FAQ

FAQ means Frequently asked questions about termites

Here’s a set of links to take you to the information gained from answering people’s frequently asked questions about termites.

  • 1. Avoid
  • 2. Baits
  • 3. Control
  • 4. DIY
  • 5. Fun
  • 6. Identity
  • 7. Inspect
Actions and changes that will make life harder for termites
Baits, traps, lures or whatever you want to call them. Feed termites so you can deal with them.
Direct responses to termite hazards
Advice for the unskilled termite manager
Fun, amusing or just plain odd things about termites
There are thousands of termite species - how to work out which ones you have
Detecting termites
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  • 1. Your new home
     

    Hopefully, your home comes with pre-installed termite management and hopefully this will be a least-toxic alternative. A life-of-structure, physical management system that doesn't rely on any poisons is best. If you don’t already know what's been done, please ask the builder or vendor how termite risks have been managed. Simple things can help prevent termite attacks. Without a management system you usually can’t see what termites are attacking. It is very important that you don’t do anything to make life easier for the termites. Make your future life easier instead. If your new home was somebody else's beforehand, you should have had a termite inspection before purchasing but either way, once you are ready to move in, it may be a good idea to get a more thorough inspection than can be done in a house that's dressed-up-for-sale.

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  • 2. How do we keep garden termites away from the house?
     

    In most places, pest termites are native animals, part of the wildlife and while they are allowed to be killed, chances are that there are that will just keep arriving. In parts of the Eastern USA, you can have upwards of 25 separate Reticulitermes colonies working a garden.

    Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone. Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder. Subterranean pest termites, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, should not be encouraged near structures. To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. Your specialist termite inspector can help you there.

    If your garden has dampwood termites, these are much less likely to enter a well-built, properly drained building than the tunnel-happy subterranean termites. If you live in an area of known drywood termite hazard, then you'll be slightly increasing your risks if you leave known drywood colonies alone.

    Keeping the subterranean termites from finding the house is best done by keeping things dry and inspectable. See my Avoid page.

    Things will be easier if your house has an effective termite management system in place, especially proper long-life physical barrier components (which don't rely on a chemical deterrent). If your house has soil poison ('termiticide'), then the non-repellent poisons (like chlorantraniliprole, fipronil and imidacloprid) may kill the subterranean termites in the garden while the repellent termiticides (such as bifenthrin and other pyrethroids) will usually just drive them away from the poisoned soil, leaving the colonies intact.

    In any case, you'll still need to have a proper inspection done (in most areas that means not less than once a year) to have a good chance of finding any incursion before serious damage can happen.

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  • 3. Do termites tunnel through concrete/mortar/cement/cinder blocks etc.?
     

    Termites will put a lot of effort into breaking through something that stands between them and the food or water they desire. Just so long as the prize justifies the effort required, they will appear as if to move mountains. Plaster (drywall etc.) is no barrier to termites. Most mortars slow them down, but lime mortars are readily penetrable. Termites will not usually do any damage to quality mortars with a high cement content, but beware of gaps and shrinkage cracks. Good quality concrete cannot be excavated by termites BUT cracks in poor concrete may be opened with ease. Autoclaved aerated concrete (those lightweight bubbly blocks) were readily penetrated in my field tests. Concrete (cinder) blocks sometimes have gaps in them big enough to interest termites (also observed in my field trials). Masonry is often built with lots of continuous gaps that termites can simply walk through, especially with extruded, hollow-core bricks.

    Mud-brick (adobe) can be penetrated but there is most risk between the blocks and at cracks, penetrations and against timber framing.

    In general, termites won't damage concrete if they can't pull out the sand (and small aggregate) particles. If the cement has been properly proportioned and the mix allowed to cure, then the particles tend to be well bound and termites are adequately deterred.

    Termites can walk through cracks in concrete. The cracks need to be uniformly about 10% wider than the termites' head. Concrete that is properly placed, cured and is reinforced ('rebar') generally won't crack wide enough to be at risk. A properly designed and constructed concrete slab can be a building's main defence against subterranean termites.

    Sometimes concrete has big pockets of air (because it was not properly settled), has wooden levelling pegs left in (termite highways) or has been damaged by expanding bolts or following trades cutting to add services. Easy termite paths are commonly found where floor slabs have cut-outs for baths or showers or where there are pipes or conduits passing through from the ground.

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  • 4. What can I do to keep things dry around my house?
     

    OK, so the subterranean termites are after moisture. What can I do to make life hard for them?

    Here's some pointers to get you started.bbgdrain

    You can do things that reduce the amount of water getting in to the soil near your perimeter walls and under your floor, so that the termites have further to travel between a drink and a feed:

    1. Make sure that rain falling on the roof does not drain into the soil near the house.
    2. Grade the soil around the house so that water drains away from, not towards the walls
      donshouse
    3. Don't have gardens, ponds, sprinklers, or pools anywhere near near walls. (The further away the better)
    4. Make sure that overflow drains from hot water services and air conditioners don't soak into the soil near the wall.

    You can do things to help the water get away:

    1. Have your excess roof water (hopefully the overflow from your collection tank) piped so that it drains well away from the house. Thirty feet (about ten metres) is good.
    2. Consider having paths surround the walls to increase runoff and reduce soil wetting.
    3. If you must have gardens near walls make sure you have a good air gap so that the wind isn't blocked and the base of the wall dries quickly. (Moving air is your friend, still air is danger)
    4. Don't have services, sheds or other items right up against the exterior walls. A good air gap will allow the wind to dry the walls and also gives you space to see any shelter tubes.
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  • 5. Are straw bale buildings safe from termites?
     

    Very few termites are likely to be interested in eating the straw bales themselves. Even those that normally eat grass. Lots of subterranean termites will happily travel through the bales to reach unprotected framing timbers (such as door frames and window lintels - see photo).

    You won't sit the bales right on the soil anyway (moisture hazard) so all it takes is some attention to design to put a subterranean termite block in the foundation, just as you would with any other house design.

    If you've already built without considering, find a well-skilled termite manager to inspect and advise. Keep in mind that the biggest threat to straw bales (after moisture-caused decay) comes from rodents, especially mice.

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  • 6. Do I have to worry about termites in firewood?
     

    Generally not. You want your firewood dry (so that it burns well). If you cut it, split it and put it outside and up off the ground out of the rain, then it will dry quickly and any termites in it will slowly die. Ants and other predators will help. The only way this doesn't work is if you are in a humid area with a drywood termite risk.fire caused by ignorance of termites Drywoods may persist for a long time as the wood slowly dries. If you do find termites, don't do silly things like this guy who caused a major fire. Cut early, well before the cold weather, and let the sun and the air do the work for you. Unless the wood contains a nest, only a few of the major pest species can rebuild a colony from the workers and soldiers feeding in the wood.

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  • 7. My builder wants to trim my new house with MDF instead of solid timber. Is this a good idea?
     

    MDF (medium density fibreboard) is basically pulped wood that has been glued back together and pressed into shape. It is much cheaper than plain timber that's been spindle-molded into shape, such as for door trims. Termites don't really like MDF (or most reconstituted wood) because the high glue content makes it strange to eat. It is a counter intuitive thing, but you are actually better off buying the solid timber trim that termites are quick to eat. That way when they do attack your home, they'll quickly be eating where they are easily detected. With tasty timber trims, you have a good chance of finding the damage quickly (like when your vacuum cleaner leaves a dent). That way there isn't time for a lot of concealed damage to happen where you can detect the termites and have them dealt with.

    You want all the timber that's easy to see or bump to be just about as susceptible to termites as is possible. All the stuff that's deep in the walls can be resistant, but not the other way around. Termites often eat MDF only a tiny bit while completely wrecking the normal timber behind it and it just makes their activity much harder to find. MDF looks smooth and paints well, but a clear coat over timber is much prettier and it doesn't add a lot to the cost, well not compared to its early-warning value. Just think of it as another part of your termite management defences.

    Oddly, some lower grade MDF is readily eaten. I mostly see this as the backboard in flat-pack kitchen cupboards.

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  • 8. Can termites eat concrete?
     

    No. They can damage poor concrete and may sometimes be able to widen a crack or gap, but in general they will leave concrete alone. See also here

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  • 9. I knocked down some termite shelter tubes. They were under my house. Where have the termites gone? Will they come back?
     

    Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. These tubes are produced by subterranean termites and provide cover for them to traverse over things they don't want to eat in order to reach the things they do want to eat. If upset by the disturbance, the termites can easily switch to another path into the house--often one that you can't find. Trouble is, you termite inspector may not be able to find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and the likely result is that it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long time and a few may not ever come back.

    One thing that's sure is that breaking their tubes is not a safe way to control the colony. On the other hand, if your house sits up on stilts or stumps, then having a few trained chickens underneath to regularly break the tubes may actually give good control (used in some Pacific islands) but only if the termites have no alternative concealed entry paths.

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  • 10. Will garden mulch attract termites?
     

    I live in the deep south of the USA. Termites are a problem here but gardens need mulch. What should I do?

    The risk from mulches depends a lot on where you live and what types of mulch are used, but yes, generally mulch will be attractive to termites.

    The termites like mulch because it gives them much better ways to travel. Think of it, a whole new loose layer over the soil.  No more tunneling.  The mulch creates a dark, damp and safe set of ready-made roadways which they just love to exploit.

    Some mulches are made from types of wood or bark that they don't like.  Termites won't use these very much or at all for at least the first season (until they rot and the repellent is lost).   Others have boron salt added.  This is a great repellent and slows down decay unless the poisoned mulch gets wet, then the boron salt washes into the soil where it can upset your plants.  I think your mulch will get wet.

    The mulch will only become a problem if it either provides the termites with a hidden path into the house or if it helps their population grow.  The best way is to keep it (and the garden beds) away from the exterior walls.  If you have a 30 cm to 1 mt wide band of paving or gravel around the house, this will make it harder for them to sneak in unseen.  Just don't bury or wreck any perimeter termite work when you put it in.

    There's a very small chance that termites my be delivered with mulch, causing a new infestation. Even if you find a few live ones, they are unlikely to re-group and survive. However, it is still theoretically possible for some species in some locations where the mulch has sat for a long time before delivery and then hasn't been mixed around as it was placed. Theoretically possible, but very unlikely to occur.

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  • 11. What is a termite swarm?
     

    The really odd thing about a termite swarm is that it is the one time when cooperation goes out the window.  It is every termite for his- or herself. Even family stop caring for their young.

