LESLIE: Houston, we have a problem. Tom, who listens to us on KFNC in Houston, Texas has a termite problem. Gross.
Tom, what’s going on?
TOM IN TEXAS: Well, as it turns out, the termites are gone but the damage is there.
TOM: They’re gone but not forgotten, huh?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes.
TOM: So what are you looking at?
TOM IN TEXAS: Well, I’ve started taking down some paneling to replace and I’ve discovered quite a bit of termite damage.
TOM IN TEXAS: And obviously, looking at the damage and replacing all the damaged wood would be quite an undertaking.
TOM: Well, what part of the structure has damage? Are we talking about walls here, Tom?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes.
TOM: And is the house slab on grade or what?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes.
TOM IN TEXAS: It’s concrete slab and it’s two stories.
TOM: OK. Now, what part of the wall have you taken apart? Hopefully the first floor, right?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes.
TOM: Generally, the way to approach this is as follows because there’s a certain amount of wall surgery associated with this so that you want to do as – you want to remove enough to figure out what’s going on but you don’t remove too much so you’re not patching walls that are not damaged.
Generally, the way to approach this with a slab-on-grade house is to take off the baseboard molding and cut away the sheetrock below the top of where the baseboard molding will hit and examine, then, once that molding is off, the bottom sill of the wall. If the sill is damaged in that area, then you have no choice but to go up until you determine how far the termite damage has occurred. If the sill is solid, then you can simply replace the baseboard molding. You may have to pack it out a little bit to get the baseboard molding to sit flat, now that you removed some of that material, but once it’s put back, no one’s going to know that part of that wall was removed. So that’s the best way to do some investigation.
The other thing that you can do is this. If you have a very high-powered flashlight, you can hold the flashlight flush to the wall and as the beam goes across the wall, if you look very carefully, sometimes in the wall you’ll actually see termite mud tunnels where they’ll chew the paper on the sheet rock. They’ll leave the paint, they’ll leave the plaster, and they’ll take away the paper. And if you see those, then you know that’s another area that termites are going up into and you may have to investigate that area a little bit further.
TOM IN TEXAS: I’ve done some of this already. I’ve basically removed five walls worth of paneling and every wall, so far, has had damage.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. OK. So what’s your question, then?
TOM IN TEXAS: Well, I’m obviously going to need to contact some professional help and maybe the types of questions I would ask and maybe the types of solutions that may be available …
TOM: To repair the damage?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes. And unfortunately, it feels like I just opened up my worst nightmare.
TOM: OK, well don’t get overwhelmed by it. Here’s some of the ways to repair termite damage. First of all, if the sill is damaged below, what they have to do is remove the sill. And of course that has to be done carefully because you’re in a two-story house and you don’t want to take just an inch-and-a-half of 2×4 sill out of there and have the walls shift above it. So usually it’s done in small sections with the new sill bolted in as you go.
In terms of the actual studs, typically you do not remove the studs. What you do is you put new ones next to the old ones so that the new one really takes the weight that the old one used to hold. Do you follow me? And that’s usually the way termite damage is repaired.
It’s done the same way in floor joists. If floor joists are damaged, you put a new one next to the old one; it’s called sistering and that’s the best way to repair the wall. You don’t have to take it out because the termites live in the soil and hopefully you’ve eliminated them by now.
Has the house been treated?
TOM IN TEXAS: Yes. Apparently, the previous owner tented the house.
TOM: Tented the house. OK, do you have the treatment records?
TOM IN TEXAS: I do not.
TOM: You need to make sure. And I would have that damaged area inspected, before you put everything back together, by a pest management professional, just to make sure that there’s nothing active there that you’re not spotting. Because there could be some subtle signs that would indicate activity and with what you’ve been through, you don’t want this to happen again.
In fact, the best way to treat termites today is using a product called Termidor – T-e-r-m-i-d-o-r – which is not applied through a tenting; it’s simply applied to the soil at the foundation perimeter by a pest management professional and it’s kind of cool because it’s undetectable. The termites can’t sense it, so they pass through it on their way to their nest and they carry it back to the rest of the termites and that eliminates them. So I would definitely have the home inspected just to make sure you’ve not missed any signs of active infestation.
TOM IN TEXAS: Now, prior to purchasing the house we did have an inspection and they found no evidence of – they did find evidence of the treatments around the perimeter of the house and of the drill holes spaced evenly around the house where apparently they ingested some type of …
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. Yeah, that’s a standard technique for treating termites. Yes.
TOM IN TEXAS: And so we’ve already had one inspection and unfortunately, what the inspector was unable to tell us was the extent of the damage.
TOM: Right. And now that you have walls open, have another inspection. Because as a home inspector, you really can’t see what’s behind those walls. But if you expose that damage, there could be there’s a lot more to look at and it’s worthwhile having that done and it wouldn’t be that much money just to have a pest management professional inspect the home to see if there’s any signs of activity because that’s really critical you catch that now.
TOM IN TEXAS: Any other words of advice?
TOM: Well (clears throat), you’re looking at a pretty complicated repair if you have that much structural damage where you have to take and open five walls. So I agree that you need to have a pro help you. But I will tell you that it’s not quite as overwhelming as you might think; that those sill plate sections can be removed one at a time and those studs can be repaired one at a time and you can get a home back that is just as solid as the one you thought you had before you started taking those walls down.
TOM IN TEXAS: Thanks for the pointers.
TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks, Tom, for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.