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Detecting and Preventing Termites: An Interview with Frank McKernan of McKernan Inspections & Construction, Inc

By Frank McKernan

Please explain the issue of termite infestation in homes.

Escrow termite inspections are required to be competent inspections. These inspection reports are often separated into two categories, as specified in the real estate contract. Section One category addresses the areas of a structure where wood destroying organisms are present. Section Two notes conditions where no wood destroying organisms are present, however if the condition is not corrected, wood destroying organisms are deemed likely to occur.

Section One is commonly referred to as corrective conditions and Section Two is referred to as preventative conditions.

Customarily, sellers agree to the expense of correcting Section One conditions and buyers agree to pay for correcting Section Two conditions.

When the Wood and Pest Addendum (WPA) is in the real estate purchase agreement, buyers lenders usually require the Section One work be performed prior to the close of escrow and a certification provided into escrow which states "We certify the above property is free and clear of wood destroying organisms and infection in the visible and accessible areas inspected."

Our company specializes in performing these inspections as well as the treatments, repairs and fumigations which may be required in order to provide the certification required under the contract.

Wood Destroying Organisms:

There are primarily three types of wood destroying commonly addressed in termite inspections in Southern California.

  • Termites:
    • Drywood Termites: Drywood Termites are larger than subterranean termites, up to one-half inch long. Drywood termites create colonies in wood and require very little moisture to survive. Unlike Subterranean Termites, they don't require any direct connection to soil. They eat all types of wood and occasionally other cellulose material like cardboard or books. Drywood Termite infestations can exist for long periods of time before being discovered, often eating wood away but leaving the paint in place. The most common evidence of Drywood Termites is small piles of sawdust colored pellets that fall from kick-out holes made by the termites. Just one or two pellets is difficult to see, but over time an active colony will create thousands of these pellets making their presence more obvious.
    • Subterranean Termites: Subterranean Termites are smaller than Drywood termites, approximately one-fourth inch long. They create colonies in the soil and require moisture to survive. Unlike Drywood Termites, they do require a direct connection to soil. They build tubes up the side of concrete foundations or straight out of the ground, making highway tunnels for traveling to their food source and back. Subterranean Termites eat all types of wood and occasionally other cellulose material like cardboard or books. The most common evidence of Subterranean Termites is the presence of mud tunnels along the foundation of the house inside or out.
  • Carpenter Ants: Carpenter Ants don't eat wood, but they sure like to make it their home. They bore into wood framing and even wood cabinets to make their nests. They do cause structural damage but are usually noticed by home owners during swarming season when huge black flying ants are all over the place. They are about 3/4 of an inch in length.
  • Carpenter Bees:Carpenter Bees are large black bees that bore holes into wood to make their nest to lay eggs. They are usually found in fences and trees. The holes are about 1/2 of an inch in diameter and about 2 inches deep.

What are the signs and causes of termite infestation?

Subterranean Termites:

Subterranean termites live in the soil. These termites are common in many states including California. Subterranean termites have nests in the ground. Typically they tunnel underground and feed off cellulose material like roots and stumps.

Subterranean termites have the ability to create tunnels and climb up foundation walls and feed off the framing of our homes. The tunnels are made of dirt and mud because subterranean termites require moisture. these termites are traveling up the tunnels and back down to the soil regularly for more moisture.

Drywood Termites:

Drywood termites are common in warm climates and they infest homes in a couple of ways. The first, and most common way, is during construction. They may be already in the framing lumber, wood windows, wood flooring cabinets etc when the house is being constructed or during a remodel. They may also infest lumber while in the framing stage of construction.

When these termites have laid eggs in the wood, the evidence may be microscopic and not noticeable to a home owner or contractor. It may take ten years for a new construction home to begin presenting evidence from below a baseboard, around a window frame or in the attic and substructure. This evidence presents itself in the form of reddish pellets similar in size to poppy seeds.Since drywood termite colonies grow slowly over time, these pellets may accumulate in walls for years until such time the pellets trickle out from below baseboards or in the substructure, like an hour glass filters sand.

The second way a drywood termite may infest a structure is during its migratory season. Unlike the subterranean migratory season during the spring rains, drywood termites get wings and fly during the hottest part of the summer. Most commonly between August and october. Migratory drywood termites may fly from an adjacent fence or tree and land on a piece of exterior wood of a structure and lay eggs to begin a colony. Within a year or two we would begin to see the little pellets as well as the hole in the wood where the pellets are being pushed out of.

In a competent termite inspection, the interior of the structure is inspected around baseboards, window frames, in attics and substructures, and the exterior wood is inspected in the siding, windows and roof eaves for evidence of termite pellets and damage. Also, evidence of migratory drywood termites in the interior of a home during migratory season may be an indication of an infestation.

What are the steps to removing termites from homes.

Subterranean Termites:

The primary treatment area for subterranean termites is in the soil. Soil treatments, when properly applied are effective in controlling subterranean termites.

Drywood Termites:

Drywood termites require direct treatment into the wood where the the termites present themselves, or fumigation which requires a tent. When inspecting for drywood termites, a competent inspector not only has to locate the evidence, but also must make a determination whether the evidence indicates the termites have penetrated or are living in an inaccessible areas like behind walls. This is important in order to make a recommendation for the proper treatment approach.

There are many options for locally treating drywood termites. Our regulating body known as the Structural Pest Control Board (SPCB), recognizes treatments such as Orange oil, Microwave, Dehydration, Electro gun, Boracare foam, Cykick as effective ways to locally treat drywood termites. Local treatment means treating infested wood that is accessible for treatment.

Once it has been determined the drywood termite infestation appears to extend into inaccessible areas, or evidence indicates the termites are in any inaccessible area, we are required to make a whole house treatment recommendation. There are two types of whole house treatments recognized by the state. We can fumigate with Vikane gas, which requires a tent, or we can fumigate with heat, which also requires a tent.

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