    A swarm is a coordinated flight of winged (alate) termites.  It happens several times a year when the local colonies try to release fully grown (fit, healthy, strong, winged and sighted) termites capable of reproduction.  They fly off, typically only a 100 m (say 300 feet) or so unless there's a breeze.  The aim, if female, is to quickly find a home site and if male, to pair with a female who's already found  a good home site and signalled her intentions.

    They sometimes seem to fill the sky.  Almost all fail but just enough make it so that they keep on surviving.  Flights are short, termites only get into one flight.  It is all or nothing.  There's no going back into the nest. Swarms may happen a few times a year or quite often. They mostly happen late in the day but some species like to let go in the morning.

    More here

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  • 12. How can I stop termites eating the seedlings/ trees/ herbs I have planted?
     

    Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

    In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked. If you do decide to use a termiticide at planting, make sure the product label covers this application. Opinion as to whether to use a repellent or non-repellent termticide seems to vary with locations and species and some find value in a systemic (such as imidacloprid) that makes the whole of the plant toxic for a while (even the pollen, so don't use on plants that are close to flowering).

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  • 13. What should I do to stop my new water tanks increasing the chance of termite attack?
     

     . . . they are made of plastic.

    Tanks to catch rainwater from your roof are a great idea but if thoughtlessly placed, can massively increase the risk of subterrranean termite attack.

    The tank should not be so close to the wall that you can't see behind it.  A sight line and air gap of 150 mm (6 inches) is a good idea.  That makes it less likely that termites will be buidling hidden shelter tubes up the wall, and will allow you to spot them if they do.  If your tank must go against the wall (design constraints), then it needs to be raised on a platform that you can see behind and which allows for full and easy inspection..

    The tank should be securely mounted on a firm surface.  If your house relies on termiticides (poisoned-soil) such as is applied with perimeter sprays or reticulation pipes, you must make sure that these are not defeated or damaged by the installation works.

    Even if the tank is to be placed well away from the walls, you still need to be sure that excavations for new pipes have not provided an easy path for termites. Subterranean termites like to tunnel in the softer earth of pipe trenches.

    The soil down below a tank will be at a more constant temperature and will tend to retain moisture.  This makes it a nicer place to be a termite.  If your tank sits right on the soil or sand, termites can come up beneath it searching for condensing moisture.  They'll take a bite out of any soft materials they find. In some eastern States of the USA, tanks (and above ground pools) may occasionally be sat on an organic material, such as peat moss. This is not a great way to defeat termites. Much better to sit the tanks on a bead of fine crushed rock or coarse sand.

    Be careful with where your overflows go. Once a tank is full, you want any excess water to  drain away far away from your house.  Water soaking in against walls or under a house is a prime factor driving termite infestation.

     

    Oh, and make sure your tank's input and output pipes are well screened so it doesn't become a mosquito farm.

     

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  • 14. My neighbor has termites. What should I do?
     

    They say I need a treatment too.

    This is a tricky one, and this answer is only for subterranean termites (not for drywoods and not for dampwoods).

    Let's say the termites are in your neighbor's house. A nearby infestation means that local conditions are suitable for the termites and so it tells you that your place is also at some risk. If baits or another colony-killing method is used, then that immediate risk to your house is gone as that colony will be controlled. But there may well be many nearby colonies. If they just repair the damage or poison the ground with a repellent chemical (like bifenthrin), then the termites may be 'pushed' towards feeding at your place. That isn't good.

    On the other hand, the termites may be living in your house and have spread to your neighbor's. Or they may be nesting in your yard.

    In any case, this is not the time to sign up for a treatment. You should get a proper timber pest inspection done so that you can assess your options. Then talk to your neighbor about the best way to do things.

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  • 15. Why are the termites attacking MY home?
     

    My house looks just like the ones that don't have termites.

    Termites have no capacity for malice, so it is definitely nothing personal. Their needs are simple. Food and shelter are almost always freely available for them in what we build. Water is the big issue and often we can build termites out by making it harder for them to get the water they need so that they can eat.

    The best thing you can do is to get a professional inspection report done and read the report carefully. Next best is to keep reading and try and work it out for yourself. What has changed? In what subtle ways is my house differently exposed? Did anything make it easy for them? How are they getting in? Why is water available? If you can answer these, you're most of the way to selecting a solution.

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  • 16. Will termites living nearby attack my house?
     

    They might. Subterranean termites, of most types, will travel at least 50 metres through the soil from their nest to exploit good food. Termites flying from colonies can sometimes spread a thousand metres. If your house is well maintained and has a termite management plan, the risk can be reduced to something quite acceptable (but the risk is never totally removed). Apart from known colonies of major pests very close to a building, there is usually little to be gained from trying to wipe out all the possible colonies in your area. This is especially true if the termites are local native species and you live in a wooded area. Relax, follow your management plan and be sure to have regular inspections so that if they do get through, nothing much has time to happen. Do keep in mind that not all types of termites are pests and the ones you find outside my not be at all interested in your house.

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  • 17. Will a baiting system ensure that my home is not attacked?
     

    It might, but don't count on it. Baits are not prophylactic. Baits are good at grabbing termites' attention and can be used to slowly poison their colony BUT baits are not barriers and it is possible for termites to ignore them and eat your home anyway. The baits don't make a continuous wall around the house, so termites may just walk between them. The termites mightn't find the baits, the baits might be poorly placed, they mightn't suit your termites, they might be too often disturbed or left too long, too wet or too dry, they might have the wrong food or they might have gone mouldy. Baits are great at cutting populations and even killing colonies, but it is probably best that you add other ways to keep termites out of your home, just to be sure. Of course if the service company is offering you a contract with a strong warranty, maybe you can take the risk. Just make sure that all the checks and inspections are done, that you keep all the records and that the company is well insured.

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  • 18. We've had flooding rain. How will that affect the termites?
     

    A flood or heavy rain can seriously upset your termite defenses.

    If you rely on soil chemical chemicals around or under your home, these can be buried by silt and debris making a bridge for the termites. The chemicals can also be washed out, so when the water goes away, check and organise a termite inspection a few weeks later.

    Water that gets into your house (but not out again) tends to soak into timbers. Termites love to eat timber that's damp. Fungi (rot) also has a better time and wood that's partly rotted by fungi is often tastier for termites.

    Subterranean termites have trouble getting around when their tunnels are full of water. If you scale it up, it is a bit like you or me trying to walk through honey. So they stay home or move to wherever is high and dry(ish). When the water drains away some of their tunnels will need repair and may be abandoned. They'll move quickly to patch up access to their best food resources. Scary thing is that all that moisture in the soil makes their tunneling so much easier as they no longer need to carry in water to work. So, once re-established, subterraneans will go exploring and your barriers will be tested. After a flood or after drought-breaking rains, you should schedule an inspection the next Spring or Fall (Autumn), certainly before six months are up.

    Floods can also move big bits of wood around. Sometimes these bits arrive with termite colonies inside. Sometimes floods cause timbers to be buried or mostly buried. Timbers that are in the soil are much nicer for termites as they don't dry out quickly and the soil buffers temperature changes. Floods change things.

    If flood waters sit around for extended periods, weeks or months, then termites populations may be reduced for a time.

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  • 19. How do we design structures to manage the risks of termite attack?
     

    Every building should be designed to reduce the chances of problems with all the local pests, not just pest termites. Here's a basic scheme:

    Much can be done to reduce the pest pressure and maintenance costs by including a few simple design features. While my main interest is the exclusion of subterranean termites, design should take account of all likely pests. The following guidelines are intended for architects, designers and managers of large facilities (schools, nursing homes, hospitals, offices etc.) but may be adapted to any construction.
    Most pests will take advantage of concealed entry paths. Accordingly, the perimeter of a building should be designed and constructed so that:
    1. Pests are discouraged from gaining easy entrance.
      1. Door should fit snugly with weather stripping and sweeps that close tightly.
      2. All opening windows shall have metal screens which are fixed taught and seal to the frame with a gasket.
      3. All metal window and door frames shall have joints sealed with a suitable elastomeric sealant.
      4. Cracks, crevices, holes and thermal gaps shall be suitable sealed with a caulk or compressible foam product.
      5. Large holes such as for added or removed pipe openings shall be sealed. Stainless steel wool (pot scrubbers) covered with a mortar or grout is usually sufficient.
      6. Exterior lighting for doors must be far enough away that flying pests attracted to the lights can gain casual entry. Entrance ways should use reflected rather than direct light and light sources should be at the orange end of the spectrum so as to reduce attraction to nigh-flying insects.
      7. Entrance ways, alcoves and attached plant should be designed so as to minimise wind-blown debris accumulation.
    All pests need somewhere to live and somewhere to rest.
    1. Pests should not find easy hiding places inside.
      1. Interior wall joints, gaps in panels, window frames, gaps around cupboards and electrical fixtures shall be filled or sealed.
      2. Skirting boards, and floor coverings shall provide no open cavities.
      3. Skirting boards and sheet floor coverings shall be designed and placed so as to be readily cleaned with electrical rotating brush devices. There should not be internal 90 degree corners, rather corners should be radiused to match cleaning capability.
      4. All supply pipes, cables and conduits to be sealed where they pass through walls and panels and, all conduits and ducts to be sealed or meshed to prevent pest entry.
      5. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, cabinets, sinks, toilets and counter tops which meet walls shall be sealed against water entry so as to prevent pest harbourage.
      6. Air vents/inlets shall be screened with metal mesh of 1 mm aperture size (small enough to block termites) which is fabricated and installed so as to be readily removable for cleaning.
      7. Floor drains require removable coarse mesh screens or similar devices to prevent cockroach passage.
      8. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, floor-mounted fixtures should, as far as practicable, be either on raised legs (100 mm high) set as to provide easy access for cleaning and inspection or shall be provided with sufficient space for easy access and cleaning ( e.g. toilet cubicles).
      9. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, drains shall not be concealed under equipment or fixtures.
      10. Storage areas should be designed to permit both inspection and drying air flows. Storage units should be mounted at least 100 mm off the floor. Racks, cupboards or compactus units for long-term storage shall mounted be at least 600 mm from walls. 
    2. Pests should not find easy resting places outside.
      1. Ledges and fixtures should not provide roosting places for birds as faecal accumulations pose a health hazard.
      2. Plant and equipment whether at the perimeter or roof-mounted, should be designed to exclude rodents and bids and to be readily inspected.
      3. Roof should be designed to shed booth water and litter.

