The Operating Systems, Lower Level, Interior and Exterior Inspection sections are EXTREMELY condensed versions of those found in our home inspection book: Home Inspection Business From A to Z
Real Estate Appraisers are not required to be home inspectors. However, I will include these sections anyway to give you some basic details about home inspections.
Wood Destroying Insects
There are many different types of wood destroying insects, including 70 species of termites throughout the world. The wood destroying insects that you need to be the most concerned with are:
- Subterranean Termites
- Dry Wood Termites
- Damp Wood Termites
- Powder Post Beetles
- Carpenter Ants
- Carpenter Bees
This is another concern with buying a house that really scares people. So make sure you check thoroughly for wood destroying insects. If there was any aspect of performing home inspections that you would need X-ray vision, then this one takes the prize. If Superman really existed, he'd make a fortune as a Termite inspector. I've heard an awful lot of war stories about inspectors getting complaints from people because they didn't notice the termites that were behind the sheetrock walls. Some people honestly believe that you should have told them that there were termites in areas that you couldn't even see. I have know idea where they get their logic from. If there are indications out in the open and you miss the signs, that's one thing. But don't expect someone to identify a problem that they can't even see!!
Occasionally you will have to rely on Lady Luck to help you find wood destroying insect damage. One time I was inspecting a house that was built on a concrete slab foundation. This type of construction doesn't have a basement area. As a result, termites can travel through cracks in the concrete slab. The wood beams and moldings of the livable rooms become an easy meal for the termites. I was just about finished with my inspection and only had one more closet to check. When I opened the closet door, there was termite damage all through the molding. The damaged wood was recently painted over and the termite tunnels were difficult to see. Had I cut corners by not checking that one last closet, I wouldn't have found the damaged wood. There were several times when I was in the lower level and Lady Luck was on my side. While looking around I randomly probed some wood beams. The screwdriver passed right through the beams due to wood destroying insect damage. I was lucky to find these damaged areas since there were no visible indications on the exterior of the wood.
Termites eat the wood and turn it into food. They have one-celled organisms in their digestive tracts that convert the cellulose of wood back into sugar which they can digest. In forests termites are beneficial since they help to decompose fallen trees and stumps. They help return the wood substances to the soil to be used again by other trees. Termite damaged wood will have channels in it and there won't be any sawdust around.
With Subterranean Termites you'll find mud in their tunnels. These termites bring mud into the wood channels since they can only survive in a warm, dark and moist environment. Probe wood with an awl or screwdriver, especially rotted or wet beams in dark areas, to check for termite infestation. You may see signs of mud on the outside sections of the wood indicating termite damage. What these termites do is they'll eat up to the very edge of the wood they are inside and leave a thin layer of wood on the exterior. This thin layer will prevent light or air from getting inside the channels and drying out the wood.
Dry Wood Termites are found in coastal warmer climate areas of the country. They have a caste system in their colonies similar to that of the Subterranean Termites. The difference is that they live and feed on sound, dry seasoned wood and they don't need to be in contact with the soil or a moisture source. As a result you won't see any mud tubes with these insects.
Damp Wood Termites are similar to subterranean termites but seldom live in the soil. They nest in damp wood and are associated with wood decay and don't construct tubing.
Powder Post Beetle larvae eat the wood and lay their eggs in it. They cannot convert the cellulose in the wood to sugar. Therefore, these insects must get their nourishment from the starch and sugar that the tree has stored in the wood cells. To these insects, the cellulose in the wood has no food value and is thus ejected from their bodies as wood powder or frass. They derive nourishment from the starch and sugar in the wood. Powder Post Beetle damaged wood will crumble like sawdust when you probe it. A common indication of these insects is the existence of tiny holes in the wood.
Carpenter Ants and Carpenter Bees merely excavate the wood to make nests. The damage they cause will leave sawdust outside the wood channels.
Often when you find damaged wood due to wood destroying insects, Realtors and other third party people will ask, "Oh, is it active or inactive. " I just tell them that there's no way to know since it's rare to actually find the termites in the damaged wood. The termites could just have moved to a different section of the house. There's just no way to know for sure. So don't let any Realtors or third parties tell your client that they don't have to worry about termites because you couldn't see them actually eating the wood. Often dishonest Realtors and other third parties will do this to "gloss over" and underestimate the potential termite problem in the house.
The damage caused by termites is sometimes over exaggerated. There are very few houses on record that had to be knocked down due to serious structural problems due to termites. A full colony of termites can only eat about three feet of a wooden 2 x 4 beam in a year. For them to do serious structural damage they would have to go unnoticed in the house for an awfully long time. I find minor termite damage in one out of every four houses that I inspect. Of these houses, I've only seen two or three of them that had very bad termite damage. But even those two or three houses could be repaired just be replacing some floor joists and treating the house with insecticide.
They say there are two kinds of houses: Houses that have termites and Houses that will have termites. That's a fact and from my experiences I've found this to be accurate. All houses will get termite damage of some sort eventually. Sometimes builders will install a termite shield along the top of the foundation wall. Termite shields are similar to the cap plate used at the top of concrete block walls. A termite shield is a small metal guard. However, these shields do not prevent termites. The only benefit from them is that they might deter termites or make it a little more difficult for them to reach the wood.
There are certain houses that many Pest Control Operators, (PCO), will not treat for wood destroying insects. Or else there will only be a few of them that will treat the houses with insecticide.
One case is houses with on-site well water systems. The PCO has to worry about contaminating the well water supply. If the well is less than 100 feet from the house, your chances of finding a PCO to treat will diminish even further.
Another case is houses that have brick foundation walls. The PCO has to worry about contaminating the house by seepage through the brick walls.
Another case is houses that have air ducts embedded in the lower level cement floor for the heating or air-conditioning systems. The PCO has to worry about contaminating the ducts.
Also, if the inspection is being conducted on a condominium, then the By-Laws or Prospectus of the Condo/Owner's Association may have limitations. There could be requirements that can restrict wood destroying insect treatments.