How to … recognise and deal with termites

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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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Total Comments: 6
  1. 0

    Too late for me! Have severe termite damage to 50% of my residence. Rectification will cost in excess of $60k at least. WIsh I had encouraged the spot fires I had in Jan & Feb! Would then have been covered by Insurance. Check you House Insurance Policy for coverage, mine did not cover termite damage.

  2. 0

    Huskie, please be aware that most insurance policies would deduct the repair value from your claim(assuming total loss) if evidence of termite infestation was found. Remember, the majority of termite nests will be external to your house (such as a rotted tree stump), so the tunnels from the house leading to the nest can be discovered, even if your house is totally destroyed in a fire or bushfire.

    In general, termites (white ants) look like strains of long grain rice, and about the same colour. They shun light, so they have to remain underground and if on the surface, build clay tunnels. When a house is being built, activity on the site usually destroy any termite nests, so later on infestation usually comes from external nests in rotting tree stumps or dead trees.

    Termites need the cellulose and sap inside a trunk or stump to live on, and when the colony eats this out, they go on in search of fresh material. This they find in wooden framed houses. As they shun the light, they penetrate into wooden structures and even architraves and skirtings and stay hidden for years, quietly eating the wood contents and leaving the outside paint intact, to stop any light getting into their”burrows”. If you tap these spots and break the paint layer, you will discover the wooden objects are hollow, and only the surface paint keeps the appearance of no termite infestation.

    If you want to check for termite infestation (usually in older houses that didn’t have mechanical termite barriers installed as regulations then didn’t exist (around pre 1980) go outside and look for evidence of these termite tunnels, coming up from the ground and into any crevice in the outside walls. This is for slabs. In the case of suspended timber floors, do the same and check under the house for these tunnels in addition to outside walls. Do not disturb these tunnels, instead call a pest expert who will make a small opening in the tunnel, inject poison and seal the tunnel so the termites get coated and take the poison back to the nest. Also he will treat any hives he finds in a similar manner.

    Any rotted timbers unfortunately have to be replaced especially structural items. It’s important to call a pest expert, because other pests like beatles can cause similar damage and are treated in a different way. Structural wood frames can be infested in the living tree, and may take months or years before the grubs become beetles and eat their way out of the framed timbers, leaving a trail of yellow dusty powder.

    It’s vitally important, you do something about this problem immediately you see any damage, especially if you intend buying a second house in a termite infested area. One more thing, termites are selective, eating out the softer woods, and leave things like red gum and jarrah stumps till last.
    Happy hunting!

  3. 0

    Stick to steel frame places in future – more so if you are a home builder, more expensive but you would not have that problem in the future, very popular in North Queensland.

    • 0

      Trouble with steel framing is that it is rigid and does not flex as a whole like wood framing which creates problems with internal cladding (Gyprock) resulting in panels cracking or coming loose. So not recommended for windy locations or where there wide variations in temperature.

  4. 0

    NO termites in TAS! But we do get the odd borer, and wood simply rots because of the moisture.
    Years ago when they stopped the use of our toxic friend, Dieldrin, the pest guys would say that none of the new chemicals would effectively kill termites, so they had to put so much of the new chemical in it drowned them!

    The chem guys now love termites – they have to keep coming back $$$$ because the new chems don’t work anywhere near as well. Lesson: be carefull what you wish for: a chemical that works and is hidden safely away under your house, or a second rate job needing repeating for the rest of your days.

  5. 0

    Read the fine print on termite treatment. If you move one grain of soil around the perimeter the warranty is void. I had Murrays and Flick come out and even though I had obvious damage they both said I was good but wanted $3400 to treat my house. I found the termites entry blocked it and treated it myself. All good after that and found dead soldier termites in various places which meant they were no longer being fed by the workers who die first. Just lucky in SA as we only have subterranean ones they don’t live in the walls.



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