Hardwood flooring is a timeless feature of any home. However, if you suspect you have a termite problem, you might worry about the structural integrity of your floors. Your fear is well-founded—after all, termites have an insatiable appetite for wood.
Any wooden structure in your home is susceptible to a termite attack, including ceiling beams, floor joists, wood windows and doors, baseboards and trim, wood paneling, built-in cabinets, and hardwood floors. Check regularly for signs of damage and take steps to repair and protect your flooring and other wood surfaces.
Signs of Termite Damage
It’s possible to find evidence of a termite infestation in your floors, but the damage may not be as obvious as you might expect. Because termites prefer softwood over hardwood, the structures that support the finished floor—including the subfloor and joists—are likely to suffer harm first. By the time hardwood floor damage becomes apparent, a full-blown infestation could be underway. Here’s what to watch out for:
- Squeaky floorboards: Termites weaken hardwood floors, making them susceptible to movement when you walk on them. As the boards rub against one another, you may hear a squeaking or creaking sound.
- Hollow-sounding wood: When termites eat, they dig out cavities in the wood structure. Inspectors often tap on wood beams and joists, listening for a hollow sound to indicate a hidden termite infestation.
- Small holes surrounded by frass: Termites don’t like living near their droppings, so they often excavate holes to push out piles of fecal pellets, known as frass. If you notice discolored holes in your hardwood floor surrounded by dry pellets that resemble dirt, sand, or wood shavings, you most likely have termites living underfoot.
- Mud tubes: Subterranean termites often construct tunnels made of soil and wood to protect them when traveling between their nest and a food source. You may find these in your home or on the ground outside.
- Swarmers: A small percentage of termites become swarmers. These flying insects are drawn to the lights in your home. Whether you spot the swarmers themselves or their discarded wings, it could mean you have a termite infestation.
- Spongy wood flooring: Hardwood floor should be sturdy and stable, so be wary if you can easily dig your fingernail into a wood floorboard.
- Raised or sagging floorboards: When termites and other wood destroying organisms eat through wooden joists and subflooring, the floorboards may rise in some places as tunnels are established. Other areas may sink or sag where large parts of the floor’s support structures have been chewed away.
- Appearance of water damage: Termites add moisture to wood, softening the structure so they can eat it. This may cause some parts of the floor to stain, swell, or feel soft. Sometimes, water damage occurs before termites arrive. Then, the moist, rotting wood attracts these organisms to your home.
How to Protect Hardwood Floors from Termites
Termites cause over $5 billion in property damage every year in the US. Subterranean termites eat 24 hours a day, making them particularly destructive. Fortunately, you have several options for preventing termite invasions that could destroy your hardwood floors and other wood structures in your home.
- Reduce soil-to-wood contact: Keep all firewood, mulch, cardboard, and paper products away from the foundation. If you have wood siding, make sure it sits at least six inches above the ground so only the concrete foundation touches the soil.
- Fill foundation cracks: Insects can make their way into your home through tiny cracks in the foundation. Filling these structural defects with caulk can help keep invaders out.
- Trim back vegetation near the house: Tree branches and bushes should come no closer than 12 inches from the exterior walls of your home. This allows for airflow so damp places dry out faster, and it helps you spot termite tubes and exterior wood damage sooner.
- Consider alternatives to wood mulch: If your home is prone to termites, the last thing you want is to litter the ground with their favorite food source. Instead of wood mulch, use pine needles, straw, grass clippings, or inorganic mulch, such as pea gravel or river rocks.
- Minimize soil moisture around your home: Clean your gutters and install downspout extenders to drain rainwater away from the foundation. Aim sprinkler heads so they don’t spray your house, fix leaky spigots, and eliminate other sources of excess moisture.
- Keep the crawlspace dry: If your home has a crawlspace, prevent excess moisture from reaching the subfloor and joists by installing a vapor barrier and proper ventilation.
- Apply borate products: Tim-Bor is a low-toxicity product that can help stop a termite invasion before it starts. It can protect against wood-boring insects for 10 to 20 years when applied to the exposed wood in your home and soil around the perimeter of the house.
How to Treat Termites in Wood Floors
If you suspect termite damage, call a termite specialist right away to confirm your suspicions. You must eradicate the termites as you repair the floor, or the damage will simply recur. Exterminators utilize several types of termite control, including:
- Orange oil: This innovative solution for drywood termites is either injected into the infested wood or brushed over the surface—sometimes both. Orange oil is sustainably produced and far less toxic than other termite control options available today.
- Altriset: This low-impact product works by infecting a handful of subterranean termites, allowing them to spread it to the rest of the colony before they die.
- Termidor: Different versions of this soil treatment target subterraneans and drywoods. Termidor is undetectable to termites, so they ingest it unawares and spread it to their fellow insects. This way, only minimal access to the colony is needed to wipe out the entire nest.
- Vikane: In the case of extreme infestation, it may be necessary to fumigate the house. Vikane is the number one brand for whole-structure termite fumigation, the only product of its kind developed, manufactured, and distributed in the United States.
How to Repair Termite Damage to Harwood Floors
Once you know termites are the problem, and you have taken the initial steps to control the infestation, floor repair can begin.
- Review your insurance policy: If your homeowner’s insurance covers termite damage, this may help fund the repairs.
- Focus on load-bearing support structures first: Temporary supports may be needed while a contractor removes damaged floor joists and subfloor. It might be possible to add new support beams without removing the old, but ductwork and utility pipes could complicate the process.
- Repair or replace damaged hardwood floors: Injected sealants can often repair minimally damaged wood. For the finishing touch, fill small holes in the surface with color-matched wood filler or use wood hardener for larger gaps. To prevent moisture problems and rot, replace any extensively damaged floorboards.
- Apply termite treatments as you go: It often makes sense to treat the infestation during the repair. With many floorboards temporarily removed, it’s easier to access damaged subfloor and joists. Your exterminator and restoration contractor can work together to determine an appropriate schedule for each professional to do their job.
Treat Termite Damage with Help from MightyMite Termite
If you have noticed termite damage in your hardwood floors or other signs of termites on your property, take action now. The professionals at MightyMite Termite can review the potential structural damage to your Bay Area home and provide the termite control treatments you require. We employ numerous methods to rid your home of wood-boring insects, depending on what type has invaded your floors.
Contact us at 408.335.7053 to schedule a free termite inspection today.