There are three main types of termites in the United States: drywood, subterranean and Formosan. Drywood and subterranean are the most common kinds of termites, and are responsible for the bulk of termite-related problems in the United States. Subterranean termites live in loose, dry soil, and access food above ground by building mud tunnels. Drywood termites live inside the wooden objects they eat, usually walls or furniture.
Termites eat cellulose, which is found in wood products. Once they find a food source, they leave a chemical trail for the rest of the colony, and an infestation can occur soon afterward. Termites will die if exposed to direct sunlight and open air, so they tend to enter homes through basements or crawl spaces. From there, they can infest your walls, siding, picture frames and furniture.
According to Terminix, there are three main warning signs that can alert you to a termite infestation. The first sign is the presence of termites, either dead or alive. The second sign is mud tubes around floors and baseboards, which may indicate that you have ground termites. These tubes are muddy and flat, about the width of a straw. The third sign is hollow wood. Furniture infested with drywood termites will sound hollow when tapped, and might even collapse, exposing termite tunnels within the wood.
Termites will eat any kind of wood, whether it is in your home or in a forest. They work around the clock, eating from the inside out, and can be active for five years before the effects become obvious. Termite damage often goes unnoticed until it is too late, particularly in antique furniture. Because termites burrow so deeply into furniture, the outside layer eventually cracks to reveal the internal damage.
Once termites have infested a piece of furniture, it is unlikely you will be able to restore the piece to its original condition. The main objective is then to determine the extent to which termites have invaded your home, and to exterminate them. You will need to contact professional exterminators, who will use methods such as establishing a liquid barrier or baiting the termites. Either of these solutions should rid your home and furniture of termites.