    All pests need a suitable environment in which to live. A building's immediate surrounds should not be particularly amenable to the pests' needs.
    1. Exterior landscaping can create ideal pest environments.
      1. Gardens must not be adjacent to exterior walls such that, at any time, plants will be in direct contact. Plants provide bridges for pests.
      2. Paving at least 600 mm wide should surround the building. In low-traffic areas, paving can be replaced by compacted gravel. Paving is less hospitable than garden beds.
      3. Plants, including grasses, should not encroach on perimeter paving.
      4. No tree,shrub or plant that is known to have extensive or invasive roots (e.g. Bamboo) shall be planted within 3 metres of the exterior walls. Where such plantings are identified, foundations and perimeter paving shall be protected with a root barrier system.
      5. Trees, shrubs and other large ornamental plants shall be spaced to have a free-air gap of at least 600 mm between them at maturity (or to be trimmed to maintain such gaps). Air gaps are important to reduce humidity at the exterior of the building.
      6. Soil levels, paving, features and garden beds shall not interrupt the fall so that rain and other water drains well away (at least 2 m) from the base of perimeter walls.
      7. Garbage and recycling containers for litter shall be mounted on concrete pads which extend not less that 150 mm from the container. Containers shall be mounted not less that 400 mm from walls and shall be positioned on legs to provide at least 100 mm clearance from the pad. Containers shall have self-closing lids.Termites in particular can be encouraged by having concealed access points to the building fabric and by having water and potential food in close proximity.
    2. Buildings should be intrinsically termite resistant.
      1. Physical termite barriers that do not rely on any toxin should be used wherever possible as these generally provide the longest service life.
      2. Footings, retaining walls and any section of wall that might be concealed by soil of accumulations from garden beds etc. should be solid rather than hollow and should have all joints and expansion gaps fitted with a suitable termite barrier.
      3. Moisture and water must not be allowed to accumulate either under the building or against exterior walls. Service life is extended where the perimeter and footing earth stays close to uniform moisture content. Pests problems are reduced where this moisture content remains low.
      4. The roof should be pitched and drain to the exterior. Valleys should be steep to rapidly shed water and litter. Flat roof designs that permit either water ponding or wind-blown litter and bird wastes to accumulate are to be avoided. Subterranean termites will attack a building from the top where there is permanent moisture.
      5. Timbers in soil contact shall be kept to an absolute minimum and where required only known naturally resistant or suitably preserved timbers should be used. Landscaping timbers decay to become major harbourages for pests. Preserved timbers weather and degrade over time and may provide cover for pests. Where preservative penetration is insufficient, pests may be concealed within apparently preserved timbers.

     

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  • 20. How can I avoid termite problems?
     

    Simple ways to avoid meeting termites

    In the wild, pest termites usually get by quite happily eating sickly trees or the leftover bits of trees, and the safest, moist and tasty bits are usually underground or right in the middle of big pieces of timber. If your home/building/structure has big bits of wood that are dark or damp or close to the soil then your chances of avoiding termite problems are reduced.

    Hand crushing a paper-thin, termite-eaten wall stud
    Hollowed stud

    Subterranean & dampwood termites
    Subterranean termites usually get about by tunneling underground and entering their food from below. Tree roots are usually attached to trees and termites often travel from root to root great distances underground (there's almost always a small air gap under a big root, so they don't even have to dig as much). Timber waste buried around buildings usually leads to better food inside. Sometimes the termites just fly in and start up a fresh colony, but tunnelling is more common, because big bits of damp wood suitable for nesting are more often outside, not in. Dampwood termites don't tunnel nearly as much but can fly in just as easily.
    Since the termites are most likely to try to get in via the soil, there are some simple things you can do:

    Control moisture:

        • All types of termites need moisture. Keep your structure dry and well ventilated.
          Open roof drain leaks rainwater to soil, gives termites a free drink
          A free drink
        • Ventilate all possible subfloor areas and ensure the vents are kept free and clear. Make sure you wet areas inside (kitchen/bathroom/dungeon) are well vented. Wood can get wet, but must not stay wet.
        • Fix all plumbing leaks. Particularly showers and baths. These often have leaks supplying constant moisture that makes the wood just right to be eaten.
        • Check all gutters and down spouts, make sure that the water ends up well away from the house. Ideally down spouts should connect to stormwater drains. If you don't have these, at least redirect the water well away from the house. Down spouts which regularly splash near the structure may be supplying an irresistible source of moisture.
          Water pooling against brick wall. Never a good idea
          Biochemist's paving blunder
        • Avoid having gardens directly against walls--if you must do this, provide space for air movement between the vegetation and the wall and an inspection zone of at least 100 mm. Never have sprinklers wetting the soil near a building or deck. Termites have even been known to enter a building through branches touching walls.
        • Make sure that any paving is angled to drain surface water away from the structure. You'd be amazed how often this is done wrong. Some people even build outdoor paving higher than the interior floor level . . . like in this photo of the paving around my house.

    Be careful with timber in ground contact:

      • Remove any timber or cellulose material stored on the ground beneath a suspended floor. That includes cardboard boxes and old newspapers, even cotton materials. Clean up any off cuts left during construction. The aim is to maximize the distance between termites and their potential meal.
        termite tunnels in polystyrene
        Polystyrene
      • Don't store any firewood in ground contact. This attracts termites. It also prevents the wood drying properly and hence reduces the heat yield on burning (it takes energy to boil water). Set your firewood at least 100 mm above ground (a shelf ot trench-mesh sitting on cinder blocks is a cheap solution).
      • Structural wood in ground contact should be either termite resistant or treated with a preservative. Better yet, cut it off and mount it on a metal stirrup set in concrete. High and dry is always best.
      • Don't provide hidden entry points where temites can walk in unseen. Stucco can hide termite freeways and rigid foam slab-edge insulation can be a nightmare, providing termites with easy and secure tunnel space where you can't see them. Instead, provide an impervious inspection zone. Use long-life physical barriers in all new construction.
        decorative stone veneer in ground contact can conceal termites
        Hidden entry paths

        There's a trend in the USA now to have stone veneers in ground contact. All these concealing wall finishes create a major risk.

    Drywood termites
    Drywood termites can live in small pieces of wood so long as it is a little moist and not too hot or cold. They'll fly in and start their colonies right in that wood. Best way to keep them at bay is to disguise your timber.

    • Too Dry:Keeping timber very dry will make it impossible for termites to live, but this is impractical in many tropical and coastal areas where the natural humidity is sufficient to keep the wood moist enough for drywood termites. Do what you can to keep timber as dry as possible.
    • Disguised:If they don't know it is wood, they may not find it. Keep all exterior wood well coated with paint or varnish, especially the larger bits and at the joins and ends. Drywood termites begin their attack with just two termites. First the female selects a likely place to live and then pairs up with a male before they start tunnelling. So if you can make the wood unattractive, the termites won't even try. A bit of preservative can go a long way. If it doesn't taste good, the termites won't hang around.
    • Inaccessible:If they can't get to the wood they can't eat it. Seal up any cracks or fissures (these make it easy for them to get in). Cover vents with fine mesh screening (about 0.8 to 1.0 mm openings--but remember, you may need to increase the vent size to make up for this restriction of air flow). Pay particular attention to the roof and wall frames.

    Following these simple points will greatly reduce your termite hazard. Best of all is to design your structure to be termite resistant from the very beginning. Remember too, that regular inspections can locate termites before they do any major damage.

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  • 21. How do I choose the right pest manager?
     

    Trust and confidence need to be established. Will this pest manager do a good, competent job at a fair price? There are some slick and very shonky sales people out there ready to rip you off. There are honest pest managers who just want to give you a good job at a fair price. There are big companies and small companies, caring companies and careless companies. How can you decide who to employ?
    Here's a few simple pointers. I hope they help.

    1. The Need: Don't be rushed. Chances are you have plenty of time to consider your options.  Termites work slowly and so may you. Take your time and make the right choices.  Consider how you know what you know.  Keep notes of all conversations and keep your paper trail.
    2. The Business: The preferred way to find the right business is by talking with your friends and finding out who they have used successfully.  Word-of-mouth keeps many successful businesses thriving.

      How secure is the business?

      Does it have a bad name?

      Are they afraid to answer your questions?

      Does the mention of their name ring alarm bells at your local consumer advocacy/complaints group?

      Can they provide the names of satisfied customers as referees?

      Don't necessarily feel that big is better; an apparently large company may turn out to be just loosely controlled franchises, offering at best no better service than their smaller competition.

      The quality of the job will only be as good as the person who carries it out. Will the person actually doing the work be well trained and knowledgeable and able to talk with you or are you dealing with a salesperson who can only provide the quotation?

    3. Face to Face: Meet them on your own turf, not their's. Depending on the nature of the problem, many pest controllers will provide a quotation either at no cost or fairly inexpensively. They may be prepared to just turn up and talk with you while requiring a fee before they'll do any inspection. This is fair, as any information they provide on the basis of inspection whether free or at cost, implies at least some professional responsibility and hence potential liability on their part. Beware the "free" inspection. Everything has to be paid for eventually, by somebody, sometime.   Separate the inspection from the control proposal.  Make sure that you get a proper (on paper) timber pest inspection (WDO, or 'Wood Destroying Organism") report and make sure that it identifies the pests as far as possible.
    4. Safety in Numbers: Approach at least two or three businesses. Compare their advice and quotations. Decide whom you would best trust with your assets. Then compare prices. Beware the surprisingly cheap quotation. It is easy to do a cursory inspection and to excessively dilute any expensive chemicals, or just not apply them where they should go. Remember the value of a good warranty. Read Claire's experience. Know the different ways termites can be managed and why the one proposed is thought best for you.
    5. The Fine Print: What does the paperwork look like?Ask to see it up front.  After an inspection, you should be handed a written report, usually with a site diagram and the problem areas at least approximately mapped. The information should be clear. If it is presented on a preprinted form, the notations should be informative and quite clear. Look over the warranty. How small is the fine print? Do they mind you reading the contract? Is the scope of work made fully clear and is sufficient detail present to enable you to compare and contrast the quotes? Ideally, you will be asked to sign an agreement before any work occurs.  That's a good way to ensure you have matching expectations.
    6. A Relationship?: What about contracts? Are you just getting them to fix today's problem or are you signing up for a never-ending dependency? What if you sign and you don't want them back again? What if termites come back in one, two or three years? What will they do then? If they've done good work, should you pay a maintenance fee for the year on top of the other costs? It is always important to check value for money. Maybe that service contract is aimed more at maximising income rather than minimising termites? You have to work it all out. There's often comfort in a trusted name, but you should put at least as much weight on local people's experiences as you do on brand recognition. Don't get me wrong, sometimes service contracts are the way to go, especially with a baiting program where you want it all planned out and costed in advance.
    7. Deciding: Take some time to think over the information you have gathered.  One of the best ways is to get out of the house/office and go for a walk.  You'll think much more clearly.

