|TERMITES & OTHER WOOD DESTROYING INSECTS
Many home buyers in Northern Utah are under the false impression that termites and other wood destroying insects are not a concern in the area because of the cold winter weather. Pest Inspections provide extremely valuable information to buyers of both older and newer homes. The following newspaper article was originally printed in the Provo Daily Herald Home Magazine.
Termites are Alive and Well in Utah County Homes
Out-of-state home buyers in Utah County regularly ask about the need for termite inspections. Many states require pest inspections in the sale of homes, yet in Utah we have no such requirements. This doesn't mean that we don't have termites, because we do. Many of our county's homes are slowly being damaged by termites.
Many areas of the country have dry wood termites that are very destructive. Their destruction is quick and usually widespread. Dry wood termite infestations will usually require that the entire home be draped with an enclosed tarp that will allow complete fumigation at a relatively high financial expense to the homeowner.
In Northern Utah, we have a different kind of termite called the subterranean termite. The subterranean termite lives in the ground and loves to slowly eat tree roots. He lives with about 4-5,000 other termites forming a colony. As a worker, he heads out through the underground tunnel systems they have created to look for wood fibers and other cellulose products. He then returns back and forth with food for the colony. Subterranean termites live up to 15 feet underground and can travel in tunnels as long as 300 feet. They eat very slowly at the rate of 1/8th board feet per year, but they keep busy 24 hours a day.
In comparison, the dry wood termite, which is prevalent in California, lives in the wood structure of the home. They don't take the time to dig long tunnels in the dirt because they are too busy eating the structure. Their family size is in the millions and they devour wood at the incredible rate of 13 to 17 board feet a year.
Utah County provides the ideal environment for the subterranean termite because this area used to be a thriving orchard community. With the removal of orchards and the construction of houses, many termites have had to change their lifestyles. They are constantly searching for wood products and have found homes provide the perfect meal. Entrance to the structure can be gained through tiny cracks in concrete, mortar or wood as small as 1/64th of an inch. If entry cracks can't be found under the ground, then they will build mud tubes rising out of the ground and up the foundation in search of entry. Once inside, they begin to feast upon wood and drywall.
Homeowners can try to self-inspect for termites by looking closely at the exterior and interior of their home. On the exterior, one should try to locate any small cracks in the foundation that might provide entry. Also look for mud tubes in the form of 1/4" brown lines on the foundation. Subterranean termites love moist ground so look behind bushes and shrubs, or where sprinklers and rain gutters splash against the foundation.
On the interior, special attention should be given to the exterior walls below the ground level. I have seen many instances of what appears to be a worm trail right below the surface of the paint in the drywall. Sometimes patches of paint will fall off exposing the termite's tunnel. The damage area is not limited to the basement because termites will travel up the walls to the upper floors.
Although the homeowner might have some luck identifying termite infestation, the inspection is best left to the professional. Home Inspectors and Pest Control Operators look for any evidence or conducive conditions that may indicate infestation by wood destroying insects. If any evidence is found, then the inspector will recommend further evaluation by a licensed Pest Control Operator so that mitigation can be performed.
One local pest control operator reports that between 30 - 40% of the homes in Utah County suffer from some termite damage. The cities that are hardest hit are Orem first, with American Fork, Springville and Pleasant Grove in a close tie for second. Typical termite damage ranges from superficial to about a $2,000. If damage is suspected, the professional pest control operator should be immediately called.
I have seen many homes with termite infestation. One home in Mapleton had an unfinished basement door frame that was completely deteriorated. It was odd because there was no other damage to the walls and absolutely no evidence of termite tubes leading to the foundation. Further review was recommended by a licensed Pest Control Operator.
I later found out that the termites had entered the home directly through the floor slab by way of a tiny crack underneath the door frame. They ate all of the frame and then decided they didn't like the surrounding wood so they left the home. There was no other evidence of damage and the damage that was there was probably over 10 years old.
Several lawsuits have originated from disgruntled home buyers that discovered termite damage that was not disclosed to them by the sellers of the property. Unfortunately, local judges do not generally rule in the buyer's favor. Utah is a "buyer beware state," therefore it is the buyer's responsibility to have the home inspected for termites and pests before they close on the home.
Once termites are discovered, their pathway into the home must be interrupted. This is performed by injecting a special termiticide into the soil. This is done both on the interior and exterior of the home. The termiticide forms a protective barrier around the home preventing the termites migration. The termites inside the home die while those outside stay away.
Full termiticide treatments usually run from $800-$1,400. Most pest control companies guarantee their work. Many will include a 1-year guarantee with an option to renew the coverage yearly. The guarantee should cover the repair and treatment of any further termite damage.
(Michael Leavitt is a Certified Home Inspector and owner of Michael Leavitt & Co Home Inspections serving all of Utah County and beyond. Column suggestions or inspection questions are welcomed by calling his office at 801-636-6816)