Severe termite damage-how fast do termites eat wood?

No structure is safe

hunt cabin pestcemetery.comIn the last 26 years I have seen some pretty extensive termite damage to homes and commercial structures. Some on buildings that have long been forgotten but most on homes that are lived in and the damage was happening right under everyones nose. Just this spring I was asked to try and stop termites from attacking a $20,000.00 boat in storage. Upon inspection we found that the termites had built tunnels right up the trailer tires and almost completely gutted the interior. The simple answer was to hook up to the hitch and move the boat and while this didn’t make my customer all that happy the advice was free and the termite problem was solved. Recently I also treated a 100 year old ‘bunk’ house that is now being used for a hunting cabin. There is so much damage I’m not sure what’s holding the place up but like so many other buildings I’ve seen it’s still standing after all these years and may even be around for another 100 years.

Conditions need to be right

For severe damage to occur there usually has to be a couple of ripe conditions. Moisture is a key element that termites need and if your home provides a steady stream or source your chances go way up. Access is another element and for homes with wood to ground contact, cracks in the foundation or moist crawl-spaces this is nosevere damage problem. Now I have seen perfectly sound homes (except for the termites) that didn’t seem to provide these elements and it looked very solid and yet we found extensive termite damage. Termites compensate very well and will actually bring moisture up from their underground world into the feeding area to supply what they need to keep from drying out. Access may only be an unseen crack or seam in the foundation no thicker than a business card which allows them to go unseen for years. As a general rule homes that contribute these needs tend to have the most damage but in the termite business you can take nothing for granted.

How fast can termites eat my home

There is no hard and fast answer to this question because it depends on how large the colony is, if it’s just one colony attacking the home and the factors listed above. Most termite colonies take two to three years to become large enough to swarm which is considered a mature colony of 60,000. Subterranean termites can over the years easily get into the millions so the difference of how much wood they eat can be huge. Most estimates say the average colony can consume one foot of a 2×4 in about six months and a home that is about 2300 square feet has about 17,000 board feet of lumber. With some quick math the shocking answer is that it would take an average colony 8500 years to consume your home. This calculation is not for the Formosan termite which is called by most experts the “super termite” and far out paces these numbers. It also may be different because of your home size or amount of wood available.

Tell us what you think

I wrote this article because this question comes up quite frequently in my job. Having never done the math before I was quite surprised at the answer and I’m sure the next person who asks me will be shocked as well. While this number may lull some to sleep don’t let that be you. Termites are ferocious eaters and even in a few short years significant damage can be done. Termites that have free run of a home that never gets treated just don’t stop on their own and work 7 days a week 365 days per year. If you have seen any homes like this I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment below and tell us what you’ve seen. Hopefully your story is just one you heard about and not about your own home or worse yet, your boat.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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  • JaneDoe

    Thanks for this information it’s great. I hope I don’t have them

  • I’m glad to help-

    Thanks for reading my blog!

  • david

    Just found out this week we have termites. The inspector is also the guy that bonded my house. He says there were no termites at inspection time or when he treated. Now there is. He treated but says he is not responsible for the damage the termites have caused.
    Can you get me some information on how to fight this.

  • You should check your contract and see if it is ‘repair’ or just ‘retreat’ first. (you probably did) From there if you have a repair, you need to begin trying to enforce what you paid for. Being nice and diplomatic goes a long way but in the end you may need to get legal help.

    Did he say WHY he wasn’t responsible? Sometimes things that are conducive to termites like leaky pipes, wood to ground contact etc. will void any guarantee.

  • Annerledford

    Termites swarmed into a beadroom of my son’s home the first of April this year.  they jumped right on getting inspections and estimates of treatment.  They haven’t even checked into the extint of the damage yet.  As of today, however, no treatment has been done.  They were in a real hurry at first and now seem to be in no hurry.  I am very concerned about how much more damage is occurring (almost 2 months now), especially since I will probably be paying for the repairs.  Also, by their waiting like this, could the cost of treatment also increase?  Thank you for any insights you can give me on this situation. 

  • Hi Anne,
    Procrastination doesn’t help for sure– funny how it’s “no big deal” when it’s your $$– I have kids too…
    Damage won’t decrease that’s for sure but if you can see your way clear to getting the job done soon it shouldn’t be that much worse. (don’t get me wrong-it could be pretty bad already and it may be a big surprise one way or the other when you open the wall-if you do that is) The termite job probably won’t be higher unless you were to wait til say next year, prices tend to inch up each season.

    Hope you get the job done soon, it’ll put your mind at ease and stop any further damage.

  • Annerledford

    Thanks so much for your reply.  Ijust wasn’t sure how much I need to stay on their case about this, so now I am not going to let it rest until it is done! 