    Vic Health has some good ideas and in Illinois, so does the Department of Public Health.  Hope this helps. Please feel free to email me with your experiences.

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  • 22. How are termites detected?
     

    Detecting termites is hard because they like to hide

    Termites are little white, soft-bodied weaklings. Termites avoid light and rarely come out into the open. Termite attack can escape anyone's notice for a very long time, which can be horribly expensive, not to mention dangerous.  A lot of houses that collapse during hurricanes or earthquakes really break due to weakening by termites.

    So, how are termites in houses detected?

    eaten wood
    Coptotermes damage

    1. Dumb Luck. Often termites are detected . . . .

    • when the vacuum cleaner leaves a dent in the skirting board
    • when someone makes a dent in the floor
    • when the door falls off
    • when termites fly (in huge numbers) inside the house
    • spotting on plaster ceiling
      Termite mud spots

      when you notice strange bits of mud in the plasterwork

    • when the light/fan in the toilet/laundry won't turn off
    • when the wood in the window frames looks mottled through the varnish
    • when you notice strange bubbles in the paint
    • when you lie awake at night and wonder what those quiet noises might be

     

    2. When Other Trades are . . . .

    • repairing a springy floor
    • fixing leaky plumbing
    • My cousin Ian McIntosh in his Darwin back garden
      Living lawn mower

      working in the garden

    • putting in new cupboards
    • installing your home theatre

     

    3. Regular Inspections . . . .

    • when you look under the floor and see tell tale shelter tubes
    • when you look near all the wet areas and notice bubbled or uneven surfaces
    • when you crawl around in the roof space and the wood seems hollow
    • when you look at all those wings you keep vacuuming away . .
    • when you hire a competent someone to do the looking for you

     

    Copyright © 1996-20016

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  • 1. How long will termite baiting take?
     

    The process of baiting for termites is highly variable. Sometimes termites take a weeks or months to go into a bait. Sometimes they're in by day two.

    Some slow bait toxins may take months to noticeably affect the colony. This is especially true of the hormonal approaches which interfere with moulting. Some toxins will usually kill off a colony within two to three weeks of the first feeding. Three to eighteen months is about right for nearly all jobs and most are done by eight months..

    Some termite species are bait shy and may take weeks or months to return to a disturbed bait. Some termite species don't share very well, so with them the toxin takes much longer to reach all parts of the colony.

    If you are using a commercial bait system, the supplied information should be able to tell you roughly how long things should take. If you don't know, ask. The technician's job is to (i) manage the termites and (ii) communicate the process steps. You should always know how the technician is expected to declare when the termites are 'controlled'.

    In some risk situations, baiting may become a permanent process. While DIY baiting is possible and widely promoted by bait sellers, it is rarely advisable to take on the whole job yourself. At least have a competent person assess the situation and detail the species and risks before you decide what to do.

    Don't assume that because a lot of termites have been killed there won't be other (colonies) ready to move in an take up the attack. Even if you have baits in place, sometimes termites may not find them before beginning an attack. Baits are not anecessarily a reliable prophylactic measure.

    After any baiting program, an ongoing inspection program is necessary.

    The bottom line is that baiting may kill colonies but it is just part of your ongoing termite risk management and so doesn't really have an end date.

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  • 2. My home is being baited for subterranean termites. How will I know when they're all dead?
     

    The technician will assess the activity in the baits over the course of the program and, usually, make a judgement call as to when success has been achieved (the subterranean termites killed). A good tech will almost never tell you that the termites are all gone but will talk about colony elimination or control or the length of time since any of the bait has been eaten. You'll still need ongoing inspections as baiting provides no residual control. Often colony decline can be observed to be happening when the proportion of soldiers increases or when the feeding workers develop white abdomens (uric acid crystals).

    Baiting is used for subterranean termites (not drywoods and rarely for dampwoods). Baits use slow-acting toxins in low doses. The big problem is that there may be more than one colony active in the area Some colonies have fuzzy boundaries so that outside termites may be recruited to replace those affected. A great example of this is from Devon, England where introduced termites turned up in two houses. More than a decade of baiting later, there were still some termites active.

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  • 3. Will the DIY termite stakes from hardware stores kill my termites for good?
     

    I saw them at Home Depot but they look very small.

    I've seen these sorts of DIY baits too. Way back, there was a court case where various groups once claimed that one retail bait system was not working properly. Stores kept selling them, but with a little warning on the box about how they weren't quite the same as a professional treatment. The ones I bought said "not recommended as sole protection against termites, and for active infestations, get a professional inspection". Companies don't put things like that on their products unless they are forced to or need to so as to avoid liability. Even if the bait system was 95% foolproof, that warning might still be valid. Baits don't make barriers.

    Baiting has a long history, I began working on baiting in the mid 1980s and some work had been done a decade before that.

    How big does a piece of wood have to be before your termites will be likely to find and eat it? Mostly a lot bigger than the little bits that are sold. You can overcome this by using lots more baits, but even with the best systems on the market you often have only one in ten being eaten. That's why people tend to fork out for the professionals. Exterra and Sentricon have the bulk of the market but there are clones and newcomers.

    Let's say you've hand your house professionally inspected, so you're fairly sure termites aren't ripping into it yet. You could place your own baits around it as an early warning system. These can be just bits of tasty wood. If you put each one under a big paver, the squirrels won't touch them and the termites will be more likely to find them (thermal shadow effect). Cheaper than retail products. When termites attack, do not disturb them any more than necessary and call in the professionals. You might try the old bait box method before you call them to build up a big feeding group that can be more easily poisoned. But don't forget to check your baits often, or else they can become a stepping-stone for subterranean termite attacks on your house.

    If you already have termites attacking, then just like the Spectracide bait label suggests, most people will call a professional. Look to the best way to spend your bucks.

    If you are not afraid of soil poisons, then a trenched-and-backfilled perimeter spray of non-repellent poison may do what you want for less than a commercial baiting setup and you'll have the advantage of a residual action. That way the next colony that comes along and tries will find something in the way.

    Nowadays you can buy baits online, even sometimes the same ones the professionals use. Some companies are making a lot of money out of these baits. While I agree that there are some infestations that a homeowner can safely bait, there are many that require a great deal of skill and knowledge to achieve success. Telling the difference is why you should hire a professional inspector. When you feel sick, you might buy your own stethoscope and scalpel but do you really know enough to use them properly in every instance? That's why a professional termite inspector should be your first port of call. Who knows? It may be that you can fix your own. How lucky do you feel? Can you afford to bet the house on your ability? If you get it wrong (and don't know it) a bit later you may be looking at a lot of expensive damage as the termites keep on eating while you attempt their control.

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  • 4. Is product X better than product Y?
     

    Apart from the things that look too-good-to-be-true, like weird ultrasonic and electronic termite repellers, just about any termite product you're offered that has some sort of government approval or label is capable of doing the job.  Trouble is that each product has situations that suit its use and usually also some situations where it isn't the best choice.

    So how do you choose which product to use to keep termites at bay?  The easiest way is to ask your technician.  For termites, nothing beats local knowledge.  Your climate, your species and the way houses are locally built, even land-use history, all have a major impact on what's the best management option.  So, you can spend a lot of time online researching all the options or you can spend a bit of time getting a background and then ask your technician.

    Don't just look at which works best and is cheapest.  Look at safety and environmental toxicity as well. Some chemical products will have off-target impacts. Some termiticides don't last well and others last too long, becoming persistent environmental pollutants.

    It is so easy to make mistakes and think you have control when you really don't, As you explore the options, just remember "Don't do this at home".  DIY management of termite infestations can be very risky but in saying that' there's lots you can do to lower risks and also to monitor for termite activity. You might even put in your own baits and call the technician back when you have activity.

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  • 5. What is termite baiting?
     

    Baiting for termites has a long history.  I first used it in 1979 to survey a park, but others had used baiting way before then.  Basically, a bait is something that termites will happily eat.  Often it is placed in a fancy (=expensive) container.  When the termites are feeding on the bait you (i) know they are there, (ii) can identify them and (iii)  you can exploit them.  The original bait box method had the termites collected and dusted with toxin before being allowed to sulk home.  Other methods replace the actual bait with one containing a slow-acting toxin.  If done well, the toxins applied can spread through the colony before any individual termite is affected and so, with luck, the whole colony will die.

    Baiting is good for colony control and sometimes for monitoring but it typically does not provide any residual protection and baits don't equal a barrier. There's lots more information here.

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  • 6. Will a baiting system ensure that my home is not attacked?
     

    It might, but don't count on it. Baits are not prophylactic. Baits are good at grabbing termites' attention and can be used to slowly poison their colony BUT baits are not barriers and it is possible for termites to ignore them and eat your home anyway. The baits don't make a continuous wall around the house, so termites may just walk between them. The termites mightn't find the baits, the baits might be poorly placed, they mightn't suit your termites, they might be too often disturbed or left too long, too wet or too dry, they might have the wrong food or they might have gone mouldy. Baits are great at cutting populations and even killing colonies, but it is probably best that you add other ways to keep termites out of your home, just to be sure. Of course if the service company is offering you a contract with a strong warranty, maybe you can take the risk. Just make sure that all the checks and inspections are done, that you keep all the records and that the company is well insured.

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  • 1. How long will my termite spray last?
     

    There's no simple answer for this one. Probably more than two years. Some older termiticide sprays, like chlorpyrifos, can degrade very quickly. (Apologies for using the chemical names rather than product names - see later. Others such as bifenthrin and fipronil will last longer. Fipronil lasts a disturbingly long time in the environment. Imidacloprid is somewhere in between. Chlorantraniliprole is a bit new but should last at least as long as imidacloprid. The rate at which a poison degrades varies enormously over short distances. The main factors are: the initial dose applied, temperatures, rainfall, soil type, alkalinity, presence of plants, applicator skill and the chemical properties. Then there's disturbance from floods, gardeners and burrowing animals. The chemicals will nearly always last a lot longer under your house than around it. With a chemical, you might get ten years or more service life under the house but find it fails in  two to five years around the outside. Some poisons, like imidacloprid, can be happily sucked up by plant roots so that while you might have no aphids on your roses for a while. There's always a risk the poioned-soil barrier mightn't last as long as you'd hoped.

    --You'll note I used the chemical names rather than product names. There's likely to be some variation between products that rely on the same chemical poison (=termiticide. or 'active') but have slightly different formulations or origins. Even the difference in the size of the tiny particles of poison can make a big difference. You can get your soil tested to see what's there or you can rely on the experience of your pest manager to tell you when another dose is needed. Try not to over do it with applications as more is not necessarily any better but usually carries higher risks.

