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Certified Termite Home Inspections (Podcast)

By Chris Williams on January 20, 2020.

Zack Ciras of Colonial Pest Control talks about termites, the damage they can do to homes, and how certified termite home inspections help both sellers and buyers.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Zack Ciras, quality manager with Colonial Pest Control. Today our topic is certified termite home inspections. Welcome Zach.

Zack Ciras: Hey John.

Inspecting a Home for Termites

John: So Zach, when do you typically get called in to inspect a home for termites?

Zack: Well, a lot of folks call us when they have a sign of termites, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate that you need a termite inspection form. So there’s a termite estimate, we always give free estimates for our termites wood destroying insects. Most things that we’re going out for, we’re going to give a free estimate. That’s when something’s wrong and you need somebody to address it. So we’re happy to go out, check it out, make recommendations, and offer some services. The termite home inspection report, that’s from the National Pest Management Association; it’s their NPMA Form 33. That’s a little bit more specific. And usually that comes down to real estate transactions, including refinances.

John: Okay. So if somebody is selling their home and they want to have their house be sort of certified that it doesn’t have termites, or on the other side, if you’re buying a home and you want to have the house checked out as part of your home inspection and make sure that you’re not buying a house that has a lot of termite damage and things like that, that’s those are the times when you might give you a call.

Zack: Right, right. Some people are just really careful and nervous. Maybe they’ve had a history with their previous homes or they’ve known somebody who’s had termites in their house, so they’re just being a little extra cautious. That’s a small amount of it. A large amount of it is either they’ve had their general inspection where the home inspector goes and checks the plumbing, the electrical, the installation, all the normal things, but he may have noted some possible past damage or evidence of pest, so that’s one case where the homeowner, the buyer, or even the seller might call us and say, “they think there’s something here. Can you come in, check it out, give us a an official form so we can tell the lenders what you think, the professional thinks it is.” So that’s a larger aspect.

But even more so, there’s the Veterans Association, the VA, does a lot of home loans for veterans in just about every area that we service except for Northern New Hampshire and pretty far up there. The VA requires a pest inspection on top of the normal inspection. Whether the normal inspector home inspector found anything or not, they’ll actually require a pest inspection to be certified with this NPMA form.

Termite Inspection Cost

John: Okay, that’s interesting. And how much does a termite inspection cost?

Zack: Oh, the total cost, it’s usually about $195 for the whole visit. And that includes all the forms and documents, the graph, any follow up that we need to do. Some larger homes or larger commercial buildings might be a little bit more, but most homes it’s about $200 or so.

When Termites Are Found

John: And when can issues arise for a homeowner when termites are found from both a selling and a buying perspective?

Zack: Well, a lot of first time homeowners, a lot first time buyers, they’re very nervous about the big T word. They hear termites especially and they just get nervous. They don’t know how to deal with them. All the advertisements from pest control companies throughout the years have done a great job of scaring people about termites. In New England, we have… not the Southern Termites. Those are a lot more quick, a lot more dangerous to the house in a shorter period of time. We have the Eastern Subterranean Termites or Reticulitermes. It’s if you’re going to have to have termites, you want to have the boring Eastern Subterranean Termite. It’s a fairly slow feeder, so you take a two by four about a foot length. I think the average termite colony about 60,000 individuals, which is a small but mature colony, it’ll take them about 118 days to eat one foot of two by four.

So that’s a good amount of time. That’s almost a whole feeding season throughout the summer. So in new England, the termites go subterranean, they go back underneath the ground and kind of go dormant for the winter when it’s really cold. So they might eat a foot or two if they’re really aggressive within a year. So by the time real damage occurs, they’ve been there for a while.

Signs of Termites

John: And what are some of the typical signs that you see that, that you recognize that you know, termites have either been there or are there now and are eating through the wood in your home?

Zack: Yeah, “cryptobiotic”. Cryptobiotic is the word of the day everybody, cryptobiotic. The cryptobiotic nature of termites, wood destroying insects, but termites specifically, allows them to do a considerable amount of work over a number of years without really having visible evidence that most people would know.

So when you have your professional come in, we’re going to come in with some kind of device. Sometimes it’s just a long mechanic screwdriver, plastic on one end, metal on the other. What we’ll do is sound the wood as well as poke the wood to see if it goes through. Sometimes it looks like a perfectly good painted piece of wood in the basement. Maybe the sills have a coat of white paint and make them look nice and fresh or the base board, it has the seal of varnish on it and you won’t know until we start to go in with our tools and actually poke into the wood and it turns out it’s paper thin. Some of the more obvious signs though that we look for, actually when I was buying my home some years ago, probably half the homes that we went into, all I took was my flashlight.

I found shelter tubes, I used to call them mud tubes. They’re shelter tubes, so the termites use the soil, excrement, saliva, different materials to build shelter tubes. Think of them like tunnel systems like, like highways or actually underground tunnels, your train tunnels. They build those shelter tubes from their main colony source in the soil all the way into their work. Basically from home to work. That does a few things. It keeps them moist. Termites are actually pretty sensitive. They need a lot of high humidity, especially when they’re working. So that keeps the soil moisture in the tubes and into the work area that they’re actually doing the damage on the wood. And it also prevents them from being victims of predators, like ants. Ants love to eat termites. So when the termites are in the shelter tubes, they’re protected from both the dry air and from predators like ants. So that’s another obvious sign that if you know what you’re looking for and you’ve seen it a few times, you’ll pick up on the mud shelter tubes.

