There are many unwanted guests that can work their way into your home and cause damage, possibly none more serious than termites.

Rats are a nuisance, but termites do more than eat your food and scare your guests. Over time, these critters have a noticeable effect on the structure of your property, which could lower your property value and make it harder to sell. Plus, their presence isn't always as apparent. Depending on the colony, it could be years before you see visible signs, and by then, you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.

Early detection and response are the best ways to minimize your costs and prevent future infestations. Here are some tips for identifying termite issues in your home:

You're in a warm area

Alaska is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't have termites. These insects love warm weather, and most are the subterranean kind, which live underground. The others are drywood termites that spend most of their time living in wood. If you life in the South, you have higher chances of seeing termite damage in your home.

You notice signs of the insects

There are many ways to tell if the critters you're seeing around your home are termites rather than ants or other insects that look similar. Here are some identifying factors:

  • There are mud mounds, tubes or tunnels. Subterranean termites need food and moisture, and these two sources are not always close to each other. To facilitate faster travel, they build tube-like structures between their water and food, which can usually be found on the side of a home around the foundation.
  • You notice termite droppings. These insects leave droppings in the form of pellets around the areas where they nest.
  • There are swarms of winged insects. Termites are sometimes said to look like ants with wings. When they are attempting to mate and start new colonies, they swarm, though you may not notice because they shed their wings and head below ground. If you see the discarded wings, you have an infestation. Subterranean termites tend to swarm in the spring.

There is wood damage in your home

When examining wooden structures in your property, the signs of damage won't be as obvious as a mouse hole. This is because termites start from the inside and work their way out, and there could be numerous tunnels before you're sure you have an infestation. Take a screwdriver and tap on the wood. If it sounds hollow, there's a good chance you have termites. Also, stab the screwdriver into the wood. If the tip goes in with little resistance, it's likely time to call an exterminator.

You could also see sawdust, which results from drywood termites drilling tiny holes into the wood, and blistered or discolored wood. Depending on the extent of the damage, the floor could buckle and sag.

Termites will go for anything in your home that contains cellulose, which is the main component of wood. Eliminating these food sources can help with keeping these insects out of your home. Of course, you're not going to remove all the wood from your home, but limiting the amount of paper and wood waste in and around your home is a good place to start.

Get a professional inspection

If you suspect that termites have turned your home into their breeding ground, contact a professional to conduct a property inspection. The signs aren't always as evident, and having a trained eye on the scene can help you determine whether there is an issue and the extent of any damage.