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  • 2. Is spot treatment really better than fumigation?
     

    In this answer summary,  I've left out the product names. I don't like going to court. "Fumigation" is when they wrap your house and gas it, that is to use a penetrating gas to enter every place that a termite might be. In general, the answer is a simple, no spot treatment as effective as fumigation, regardless of the spot treatment used.. Fumigation means that a lightweight poison gas seeps right through your home and into everything, even right into damaged wood. It is used on drywood termites. Fumigation is generally thought to be bad for the atmosphere and it uses a lot of toxin. It does have the benefit of wiping out every last termite that's exposed. It is the best treatment for drywood termites. It is nearly always useless against subterranean termites because these can retreat to ground when disturbed (but good if they can't get away, such as in a wooden boat). Whole-of-house heating comes close and is perhaps more environmentally responsible (if the plastics in your house can take the heat). Spot treatments can work really well but the technician has to find and treat every bit of infested timber. There may be hundreds of little drywood termite colonies in the one building. Borates and other preservatives do have something over fumigation in that they keep working after the wrappings come off (you wouldn't ever want a gas that hung around) and so these provide some ongoing ('residual') protection. Bottom line is that it depends on the extent and nature of the infestation and that means that you'll probably need to rely on a specialist timber pest inspector to help you decide what's best for you.

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  • 3. Your new home
     

    Hopefully, your home comes with pre-installed termite management and hopefully this will be a least-toxic alternative. A life-of-structure, physical management system that doesn't rely on any poisons is best. If you don’t already know what's been done, please ask the builder or vendor how termite risks have been managed. Simple things can help prevent termite attacks. Without a management system you usually can’t see what termites are attacking. It is very important that you don’t do anything to make life easier for the termites. Make your future life easier instead. If your new home was somebody else's beforehand, you should have had a termite inspection before purchasing but either way, once you are ready to move in, it may be a good idea to get a more thorough inspection than can be done in a house that's dressed-up-for-sale.

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  • 4. How do we keep garden termites away from the house?
     

    In most places, pest termites are native animals, part of the wildlife and while they are allowed to be killed, chances are that there are that will just keep arriving. In parts of the Eastern USA, you can have upwards of 25 separate Reticulitermes colonies working a garden.

    Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone. Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder. Subterranean pest termites, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, should not be encouraged near structures. To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. Your specialist termite inspector can help you there.

    If your garden has dampwood termites, these are much less likely to enter a well-built, properly drained building than the tunnel-happy subterranean termites. If you live in an area of known drywood termite hazard, then you'll be slightly increasing your risks if you leave known drywood colonies alone.

    Keeping the subterranean termites from finding the house is best done by keeping things dry and inspectable. See my Avoid page.

    Things will be easier if your house has an effective termite management system in place, especially proper long-life physical barrier components (which don't rely on a chemical deterrent). If your house has soil poison ('termiticide'), then the non-repellent poisons (like chlorantraniliprole, fipronil and imidacloprid) may kill the subterranean termites in the garden while the repellent termiticides (such as bifenthrin and other pyrethroids) will usually just drive them away from the poisoned soil, leaving the colonies intact.

    In any case, you'll still need to have a proper inspection done (in most areas that means not less than once a year) to have a good chance of finding any incursion before serious damage can happen.

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  • 5. How long will termite baiting take?
     

    The process of baiting for termites is highly variable. Sometimes termites take a weeks or months to go into a bait. Sometimes they're in by day two.

    Some slow bait toxins may take months to noticeably affect the colony. This is especially true of the hormonal approaches which interfere with moulting. Some toxins will usually kill off a colony within two to three weeks of the first feeding. Three to eighteen months is about right for nearly all jobs and most are done by eight months..

    Some termite species are bait shy and may take weeks or months to return to a disturbed bait. Some termite species don't share very well, so with them the toxin takes much longer to reach all parts of the colony.

    If you are using a commercial bait system, the supplied information should be able to tell you roughly how long things should take. If you don't know, ask. The technician's job is to (i) manage the termites and (ii) communicate the process steps. You should always know how the technician is expected to declare when the termites are 'controlled'.

    In some risk situations, baiting may become a permanent process. While DIY baiting is possible and widely promoted by bait sellers, it is rarely advisable to take on the whole job yourself. At least have a competent person assess the situation and detail the species and risks before you decide what to do.

    Don't assume that because a lot of termites have been killed there won't be other (colonies) ready to move in an take up the attack. Even if you have baits in place, sometimes termites may not find them before beginning an attack. Baits are not anecessarily a reliable prophylactic measure.

    After any baiting program, an ongoing inspection program is necessary.

    The bottom line is that baiting may kill colonies but it is just part of your ongoing termite risk management and so doesn't really have an end date.

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  • 6. Do termites tunnel through concrete/mortar/cement/cinder blocks etc.?
     

    Termites will put a lot of effort into breaking through something that stands between them and the food or water they desire. Just so long as the prize justifies the effort required, they will appear as if to move mountains. Plaster (drywall etc.) is no barrier to termites. Most mortars slow them down, but lime mortars are readily penetrable. Termites will not usually do any damage to quality mortars with a high cement content, but beware of gaps and shrinkage cracks. Good quality concrete cannot be excavated by termites BUT cracks in poor concrete may be opened with ease. Autoclaved aerated concrete (those lightweight bubbly blocks) were readily penetrated in my field tests. Concrete (cinder) blocks sometimes have gaps in them big enough to interest termites (also observed in my field trials). Masonry is often built with lots of continuous gaps that termites can simply walk through, especially with extruded, hollow-core bricks.

    Mud-brick (adobe) can be penetrated but there is most risk between the blocks and at cracks, penetrations and against timber framing.

    In general, termites won't damage concrete if they can't pull out the sand (and small aggregate) particles. If the cement has been properly proportioned and the mix allowed to cure, then the particles tend to be well bound and termites are adequately deterred.

    Termites can walk through cracks in concrete. The cracks need to be uniformly about 10% wider than the termites' head. Concrete that is properly placed, cured and is reinforced ('rebar') generally won't crack wide enough to be at risk. A properly designed and constructed concrete slab can be a building's main defence against subterranean termites.

    Sometimes concrete has big pockets of air (because it was not properly settled), has wooden levelling pegs left in (termite highways) or has been damaged by expanding bolts or following trades cutting to add services. Easy termite paths are commonly found where floor slabs have cut-outs for baths or showers or where there are pipes or conduits passing through from the ground.

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  • 7. My home is being baited for subterranean termites. How will I know when they're all dead?
     

    The technician will assess the activity in the baits over the course of the program and, usually, make a judgement call as to when success has been achieved (the subterranean termites killed). A good tech will almost never tell you that the termites are all gone but will talk about colony elimination or control or the length of time since any of the bait has been eaten. You'll still need ongoing inspections as baiting provides no residual control. Often colony decline can be observed to be happening when the proportion of soldiers increases or when the feeding workers develop white abdomens (uric acid crystals).

    Baiting is used for subterranean termites (not drywoods and rarely for dampwoods). Baits use slow-acting toxins in low doses. The big problem is that there may be more than one colony active in the area Some colonies have fuzzy boundaries so that outside termites may be recruited to replace those affected. A great example of this is from Devon, England where introduced termites turned up in two houses. More than a decade of baiting later, there were still some termites active.

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  • 8. Termites are flying inside my house. What should I do?
     

    Don't Panic

    Termite swarmers inside your home or bedroom may be very scary, but with luck, the risk can be assessed fairly quickly.Firstly, put down that can of fly spray. It really won't help and may make things a deal worse later on. Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a jar in the freezer. You may want these later for identification. Gather up the rest (vacuum or broom). Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

    Now for the important bits.

    Were the termites coming in from outside (this often happens if you leave a window open or have an outside light left on)? Termites outside are often just an unavoidable local hazard. Walk around to see if you can see them spilling out of any trees, garden wood etc.. winged termitesChances are it is just a few stragglers from a normal local flight. Order a specialist termite inspection if you haven't had one for a year (or if they were emerging from important timbers like pergolas, fences or out from your house).

    Were the termites coming from inside the house? Sometimes they'll emerge right out of a wall, through the plaster, often near the top of a window or from a door frame or other feature. Look for little holes, often lined with brown or red mud and with termites dropping out or termite heads sticking out. If you have any of these signs, then you do have serious problems. Termites flying from within a house mean that there is a significant termite presence already having fun at your expense. Take some photos. Clean up the mess. Save your sample termites from the kids (or spouse) so that you can get them identified. Get a competent termite inspection. The termites may fly several times over the space of a few weeks.

    Don't be rushed into any control measures. Consider your situation closely and act accordingly. Though it is true that the building may eventually fall down if you do nothing, this is usually years after the first flights and even then it tends to happen during storms.

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  • 9. Do ants kill termites?
     

    Ants kill a lot of termites. Right around the world, and for most termite species, ants are the main predators. When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are really there as effective adaptations against attacking ants. When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest. This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

    The battles between ants and termites have been raging for millions of years, with no clear winner. It's good to have ants around your home as these make things harder for termites, especially those just starting new colonies but because termites are good at surviving ant attacks, the mere presence of lots of ants is no guarantee that you won't get termites. Ants are useful, but not reliable, predators of termites.

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  • 10. Repairs first or termites first?
     

    Should we demolish part of the house that's got termites in it?

    First up, the answer depends on what type of termites are creating the problem. If they are drywood termites, then maybe knocking things down will kill them, but if these are subterranean termites then definitely not. Drywood termites live in small colonies, usually in individual pieces of timber, so a thoughtful demolition may effectively remove active colonies. Subterraneans don't; they like to spread out through the structure and will have several paths to ground (for water). At the first strong vibrations, they will just go to ground and come back up later to resume the attack, perhaps even somewhere a bit further away. Early repairs just makes them harder to control and may cost you a lot more money. Once you open up their workings, the fresh, drying, air will force the termites to retreat.hand rips damaged stud

    With all types of termite, the individual does not matter. You can kill about half the termites in a colony and have it recover. You have to destroy the colony itself. This is often best done with baits, dusts or non-repellent soil poisons. It takes time. At least a month, maybe several months to more than a year.

    To be certain of the right course of action, you need a specialist termite inspection report and that means a competent inspection of the whole site by someone who really knows what they're doing, has the right tools, and uses them. Once you know the which, where and the why, you are ready to make a good decision. But in general, it is almost always best to control the colonies before you undertake and repairs or major changes unless the damage is a safety or security hazard.

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  • 11. How long can a termite live?
     

    What's a termite lifespan?

