Most homebuyers have a laundry list of “must-have” items before signing on the dotted line, ranging from hardwood floors to stainless steel appliances to open floorplans. But there’s one thing they don’t want in a new house: pests.
And for good reason. According to Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “Termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year – a cost that is typically not covered by homeowners’ insurance.”
Pests aren’t just unsightly; they also cause costly property damage. Image: DeForest Architects
These particular insects are insidious – Mannes tells Freshome that termites chew through wood, flooring and wallpaper without being detected by the human eye. “Termites are known as ‘silent destroyers’ because they can compromise the structural stability of a home without anyone even knowing until the damage is severe,” she explains.
However, termites aren’t the only pests that potential buyers should be concerned about. We’ve got some tips on which insects and critters to look for, where to find them and how you should proceed upon discovering that your dream home has unwanted occupants.
Warning signs inside the home
Termite wings and droppings
According to Mannes, homebuyers should keep an eye out for typical warning signs of a termite infestation when house-hunting. “These including the presence of swarmers, or young, female and winged termites.” Swarmers tend to invade houses in the spring, and they are drawn to light.
Mannes says that often the first visible sign of termites is the presence of these swarmers’ wings. Swarmers typically discard wings close to doors and windowsills. “Damaged wood that sounds hollow when tapped is a third sign, since termites like to get inside wood and eat it.” Frass and droppings are also evidence of termites; Mannes explains that drywood termites leave droppings that look like pellets. (Note: You might also find frass and wood damage outside of the house.)
Wood fragments from carpenter ants
“In addition to termites, carpenter ants are another pest that can quickly tunnel through wood without any external signs of damage,” Mannes warns. So, how can you distinguish between carpenter ants and other ant species? “Carpenter ants are larger than most ant species, ranging in size from one-quarter inch up to three-quarters of an inch,” she says. “They are black or red in color.”
Even if you don’t see the ants, Mannes says you might notice sawdust and wood fragments around the home. “Severely damaged wood will have small openings like little windows,” she explains. “Carpenter ants will cause round, smooth holes in wood.”
Dripping pipes in kitchens and bathrooms attract roaches. Image: TRG Architects
Roach-friendly leaking pipes
While damage by termites and carpenter ants is your primary concern, you should also be on the lookout for other types of pests. According to Orkin entomologist Glen Ramsey, it’s important to look under the sink and around the pipes in the kitchen and bathrooms to ensure that everything is sealed tightly. He tells Freshome that dripping pipes are a water source for roaches. And when you’re inspecting the kitchen, look for small black spots, which might be cockroach droppings.
Inspect baseboards and sockets for signs of bed bugs. Image: Beth Dotolo
Bed bug stains
No one wants bed bugs. Ramsey warns that tiny brown stains on the wall directly under or around sockets and baseboards could be a sign that bed bugs have taken up residence. In addition, mold, fungus or wood decay may indicate moisture in the walls; this could be a sign that there are several pest problems in the home.
Warning signs outside of the home
Windowsills and exterior paint are places to look for termites or beetles. Image: Patrick Square LLC
Bubbling paint from termites
Now that we’ve covered interior warning signs, what are the exterior red flags? Ramsey says that bubbling or cracked paint, along with mud tubes, are clues that termites or wood-boring beetles are present. What’s a mud tube, exactly? Mannes explains that it’s exactly what it sounds like: a tube or tunnel made of mud. She says that subterranean termites use mud tubes to travel from underground to above-ground areas.
Sunken or soft windowsills are other indications of water damage or termites. “Also, if wood decks or railings have holes in them, this could indicate that carpenter bees have been drilling,” Ramsey adds.
Inspect trees on your property to make sure branches aren’t touching your house. Image: Locati Architects
Nests in chimneys or trees
Don’t forget to inspect the chimney, since the presence of a nest might mean that birds or wasps have made themselves at home. Ramsey adds that an assortment of pests and critters, from ants and smoky-brown cockroaches to rats and squirrels, tend to nest in trees. Depending on the location of the trees and branches, you might want to cut back some of the branches so they’re not a bridge to the attic.
In addition, Ramsey recommends inspecting the home lawn drainage to make sure that water slopes away from, instead of toward, the home. Termites and mosquitoes gravitate toward the latter.
Newer vs. older homes
Don’t assume that pests are only a problem in older homes.