Termites

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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
20,044
Philadelphia
Hopefully our southern brethren will have some good advice here.

I live in an old (for USA) home, with the earliest parts dating to the 1730's, and most of the house being built in 1775. It's a stone house with milled joists and rafters in upper floors, but hand-hewn joists under the first floor (basement ceiling). This appears to be common for the time, as there were many saw mills around the area in the 1770's, but none had carriages long enough to handle the 35 long beams that are my first floor joists.

These first floor joists have a lot of "bounce", and a lot of visible powder post beetle damage, all assumed to be old. In addition, the original floor planking on the first floor has soft areas, presumably old internal termite beetle damage.

A few years back, we switched pest control companies, as the prior company had not been as aggressive as we would like in eliminating the picnic ants that try to invade our kitchen each spring. The new company was great for eliminating the ant problem, but shortly thereafter, their tech's tried convincing us we had termites. All evidence they cited appeared to me to be very old damage, nothing active... but who knows?

So, I invited the senior tech from our prior pest control company out to look at it, as we had a friendly relationship, and I knew he'd give me his un-biased opinion. He looked at all the same evidence, and concluded it was all old damage, nothing active. Of course, I don't know how confident this determination is, it's one person's opinion, against another, looking only at external evidence.

Well, it's been a few years, and the new company has been texting and emailing that they're doing free termite inspections. Likely an attempt to push and sell new services, but also something about which I have a legitimate concern.

So, in the words of Colin Hay, what would Bob do? Is there a reliable and irrefutable method of detection, or of determining whether apparent damage is indeed old or active?
 
Something like this. Tesla you if you have a problem then take the next appropriate steps.

Spectracide HG-96116-1 HG-96116, 40 Stakes https://a.co/d/0yFcAm7
 
Hopefully our southern brethren will have some good advice here.

I live in an old (for USA) home, with the earliest parts dating to the 1730's, and most of the house being built in 1775. It's a stone house with milled joists and rafters in upper floors, but hand-hewn joists under the first floor (basement ceiling). This appears to be common for the time, as there were many saw mills around the area in the 1770's, but none had carriages long enough to handle the 35 long beams that are my first floor joists.

These first floor joists have a lot of "bounce", and a lot of visible powder post beetle damage, all assumed to be old. In addition, the original floor planking on the first floor has soft areas, presumably old internal termite beetle damage.

A few years back, we switched pest control companies, as the prior company had not been as aggressive as we would like in eliminating the picnic ants that try to invade our kitchen each spring. The new company was great for eliminating the ant problem, but shortly thereafter, their tech's tried convincing us we had termites. All evidence they cited appeared to me to be very old damage, nothing active... but who knows?

So, I invited the senior tech from our prior pest control company out to look at it, as we had a friendly relationship, and I knew he'd give me his un-biased opinion. He looked at all the same evidence, and concluded it was all old damage, nothing active. Of course, I don't know how confident this determination is, it's one person's opinion, against another, looking only at external evidence.

Well, it's been a few years, and the new company has been texting and emailing that they're doing free termite inspections. Likely an attempt to push and sell new services, but also something about which I have a legitimate concern.

So, in the words of Colin Hay, what would Bob do? Is there a reliable and irrefutable method of detection, or of determining whether apparent damage is indeed old or active?
I would not trust anyone that used their eyes only to determine if there was a termite issue. "old damage" is still a new problem that needs to be repaired. A spongy floor may mean nothing but delaminating plywood that is otherwise fairly stable for FOOT traffic but not heavy objects. Inevitably it will need to be repaired/replaced.

I know it is not easy to find termites. When I suspected some areas thankfully it was an area that was open to me and I could tap and listen for any differences in sound. Obviously as you get further or closer to a support member the sound will change, but I listened for a hollow sound.

Im sure a pro would have some sort of listening tool as well.

I do not like a shotgun approach at dealing with pests. Such as bombs or other poisons that have a half life of a million years, get all over your clothes, food areas etc. Having an issue behind the wall, it is unlikely these sprays/bombs are going to have a great impact. It would take drilling a hole in between support members and spraying alot of toxins into the walls. I think the best possible way to deal with such pests is to do your best to find the areas they reside, get rid of them then work to avoid in the future via barrier sprays and ensure damp wood is not available to the pests.
 
Spikes are a challenging option, when there's a literal sea of flagstone and concrete patio abutting almost the entire back side of the house. The pest company was proposing drilling thru the patio, but I happen to know there's several feet of base material and utilities buried beneath, not something I want to tackle if not absolutely necessary.

... and there was no plywood used in residential floor construction in 1700's America! Nearly every old house around here has legacy powder post beetle damage. It's nothing unique. It is typically left alone, unless active. Nothing of this age is perfect, and bouncy floors are nothing unusual in houses of this age, at least around here.

My concern is not over existing damage, which may have happened 150 years ago, but of potential new damage from an active colony. I was wondering if there's sonogram-like equipment that can detect such activity, used by more sophisticated pest control companies.
 
Spikes are a challenging option, when there's a literal sea of flagstone and concrete patio abutting almost the entire back side of the house. The pest company was proposing drilling thru the patio, but I happen to know there's several feet of base material and utilities buried beneath, not something I want to tackle if not absolutely necessary.

