There are few pests more destructive than termites. These small, soft-bodied bugs infiltrate your home, then, over several years, inflict significant damage from the inside out. The path to termite destruction begins when they infest your yard. Soon afterward, they’ll infect the outer wooden structures of your home, slowly working their way inside. If not detected and stopped in time, they can wreak havoc and cost you thousands of dollars. To help, we’ll shed light on how much time you have to prevent severe termite damage.

How Do Termites Destroy a Home?

Termites cause damage by breaking down and eating anything that contains cellulose. Their preferred food is wood, but they can also eat paper, clothing, dung, mold, and even soil. Typically, termites will come to infest your yard, then slowly expand their nest by digging tunnels. Once they make their way to your home, they either enter through soil-contacting wooden structures or by building mud tubes. Once inside, they’ll tunnel through the wooden portion of your home, using special enzymes, protozoa, and bacteria to digest and break down wood.

Factors That Impact How Quickly Termites Can Destroy a House


The amount of time needed for termites to do serious damage to your home is determined by the colony’s size. The larger the colony, the more structural damage they can do and the faster they can do it. A single termite eats about 2% of its body weight in wood daily, and a colony of 60,000 workers can eat a whole square foot of lumber in one month. As such, even a moderate size colony can do massive amounts of damage in as little as six months.

On average, it can take three to five years for a termite colony’s damage to become visible. At this point, the colony will have dealt thousands of dollars of damage. But, to get a better idea of how long you have, you’ll have to be aware of the factors that can impact the colony’s growth and rate of wood consumption.

Type of Termite

Different termites will reproduce, eat, and spread at different rates. Some species, like Formosan termites, can grow rapidly and ravage houses in less than a year. Others, like drywood termites, have small colonies and grow very slowly.

Here is a quick rundown of all the different types of termites you can run into:

  • Subterranean: This kind of termite is the most destructive, possessing colonies that can reach over a million. As their name implies, these termites typically live underground. It can take a subterranean termite colony between five to six years to fully mature, dealing damage all the while.
  • Drywood: These termites have smaller colonies than subterranean termites and don’t require soil moisture to survive. Instead, these termites like to infest dry wood, like that of attics, furniture, walls, floors, and supports. These termites deal damage much more slowly than subterranean termites and are typically isolated to specific areas.
  • Dampwood: Out of all the termites on this list, dampwood termites are the least destructive and have the smallest colonies. They can only inhabit waterlogged or moist wood, like fallen trees or stumps.

Colony Age

The older and more established a colony is, the larger its size and the wider its range for foraging. New colonies start small at around 50 to 100 termites and grow slowly over a few years. As the colony gets bigger, its speed of growth increases, meaning the rate at which it damages your home increases exponentially.

As the colony expands, their tunnels and connected rooms (called galleries) will spread out over a wider area. The average subterranean colony’s nest lies about 2 feet underground and can range from 50 to well over 100 meters in radius. Some colonies of termites become so large that they can infest multiple structures, encompassing several backyards at once.

Wood Type

Different species of termite prefer different kinds of wood. For example, subterranean termites prefer soft wood, like pine, and will avoid hardwood if they encounter it. So if you have a home with more wood of a type that your invading termite dislikes, it will slow their progress. Pressure-treated wood, while not termite proof, can significantly help prevent termite damage but will lose its effectiveness with time.

Environmental Factors

The environment greatly affects the rate of a termite colony’s growth and how quickly that colony can damage your home. In colder weather, termites have to burrow deeper into the ground, where temperatures are warmer. As a result, if you live in an area with strong winters, termites will have to slow down for the colder months. However, they’ll be more active all year round if you live in a warmer region. This increase in activity allows termites to damage your home more quickly and colonies to grow at a faster pace.

Other Factors

While colony size, age, and termite type are the major factors of the speed of termite damage, other elements can contribute, such as:

  • Access to secondary food supplies: If you keep attractants close to your home, like firewood piles, it may attract termites. We recommend keeping all firewood and compost at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Soil moisture: Some species of termite are attracted to overly moist soil. If your sprinkler system runs too much or you water your grass too often, it can increase the risk of a termite infestation.
  • Major leaks in the home: If you have a consistent leak or a single major instance of water damage, it can increase the risk of termites. If you encounter a major leak or flood, you’ll want to take preventative measures immediately, such as professional dehumidifying treatments.
  • Severe weather: Severe weather like hailstorms or high winds can damage shingles and expose underlayment and decking, leading to water damage. Not only does this result in mold, but it also can attract dampwood termites.

What Are the Major Signs of Termite Damage?


The most difficult part about dealing with termites is detecting them before they inflict extensive damage. Early on, termite damage can be almost imperceptible, but over time you can begin to notice small signs of an infestation. Some of the most common signs of termites include:

  • Wood with a hollow sound
  • Mud tubes outside of the home
  • Small, pin-sized holes in the walls or ceiling
  • Discarded wings on windowsills
  • Warped floorboards
  • Fragile, cracking, or broken wood
  • Warped, peeling, or sagging drywall
  • Small, pellet-like droppings (called frass) found along baseboards
  • Tracks with wood along walls, floors, or ceilings

What Does It Cost to Repair Termite Damage?

Each year, termites cost American homeowners an estimated $5 billion in repair bills. The repair cost for individual homes will depend on the extent of the damage, but on average, you can expect to pay between $900 to over $3,000.

How Do You Prevent Termite Damage?

The best way to prevent termite problems is to reduce or remove any attractants, like food sources, from your home. Good termite control includes moving firewood away from your house, reducing your lawn’s moisture, and repairing roof damage. Next, you should always schedule a yearly termite inspection. A professional termite inspection costs between $50 to $250 but can save thousands in the long run.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to determine how long termites can take to destroy a home. However, you can expect to start seeing damage after a few years. If not spotted early, termites will do more damage faster. Some species, like Formosan, will grow very rapidly and start doing damage only after a year, while others, like dampwood termites, can take much longer. Regardless of the type of termite you’re dealing with, early detection and prevention are paramount in protecting your home. We always recommend scheduling a yearly termite inspection, and if an infestation is detected, you should have your pest control company work on eradicating it immediately.

Editorial Contributors
Sam Wasson

Sam Wasson

Staff Writer

Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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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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