Termite & Moisture Questions in Hampton Roads with Mike Paige from Tidewater Termite and Repair
Feb 20, 2020
Steven O’Brien: I’m here with Mike Paige with Tidewater Termite. How many, how many years have you been working in the inspection business?
Mike Paige: Thirty-eight.
Mike Paige: Yeah, 38 years this year. Thirty-eight years. So I’ve been doing it for a little while lol..
Steven O’Brien: What have you seen change the most over the years?
Mike Paige: As far as the biggest change that I’ve seen has been moisture, moisture problems and as far as doing inspections on homes. Of course, when I started, we did not even have a moisture report–it was strictly wood-destroying insects. So you could have moisture damage, bathroom floors falling through and all you could do would be to tell whoever it was that like that, but there was no form used to document such items.
Steven O’Brien: What form is it again?
Mike Paige: Well, well, now, well, now, we have a moisture report that we fill out. Many years ago, we didn’t. There wasn’t a moisture report. We had one single report that was for wood destroying insects and a damage from those. But there was no moisture inspection whatsoever. Now, as far as the moisture goes, moisture conditions and crawl spaces seem to be getting worse as the years go by. I’m going to say 10, 12-15 years ago, we weren’t seeing the condensation problems that we’re seeing today. Not sure if it’s related to possibly climate change or possibly a weather cycle, we’re going through it. But we didn’t see homes’ contents at crawl spaces compensating like we see now. It just wasn’t something that you would normally say.
Steven O’Brien: How important is it for someone to, to get a termite moisture inspection when buying a home in Hampton Roads?
Mike Paige: Well, it’s, to me it’s very important that’s something that needs to be addressed prior to you closing on your, probably the biggest investment you’ll make in your life. You want to make sure that you don’t have any major structural damage from termites or moisture. It’s not something that I, I wouldn’t personally buy a home that I didn’t, well, I’ve got to do my own inspection as far as my termite moisture goes, but I would not buy a home that I didn’t have an inspection on.
Steven O’Brien: How many homes would you estimate that you have inspected and what percentage of those homes have you found significant structural damage that would prevent financing?
Mike Paige: Well, you know, preventing financing, it depends on how you look at it. I mean, if there’s, if there’s any damage, whether it be $1,000 worth of damage or $25,000 worth of damage, if somebody doesn’t prepare it then it, then it, at that point, there it is–you can’t get a mortgage on it. But as far as, let’s say, considerable amount of damage, okay. You know, as far as the percentage goes, I’ve never really sat down and figured that out. But, you know, I’m going to say, let’s say, if I inspect 100 homes, out of that 100 homes, I may find three or five, okay? But then I could also inspect 100 homes and I can find 15 or 20. It just depends on from one home to the next, the areas that you’re going to, the locations, and then as far as maintenance by the homeowner.
Steven O’Brien: What have you found to be the recipe for some of the worst inspections that you’ve done? Is there a common type of house condition that shows more damage than others?
Mike Paige: As far as you know, moisture seems to be where I find the majority, majority of damage in the crawl spaces of homes. Termites, if termites get into a home and they’ve been in it for, for many years, and if there’s any type of roof leaks, windows leaking, then did we end up with some, some hidden wall damage that has to be opened up and, you know, and, and evaluated and repaired. But as far as the large amounts of damage in a crawl space of a home is majority of the time is moisture damage, because moisture is affecting the majority of the time, it’s affecting the whole understructure at one time. Termites will come up and start out in one spot and do damage, and then over a period of time, they’ll end up gaining access to the properties, you know, in several different locations. So you’d have to have termites in your house for several years before you end up with significant damage from termites.
But like I said, moisture affects the whole understructure at one time, the majority of the time. When I leave here, I’m going to inspect the house in the hickory part of Chesapeake. It was built in 1875. I took a brief look at it last Friday. I couldn’t complete the inspection because the insulation was coming down everywhere and I couldn’t really get a good evaluation. Since then, the homeowners had the insulation and all the debris removed from the crawl space. But from what I saw Friday I’m going to estimate that the seller is probably looking at $20,000 worth of damage. So, and the house was completely closed up, ductwork installed in the crawl space, which the house wasn’t designed for in 1875. They blocked up the foundation all the way around, which originally was open foundation. They did not install any foundation vents. So, it’s been getting wet for the whole 18 years she’s been in the house.