    There's no simple answer to this one. It depends. The species, life-type, wear and tear, the colony's health--all these things affect the potential for a termite's long life. A worker or soldier termite can live to about three years in my lab, but most probably only live a year or so in the wild. They can also get killed soon after starting work and so, on average, many only last a few months. A reproductive female, the termite queen is something quite different. In some mound-building species queens are reported to last more than 40 years, perhaps several decades more! The reproducing males also last a long time (pdf). This would likely make them the longest-living insects.

    As usual, though, termite reality is stranger than we first thought. Imagine an amoeba, a superbly simple single-celled animal. If one splits (binary fission), producing two individuals, is the original one alive or dead? I think it is still alive. Do we think the same if the animal is multicellular and reproduces less simply? The issue arises with termites. Japanese and American researchers looking at the DNA of countless individual termites in a large number of colonies have shown that the some termites of the genus Reticulitermes, have queens that can reproduce themselves parthenogenetically (without using male input ~ see this pdf). Almost a self-clone. So the queen's genes go marching on. Oddly, their research shows the male genes in the colony to be fairly constant, meaning that they have also likely discovered that kings (male reproductives) individually last longer than females.

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  • 12. Why are some termites called 'drywood'?
     

    'Drywood' is a misnomer. Absolutely all types of termites do need some water to live and none can survive for long in totally dry wood. The drywood termites though, are very good at getting by with surprisingly little moisture and this enables them to live in small colonies in small pieces of just-damp wood. They can thrive, while the wood is good food that stays sufficiently moist and doesn't get too hot or too cold. Mostly drywood termites are found in the tropics, in forests and along coasts and rivers. In fact, anywhere that regularly has enough water in the air so that wood tends to always stay that bit moist.

    Most mature drywood termite colonies number less than 1,000 termites and it may take the colony the best part of a decade to get to that size. Countering this, their habit of living within a piece of wood means that a house, tree, boat or even a door can be home to many separate colonies.

    Drywood termites are cryptic. They don't tunnel in the soil, they don't build shelter tubes, they don't build mounds or other fancy structures which means that drywood termites can be quite hard to find (check the wording on your timber pest inspection--they may be excluded)-- see this pdf). Each colony tends to make one or more holes in the surface of their nest wood. They use these as waste chutes for faeces, blocking them up after use. Drywood termite poo is little hard pellets because they generally need to retain as much water as possible. Often a pile of pellets is a sure sign. I first noticed it as a gentle rain of pepper-like material falling from the roof frame of a rustic hotel restaurant in Carita, West Java. Even sitting 4 metres below the roof, I knew for sure they were there.Carita beach West Java

    Normal termite controls (aimed at subterranean termites) are no use against drywoods. Using baits seems just plain silly. In small timbers (like doors, furniture, wooden legs etc.) it is easy to control the colony. In buildings it is often better to fumigate or 'treat' the whole structure, since you can rarely be 100% sure of finding and killing each individual colony.

    The drywood termites are all placed in the Family Kalotermitidae. The main one around the world is the supertramp West Indian Drywood Termite, Cryptotermes brevis but there are tens of others that regularly worry people. Sometimes some of the dampwood termites (Termopsidae) act as if they were drywood termites, producing faecal pellets instead of wet poo, so they may be thought of as functionally or opportunistically drywood.

    PS. Where I had used orange oil and wiped the excess from surfaces, a year or so later there is staining. Might just be the ones I was using, but be sure to fully clean away any residues.

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  • 13. What about orange oil for drywood termites?
     

    Orange oil is the name given to extracts from the peel of citrus. Mostly this is near pure d-limonene. It is a general solvent. You have probably used it in bathroom or hand cleaner products that have a citrus smell. It kills insects. I specified it as the recommended cleanup solvent for the Blockaid non-toxic termite barrier as it was much less of an OH&S risk than mineral turpentine and is even known to potentially reduce some cancers.

    In the USA it is being used as an injectable treatment against drywood termites, mostly in California as heavily promoted by a bloke who writes for the usually high quality SFGate. In 2007 the Californian Structural Pest Control Board commissioned research on the spot treatment of drywood termites and has available, for free download, excellent reports of the work headed by Drs Vernard Lewis and Mike Rust. If you must do spot treatments for drywoods, then read these reports! An in-depth and not very complimentary review of the orange oil method is available online at http://www.birc.org/JanFeb2008.pdf

    So long as you can get it to soak through the at-risk timber, a good dose of limonene should kill the termites but as for any residue providing long-term deterrence, well don't hold your breath because it evaporates. You'd probably need to seal the holes and put a quality coating system over it (filler and paint or varnish) to get any to stick around. If the timber is more than slightly damaged, replacement may be advisable.

    I've also had great success using d-limonene as a fire starter. A small amount will help even the stubborn logs light. Makes a lot of smoke (good for lighting Hawaiian bbq?). So, while I'm sure the chemical can kill termites, beetles, ants and maybe even some fungi, I'd hesitate to use it myself anywhere that there was a risk of fire but perhaps that's because I live in a high fire risk zone

    The usual proviso with drywoods also applies, depending on your situation. You may never find all the colonies, so fumigating the whole structure may be a safer alternative to spot treatments.

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  • 14. Are straw bale buildings safe from termites?
     

    Very few termites are likely to be interested in eating the straw bales themselves. Even those that normally eat grass. Lots of subterranean termites will happily travel through the bales to reach unprotected framing timbers (such as door frames and window lintels - see photo).

    You won't sit the bales right on the soil anyway (moisture hazard) so all it takes is some attention to design to put a subterranean termite block in the foundation, just as you would with any other house design.

    If you've already built without considering, find a well-skilled termite manager to inspect and advise. Keep in mind that the biggest threat to straw bales (after moisture-caused decay) comes from rodents, especially mice.

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  • 15. Do I have to worry about termites in firewood?
     

    Generally not. You want your firewood dry (so that it burns well). If you cut it, split it and put it outside and up off the ground out of the rain, then it will dry quickly and any termites in it will slowly die. Ants and other predators will help. The only way this doesn't work is if you are in a humid area with a drywood termite risk.fire caused by ignorance of termites Drywoods may persist for a long time as the wood slowly dries. If you do find termites, don't do silly things like this guy who caused a major fire. Cut early, well before the cold weather, and let the sun and the air do the work for you. Unless the wood contains a nest, only a few of the major pest species can rebuild a colony from the workers and soldiers feeding in the wood.

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  • 16. Is product X better than product Y?
     

    Apart from the things that look too-good-to-be-true, like weird ultrasonic and electronic termite repellers, just about any termite product you're offered that has some sort of government approval or label is capable of doing the job.  Trouble is that each product has situations that suit its use and usually also some situations where it isn't the best choice.

    So how do you choose which product to use to keep termites at bay?  The easiest way is to ask your technician.  For termites, nothing beats local knowledge.  Your climate, your species and the way houses are locally built, even land-use history, all have a major impact on what's the best management option.  So, you can spend a lot of time online researching all the options or you can spend a bit of time getting a background and then ask your technician.

    Don't just look at which works best and is cheapest.  Look at safety and environmental toxicity as well. Some chemical products will have off-target impacts. Some termiticides don't last well and others last too long, becoming persistent environmental pollutants.

    It is so easy to make mistakes and think you have control when you really don't, As you explore the options, just remember "Don't do this at home".  DIY management of termite infestations can be very risky but in saying that' there's lots you can do to lower risks and also to monitor for termite activity. You might even put in your own baits and call the technician back when you have activity.

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  • 17. How can i get rid of termites in my house?
     

    I found some in the clothes in my wardrobe.

    First up, If you don't own the place, termites are a landlord's responsibility. If it is yours, you need to find out which  type of termite they are (dampwood, drywood, subterranean etc) as what to about them varies hugely between the different types.

    Termites found on clothes in the wardrobe are usually subterraneans.   Unfortunately, termites are almost never a do-it-yourself problem. First up is to get a professional to take a look at the whole house and give you a written report.  You pay for this inspection service.  Sometimes you can get a free quote but be wary as these will always be 'free' based on the company's expectation of adding the cost of the free inspections to the cost of the control job. Every company has to earn enough money to cover the cost of the work they do.

    Don't go spraying anything or disturbing the termites before the inspection as this  only makes things worse (= more expensive to control).

    If you are lucky, the problem may be solved cheaply (for now) with a few well-placed puffs of a toxic dust. It may mean a termite baiting program or perhaps termticide placed into the soil but in any case, the aim is likely to be to kill off the attacking colony.

     

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  • 18. What is a fair price to pay to have the termites in my house exterminated?
     

    I'm sorry, but there's no simple answer to your question.  It is like asking 'how much will my next car cost?': There are just too many big variables for any single answer to be useful.

    Price depends very much on what steps need to be taken and this in turn depends on the type of termites, the location, the construction and a whole lot of other factors like how long they've been there, how big is the colony an what colony control method is most suitable..

    Let's assume you live i the USA in a typical (not huge) house. You might be super lucky and get a a small infestation of subterraneans killed for $450 but chances are you are looking at something in the range of $2,000 to $4,000. If they are drywoods, a fumigation may even run to a bit more.

    It may be necessary to put in soil chemicals (termiticide) or to have an ongoing monitoring system as it is unlikely that termites won't try to attack again some time in the future.  There's usually no value in words like "exterminate" or "eradicate" except in the short-term.  If you find termites, you need to control them and to take steps to manage the ongoing risk.

    Only by getting the place properly inspected can you find out what needs to be done.

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  • 19. My house is being 'treated' for termites. Will this affect my two year old?
     

    Young children (and the unborn) tend to be at higher risk from environmental toxins that are adults. The risk you will face depends on both the type of termite and the type of treatment. that's being done. Basically there are three types of treatment.

    The lowest risk are with baits for subterranean termites which use hormone-like chemicals to interrupt insect growth. At the rates they are applied, these are very low risk to people (and anything else that hasn't got its skeleton on the outside).

    Next are the fumigant gases uses when a building is tented for drywood termites, these evaporate away almost entirely and pose little if any risk to you (or any returning termites) if the gas is properly handled and vented. Make sure that everything has enough time to out-gas. Some furnishing (like rubber cushions) may need a longer time.  Your technician will advise.