Sometimes you can see some mud on the wood that’s been affected, but it only might look like they … imagine the grain of the wood and they’re traveling along the grain of the wood, they’ll usually eat the softer wood first. So they’ll have like paper thin layers in between of the harder wood, the slower growing wood. So the quicker growing wood is softwood and they’ll kind of go through those tunnels, but occasionally they hit the end of the road, they pop out of the side of the two by four, the two by six, and then they just go maybe an eighth of an inch or so, and they go, “okay, well I’m off the road. Let’s just patch that up with a little bit of mud, keep the moisture inside the wood source and go back into it.”

So you’ll see these tiny little dots of mud all over a piece of wood. And not until you start poking into them, do you know that’s an obvious sign of termites when you see those little things, but you don’t know it until you’re, you’re really getting into there.

John: If the average person saw that they might just think oh some dust has collected on the wood or something like that.

Zack: Oh yeah. Right. Exactly. Exactly. If you haven’t had the privilege of dealing with termites, that’s what you would think.

Getting Rid of Termites

John: Right. So what steps can be taken to get rid of termites if they are found in a house during one of these home inspections?

Zack: I think that the safest thing to do and what most folks prefer when they’re purchasing a home or refinancing a home, is get it treated professionally. The old fashioned treatment, the trench and rod treatment, is digging around the exterior perimeter of the house around the foundation, and you need to have a certain type of foundation, certain type of soil that you can dig in, and then drilling inside in the basement slab and sometimes the walls and basically flooding and injecting with hundreds of gallons of pesticide. That’s one way. It’s still in common use in some areas, but it’s a little bit overly aggressive when we have a different product. We use Sentricon Termite Bait Elimination System. That’s a bait system that eliminates the entire colony. We install that around the exterior perimeter of the house and nine times out of 10 the termites around the soil that they’re, they’re actually living in the soil when they’re going back and forth to the wood or the house, we get the baits right on top of where the colonies are.

Once they find this bait, it’s delicious. All the cellulose, all the nutrients that they get out of the wood, that’s what they’re looking to eat. This is like a candy bar full, full, full of cellulose for them. So the Termite Bait Elimination System, we use Sentricon, there’s a few out there. Sentricon in my opinion, is the best and that’s why we use it. So that’s the remediation around the exterior of the house. We do also from time to time do spot or area applications on the inside of the house. So for example, thinking of one home in Eastern Mass, Southeastern Mass, he had pretty considerable damage from the front of the house, from the chimney to the walk. And that was about 20 to 30 feet. And then the termites chewed that entire sill. And all the joists probably 10 to 15 feet into the house.

So an area like that, I say we want to get even quicker control so you could use a different liquid treatment. You can use a … I like to use borates. They’re a lot more stable. It’s basically salts and boron, very stable minerals that penetrate the wood, eliminate the termites and protect the wood for a long period of time. You can use different traditional insecticides, termiticides, as spot applications as well to supplement the bait system. And we do that from time to time.

Another even more environmentally friendly way to do it is whatever the risk factors are, whether you have wood to ground contact or you have water damage or you have wood that has been affected by termites, that’s still in a suspect area where it’s close to the ground or in the ground, sometimes the concrete forms are buried in the ground, correct those structural issues. Correct the moisture, remove the wood to ground contact, remove pile of wood around the back of the house where the termites are feeding underneath the firewood and then building up a number where they want to move on inside. So there’s a few different ways you can do it.

For most real estate transactions, the lender, the buyer, the seller, everybody wants to make sure that whatever the best thing to do is done. And that’s what we do when we’re brought in to do the actual treatment. And the number one thing we do is the bait system; environmentally friendly, exceptionally thorough. It’s going to kill the entire colony. And we do supplement that from time to time with other spot treatments.

Termite Certification

John: Okay. And then after you’ve done that treatment then do you kind of go back to the home after a certain amount of time and do another inspection and then the homeowner can still get their certification that now their home is termite free?

Zack: For most transactions, they just need evidence that it’s been treated. So they need the documentation, the service agreement, the proof that it’s been paid for, and some length of warranty. The bait system, for example, is a year to year warranty. So we actually service the bait stations twice a year. In the fall we open every single one up, see what kind of activity has been going on. In the springtime, replace the bait as needed, and that’s renewed by say the seller put it in, and then a buyer’s in the house now. The buyer would have a conversation with them about how to move forward and renew the program, keep everything active and constantly maintained.

As far as for the lender, the lender just wants it treated in some period of warranty, usually one year. But after that it’s up to the buyer to kind of keep up with the program.

John: All right, that’s really great information, Zach. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Zack: My pleasure.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Colonial Pest Control website at colonialpest.com or call (800) 525-8084 that’s (800) 525-8084.

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