... and there was no plywood used in residential floor construction in 1700's America! Nearly every old house around here has legacy powder post beetle damage. It's nothing unique. It is typically left alone, unless active. Nothing of this age is perfect, and bouncy floors are nothing unusual in houses of this age, at least around here.

My concern is not over existing damage, which may have happened 150 years ago, but of potential new damage from an active colony. I was wondering if there's sonogram-like equipment that can detect such activity, used by more sophisticated pest control companies.
If your walls are (field?) stone, you should be be able to see mud tubes going up if there is an active termite infestation.

Swarming termites in spring and fall also indicate you have something going on. Google how they look (many folks mistake them for ants or vice versa.)

And droppings. Put some clear white paper (a few feet white) under the beams in question. See what falls down. If they live in there they should get rid of their waste. They push that out, most of the time.


If none are present, I suggest it's not active.
 
btw, @EatenByLimestone is a pest control expert, though I don't know if termites are on his "to do list" in upstate NY?
 
Spikes are a challenging option, when there's a literal sea of flagstone and concrete patio abutting almost the entire back side of the house. The pest company was proposing drilling thru the patio, but I happen to know there's several feet of base material and utilities buried beneath, not something I want to tackle if not absolutely necessary.

... and there was no plywood used in residential floor construction in 1700's America! Nearly every old house around here has legacy powder post beetle damage. It's nothing unique. It is typically left alone, unless active. Nothing of this age is perfect, and bouncy floors are nothing unusual in houses of this age, at least around here.

My concern is not over existing damage, which may have happened 150 years ago, but of potential new damage from an active colony. I was wondering if there's sonogram-like equipment that can detect such activity, used by more sophisticated pest control companies.
If exists please let me know. I would be interested for sanity. I have a roof on a roof that I'm worried about.
 
They are, although not my favorite, lol.

As mentioned above, spring swarmers are the first sign most people have of an issue. If you haven't seen them, this is a great sign. The next thing to look for is the mud tubes. Theyll be on the inside and outside of the foundation. Since yours is fieldstone, they could also go up the middle. They like stupid high humidity, and it'd be easiest to regulate this inside the wall, between the stones. Scraping away the visible mud tubes with a punch or small screwdriver will help you determine if there is new activity. If it repairs itself, you have an issue. I also use the punch to probe wood beams.

Probably the easiest way to monitor the situation is to place monitoring stations around the perimeter.


Put the stations in every 10 feet around the perimeter. Place them under the drip edge if possible. Termites like it damp. We'll also go around the perimeter of a patio. It is what it is. Don't put them under patio blocks, it'll be impossible to check them and reset the stone the way you want it.

If you do find termites, you'll probably have to call somebody in to drop bait cartridges in instead of the monitoring cartridge. We have to have a license to buy the cartridges here.

Termites are active in the ground any time ground temperature is over 50F.
 
If exists please let me know. I would be interested for sanity. I have a roof on a roof that I'm worried about.

Check termite species in your area. We only have the eastern subterranean termite here. They go from the ground up, so if they are in your roof, the rest of your house is toast. If the sill plate, rim joist, etc is still there, you're most likely in fine shape.

The Formosan termite is down south and will start nests up high, like on a roof, etc. But if its not in your area, its not something to dwell on. Watch for carpenter ants as they will travel up and carve galleries in an old wood shingle roof thats covered over.
 
Check termite species in your area. We only have the eastern subterranean termite here. They go from the ground up, so if they are in your roof, the rest of your house is toast. If the sill plate, rim joist, etc is still there, you're most likely in fine shape.

The Formosan termite is down south and will start nests up high, like on a roof, etc. But if its not in your area, its not something to dwell on. Watch for carpenter ants as they will travel up and carve galleries in an old wood shingle roof thats covered over.
any recommendations for checking for , baiting carpenter ants? I do plan to rip up the old roof next summer including the old ply in some areas but I suspect that is not enough inspection area. I really dont want to shotgun approach it either with sprays/bombs. If I went that route, I would avoid going there for quite some time afterwards.

Edit: I have mud tubes! Ive seen these before in the corners of my front door, or along the channels of the side windows, and even on the siding. But they dont go from the ground up. They are just maybe 1-6" long at w/ most being about 1" long almost like a nest of some sort, and they are pencil thin. Does that mean we have termites? Ive only seen maybe 5-6 of these in total.

Edit 2, they kinda look like mud dauber nests but arent as large as what I see pictured on the web.
 
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Without evidence that there is an issue, I wouldn't worry about it. Carpenter ants enter over the outside of the foundation. Just keep an eye open for them. They will have a pheromone trail. You'll frequently see them in the kitchen and on the counter too as they stop in for a snack.

Baits are a great way to deal with an ant issue, but putting it out without a use for it isn't great for you, or the environment.
 
Excellent information. Thanks, guys! I will follow both of your suggestions for paper under the beams and the bait stations, but I guess I need to learn a little about best time of year to deploy both.