So yeah, we’ve got a lot of damage going on. So yeah, like I said, and from what, you know, and ventilation, you know, ventilation was the big thing there forever. Homes built with a colonial style–home built with long boards across the front; the garage goes down one side; there’s no ventilation on the garage side; no ventilation from the front porch. So you only, you’re only getting ventilation from the rear on one side, and then shrubbery will grow up over time and block the foundation events that are there. You know, ductwork in the crawl space condensations, people keeping their air conditioning at 68-70 degrees and it’s 100 degrees outside. We started to get condensation forming into crawl space, fungus, wood destroying fungus starts to grow and it does damage to the wood for three months or so out of the year, becomes inactive once it dries out in the winter, and, but the following summer it comes back again.
Steven O’Brien: Would you rather buy a slab house or crawl space house?
Mike Paige: If I’m an investor and I’m flipping homes or I’m renting a property, I would lean more towards a slab construction because, sure, you have now, you do have plumbing encased in the concrete. Over the years that I’ve been doing this, I’ll probably only run into four or five houses that have had problems with plumbing in the, in the slab. With slab construction, you won’t have to worry about moisture problems. If it’s a rental property, if the washing machines been leaking for years and the tenant never let you know it wont compromise the foundation. But as far as termites go, termites can be in a slab home you don’t know that until they actually eat through some of the woodwork or wallboard somewhere. So, you could have termites. So if I could do an inspection on a slab home, there could be termites in there unless they become visible. There’s no way to tell.
Steven O’Brien: I think the slab house I bought, you found a board that had been eaten by termites at the wall that shares the garage and home.
Mike Paige: Right.
Steven O’Brien: That’s inside the garage.
Mike Paige: Yes.
Steven O’Brien: It came up, you know, on the edge of the slab, is there a big gap at those joints?
Mike Paige: Yeah, and it’s big. It is the expansion. It’s called the expansion joint between your concrete floor of your garage and the block foundation that is there for a reason. So whether the slab gets hot and cold, it expands and contracts, so it doesn’t crack the floor.
Steven O’Brien: Why would they come up? Why would the termites come up through an interior wall and not from outside, upside on my wall? I mean, there’s no moisture–
Mike Paige: Well, you know, you don’t have to have moisture to, to attract the termites. It’s the actual, the wood, the cellulose of the wood that was what attracts them. And sure, they have to have moisture to survive just like we do, but they’re going to get there, they can get their moisture from the ground. Okay, they prefer to come up in an area that is not disturbed or being affected by weather. So, I told my teams on the outside of the house, ‘Do I see them?’ Yes, I do. But, you know, they don’t want to be outside as far as you know, they’re exposed to rain, and then, you know, of course, that heat will affect them. Termites are not totally blind insects. But they want to keep it a dark, damp area.
Steven O’Brien: How long does it take for a termite to get from the ground to your house?
Mike Paige: Only an average about three days. They can build the mud tunnel up your foundation wall in a matter of about three days, so I could do an inspection today. And then, those signs of termites anywhere, I could come back next week and look at the house and there could be a termite tunnel already built from the ground up to the structure itself.
Steven O’Brien: How long does it take a termite to eat a two-by-four?
Mike Paige: For if you’re talking of one termite, it would be there for awful long time lol. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s really hard to say if they were just coming in at one spot and then a two-by-four, and if it was eight feet long, I mean, that it would probably still take them a few months to do that.
Steven O’Brien: A lot of buyers purchasing homes run into crawl space or foundation issues. They have foundation questions. What I find is most termite moisture companies specialize in crawl space repairs?
Mike Paige: Correct
Steven O’Brien: To what extent does your company perform foundation work?
Mike Paige: Right. I mean, we do foundation work as well as wood repair, too. The foundation work would be piers falling over, piers cracked or things like that. That is something that’s above and beyond our normal termite inspection for a real estate transaction. There’s nowhere for us to even report that on our, on our forms that are used for a real estate closing. It basically states on our wood destroying insect report that is not a structural report. But we do, we do poor footings, install block peers and add extra support beams and things like that. So, we do structural repair work not to just wood but to the foundation too, but we have, that’s normally something that we’re asked to give a price on while we’re out there because they’ve already had a home inspection or something like that, that indicates that there’s possible problems with the foundation itself.
Steven O’Brien: With crawl spaces, it seems easier to manipulate the foundation in a certain area if it’s compromised?
