Small pests, big problems

Home inspectors talk termite prevention as weather gets cooler


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Cody Petersen of Buyer’s Choice Home Inspections said trees growing too close to houses can crack the foundation, creating an opening for wood-destroying organisms like termites. Trees can also act as a bridge for wood-destroying organisms if their branches touch the house, he said.

Termite infestation may not be a problem a Southwestern Colorado homeowner expects to deal with, but it’s more prevalent than one might think.

Cody Petersen, owner of A Buyer’s Choice Home Inspections, said as cooler weather comes creeping in, he frequently detects evidence of the tiny pests.

“People tend to think Colorado doesn’t have that much of a termite problem. Then in basic inspections, we see evidence,” Petersen said. “They think it’s more of a tropical climate thing. We get such cold winters, people think insects are dormant, but in warm crawl spaces and those types of things, termites can be quite active in the wintertime, regardless of temperature.”

Home base is in Durango where most of his clients are, but Petersen’s franchise serves all of the southwestern United States. Further south, Petersen said, he tends to see more termites that feed on dry wood.

But in Durango and other parts of Colorado, subterranean termites, which can enter homes from underground, can do substantial damage to a house’s structure.

“With Durango and Colorado being in the middle of a lot of ecological zones, we tend to have a lot,” Petersen said.

Quality Inspection Services owner Cliff Hutchins said he sees most damage in older homes where settled foundations have created easy access for termites, carpenter ants and other wood-destroying insects.

“I see this in turn-of-the-century homes where the stone foundations settled and wood now is in contact with the ground and stuff will be all rotted out,” Hutchins said. “Sometimes they’re no longer active, but the damage is done. The more modern houses you don’t see that, but back in the day, especially with the older homes, you can tell how much money someone had when they built the house, anywhere from big quarry stones for the foundation that don’t settle to rocks with no mortar.”

Part of the problem is the damage often exists within the framing of a home and is not easily detectable, but there are a few red flags: termite droppings, which are difficult to see; their wings, which are shed in summer; or the more obvious indicator – mud tubes. These, which look exactly like they sound, are traveling tunnels for termites. And the worst move a homeowner can make is to disturb them.

“The first thing to do is don’t do anything,” Petersen said. “Even flicking them can alert that colony, and they’ll just go somewhere else. A homeowner will freak out and all they’ve done is herd a few and make it much more difficult for a certified mitigator.”

When it comes to termites, home inspectors advise getting at least three different opinions on the problem, the severity and the best course of action. Petersen advised against immediately opting for the cheapest or most expensive exterminator.

“There are so many factors in determining the best course of action, like if you’re on a well system that will keep you from using stringent chemicals,” he said. “Termites do damage very slowly. They won’t do much damage in the next week or month, so take time to find the right option.”

Petersen inspects about three to five homes each week. In the worst termite cases, he’s seen porches and decks where foundations touch the soil completely chewed out by the insects. But there are simple ways to keep out the unwanted inhabitants.

Homeowners should avoid storing cardboard boxes in attics and crawl spaces. Cardboard, which is pure cellulose, is prime “hors d’oeuvres” for termites, Petersen said.

“If they have a nice, rotting piece of wood or cardboard, they go for cardboard,” he said.

Yard waste and lumber piles, particularly if leaned up against the house, are attractive to the bugs as well. And when it comes to subterranean mites especially, leaky faucets and faulty gutters are kryptonite to homes. When water is dripping down into the house’s foundation, the moisture creates an ideal habitat for the pests.

“The main thing to avoid is earth-to-wood contact,” Hutchins said. “Stay away from that.”