  • Anthony


  • Yes there are x-ray machines but very expensive to have someone out with it. Thermal imaging is not quite as visually effective but you can get a shadow image of the studs and damage- Try an awl (tiny) poke it in the drywall through to the stud. Hit damage and the awl will go in and you can feel the ‘missing or soft damaged’ wood/stud—good wood and the awl will not go past the drywall once it hits solid wood.
    Not something we as exterminators are ‘allowed to do’ in our visual inspections so you may need to get permission from owners before poking holes in the drywall.

  • Pamela Forbus

    We have a concrete block house off the back of the house is a 2X4 addition. We are doing some remodeling and when we opened the wall we found termite damage. Can we just replace the wooden 2×4 with steel studs and have solved our problem? The damage is all on the bottom part of the wall not even near the ceiling truss area.

  • You’ll solve that particular problem but you won’t alleviate the threat. You might want to have a professional come out and inspect that area as well as the rest of the home. Not sure if you saw my article/video on termites in brick homes.

    I should do a follow up on that article because I was just back in that house the other day and there was ‘significant’ damage uncovered when the new home owner cam in and started fixing it up.

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  • Katolear

    Hello, I have had my home gutted by Giant Subterranean White ants. the first quote was for $60,000 Australian.
    I was paying my strata levies but others on the complex weren’t so a pest inspection was not done at all last year and I was not told. I have been given a complete run around as the head of my strata is too powerful and corrupt.
    i have every insurance going but nothing covers for termites. I have seen 6 lawyers with no help and I had a hearing at the States Administrative Tribunal, but this was dropped, as they only deal with damages up to $1000! The staff member who advised me had retired when I got back to him.
    There was a cyclone recently and my roof had to be held down by the SES. Eventually a building company felt sorry for me and wanted the advertising it would bring them in the local newspaper so they fixed my house for $25, 000.
    But this is still a lot of money!
    I have had a barrier treatment around my home, but a scientist friend, said my storage shed is a weak point and they may still be able to get in!
    I have had such a horror 3 months.
    Now the builders say the place was so bad they estimate the termites had been there for years, my pest control man says the damage could have been caused in 3 to 6 months.
    Who do I believe? My whole roof was gutted, carport, shed, verandah and skirting boards.
    Kathy O’Leary, Broome, Western Australia

  • Been there done that on paying what we call “association fees” NO ONE wants to LISTEN to common sense to solve a problem. It’s much like a little tyrannical government that has to follow each rule to the blasted letter even though common sense is smack in their face. (and I’m talking termites which they knew I owned a service company for it) As far as saying the termites did such damage in a certain amount of time- the only certainty is there is no certainty. But, 3 to 6 months? That would mean multiple colonies or Formosans (and multiple of them too) – This is of course taking your description as either complete or “major” damage. The math can be correct for such damage- but look at the extremes that would need to take place. That said- in a court of law, can’t be proven out of the realm of possibilities AND, there is no sure way to determine how long it takes to have a certain amount of damage.

  • Angiefanelli

    A good friend of mine is a building inspector and his reputation is built on his commitment to the buyers. He doesn’t get lots of realtor’s but keeps busy with satisfied customers and great word of mouth. He’s been doing it for about 8 years.
    This week a customer of his who did buy the home he inspected is now suing him and the original owners because of termite’s. He is very upset and knows that he is thorough. Is it possible for him to defend himself and win. Or do these home owners have a possibility making him liable. What are the possible avenues he can use to defend his position.

  • Angiefanelli

    The house was inspected and purchased three years ago.

  • Inspectors usually have to carry ‘errors & omissions’ insurance for just such occasions. I think you should have him contact his insurance first–& they may just handle it all without him having to do a thing. Three years is a long time and unless they can prove there was visible evidence that should have been seen at the time of the inspection, I’d say they have a hard row to hoe. BUT, having said that, lawyers and judges can and do get away with all kinds of stuff with technicalities etc.  You can see what I had to go through hear.

    Hopefully he kept all his records and has disclaimers in place. It would be really great if he had pictures. 

    There is a ton of factors and a problem like this can really upset and consume a person. If its high dollar I would say at least consult a lawyer after you get some direction from the insurance company. I had a similar situation where a client tried to sue me 5 years later and we went to mediation and they realized they wouldn’t be able to go further & it was dropped. Hopefully that will be what happens with your friend.

  • Bill Gosch

    Hi I am Angie’s friend. My issue is,  i had inspected an older home, and the only inaccessible area that was totally closed up was later discovered to have termites when a contractor went in to do some renovating. The purchasers had never contacted me after the purchase, only through their lawyer, as i am now being sued along with the sellers. The area that was sealed off was an older rear two storey add-on many years old. Also i do not have E & O insurance as where i practice is an unregulated industry. I carry liability.
    Thank you for your time

  • Hey Bill, 
    I feel your pain and if you read the link in the comment to Angie below you’ll see what I mean. If this thing is going to consume you the way it did me–then you might think hard about getting representation.