    Last are the straight poisons (termiticides) which are usually applied to the soil but are increasingly used indoors as well. These always pose some risk, especially if poorly applied. You need to find out the identity of the toxin and look it up on the next. Search on 'toxicity of" and then the chemical name (not just the product name). Termiticides are not all the same, and  some termiticides are best avoided because of their risk profiles (such as organophosphates and still in some countries, organochlorines).  Nearly all will persist for quite some time, and this is where exposure is likely. Make sure you are away when the chemical is placed and don't return until after the recommended period. You will need to do your own research, but from manufacturer claims, it looks like the current least-toxic soil termiticide is chlorantraniliprole, closely followed by imidacloprid. Many will dispute this. The biggest risk is chemicals sprayed on the soil around the building where your child plays and will inevitably pick up and ingest some (kids eat a lot of soil). Sometimes, chemicals are applied as dusts or foams into wood or wall cavities. As long as any excess is cleaned up (and you don't open the cavity), the risks are considered low.  In a few backward countries, like Australia, the government allows for arsenic dust to be used. Arsenic dust is highly toxic, doesn't break down and isn't not more effective than the modern alternatives. It should never be used. If you find unexplained red, blue or white dust in termite-eaten wood or their old shelter tubes, please consider it dangerous until proven otherwise.

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  • 20. Should I buy a house that has termites?
     

    They say it will be quick and cheap to get rid of them.

    In real estate trading, if a deal seems unbelievably good, then it probably isn't to be believed. A house with an unknown level of termite damage poses and unknown financial risk.

    A house that has been attacked by termites has lost some value.  It the attack has been severe or ongoing, then the value of the house is way down. A big problem is that the inspector has no way to assess the extent of past damage without ripping open a few walls and other surfaces. Remember that buildings weakened by termites are more likely to fail during severe storms or earthquakes.

    Termites hide.  The damage they do is nearly all concealed and can only be seen by ripping things apart.  We can guess the extent of the damage, but we have to really mess things up to be certain and that means a lot of costly repairs even if nothing much is found Vendors don't like that and only allow an inspector to perform a visual inspection, usually without even being able to move furniture to look behind. Some vendors will try hard to conceal defects that might make the house look bad.

    To determine likely repair costs, you would need what is called an invasive inspection by both the termite inspector and a building professional. This gets tricky. If the vendor will agree (in writing) to let your inspectors conduct an invasive inspection without either them or you having to make good any surfaces they choose to open, then it may be worth considering the purchase. Normally you would make an offer subject to the inspection works providing a repair cost estimate below an agreed figure (which you don't tell the inspector!). That gives you room to get out if the place really isn't worth it. You would want a good lawyer to draw up the contracts. Mostly the vendor will say no.

    Chances are that a few more things needing fixing will be found during the partial demolition before repairs begin.  You could also be up for works to prevent immediate reinfestation.  All this adds up.

    Bottom line is that it would have to be an extremely desirable house and a very appealing sale price.  Is this particular house really worth the risk?

    Pest managers seem to be good at buying discounted termite-damaged houses and fixing them up to live in. If you can get a good estimate of the damage, are willing to take the chance, you can ask the vendor to drop the price by a sum that's larger than the expected control, repair and risk-reduction costs. Most people will keep looking.

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  • 21. My grandfather's house is being fumigated. When will it be safe for him to go back inside?
     

    He thinks he can go straight back in, but I'm worried that the poison will hurt him.

    The fumigant used for drywood termites is a very thin gas. It is supposed to penetrate deeply and be all gone before anyone considers re-entry. Perhaps some gas might remain for a while in things like the sponge-rubber of furniture but it will dissipate fairly quickly. I wouldn't worry about washing utensils but I'd probably go through his pantry and dump some food that worried me.

    It is much easier to go in before the application and double-bag (Ziplocs or similar) anything that might be a concern.

    Bottom line is to ask the company that did the work. Make sure they have allocated the right venting period and have properly cleared the house. If the job has been done according to the rules, he probably can move back in with no worries. To be super-safe, keep him out for another day or two.

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  • 22. I knocked down some termite shelter tubes. They were under my house. Where have the termites gone? Will they come back?
     

    Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. These tubes are produced by subterranean termites and provide cover for them to traverse over things they don't want to eat in order to reach the things they do want to eat. If upset by the disturbance, the termites can easily switch to another path into the house--often one that you can't find. Trouble is, you termite inspector may not be able to find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and the likely result is that it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long time and a few may not ever come back.

    One thing that's sure is that breaking their tubes is not a safe way to control the colony. On the other hand, if your house sits up on stilts or stumps, then having a few trained chickens underneath to regularly break the tubes may actually give good control (used in some Pacific islands) but only if the termites have no alternative concealed entry paths.

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  • 23. How long after termite barrier treatment can I plant my herb garden?
     

    They sprayed all around the outside of the house about four years ago.

    You can do it right now, but should keep your garden far from the house. Something over 6 feet or 2 metres is good. The water you add to the soil will be attractive to termites, so the further out the better (but not so far you can't nip out for a herb). If this doesn't work for you, grow your garden in raised tubs that you can see underneath.

    Make sure that you don't dig up the termtiicide-soaked soil. If you dilute, damage or remove the volume of poisoned soil, you may enable termites to enter.  This is a bigger risk if your termiticide was a repellent one, like Bifenthrin, as the trmites can easily detect where there are gaps.
    Leafy greens will often take up toxins from the soil and some termiticide sprays (like imidacloprid) are taken up by plants. That's good if you have aphids, but but maybe not so much if you have termites.
    Most perimeter sprays aren't much good after 5 years, but it is still best to leave them until your regular inspector says you need more work done.

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  • 24. Will garden mulch attract termites?
     

    I live in the deep south of the USA. Termites are a problem here but gardens need mulch. What should I do?

    The risk from mulches depends a lot on where you live and what types of mulch are used, but yes, generally mulch will be attractive to termites.

    The termites like mulch because it gives them much better ways to travel. Think of it, a whole new loose layer over the soil.  No more tunneling.  The mulch creates a dark, damp and safe set of ready-made roadways which they just love to exploit.

    Some mulches are made from types of wood or bark that they don't like.  Termites won't use these very much or at all for at least the first season (until they rot and the repellent is lost).   Others have boron salt added.  This is a great repellent and slows down decay unless the poisoned mulch gets wet, then the boron salt washes into the soil where it can upset your plants.  I think your mulch will get wet.

    The mulch will only become a problem if it either provides the termites with a hidden path into the house or if it helps their population grow.  The best way is to keep it (and the garden beds) away from the exterior walls.  If you have a 30 cm to 1 mt wide band of paving or gravel around the house, this will make it harder for them to sneak in unseen.  Just don't bury or wreck any perimeter termite work when you put it in.

    There's a very small chance that termites my be delivered with mulch, causing a new infestation. Even if you find a few live ones, they are unlikely to re-group and survive. However, it is still theoretically possible for some species in some locations where the mulch has sat for a long time before delivery and then hasn't been mixed around as it was placed. Theoretically possible, but very unlikely to occur.

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  • 25. How can I stop termites eating the seedlings/ trees/ herbs I have planted?
     

    Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

    In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked. If you do decide to use a termiticide at planting, make sure the product label covers this application. Opinion as to whether to use a repellent or non-repellent termticide seems to vary with locations and species and some find value in a systemic (such as imidacloprid) that makes the whole of the plant toxic for a while (even the pollen, so don't use on plants that are close to flowering).

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  • 26. What is termite baiting?
     

    Baiting for termites has a long history.  I first used it in 1979 to survey a park, but others had used baiting way before then.  Basically, a bait is something that termites will happily eat.  Often it is placed in a fancy (=expensive) container.  When the termites are feeding on the bait you (i) know they are there, (ii) can identify them and (iii)  you can exploit them.  The original bait box method had the termites collected and dusted with toxin before being allowed to sulk home.  Other methods replace the actual bait with one containing a slow-acting toxin.  If done well, the toxins applied can spread through the colony before any individual termite is affected and so, with luck, the whole colony will die.

    Baiting is good for colony control and sometimes for monitoring but it typically does not provide any residual protection and baits don't equal a barrier. There's lots more information here.

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  • 27. How do drywood termites get to my house?
     

    . . if they don't tunnel in like the subterraneans did.

    There are two ways that drywood termites can begin infesting a house.  By far the most common is by when they fly in and find a good place to live (in an exposed piece of timber) and start a new colony.  The second way is for a colony to hitch a ride.  Often this happens when they come in with furniture, even in new furniture, but just about any lump of wood can do it- such as a bread board, ornament or violin.  I've had reports of new hollow-core internal doors being installed with drywood termites already in them.

    Inspection is the only way to know that you have them.

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  • 28. I found termites in the garden. What should I do?
     

    Should I get the house sprayed?

    Depending on where you live, it may well be that the termites in your garden are no threat to anything.  There are lots of species that never, well mostly never, behave as pests.  In my garden a Nasutitermes and a Porotermes pose no threat to my home. I keep them as pets (and samples for teaching).  But you're not me.  Before doing any control measure, you really should have the termites identified AND inspect your house.  This will allow you to decide what to do from a position of power.  Only when you know the extent of the problem, will you be in a good position to choose between management options.

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  • 29. My neighbor has termites. What should I do?
     

    They say I need a treatment too.

    This is a tricky one, and this answer is only for subterranean termites (not for drywoods and not for dampwoods).

    Let's say the termites are in your neighbor's house. A nearby infestation means that local conditions are suitable for the termites and so it tells you that your place is also at some risk. If baits or another colony-killing method is used, then that immediate risk to your house is gone as that colony will be controlled. But there may well be many nearby colonies. If they just repair the damage or poison the ground with a repellent chemical (like bifenthrin), then the termites may be 'pushed' towards feeding at your place. That isn't good.

    On the other hand, the termites may be living in your house and have spread to your neighbor's. Or they may be nesting in your yard.

    In any case, this is not the time to sign up for a treatment. You should get a proper timber pest inspection done so that you can assess your options. Then talk to your neighbor about the best way to do things.

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  • 30. Why are the termites attacking MY home?
     

    My house looks just like the ones that don't have termites.

    Termites have no capacity for malice, so it is definitely nothing personal. Their needs are simple. Food and shelter are almost always freely available for them in what we build. Water is the big issue and often we can build termites out by making it harder for them to get the water they need so that they can eat.

    The best thing you can do is to get a professional inspection report done and read the report carefully. Next best is to keep reading and try and work it out for yourself. What has changed? In what subtle ways is my house differently exposed? Did anything make it easy for them? How are they getting in? Why is water available? If you can answer these, you're most of the way to selecting a solution.

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  • 31. Will a baiting system ensure that my home is not attacked?
     