Mike Paige: That is correct. Yes.
Steven O’Brien: With the slab, what happens, a slab has a perimeter with footers and dirt-filled spaces for the non-load bearing areas of the foundation—
Mike Paige: Right.
Steven O’Brien: –that are covered by concrete.
Mike Paige: Concrete. Yes.
Steven O’Brien: Have you seen a lot of slabs fail?
Mike Paige: Not very many, not very many. You know, sometimes, you’ll, you’ll see when there’s an interior crack in the concrete from settlement, but it doesn’t happen that often. It’s not like you’re going to see the cracks like you’d see in your driveway, okay? Normally, the, you know, the, the concrete is, for the actual slab portion of the home, is thicker concrete. Hopefully, it’s a stronger psi type concrete. So you don’t see it that often.
Steven O’Brien: Do you guys use foam to lift?
Mike Paige: No, we don’t. There’s only a few of them around—
Steven O’Brien: Yeah.
Mike Paige: We have used foam for porches and things like that, seems to do a good job. Now, I don’t know how long it will last.
Steven O’Brien: Does foam attract termites?
Mike Paige: Not that I have seen. Okay. Most of the time, the only foaming that I’ve seen have been done in areas that you couldn’t physically get to any way from, you know, or you know, or even visually be able to see once the foam’s put in. You don’t know what’s going on behind it, but I don’t see where the foam would attract termites.
Steven O’Brien: How do you feel about encapsulation?
Mike Paige: Okay, encapsulation is there’s, there’s different degrees of encapsulation. You can go from one that’s going to just basically control the moisture in the crawl space of your home where the polyethylene is laid down. It’s pulled up tight around the block peers; it’s pulled up to the very edge of the foundation walls. So, you basically got a cover the ground 100% with, you know, with, minimum 6 mil plastic and seal off all your foundation vents, make sure the crawl space access doors are sealed properly and have a dehumidifier installed. That’s level one.
Okay, then you can go on up from there to where I see companies that will go out and not only seal all the vents up but they’ll go in and install foam insulation boards to your exterior foundation walls and around the peers. They will then use a 20 mil thick vinyl liner and put on the ground under the house, run it up the foundation walls up the, up the block peers, you know, and I’ll end up and some of them will end up putting in a couple of sump pumps, one at the front corner, one at the opposite rear corner. That way, if water got into the crawl space, it would be under the vinyl liner reverse of a swimming pool and go to the sump pumps and pump it out and give you a, you know, a rough idea on the price difference between the, from one extreme to the, you know, to the next. And you can be looking at, say, $3,500 to $4,000 for the level one, and then you go up to the others can be 15, 16, 18, $20,000.
Steven O’Brien: Just like your hickory house, what happens if the dehumidifier stops working for a long time?
Mike Paige: Well, you know, well, you know, you can, you can actually have it wired to where you’ve got a monitor inside the home, so you can, it’ll have the light showing you that it’s on. It will also give you the reading of the relative humidity and temperature in the crawl space, so you can actually monitor it yourself and you can also, if you, if you had a unit that didn’t have that option to it, a simple, a simple fix for that is what I did to the one that I installed in my own home was to buy a very inexpensive weather monitoring system that’s wireless that you can buy it, you know, any of the, any of the, you know, big box stores for $30 and installed the wireless sets are in my crawl space. And I have got the digital readout screen in my house, so I can, I can monitor what my humidity level and temperature is in the crawl space. That’s as simple as it is.
Steven O’Brien: What questions should a buyer ask their own, their termite moisture inspector while purchasing home?
Mike Paige: Okay, let’s see here. I’ll think about that one. Well, of course, they want to know, you know, is there any evidence of a prior infestation, any evidence of a previous treatment of courses or anything active at this point, any damage or anything like that. And then, you know, of course, you know, what about the moisture, moisture level in the crawl space of the home, and what, what can I do to help prevent, you know, getting a termite infestation, which you know, moistures is a big thing for them. You want to make sure your drainage is right, or their gutters on the home, or the gutters, downspouts diverting water away from the, from the, from the structure.
You know, really, I mean, there’s only but so much you can do with the exception of giving somebody that knows what they’re doing to do at least at the annual inspection. Because like I said, it takes termites maybe three days to get into the structure, so if I check a house today, let’s say three days from now, termites get into it. And the first year, normally, they’re not in there long enough to even do any structural damage to the wood. So, if you’re having a yearly inspection, most of the time you have to catch them before there’s any significant damage. But there are instances where termites can get in coming out of a dirt field porch. So to where they would come in and go straight up the wall and when you’re in the crawl space, you don’t see any, any evidence at all.