One thing you guys might not appreciate, re: mud tubes outside of walls, is that my houses as old as mine have mud for bedding mortar. When I say "mud", I'm not using the term figuratively, to refer to cement-based mortar. It is literally mud dug from a creek bed in the back yard. This house was built 100 years before the invention and common use of Portland cement, and lime had to be brought by ox cart from quite a distance, making it's use prohibitively expensive for anything other than pointing or stucco. So, termites would be very happy to tunnel up thru the wall, well out of sight!
 
Excellent information. Thanks, guys! I will follow both of your suggestions for paper under the beams and the bait stations, but I guess I need to learn a little about best time of year to deploy both.

One thing you guys might not appreciate, re: mud tubes outside of walls, is that my houses as old as mine have mud for bedding mortar. When I say "mud", I'm not using the term figuratively, to refer to cement-based mortar. It is literally mud dug from a creek bed in the back yard. This house was built 100 years before the invention and common use of Portland cement, and lime had to be brought by ox cart from quite a distance, making it's use prohibitively expensive for anything other than pointing or stucco. So, termites would be very happy to tunnel up thru the wall, well out of sight!
Your house sounds like this restaurant I liked to go to. Very old, and the food was simple, fresh, well done but expensive. Then it burned down because their restaurant manager/staff didnt understand or ignored the basic needs to clean their hoods every once in a century.
And now it is no more.
It even had this smell to it that I cant describe. During the colder months, it was enjoyable to see they had ALL of the fireplaces going.
 
Yeah, those mud and stone foundations have been known to let woodchucks in too, lol
 
Your house sounds like this restaurant I liked to go to. Very old, and the food was simple, fresh, well done but expensive.
That sounds about right. This house is very old, simple, and expensive. ;lol

It even had this smell to it that I cant describe. During the colder months, it was enjoyable to see they had ALL of the fireplaces going.
This sounds like the Wookie Hole, my old regular weekend hangout, an 18th century English themed bar in Buckingham, PA. Later became The Heart of Oak pub, a name I believe it still carries. Fantastic place, but I don't live so close to it, anymore.

Yeah, those mud and stone foundations have been known to let woodchucks in too, lol
No woodchucks here, but we get a few mice each autumn, when the first cold weather hits. I just keep traps baited in the unfinished parts of the basement year-round.

So, these bait stations. Any particular time of year they're best deployed? I suppose there's no risk of actually attracting termites, if they're already present, I've got to deal with it.
 
I believe any time they are active (see the temp noted above) is good for the bait stations.
 
Yeah, if the ground is warm enough they're active. I've read that before central heating they weren't an issue. Probably because they didn't have the time to do enough damage. I've treated them in attached garages that certainly weren't heated so I'm still on the fence regarding that one.
 
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I honestly don't know much about that, but I can say powder post beetles were a definite problem here, way before central heating. Nearly every old house in this area has massive powder post beetle damage. I am not sure how or when in the age of the houses this happened, I did read once of past PPB infestation epidemics, but haven't been able to re-find that information recently. Of course, the timber was not kiln dried, so it could have been brought in with green lumber during construction.

Termites are not so common here, thanks to our not so warm winters, but they do happen. I do wonder if climate change will bring them north, if we have fewer cold winters.
 
I honestly don't know much about that, but I can say powder post beetles were a definite problem here, way before central heating. Nearly every old house in this area has massive powder post beetle damage. I am not sure how or when in the age of the houses this happened, I did read once of past PPB infestation epidemics, but haven't been able to re-find that information recently. Of course, the timber was not kiln dried, so it could have been brought in with green lumber during construction.

Termites are not so common here, thanks to our not so warm winters, but they do happen. I do wonder if climate change will bring them north, if we have fewer cold winters.
Armadillos and possums are heading north. I bet termites do too.
 
The only part of NY that doesn’t have termites are the Adirondacks., zone 3 or 4 of the USDA chart. I’d assume that PA is full of them as you’re warmer.

Opossums are up here already. They are native to the best of my knowledge.
 
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I didn’t think this was new. My dad ran a trap line in the 80s and sometimes got opossum.

I’ve had something in my old camper when it sits over the winter, like a trail of ant poop across the table. Never actually seen any live critters. Started when I had it parked at my dad’s house 10 years ago. I keep it far away from my house just in case it’s termites.
 
We get dust on a window sill, but always had thought it was wind-driven sand coming from our loose (again, no cement) bedding mortar above. I suppose it's possibly coming from the wood lintel above, never considered that. :eek:

We never have seen a swarm here, other than one year we had a live Christmas tree in our basement rec room from December into spring, but I'm 99.99% sure that was an ant colony.
 
Opossums have beautiful pelts. One wouldn’t think so, but they’re impressive. Skunks too!
 
Opossums have beautiful pelts. One wouldn’t think so, but they’re impressive. Skunks too!
Something odd is happening where I live. I dont see nearly as many opossums. I also used to see fox, including little baby fox running around where I'm at. Gone.
Im thinking our coyote population is not at a bad stage. I have trail/security cameras EVERYWHERE, and I never see coyote, yet my neighbor says they are really bad. In my state, I believe I read that open season on Coyote's was 365 and unlimited. That's pretty crazy.