Washington State, Oregon, coastal California, or some other areas in the Southwest, it’s unlikely that dampwood termites are going to be the cause of your termite problem.

Drywood Termites

Drywood termites inhabit the southern half of the United States, all across the country from North Carolina to southern California. They, unlike dampwood termites, prefer dried out wooden structures, like dead trees. However, they can find entry points into places in your home like the attic, which is guaranteed to be a smorgasbord of dried out wood for them. Drywood termites can infest wooden items like decks, fences, porch steps, windowsills, and even furniture. You will notice signs of a drywood termite infestation when you see discarded wings and tiny piles of sawdust, and even their droppings, which are pellet-like.

Subterranean Termites

This is by far the most common type of termite you’ll encounter in the United States. They love the humid and moist climate of the Deep South, but they’re found all over the country. These termites need not only wood in order to establish new colonies; they also require soil and moisture in order to construct their signature mud tubes. Subterranean termites start their colonies by using mud to create these mud tubes which they then use to reach up to your home’s foundation and eat away at the wooden supports and even floorboards if you have hardwood floors.

A subterranean termite colony can cause more damage than any other type of termite colony, even to the point if they are left unchecked, they can take down a home in less than a year. Subterranean termites chew wood every hour of every day, and they can multiply quickly. Formosan subterranean termites multiply the fastest of all U.S. termite species, and that makes them the most formidable. If you are a homeowner, it’s prudent to get annual termite inspections, no matter which species of termite you might have in your home. Pest control professionals can give you a free quote if they see any signs of termite activity during their inspection as to how much it would cost to rid your home of these wood-champing pests.

What Attracts Termites in the House?

Termites eat wood, and most houses in the U.S. have many wooden components. Termites are attracted to anywhere they can find safety, abundant food, and places to make nests in which to raise their young. You will seldom see a termite queen since they stay in the nests to lay eggs and raise the young. However, you will likely see flying termites, known as swarmers. Swarmers are the equivalent of adolescent termites — they lose their wings when they reach full maturity. The job of swarmers is to scout out suitable locations for the colony to settle. If these scouts find their way into your home’s crawl space and discover that it has wood and moisture, it’s the termite jackpot.

Why do Termites Suddenly Appear?

It may feel that way to you as the homeowner, but termites do not suddenly appear. They can steadily populate areas in your home by starting in places like the crawl space, attic, gutters, and even crevices in door frames or molding. Drywood termites enjoy eating materials like mulch, firewood, old sheds, and other dried out wooden items. These hungry termites enter homes if they can easily access them in order to continue to grow their colonies. There is no sudden appearance; there is termite damage happening around you until the signs become obvious enough for you to notice.

Most newly constructed homes these days have foundations made of concrete blocks. Termites cannot destroy these foundations, but they can slip through a space that’s even as narrow as a few pieces of cardstock paper. Therefore, they can still access the wood in your home from the bottom up, especially subterranean termites. The expansion joints used in home construction to allow for expansion and contraction of the home through changing weather conditions are typically treated with anti-termite chemicals, but these can wear off after about a decade, and new termite treatment needs to be applied to those joints and your foundation walls as a whole.

What Are The Early Signs of Termites?

When you begin to notice that you may have a termite problem on your hands, these are the signs you will likely see. The first sign is swarmers looking for a place to settle. You will likely spot them before any other sign, although you could mistake them for flying ants.

Another sign is sawdust, and you will also see frass, which is the technical name for termite droppings. Frass can appear to be reddish brown in color, and sometimes a liquid-like substance is present. It typically looks like piles of dust or tiny pellets, and you will see it on windowsills or against baseboards. If the frass is dropping down from your ceiling, it may not gather in concentrated piles before you sweep the floor, so it may escape your notice.

Discarded wings as the swarmers mature are another sign of a termite infestation. You may also notice bubbling or blistering on your paint on doors or windows, anything wooden. These are tell-tale signs that termites are tunneling through the wood. You can further test this by pressing down on the bubbling paint — if the underlying wood comes away easily or feels hollow or spongy, termites are the culprits. The presence of mud tubes is a very obvious sign that you have a termite infestation and need to call an exterminator immediately.

This sign may come later on down the list, but you can actually hear termites chewing the wood in your walls. It sounds like a quiet chewing or clicking noise, and the larger a colony is, the more likely you are to actually hear the sound of termites eating your house.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Termites?

Termite damage often presents as water damage at first, what with the buckling paint, tight window frames and door frames, and swelling wood. However, this is simply the first stage. All that is caused by termites tunneling through the wood in your floors, ceiling, and walls, and those structures expand as the termites build more and more nests and have more young. After that, floors and walls can give way completely due to the damage to their structural integrity.

