Termites are destructive insects that are part of the cockroach family. They live anywhere where the ground doesn't freeze in the winter, so if you're in a warmer climate, you may battle termites someday.
To learn a little about your enemy, you need to know that they live in colonies similar to ants. Each group or caste has a special job - to lay eggs, defend the colony, or find food. Like ants, they build mounds and live underground or out of sight -- like behind your walls or under your house.
Termites can do a tremendous amount of damage before you are aware that they're there. It pays to regularly check your home for signs of infestation, particularly in any damp areas such as a basement, laundry room, crawlspace, etc.
The one thing you need to know is that termites love to eat cellulose. Most houses are made with wood elements which contain cellulose. Ergo, termites want to eat your house. But since termites usually live and dine unseen, how can you tell if you have a few hundred unwelcome dinner guests?
These signs of a termite infestation are unmistakable:
You can hear them in your walls. If you hear faint movement and tapping, it is likely to be termites.
You see their droppings. Cleanliness is next to bugliness. Termites keep their own homes free of feces and dead termites, so they tend to deposit their offal outside of your walls while they remain inside.
You have dark or soft spots in your wood. Easily scratched wood may be infested. Don't forget to check the foundations of decks, as well.
You find mud tunnels, tubes, or mud piles. These will appear near your foundation to indicate an infestation.
You see small holes in the walls. Your sheetrock, plaster, wallpaper, and mouldings look like a tiny woodpecker is living in your house.
You see wood damage. Wood floors will droop, buckle, or sag if termite damaged. Sawdust may be present. You'll also see discolored or blistered wood from termite tunneling damage.
You see ripples in your walls. Dirt channels or ripples that go up the length of your drywall is likely termite activity. Tapping and prodding on the wood around your home may reveal termite activity or damage, if the sound is hollow.
You see ant-like insects with white wings. You may also find termite bodies or dropped wings near your home's foundation.
Unfortunately, you can't always tell if tunnels, mounds, and other signs are current, so if you are buying a new home, make sure you have a termite inspection by a professional service. Most inspections only cover the main house, so if you have a wood shed, detached garage or other structure, make sure the inspection extends to those buildings. You'll pay extra, but it's worth it.
You might also check with your neighbors to see if they've had any termite activity lately. If another house has been recently treated for termites recently, the colony just might migrate over to your house.
As a homeowner, you should know that these 50 million year old pests are hard to kill. Call a professional termite exterminator to kill the infestation if you think you have termites.