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The Differences Between Old and New Termite Damage

May 31, 2022
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While termites are far less common than regular insects, they may cause far more damage than other pests, and even jeopardize the structural strength of your home. A termite infestation isn't something you should ignore or put off. If you don't conduct a termite inspection right away, you'll soon notice the consequences of their presence.

But how can you tell the differences between old and new termite damage? Active termite damage suggests that pests are actively plaguing your home and eating wood and other cellulose-based materials. The sight of old termite damage without living insects just indicates that your home was formerly infested by these wood-destroying parasites. Early detection of a termite infestation can save you thousands of dollars in repairs and extermination expenses.

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How to Spot the Difference Between Old and New Termite Damage

An active termite infestation indicates that your home is currently being munched on. Inactive termites are those that have indications of a prior infestation but no live termites. If you encounter live termites, you know you're dealing with an active infestation. The absence of termites does not indicate an inactive infestation. You'll require a professional pest control company to evaluate and assess your property.

Signs of Termite Damage

There are two varieties of termites that infest homes across the United States. The most dangerous termites reside in the soil and dig tunnels to their food source, which is your home. Drywood termites, on the other hand, burrow themselves into wood. Both have the potential to wreak massive damage. While drywood and subterranean termites look similar, their behavior is completely different. 

Drywood termites are found in warm climates in the United States, but subterranean termites are found all throughout the country. Drywood termite colonies are substantially smaller than subterranean termite colonies, with populations of about a few thousand. Termite colonies can have a population of 5 million to 10 million insects. 

Drywood termites establish nests inside the structure they're eating, whether it's a house, a log, or pieces of furniture; subterranean termites build nests underground. When compared to a subterranean infestation, serious structural damage takes more time to take place with a drywood infestation. The latter devour wood up to ten times faster than the former. Here are some telltale signs of termite infestation.

1) Damaged Wood

You may not notice damage to your wood until the infestation is serious, but you can evaluate different areas of wood in your household to determine if there are any significant differences. When you tap drywood termite-damaged wood, it will sound hollow or dull. Drywood termites consume cellulose, which causes the wood to rot from the inside out.

2) Mud Tubes

Subterranean termites build a highway system out of soil and wood. The termites' nest is connected to their food source through these "mud tubes," which are about the size of a pencil. They also keep moisture in and protect termites from predators. They're frequently seen at the foundation of a house.

It's probable that you'll stumble across mud tubes that aren't active anymore. Break off a little section of the mud tube to examine if termites are still moving into your home. If the tube is restored within a few days, termites are still active and utilizing the tunnels.

3) Frass

If your home is being devoured by drywood termites, you may notice frass or termite droppings, which are small wood pellets. They resemble sawdust in large mounds. Termite frass is often out in the open, which may surprise you. When drywood termites build their nests, they produce galleries or tunnels. To maintain the area clean, the termites will drill holes in their tunnels to force the droppings out.

4) Blisters in Flooring

Your floorboards may blister or expand if termites are munching on wood beneath your flooring. Termite activity, including swarming, can be easily detected on wood decks. Springy deck boards, sunken and rippling surfaces, and hollow-sounding wood are less evident indications of deterioration. Inspect for mud tubes and grooves in the wood to tell the difference between termite and water damage.

5) Swarmers and Discarded Wings

Drywood and subterranean swarmers or reproductive termites emerge from their nests in the spring to mate and start a new colony. Swarmers may fly, but you're more likely to notice clumps of discarded wings nearby closed doors and window sills. Termites discard their wings once they reach their destination when they’re no longer needed.

6) Headbanging

Subterranean termites make a clicking sound by banging their heads against walls or shaking their bodies. The vibrations produced by colony members are interpreted by termites as an alarm signal. Termites hammer their heads together to notify a threat to the colony, and people can hear the sounds from miles away.

Active Termite Infestation

If you witness winged creatures swarming within or outside, around the window sills or crawl spaces, your home is almost certainly infested. You might encounter their abandoned wings in these areas if you don't spot the actual insects. You may also notice their feces or frass. 

