Termites or rotten wood

How Can You Tell Insect Damage From Wood Rot?

By Chris Williams on May 19, 2014.

When I was opening up a wall in our basement, I discovered a slow plumbing leak and wet wood that has some kind of damage. The wood is soft and crumbly. Is there any way to tell if that is old termite damage (I don’t see any insects), or if it’s wood rot?—M. W., Clinton MA

You really need to contact an exterminator who can immediately answer your question. Wood that is rotted or decayed can easily be confused with wood that has been damaged by insect pests such as termites or carpenter ants. To confuse the issue, you often find both decay and insect damage together. That’s because both termites and carpenter ants like to tunnel in wood that has already been softened by decay and moisture. Here are some characteristics of damaged wood:

Decayed wood is darker or lighter in color than normal wood would be. White rot causes wood to have a white, bleached look. Brown rot causes brown streaks on the surface or end grain of the wood. Surface molds can be a powdery green, black, pink, or orange. Insect-infested wood is the same in color as other sound wood.

Decayed wood is spongy or stringy, or breaks into cubes. You may have already used a screwdriver to dig at the damaged wood. Wood that is not decayed will lift up as long slivers. Decayed wood breaks into short slivers or breaks across the grain without splintering. Brown rot causes wood to crack into cubes. Insect-infested wood doesn’t break into cracks or cubes and is not spongy or stringy. On the outside, the texture may appear normal, but inside insect-damaged wood you will find tunnels or galleries.

Decayed woodmay have fruiting bodies that release spores. These look like tiny mushrooms or shelflike brackets. There may be cottony growths, or threadlike strands or fan-shaped mats of mycelia on the wood surface. Insect-infested wood does not have fruiting bodies or mycelia.

Emergence holes

Decayed wood does not have round or oval holes on the surface. Insect-infested woodmay have emergence holes if beetles are infesting. Wood under attack by termites or carpenter ants does not have emergence holes, but carpenter ants can leave slit-like openings in the wood.

Frass or Sawdust

Decayed wood does not have frass (fecal pellets that look like powder) inside or underneath. Insect-infested wood may have frass inside tunnels or underneath exit holes if infested by beetles. Carpenter ants dump shredded sawdust and debris out of their nests through slits in the wood. Their galleries inside the wood are clean and smooth. Termite-damaged wood has tunnels and galleries lined with a muddy paste produced by the termites.


Water Damage vs. Termite Damage

What is the Difference between Water Damage and Termite Damage?

Homeowners can easily confuse termite damage and water damage. Because termites create high-moisture nests, signs of termite damage are often similar to signs of water damage. For example, both problems can cause paint to bubble and peel.

Since treatment and repairs for water damage and termite damage are very different, contact a licensed termite inspector for help determining whether wood damage was caused by termites or water.

How to Tell Water Damage from Termite Damage

Water damage to wood often creates square-shaped “cells” in the wood. This pattern can be called “cubicle rot,” referring to the cube-shaped square cells. It also is called “alligatoring,” because the square-shaped cells resemble an alligator’s back. These square-shaped cells are created because the wood expands and cracks with the increased water content.

When subterranean termites consume wood, they eat along the softer springwood and leave the harder summerwood. If you look at a cross section of a tree, the lighter-colored rings are springwood and the darker-colored rings are summerwood. In a cross section of subterranean termite-damaged wood, summerwood has a honeycomb appearance after the springwood has been eaten. Length-wise, summerwood looks like thick sheets of paper after the springwood has been eaten.

When drywood termites consume wood, they eat along and across the grain. They excavate large galleries for their nests, and they connect these galleries with tunnels. Due to their smaller colony size, drywood termites typically do not damage wood as much or as quickly as subterranean termites.

Some species of termites, including dampwood termites, only feed on wood that has already been damaged by water. In this case, you would need to address the water issue and termite infestation simultaneously, before repairing the damage.


How Wood Rot Can Cause Termite Damage

How Wood Rot Can Cause Termite Damage

Extreme Termite Damage!

Termites are nasty home invaders that have no interest in bothering humans. Their lives are completely separated from ours. They don’t need our food scraps, our bodies, or our pets but they do love wood rot. That’s the problem with termites- you never know they are in your home! You will find out quickly if you have bed bugs, ants, fleas, or cockroaches but termites may be feasting on your home unnoticed for years.

Video on Termite Damage and Wood Rot Repair

We recently visited a home who scheduled a siding replacement but upon inspection it was found the home had wood rot and been a termite food fest for quite some time. The unnoticed nature of the infestation caused extensive repairs to be needed. The damage was so bad, termites began eating the foot of a wooden chair after they made their way through the subfloor!! Below we will explore (with pictures and video) the causes and extent of termite damage and how to repair.

