Water Damage vs. Termite Damage

What is the Difference between Water Damage and Termite Damage?

Homeowners can easily confuse termite damage and water damage. Because termites create high-moisture nests, signs of termite damage are often similar to signs of water damage. For example, both problems can cause paint to bubble and peel.

Since treatment and repairs for water damage and termite damage are very different, contact a licensed termite inspector for help determining whether wood damage was caused by termites or water.

How to Tell Water Damage from Termite Damage

Water damage to wood often creates square-shaped "cells" in the wood. This pattern can be called "cubicle rot," referring to the cube-shaped square cells. It also is called "alligatoring," because the square-shaped cells resemble an alligator's back. These square-shaped cells are created because the wood expands and cracks with the increased water content.

When subterranean termites consume wood, they eat along the softer springwood and leave the harder summerwood. If you look at a cross section of a tree, the lighter-colored rings are springwood and the darker-colored rings are summerwood. In a cross section of subterranean termite-damaged wood, summerwood has a honeycomb appearance after the springwood has been eaten. Length-wise, summerwood looks like thick sheets of paper after the springwood has been eaten.

When drywood termites consume wood, they eat along and across the grain. They excavate large galleries for their nests, and they connect these galleries with tunnels. Due to their smaller colony size, drywood termites typically do not damage wood as much or as quickly as subterranean termites.

Some species of termites, including dampwood termites, only feed on wood that has already been damaged by water. In this case, you would need to address the water issue and termite infestation simultaneously, before repairing the damage.