Subterranean termites use their frass to construct tunnels, while drywood termites produce pelleted frass. Even if you don't see pests, mud tubes surrounding the foundation, floor joists, crawl spaces, and support pillars are signs of an infestation. These tubes are made of termite feces and saliva, rather than simply dirt.

Old Termite Infestation

It's likely that the mud tubes are emptied, and the termites are no longer using them to get from their colony to your home. An exterminator will open the tubes and search for "worker termites," which are tiny cream-colored insects. An active infestation might not be present if these insects aren't found in numerous places of the tube, specifically if the tubes appear dry. 

To identify whether there are active termites on your property, an exterminator must conduct a comprehensive inspection.

How to Inspect for Termite Activity

Termites inspection by a professional technician.

Termites can survive for a long time on your property or within your home before being discovered. Drywood termites, which penetrate deep beneath wooden structures, and subterranean termites, which live underground, can be difficult to detect before major damage has been done. It's critical to recognize warning symptoms as soon as possible to prevent and minimize damage.

Key Areas to Inspect 

Termites are notoriously difficult to spot. While hiring a termite specialist for an annual inspection is recommended, there are several symptoms of damage you may look for on a routine basis around your home. Watch out for any of these indicators and then investigate more. If you notice any of the signs listed below, contact a pest control specialist immediately.

Window Sills and Doors

The noticeable indicator of termite damage involving windows and doors is chewed wood. Difficulties opening or closing them can also be an early warning sign of termite activity. As the insects feed, they produce moisture, which causes wood home pieces to deform and change shape. Doors and windows can also warp and swell in hot and humid conditions.

Wood and Drywall

Drywall sagging or cracking could be a symptom of an undetected termite damage. Termites devour wood and drywall paper as well as carpets, furniture, textiles, books, and other cellulose products. Extended water damage on floorboards can also cause soft or decaying wood, so search for mud tubes near the damaged locations. Water damage might also seem discolored, spongy, and smell musty.

Blistering, buckling wood flooring, bloated panels, or soft wood that can be easily examined with a knife or screwdriver are all things to look out for. If you discover a wall or floor section that seems different from the others, such as cracks or splitting, perform a knocking test. The differences between papery, hollow wood, and solid wood are obvious to hear. If you hear any differences, it could mean the wood has internal deterioration.

What Can I Do About Termite Damage?

Take note of the distinctions between active and old termite infestations, whether you decide to conduct your termite inspection or call a professional pest control firm. No one wants their house to become an all-you-can-eat termite buffet, so stay on top to get it done either way. The sooner you locate the termites infesting your home, the less wood and money they will cost.


Termite control is not a do-it-yourself project. Focus on choosing a reliable termite control company. Ask for referrals before selecting a firm, and verify with the state regulatory authority to make sure potential companies are officially licensed. Termites munch slowly, so spending many weeks looking for the best pest control firm won't make much of a difference in damages made to your home. 

Look for pest control services that are affiliated with state or national organizations. A termite inspector will extensively evaluate your home, determining the type of termite responsible for the damage and the level of activity. The type of termite and the extent of the infestation determine the treatment required to manage the insects. Annual inspections and spot treatments in your home may be required, as indicated in the exterminating company's contract.


Try to fix any leaking water pipes to prevent termites from infiltrating your home or to guarantee that inactive termites remain that way. Any pipe or utility line openings should be sealed. Regularly clean your downspouts and gutters, and don't let water accumulate on your roof. 

Check the downspouts multiple times a year to ensure that they are channeling water effectively. Don’t store firewood or other debris near your home. Keep mulch and plantings far from the foundation of the house. Termites require water to survive; without it, they will quickly become dehydrated.

Worry-free Termite Inspections with Positive Pest Management

When a termite inspection is required, you should contact the best pest control firms available. A thorough inspection by well-trained technicians could be just the step you need towards a termite-free space. All cracks and crevices, as well as typical access sites, must be inspected, treated, and maintained so pests and insects don’t come back.

At Positive Pest Management, our termite control services can protect your property from wood-destroying insects that could compromise its safety. We use the right tools and methods so that you get back your peace of mind and fight off termite infestations long-term. Contact Positive Pest Management for a free estimate on our pest control services today.

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