Wood Rot Attracts Termites

Wood is rich in cellulose, the food source of termites. The attractiveness of the wood is increased by the presence of moisture which causes wood rot. Removing moisture away from your home- especially the foundation- can help you prevent termite problems. In the home we repaired, there was significant wood rot that attracted the termites which were caused by two major factors:

1.) The foundation was too close to the ground

2.) The slope of the yard was not significant enough.

These two issues combined to cause excess water during storms to flow towards the house and soak the wood at the base of the wood. It was a perfect storm for wood rot and an all-you-can-eat buffet for the termites!

To Prevent Termites

Follow these basic steps to prevent wood rot and eliminate moisture from your home:

Even brick houses aren’t safe!

  • Divert water from foundation
  • Make sure gutters and drains are clean and work properly
  • Repair any leaking pipes, faucets, or A/C units
  • Seal any possible entry points for water around pipes and utility lines
  • Remove potential food sources from around foundation (firewood, stumps, etc…)

Repairing Termite Damage

The first step to repairing termite damage is to remove the colony from your home. To do this, call a professional in your area. The job requires the use of many chemicals that should only be handled by those certified to do so. After the termite colony has successfully been exterminated, wood rot should be removed and replaced. In some cases, such as the video below, damage occurs on main support joists of the house. The wood on these cannot be removed due to the support they provide. An alternative in this case is to provide additional beams along the termite damaged wood to improve the strength of the support joists.

In the home we fixed multiple areas were affected by termite damage. Damaged wood had to be removed and replaced in the following places:

Stages of termite damage repair

  • Band board (added rot and bug resistant PVC)
  • Framing
  • Main support joists
  • Sub flooring

As you can see that is a very extensive repair, so keeping an eye out for termites is a good idea! Keeping reading to learn how to identify a termite infestation.

How to Spot Signs of Termites

If you may be worried you have termites, there are a few simple cues of an active termite colony. A quick survey of your property should be able to tell you if you have an infestation but as always, contact a professional to take a look if you aren’t sure. If you notice any of these issues, you may have termites:

  • A swarm of winged insects in your home or in the soil surrounding your home
  • Cracked or bubbling paint

Termite mud tubes- a sign of an active colony

Treatment for Termites

I hope this post has shed some like on the silent home assassins. If you notice any of the warning signs in your home, contact a professional exterminator immediately to stop any further damage. If you have noticed any wood rot but have thankfully been saved from termites for now, then call a local home repair company like ProMaster at 513-724-0539. We can replace the wood rot and fix the cause so you keep your house dry and insect free! Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments about termites please share them with us below!


Termite Damage vs. Wood Rot: What’s Eating Your Business?

Termite damage and rotting wood can be absolutely detrimental when it comes to the structure of your building. However, because both causes of wood decay have similar looking effects, it can be difficult to distinguish what is actually going on. Knowing what problem you are actually dealing with is critical to resolving it. Here’s an overview and distinguishing features of both types of damage:

Wood Rot:
The common type of wood rot you may encounter and what is often confused with termite damage is dry rot. Dry rot is caused by fungi that attack wood and destroys its interior structure, hollowing it out from the inside. Despite its name, dry rot requires moisture to start decaying – and fungi will carry water to the interior of wooden structures.

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Subterranean termites are the most commonly found termite species throughout Texas. These pests live in colonies under the soil and feed on the cellulose material that is found in plant cells as well as wood. Like fungi, they eat away the inside of the wood, making it hollow and weak. Cracks in foundation and walls allow termites access to wood, where they chew tunnels inside existing structures.

Spotting the difference:

Think you know which one of these images is termite damage, and which is wood rot? Here are a few hints:

  • Decaying wood due to wood rot is often spongy and stringy in texture and breaks off into rigid, cube-like patterns. Pieces of the wood that are not decayed break off in long slivers.
  • On the flipside, termite damaged wood may appear normal on the outside but has chewed-through tunnels and galleries on the inside.

If you guessed that the termite damaged wood is on the left and wood rot is the right, you guessed correctly!

In either case, it can be hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and the damage is done. Both types of damage can cost your business a significant amount of money in repairs. Termite damage, though, costs businesses and homeowners roughly $5 billion in repairs annually across the United States. A pest professional can help you confirm if termites are present, and will help you take the next steps to resolving any issues. Many times, both problems are present, as termites are even more attracted to wood that is already softened by decay and moisture.

Holder’s Pest Solutions is the expert when it comes to termites in Houston. We implement what we call the “EIR” Termite Advantage:

  • Experience: Years of experience inspecting and treating commercial structures for termites – we know how commercial facilities work and will get our job done with minimal disruption to our clients.
  • Innovation: Using the latest, most progressive and innovative termite management technology and treatment techniques.
  • Reliability: Holder’s highly-trained and experienced technicians and inspectors know termites and how to eliminate them.

Don’t let your business suffer the consequence of termites. Contact us today for more information. You can also download our e-book, The Impact of Termites on Commercial Facilities, here.