Eventually, your home will collapse. You will feel the effects of termite damage long before this occurs — large numbers of termites give off a musty odor, and when the wooden parts of your home start falling apart, you will know well in advance before your home collapses. However, if you own several properties, you need to have them inspected regularly so that even if they’re not inhabited, you’re kept aware of the termite situation. If you are interested in purchasing a home, they often come with a free inspection for termites before you sign the purchase agreement.

What is a Termite’s Favorite Food?

It seems like the obvious answer to this question would have to be wood, but it isn’t that simple. Termites consume cellulose, and this is a material that can be found in high concentrations in wood, but it can also be found in paper, grass, livestock manure, leaves, and even cardboard. Decaying wood can be easier to access for tiny termites, but they also enjoy untreated hardwoods. Termites have even been known to feast on cellulose found in cotton.

However, there are some woods and plants that are naturally resistant to termites. Bamboo is one of these — termites have no interest in consuming this fast-growing plant. Cedarwood repels termites for a while; this could be due to its strong smell, which they may find offensive. However, the older a plank of cedar gets, the drier and less odorous it becomes, so eventually, termites will find it appetizing. The same goes for redwood trees. These super hard trees are also naturally repugnant to termites, but the less resin remains in the wood, the more termites gravitate toward it. For cedar and redwood, it’s just a matter of time.

How Do You Permanently Get Rid of Termites?

How you get rid of or prevent termites in the first place depends on how severe the infestation is and the opportunities they may have to enter your home. You firstly need to make sure every crack and crevice is caulked up and any moist wood is removed and repaired. You also need to make sure that you’re not placing things like piles of firewood or discarded cardboard near your house, as termites can use those as starting points before they infest your home.

DIY Treatments: Can You Control Termites Yourself?

While it’s not recommended, you can use DIY termite control strategies to keep your infestation at bay while you plan for an exterminator to visit your home. Some effective strategies that can help you fight back against termites include the following.

Boric Acid

This is one of the most popular DIY termite treatment methods out there, and it’s used for all sorts of insect infestations. Boric acid is a toxin in the form of a white powder that you can purchase in any supermarket or hardware store. All you have to do is apply the boric acid to the areas you know have termite activity, and it will poison them by shutting down their nervous systems. This works on very small termite populations as an effective form of termite control.

Diatomaceous Earth

Often used in combination with boric acid, diatomaceous earth is also a white powder, but it isn’t a toxin. It’s found in the gardening section of home improvement stores or supermarkets. It is made up of the remains of microscopic aquatic life, and these remains are extremely abrasive. You can sprinkle this pesticide around areas you’ve seen termites, and once they run over it, it will cut open their exoskeletons, dehydrating them.

Termite Baits

Termite baits are affordable and highly effective at killing their targets. These small structures allow the termites to enter, consume some of the bait which contains a slow-acting poison, and then exit. The bonus is that once the infected termites return to their colonies, they will infect each individual termite they encounter. These bait toxins are designed to interrupt the growing and molting process, and the termites will die before they can move to the next phase of their life cycle.

Termiticide Barriers

In some areas, you as a layperson can purchase termiticide yourself, like Termidor SC or Taurus SC. These are liquids that you spray around the exterior perimeter of your home. This is more of a preventative measure or a way to keep more termites from joining those already inside. Termites cannot smell or detect the termiticide in any way; therefore, if they consume any material that has the termiticide on it, they will die.

Hire a Pest Control Company

We’ve discussed excellent options for termite control that you can enact yourself; however, these are only effective if the termite problem is still small. If it’s a full-blown infestation, you need to call a pest control company or an exterminator. Termites are arguably the most dangerous pests that can take over your home besides disease-carrying mammals. Termites do untold damage to your property and put your safety and that of your family in jeopardy. It is so worth getting regular termite inspections so that you can always catch the issue before it gets too serious. Not only are termites expensive to get rid of — the damage they cause is a huge financial burden.

Getting Rid of Termites Once and For All

Hiring professionals will ensure that you not only get to keep your home but that you can eliminate all traces and potential recurrences of these egregious pests. However, not every pest control company is created equal. For termite infestations, we recommend that your first call be to the nationwide pest control professionals working at Terminix. With more than 80 years of experience in the pest control industry, Terminix’s team has developed in-house treatments and services to effectively combat all types of termites. If you have a recurring termite problem, you can even sign up for continuous protection with a service satisfaction guarantee. Click here to get your free quote from Terminix.

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Editorial Contributors
Sarah Horvath

Sarah Horvath


Sarah Horvath is a senior-level home service review professional with more than 10 years of experience in the homeownership industry. You can find her writing on sites like Robinhood, MoneyLion, Benzinga, Forbes Advisor, and more. When she's not busy writing, Sarah enjoys spending time in her home in Orlando with her fiance and her parrot.

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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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