Steven O’Brien: When you treat a house what product do you use? How long does the product last?
Mike Paige: On an average, with, with the chemicals that are used today, manufacturers are telling us 12 to 15 years
Mike Paige: Years back, we had chemicals that were 30 to 50 years. Okay, but we don’t have those anymore. But yeah, you know, but of course now that’s the manufacturer telling you that it’s 12 to 15 years, that’s probably under ideal laboratory conditions–
Mike Paige: –In the real, real world, I mean, we have homes that are under termite warranty that we treated 30 years ago that have never had termites come back. All exterminating companies have their few problems with re-treatments. We go out this year and treat it for termites. Come springtime, termites are still there, they swarm, so that’s why we have a yearly warranty on them. And then, we go out and retrieve that note at no charge. But you know, various things can happen if the chemical doesn’t, doesn’t get to where, actually where the termites are coming up. Sometimes, you don’t know what’s happened to settlement under a slab area that you’ve injected the chemical into. It could be running away from, from where you’re applying it and going to the, you know, and just running and avoiding the area that we treated. I’ve seen it to where termites have actually attached their lead tunnels to the bottom of a slab where there’s a void and come back over to the wall and go up, and you’re injecting chemical and proper chemical in along the outside wall and you’re not getting to where the termites work. That’s when then we actually have some foam treatments that we can do. Speaking of the foam under the slab, like we were, there’s a machine that we have that actually, by a special chemical, that actually turns it into a foam and you can treat forward in areas like that when you’re having persistent problems.
Steven O’Brien: So the cavity.
Mike Paige: Yeah, yeah. So then you have said, so the chemical comes in contact with everything under there.
Steven O’Brien: What preventative maintenance can you do outside? You mentioned water control.
Mike Paige: Exactly.
Steven O’Brien: Gutters grading, you’re just trying to get water away from the foundation. When you’re in the, in the crawl, you’re trying to make sure your drain lines aren’t leaking—
Mike Paige: Correct.
Steven O’Brien: Is it a good idea to install insulation in a crawl space that was never designed to have insulation?
Mike Paige: Depends, depends from one house to the next. Insulation is a good product. It takes a while to pay for itself but with any energy savings you would have. Talking to somebody that was in the industry that has been quite a few years back, he told me that it’s average of about 10 years is what, what you’d have to have the insulation and to pay for itself wherever for energy savings. But getting back to older homes, of course, a house in the ‘50s didn’t have insulation when it was built. Majority of had no ductwork; if they did, it might have been for some oil, oil furnace, you know, with things like that. So, you go introduce ductwork, especially some of the duct, size of the duct or what is used today takes up a lot of space in the crawl space, which could block ventilation and insulating the crawl space reduces the cubic footage in the crawl space of air, so that less movement of air for what ventilation you do have. Have I seen insulation cause problems? Yes, I have.
Steven O’Brien: How long does insulation typically last once it’s installed? I’ve found that after 10 years. it’s usually, you know, maybe starting to retain moisture, does it? If you don’t have good moisture control, probably not a good idea to have unless you have a sponge.
Mike Paige: Right. If you, if you have any, any moisture concerns at all, you’re better off not having insulation. I’ve been, I’ve been under homes that are 20, 30, 40 years old that don’t have insulation in them for over 20 years.
Steven O’Brien: No problems?
Mike Paige: No problems, whatsoever. But that house is dry and has no moisture condition. You can put insulation in a, in a brand-new home, and if it wasn’t constructed properly for proper ventilation, two or three years that insulation is no good. Okay, and if you pull it out and replace it or you’re going to be doing that every two or three years. So general rule of thumb, if you’re, if you’re getting to the point where there’s severe enough moisture problems in a crawl space of a home and you’ve gone to the point of removing all of the damaged insulation which, you know, are removing all the insulation because the majority of it is damaged. And even if you go back in, let’s say encapsulated and put up a dehumidifier, you’re better off not having the insulation in there as far as the moisture control part of it goes. Now, the energy, the energy savings part of it, that’s something that we’re not, we’re not discussing here so..