Termite damage vs fungal decay or wood rot. How to tell the difference…

The difference between fungal decay and termite damage is obvious for the experienced termite inspector. In simple termites, fungal decay (commonly known as wood rot) is the degradation of timbers as a result of a fungus, which in most cases, is simply caused by excessive moisture.

Many timber items end up with decay as a result of poor drainage, leaking guttering or downpipes and timber in direct ground contact. Timbers which are designed for outdoor use are treated, or use specific species of timber, which are more resistant to decay, but at some point, all timber will decay if exposed to excessive moisture. For example, jetty or wharf timbers are a specific species, and will last for years submerged in the ocean, whereby untreated pine timber, such as skirting boards, or architrave timbers wouldn’t last 6 months without being significantly affected.

Fungal decay, known as wood rot

Common places inside the home where fungal decay is common, is to the ensuite or bathroom doorjambs. These areas are adjacent to a wet area, and if waterproofing practices have not been correctly undertaken, then moisture may get into the timbers and cause decay to occur.

Window reveals and sills are another common place where decay occurs. Incorrectly sealed or flashed windows, windows left open over an extended period of rain etc.

Moisture affected timber-Fungal Decay

Externally, patio posts, pergola timbers, barge and fascia timbers and fences are all common items which are often affected by fungal decay.

So, looking at the physical identification of fungal decay, you’ll notice that the timber may be wet, or damp. Depending on the level of decay, you may find timber fibres simply falling off the timber, or larger more linear pieces will flake away from the main timber member. Once the timber is dry, the damage comes away more easily and with soft pieces falling away in a dusty fashion.

Decay can be treated with a variety of fungal treatments, but most times, the affected timbers are simply cut and removed, to be replaced by suitably treated timber.

Termite Damaged timber looks different, and usually, physical gouging or a ‘venetian’ style pattern in the timber will expos termite galleries and workings. different termite species cause different styles of damage, and at different rates. Most termites which cause damage in Australia will leave a ‘speckling’ pattern on the effected timbers.

The difficulty with identification of decay and/or termite damage happens when termites attack decayed timber. Termite damage by itself is quite easy to identify, but when there is excessive moisture, the decayed timbers become a mess of mushy timber and unclear staining. A key identifying feature of termite damage is the speckling, which can look like ‘cork’.

The corking effect is made by termites transporting the consumed cellulose products, mixed with the termites gut protozoa, which removes the cellulose from the timber being consumed. Termites transfer food between themselves, and back to the nest by regurgitating it, and by defecation (yuck!), and wherever the food makes contact with the timber galleries, it leaves a mark. The food regurgitated or defecated is also responsible for creating the termites workings. The workings are used to conceal the termites from predators and from light, but in close to the nest, the workings are used to create galleries which channel humidity, and help to regulate the moisture content and environment inside the main breeding areas.

Most times, on a termite inspection report, there will be reference made to ‘Termite workings and/or termite damage. This refers to the byproduct used to create the nest and protective tunnels. Termite damage may not be identified for some time, even when termites have been consuming timber for an extended period. Termite damage normally occurs from the inside, often leaving a paper thin exterior skin which is hiding a hollow and weak timber.

So when your termite inspector next tells you that your exterior patio posts are decaying, you might be able to positively identify the cause. If he tells you it’s termite damage, then take note, and make sure you have a current termite barrier or termite baiting system installed.

We know someone who might be able to help with this!


Wood Rot or Termite Damage? How To Tell to the Difference

Wood Rot or Termite Damage? How To Tell to the Difference

Wood Rot or potential termite damage can be present in older homes:

An interesting defect was found in an older 1940’s home this week by our Inspection Manager Luke. Down in the crawlspace of the home, a deteriorated piece of wood was spotted. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between wood rot and termite damage. Here is what Luke had to say about it.

“I thought it was wood rot from moisture damage, but if you got up close you could see the little tunnels typical of termites. Also, t here was no moisture damage or dry rot anywhere else around this joist. This appears to be old termite damage, with the wood soft to the point that you could crush the whole joist with your bare hands in one area. There were l ittle tunnels and a mud like substance ins > This is a very rare item to observe in our area.” – Luke Griess

As a result of this finding, we recommended to the buyer to have a pest inspection company come in to investigate for active termites. We also recommended a structural engineer evaluate the beams to determine what repair or replacement of structural components is needed. While this type of wood rot defect is very rare in our home inspections, it is exactly the reason you want a home inspection company that is willing to get into those hard to reach areas and do a full visual inspection for potential concerns.

At Scott Home Inspection, we perform all our Colorado home inspections to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Standard of Practice. All of the inspectors on our team are ASHI Trained and we visually inspect structural components and beams for this exact type of concern.

Our home inspection services in the the Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Front Range area, can help determine if there are wood destroying organisms in your home or future home. Learn more about our pest inspections here.


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