Most Phoenix residents have had some level of exposure to termites and a termite colony’s tenacious capability for destruction. Termites are more prevalent here in the Sonoran Desert than other parts of the country. In Arizona, the desert subterranean termite is the most active.

As an Arizona homeowner, it pays to be alert for the signs of subterranean termite infestation and to know where to look. They work in hidden corners of your home but will leave tiny clues.

Termites are a distant ancestor to the cockroach and are about equally as well liked. As you can see from my photo of a termite shelter tube above, they can dine quickly on the wood structure of a home. In this example, the termites building this tube covered about 3/4″ per day down the crevice of this composite siding panel.

The desert subterranean termite tunnels are brownish drinking-straw-diameter tubes that have the texture of graham cracker crumbs. The tubes will crumble quickly when scraped, but the stain left behind is hard to cover up, even with a stain-blocking paint.

Termites require a water source, so they must return daily below ground to rehydrate. The enclosed tubes allow the colony to control the moisture levels in their working environment as they advance through your home’s framing.

Termites in Action

What do termites look like? Here is a close-up video that I shot recently of two termites building a mud tube in an Arizona home:

What do termites look like? Here are two live termites building a mud tube.

Where Should I Look for Termites?

Look for termite tubes around the foundation of your home on the stem wall. Termites can also come up through tight cracks in concrete. One area to be especially watchful of termite activity is between two adjoining concrete slabs that were poured at separate times. For example, a 1960s home may have a 1980s room addition where the soil below was not treated for termites before it was poured.

Observe wood-to-earth contact points around your home. This is where wood elements of your home meet the soil. These are essentially red carpet entrances for the subterranean termites. Wood landscaping timbers, porch posts, wooden fences and overhead garage door jambs are easy pickings.

Shoe molding, as well as window and door trim on the interior of your home, are tasty targets for termites. Eaten wood under painted trim will crumble quickly with the firm probe of a screwdriver.

Areas around the kitchen sink and tubs are susceptible too. During a slab home’s construction, the drainage plumbing must be run through the concrete floor to the earth below. This creates an opening in an otherwise sealed slab. Check cabinets under the kitchen sink and around bathtubs for signs of termite damage.

Consistently wet, shaded areas can attract termites. The water hydrates them and makes the cellulose easier to digest. Look for termite tubes around leaking exterior water spigots, walls adjacent to pool pumps and low areas of ponding water against a foundation.

In the photo below, the subterranean termites came up through the crack in a garage slab in a 1993-era home near the Temple Historic District in Mesa. I used my pen for size comparison.


temite tube tunnel mesa arizona home


Clues to termite infestation can come from above, too. When they have made it to the ceiling joists, termites will move along its length and often drop down through the drywall to find a return path to their colony below. These abandoned pin-hole tubes, or drop tubes, appear as tiny brown stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. Drop tubes are often less than 1/2″ in height.

If you have identified that your home has termite tubes, you’ll want a local Phoenix termite treatment company to evaluate and treat the structure. To read more on how a home is treated for termites, click here to read my other blog post on the subject.

How Much Does It Cost to Treat a Home for Termites?

Termite treatment for an average 1,800 square-foot single-level home on a slab in Phoenix will cost about $600-$800 dollars. Some of the firms will offer spot treatments which cost less, but may not come with a warranty.

If you are buying a home and termites have been discovered, don’t panic. It is extremely common here in the Valley to have a home with some level of exposure to termites. Work with your home inspector, Realtor, and a contractor to discover the scope of the issue, then negotiate a plan for treatment and/or repair with the seller.


I can say, if I like, that social insects behave like the working parts of an immense central nervous system: the termite colony is an enormous brain on millions of legs; the individual termite is a mobile neurone. – Lewis Thomas, author, in Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984)