    To me, it seems since the section of the home with the damage was completely closed up and assuming you documented that–then I’d think  you’ll be Ok. But it really depends on the laws of your area–(you’re from Canada?)– The home inspectors here are unregulated too where termite inspectors are not. 

    It will be up to the litigants to prove you “missed” something that you should have been able to see at the time–That seems a pretty tall task. Hopefully you saved all your files on this job and have disclaimers in place that suggest your inspection is just a “snapshot” in time and you can’t be responsible for areas you couldn’t see or that have occurred since. 

    If any of this seems questionable or you don’t have a lock tight grip on all this info– it may be time to make that call.

    Good luck– if I can help further, I’ll be happy to try

  • Lorejers

    I have underestimated the power of termites. I was cleaning my backyard last Spring Break of this year (2013) and found termites on a pile of wood near the fence of our house which is about 5 feet away from my house’s back wall. I sprayed the termites and made sure I killed every visible one until this morning when I was doing my end of the year cleaning and dusting. I was dusting the back window of my living room and I noticed that the frame of my window is wrinkled. When I pressed hard on it, it cracked so easily…I panicked and called on everyone to come and see until we all discovered that almost all parts of my entire back wall has been infested by termites. I scheduled for an exterminator to come and check. My question is, how will I know if the damage is only until the side that we opened? Thank you

  • That’s tough to know since (as you unfortunately) found out– they insidiously live and eat out of sight–in the voids of our walls…. Best to have you pest pro look it over and it sounds to me like you’ll need the whole house treated. At this point you should be just fine for eradicating the invading termites–but as far as if there is more damage hidden away? it’s really difficult to say without at least some visible evidence…

  • ZouBCivil

    I am very upset at myself. My wife saw signs of termite damage on drywall and I wrote it off as just old drywall since the house was 35 yrs old at the time. Neither of us knew what it was, but you know those women – the sixth sense comes out at times. So fast forward five years to today, and out of the blue my wife googles pictures of drywall damage due to termites, and it was the same as our wall. She started seeing other areas, so she was concerned. I demo’d a 4×8 section of drywall and was appalled by the damage to some of the studs, as well as the moisture the termites pulled up with them. The wood nearest to the floor is rotted, and I didn’t see the little buggers until I started taking the claw of the hammer to the obviously gutted studs. Now putting 2&2 together, on that side of the house there is a small crack in the siding…while I cannot be sure that is where they came from, I can certainly postulate this as the way of entrance. So here are the lessons I learned:
    1. Listen to wife.
    2. When you see a possible entry way for bugs, fix it. That crack has been there for at least 5 years.

    I think they are the subterranean variety since they are leaving dry brown trails on wood.

  • Oh man–sorry to hear they got ya. We see this a lot ..both the damage & the not listening to the wife… 🙂

  • Sarebolth

    I just found an exit hole (and black granular material around it) in brand new solid oak wood flooring (3/4″ thick!) that was installed 5 months ago. I also took a video where you can definitely see something moving. I’m not sure if it’s termites, but I’m appalled that they can eat through a solid oak board in such a short time. The other thing is that I looked at the subfloor and the joists under the (3/4″ plywood) subfloor 8 months ago and there was NO damage or infestation. Now, I’m terrified of cutting out that board because I don’t know what I’m going to find. The exit hole is near the baseboard on an exterior wall, so I’m not sure if they somehow got in via that exterior wall and are now eating their way inward. Is it a requirement to cut out that flooring board to diagnose the pest?

  • Most likely a wood boring beetle– what you may be seeing is the adult emerging-. Subterranean termites only eat soft wood.

  • happycamper

    I am in contract to purchase a duplex in SWFl. It has been inspected, and there are live termites. The basboard has 5 areas no longer than two feet that have visible damage. The bottom cord is exposed in two areas, and it is solid. I took a scriber to penetrate the drywall as Fannie mae will not allow for alterations to the property during the inspection period. I hit about 13 studs and after hitting the scriber with a mallet all were solid. I stayed close to the floor thinking the termites would not climb higher than necessary to eat the wood. Is there any other method to check the studs without removing drywall, and is the method I used safe proof? I was told by an inspector that worked for Terminex that they typically stick to the softer baseboard than the studs and if they did get to the studs chances are the simply skimmed them. Is this true?

  • Megan Elyse Howell

    It’s “for all intents and purposes” not “for all intensive purposes”

  • Shelley Kathleen Wright

    I really wanted to renovate my dad’s house. About 7 or 8 years ago was the last time I have actually been in it. It had termites so bad I was only there for 10 minutes or so and saw them on shelves all throughout the house so I can’t imagine how many there are in places I cannot see. Like i said this was years ago and I am unable to move back to do anything about it for another couple of years. Since my grandparents died he mostly stays in his room and allows them to reek havoc on the rest of the house. He doesn’t seem concerned or bothered by it but it upsets me so much. I really want to see the home restored, loved and lived in. How much damage do you think will be done after 10 years? How long will it take to rid the house of them after having been infested so long?