Steven O’Brien: Right, because it depends on your preference.
Mike Paige: But, but yeah, normally if we go over and we’re going to install a dehumidifier to crawl space, the majority of time has gotten to the point where a lot of the insulation is damaged. It all gets pulled out. And most of the time, I’m going to say 90, 90% of the time, no insulation goes back in unless the homeowner specifically wants it installed.
Steven O’Brien: I see. Alright, so you got your house; you keep water away from the foundation; you try to monitor your moisture levels in your crawl space. Is there anything else you can do besides grading and gutters?
Mike Paige: If, if you’re still having, using the foundation vents for ventilation and you haven’t dug the encapsulation, overgrowth, the shrubberies a big thing we see because, you know, of course, the house gets built, shrubs grow larger than what most people think they’re going to. The next thing you know, they’re, they’ve overgrown. You’re not getting any air to the foundation vents themselves to allow for good ventilation. Even if somebody can get to it, it’s blocking any, any air movements along the outside of the house. So that’s the, we see that happen quite a bit.
Steven O’Brien: What about mulch?
Mike Paige: As far as for termites go, alright, or my own, my recertification which I have to do every two years. Okay, we’ve had, we’ve had that doctors of entomology which are, you know, doctors in the bug business here tell us it’s not so much that it is wood mulch that will attract termites. It’s actually the temperature in and moisture change in the soil. So you could have pine straw put down your flower bed, you could have rubber bolts, wood mulch, whatever, okay?
Basically, where the termites are crawling even though they’re blind, they can detect in the soil a temperature change and a moisture change. They’re attracted to that; they’ll go up to investigate. So that’s why we see termites and mulch a lot of times, pine straw. We get in the, we get into the summer months when it’s hot and it’s dry. I can go to a home with the majority of the time with this home has guttering on it and they have the cement splash blocks that are at the bottoms of the downspouts while that, the concrete splash blocks, that concrete holds moisture, I can go to one of those and lift it up, and majority of the time, there’s going to be termite to the surface of the soil into this things.
Steven O’Brien: I got three of them in my backyard, I guess.
Mike Paige: Well, you move a little closer to the house and call me when termites get in there. But it’s not the same that you find termites at the top of the soil like that in mulch or under that splash block or anything like that, they’re going to go into the home. They’re, you know, they’re here to decompose fallen things, you know, those fallen trees and things like that and, you know, you can have termites in the soil or, you know, your flower beds all around your house, and they never even get into the structure.
Mike Paige: So, to me, the, I think the smartest thing a seller could do would be, either prior to or right at listing, would be to get their home inspected. It doesn’t matter if you have a warranty with somebody or not. It’s somebody that you can trust or that your real estate agent that has been in the business for a while, get that home inspected to see and just to make sure that you don’t have any problems unforeseen, especially in the crawl space. And that way, you could address it well ahead of time. You’re not going to, number one, scare a buyer away possibly on a home inspection and not have any monetary hidden surprises when it comes time for the termite and moisture inspection to be, to be done. You don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to end up with one of these people that’s got to spend five or $10,000 to make repairs and control methods on your home.
You know, you’ve had a buyer that’s just dragged you down to the bottom price where you can’t go any lower. And now you’re going to, now, you’re five or $10,000 left. Yeah, get your home inspected by a reputable company. And really, that’s, that’s the strongest I could say about as far as a seller goes. Buyers, you know, I would, I would recommend trying to get under, under a policy with somebody that you know, that you can trust and have that yearly inspection on an average of 100, 150 a year. It’s well worth it unless you want to crawl, unless you’re crawling under your own home and know what you’re looking at. I’ve had a gentleman in Western Branch part of Chesapeake that was checking his home, his own home twice a year. He called me and said, ‘I think I have termites.’ I found a bit on one spot while I crawled under the house. Well, they had been coming up under his house for many years, and he just didn’t know what he was looking at. So, unless you know what you’re looking at, you know, call in the professional.
Steven O’Brien: To touch on the seller, pre-inspection, that is a big thing because like you said, everything’s about the net to the seller and you need to know what your dealing with before you negotiate a sales price with a buyer.
Steven O’Brien: Yeah. Well, I appreciate your time! Mike Paige with Tidewater Termite can fix the foundation; you can help someone prevent termites; you can help someone find termites; you can help someone with an inspection— or give someone a second opinion, etc…. give him a call at 757-635-0357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org