How to … recognise and deal with termites

Small though they may be, termites are a destructive pest that can eat away at the structure of your home, costing you an arm and a leg. Getting your home treated for termites costs between $1300 to $1500 on average. This doesn’t include the thousands required for repair works if the structure of your home has been damaged. When it comes to termites, prevention and early detection are essential.

Fortunately, CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group, has created a guide explaining how to reduce your risk of getting termites, recognise the signs of their presence and what to do if you do have them.

How to reduce the risk
The age of your home, temperature and rainfall are the biggest risk factors for termites. While these are out of your control, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of your property housing termites.

  • Clear out the space under your house. Storing items here can reduce ventilation.
  • Clear away any wood close to your house that is in contact with the ground.
  • Clear plants away from your home’s outer walls.
  • Address issues with ventilation or drainage such as leaky pipes.
  • Have a professional regularly inspect your home for pests. Follow instructions or advice given.

How to recognise termites
While there are around 300 species of termites in Australia, only a few of them pose a threat to your home. Most of the damage to Australian houses is caused by subterranean termites, also known as white ants. Recognising the signs of their presence can be difficult. Here is what to look out for:

  • timber that sounds hollow
  • floors and door frames that sag
  • cracks in paint or plaster caused by the weakening of timber backings
  • power failures caused by termites being attracted to warm electrical fittings inside walls
  • mud shelter tubes. These look like honeycomb hollows that termites dig into wood to live inside
  • skirting boards or architraves that are easily damaged may suggest the timber has been eaten away.

If you recognise signs of termites or locate a termite nest, do not disturb it or try to remove it yourself. When a nest is disturbed, termites are likely to abandon it and move elsewhere in your home. Instead, you must make a termite management plan, which may well require the assistance of a professional pest controller.

Termite management systems
All Australian homes (aside from those in Tasmania) that were built after July 1995 must have a ‘durable notice’ listing the method of termite management, date of installation, life expectancy of chemical barriers and recommendations for future inspections. This termite management system is a requirement of the Building Code of Australia.

Types of barriers
There are two main types of barriers you can use to prevent the presence of termites in your home physical and chemical. These barriers are normally far easier to install in a house when it is being constructed, though some can be retrofitted.

Physical barriers
These are permanent, non-toxic barriers that require little to no maintenance. While they deter termites from your house, they will not actually kill them. These include:

  • Finely graded stone particles or stainless-steel mesh can be installed to prevent termites accessing your home through concealed entry points. 
  • Termite shields or ant caps make it easier to detect termite activity.
  • Restriction systems are made up of pipes with openings designed to have insecticide injected into them.  
  • Composite systems are fabric or plastic sheets that have been chemically treated and degrade over time.

Chemical barriers
These barriers are put around the foundations of the home or below and around a concrete slab. These can treat soil, and will be effective for a number of years, but will eventually require maintenance and renewal. They include:

  • Fipronil and imidacloprid, which are non-repellent, meaning termites won’t detect the chemicals in the treated area. They then carry it back to the colony and kill more termites.
  • Synthetic pyrethroids are effective insecticides, which are less toxic than those created before them.
  • Triflumuron is a highly effective insect growth regulator. This distinctive blue powder replaced many of the carcinogenic substances such as arsenic trioxide that came before it.

Bait stations
If you want to avoid using chemicals in your home, there are alternatives. However, these are often more expensive and require frequent maintenance. Monitoring and bait stations require a pest manager to place in-ground baiting stations around your home. The station must then be checked for activity, replenished and moved when required. These stations use a small amount of a low-toxic insect growth regulator, which is carried back the colonies by termites that visit the station. This affects the termite’s exoskeleton, gradually killing off the colony without harming any people or animals in the process.

CHOICE does not recommend using this as your only approach to termite management, as there is no guarantee that termites will find the bait.

Getting a quote
If you suspect there are termites in your home, it’s important to tackle the issue right away. Call a number of different pest control companies. You’ll want to ask them a number of questions to gauge how effective and affordable their services are. You’ll want to ask how long they have been established, if they are fully licenced or a part of an industry association, what treatment methods they would recommend and if they will provide a report in writing.

An inspection of your home should cost between $250 and $350. These inspections should occur at least once a year and will involve the inspector checking all accessible timber frames, the interior and exterior of your home, nearby timber structures, fences, trees and stumps. They will also check on the effectiveness of any visible termite barriers. The report they provide should note all areas that were inspected, include termite activity and a termite management plan if activity is found.

Do you have a termite management system for your home? What techniques do you use to keep your home safe?

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Written by Liv Gardiner

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