    It might, but don't count on it. Baits are not prophylactic. Baits are good at grabbing termites' attention and can be used to slowly poison their colony BUT baits are not barriers and it is possible for termites to ignore them and eat your home anyway. The baits don't make a continuous wall around the house, so termites may just walk between them. The termites mightn't find the baits, the baits might be poorly placed, they mightn't suit your termites, they might be too often disturbed or left too long, too wet or too dry, they might have the wrong food or they might have gone mouldy. Baits are great at cutting populations and even killing colonies, but it is probably best that you add other ways to keep termites out of your home, just to be sure. Of course if the service company is offering you a contract with a strong warranty, maybe you can take the risk. Just make sure that all the checks and inspections are done, that you keep all the records and that the company is well insured.

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  • 32. We've had flooding rain. How will that affect the termites?
     

    A flood or heavy rain can seriously upset your termite defenses.

    If you rely on soil chemical chemicals around or under your home, these can be buried by silt and debris making a bridge for the termites. The chemicals can also be washed out, so when the water goes away, check and organise a termite inspection a few weeks later.

    Water that gets into your house (but not out again) tends to soak into timbers. Termites love to eat timber that's damp. Fungi (rot) also has a better time and wood that's partly rotted by fungi is often tastier for termites.

    Subterranean termites have trouble getting around when their tunnels are full of water. If you scale it up, it is a bit like you or me trying to walk through honey. So they stay home or move to wherever is high and dry(ish). When the water drains away some of their tunnels will need repair and may be abandoned. They'll move quickly to patch up access to their best food resources. Scary thing is that all that moisture in the soil makes their tunneling so much easier as they no longer need to carry in water to work. So, once re-established, subterraneans will go exploring and your barriers will be tested. After a flood or after drought-breaking rains, you should schedule an inspection the next Spring or Fall (Autumn), certainly before six months are up.

    Floods can also move big bits of wood around. Sometimes these bits arrive with termite colonies inside. Sometimes floods cause timbers to be buried or mostly buried. Timbers that are in the soil are much nicer for termites as they don't dry out quickly and the soil buffers temperature changes. Floods change things.

    If flood waters sit around for extended periods, weeks or months, then termites populations may be reduced for a time.

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  • 33. How do we design structures to manage the risks of termite attack?
     

    Every building should be designed to reduce the chances of problems with all the local pests, not just pest termites. Here's a basic scheme:

    Much can be done to reduce the pest pressure and maintenance costs by including a few simple design features. While my main interest is the exclusion of subterranean termites, design should take account of all likely pests. The following guidelines are intended for architects, designers and managers of large facilities (schools, nursing homes, hospitals, offices etc.) but may be adapted to any construction.
    Most pests will take advantage of concealed entry paths. Accordingly, the perimeter of a building should be designed and constructed so that:
    1. Pests are discouraged from gaining easy entrance.
      1. Door should fit snugly with weather stripping and sweeps that close tightly.
      2. All opening windows shall have metal screens which are fixed taught and seal to the frame with a gasket.
      3. All metal window and door frames shall have joints sealed with a suitable elastomeric sealant.
      4. Cracks, crevices, holes and thermal gaps shall be suitable sealed with a caulk or compressible foam product.
      5. Large holes such as for added or removed pipe openings shall be sealed. Stainless steel wool (pot scrubbers) covered with a mortar or grout is usually sufficient.
      6. Exterior lighting for doors must be far enough away that flying pests attracted to the lights can gain casual entry. Entrance ways should use reflected rather than direct light and light sources should be at the orange end of the spectrum so as to reduce attraction to nigh-flying insects.
      7. Entrance ways, alcoves and attached plant should be designed so as to minimise wind-blown debris accumulation.
    All pests need somewhere to live and somewhere to rest.
    1. Pests should not find easy hiding places inside.
      1. Interior wall joints, gaps in panels, window frames, gaps around cupboards and electrical fixtures shall be filled or sealed.
      2. Skirting boards, and floor coverings shall provide no open cavities.
      3. Skirting boards and sheet floor coverings shall be designed and placed so as to be readily cleaned with electrical rotating brush devices. There should not be internal 90 degree corners, rather corners should be radiused to match cleaning capability.
      4. All supply pipes, cables and conduits to be sealed where they pass through walls and panels and, all conduits and ducts to be sealed or meshed to prevent pest entry.
      5. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, cabinets, sinks, toilets and counter tops which meet walls shall be sealed against water entry so as to prevent pest harbourage.
      6. Air vents/inlets shall be screened with metal mesh of 1 mm aperture size (small enough to block termites) which is fabricated and installed so as to be readily removable for cleaning.
      7. Floor drains require removable coarse mesh screens or similar devices to prevent cockroach passage.
      8. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, floor-mounted fixtures should, as far as practicable, be either on raised legs (100 mm high) set as to provide easy access for cleaning and inspection or shall be provided with sufficient space for easy access and cleaning ( e.g. toilet cubicles).
      9. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, drains shall not be concealed under equipment or fixtures.
      10. Storage areas should be designed to permit both inspection and drying air flows. Storage units should be mounted at least 100 mm off the floor. Racks, cupboards or compactus units for long-term storage shall mounted be at least 600 mm from walls. 
    2. Pests should not find easy resting places outside.
      1. Ledges and fixtures should not provide roosting places for birds as faecal accumulations pose a health hazard.
      2. Plant and equipment whether at the perimeter or roof-mounted, should be designed to exclude rodents and bids and to be readily inspected.
      3. Roof should be designed to shed booth water and litter.

    All pests need a suitable environment in which to live. A building's immediate surrounds should not be particularly amenable to the pests' needs.
    1. Exterior landscaping can create ideal pest environments.
      1. Gardens must not be adjacent to exterior walls such that, at any time, plants will be in direct contact. Plants provide bridges for pests.
      2. Paving at least 600 mm wide should surround the building. In low-traffic areas, paving can be replaced by compacted gravel. Paving is less hospitable than garden beds.
      3. Plants, including grasses, should not encroach on perimeter paving.
      4. No tree,shrub or plant that is known to have extensive or invasive roots (e.g. Bamboo) shall be planted within 3 metres of the exterior walls. Where such plantings are identified, foundations and perimeter paving shall be protected with a root barrier system.
      5. Trees, shrubs and other large ornamental plants shall be spaced to have a free-air gap of at least 600 mm between them at maturity (or to be trimmed to maintain such gaps). Air gaps are important to reduce humidity at the exterior of the building.
      6. Soil levels, paving, features and garden beds shall not interrupt the fall so that rain and other water drains well away (at least 2 m) from the base of perimeter walls.
      7. Garbage and recycling containers for litter shall be mounted on concrete pads which extend not less that 150 mm from the container. Containers shall be mounted not less that 400 mm from walls and shall be positioned on legs to provide at least 100 mm clearance from the pad. Containers shall have self-closing lids.Termites in particular can be encouraged by having concealed access points to the building fabric and by having water and potential food in close proximity.
    2. Buildings should be intrinsically termite resistant.
      1. Physical termite barriers that do not rely on any toxin should be used wherever possible as these generally provide the longest service life.
      2. Footings, retaining walls and any section of wall that might be concealed by soil of accumulations from garden beds etc. should be solid rather than hollow and should have all joints and expansion gaps fitted with a suitable termite barrier.
      3. Moisture and water must not be allowed to accumulate either under the building or against exterior walls. Service life is extended where the perimeter and footing earth stays close to uniform moisture content. Pests problems are reduced where this moisture content remains low.
      4. The roof should be pitched and drain to the exterior. Valleys should be steep to rapidly shed water and litter. Flat roof designs that permit either water ponding or wind-blown litter and bird wastes to accumulate are to be avoided. Subterranean termites will attack a building from the top where there is permanent moisture.
      5. Timbers in soil contact shall be kept to an absolute minimum and where required only known naturally resistant or suitably preserved timbers should be used. Landscaping timbers decay to become major harbourages for pests. Preserved timbers weather and degrade over time and may provide cover for pests. Where preservative penetration is insufficient, pests may be concealed within apparently preserved timbers.

     

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  • 34. How do I choose the right pest manager?
     

    Trust and confidence need to be established. Will this pest manager do a good, competent job at a fair price? There are some slick and very shonky sales people out there ready to rip you off. There are honest pest managers who just want to give you a good job at a fair price. There are big companies and small companies, caring companies and careless companies. How can you decide who to employ?
    Here's a few simple pointers. I hope they help.

    1. The Need: Don't be rushed. Chances are you have plenty of time to consider your options.  Termites work slowly and so may you. Take your time and make the right choices.  Consider how you know what you know.  Keep notes of all conversations and keep your paper trail.
    2. The Business: The preferred way to find the right business is by talking with your friends and finding out who they have used successfully.  Word-of-mouth keeps many successful businesses thriving.

      How secure is the business?

      Does it have a bad name?

      Are they afraid to answer your questions?

      Does the mention of their name ring alarm bells at your local consumer advocacy/complaints group?

      Can they provide the names of satisfied customers as referees?

      Don't necessarily feel that big is better; an apparently large company may turn out to be just loosely controlled franchises, offering at best no better service than their smaller competition.

      The quality of the job will only be as good as the person who carries it out. Will the person actually doing the work be well trained and knowledgeable and able to talk with you or are you dealing with a salesperson who can only provide the quotation?

    3. Face to Face: Meet them on your own turf, not their's. Depending on the nature of the problem, many pest controllers will provide a quotation either at no cost or fairly inexpensively. They may be prepared to just turn up and talk with you while requiring a fee before they'll do any inspection. This is fair, as any information they provide on the basis of inspection whether free or at cost, implies at least some professional responsibility and hence potential liability on their part. Beware the "free" inspection. Everything has to be paid for eventually, by somebody, sometime.   Separate the inspection from the control proposal.  Make sure that you get a proper (on paper) timber pest inspection (WDO, or 'Wood Destroying Organism") report and make sure that it identifies the pests as far as possible.
    4. Safety in Numbers: Approach at least two or three businesses. Compare their advice and quotations. Decide whom you would best trust with your assets. Then compare prices. Beware the surprisingly cheap quotation. It is easy to do a cursory inspection and to excessively dilute any expensive chemicals, or just not apply them where they should go. Remember the value of a good warranty. Read Claire's experience. Know the different ways termites can be managed and why the one proposed is thought best for you.
    5. The Fine Print: What does the paperwork look like?Ask to see it up front.  After an inspection, you should be handed a written report, usually with a site diagram and the problem areas at least approximately mapped. The information should be clear. If it is presented on a preprinted form, the notations should be informative and quite clear. Look over the warranty. How small is the fine print? Do they mind you reading the contract? Is the scope of work made fully clear and is sufficient detail present to enable you to compare and contrast the quotes? Ideally, you will be asked to sign an agreement before any work occurs.  That's a good way to ensure you have matching expectations.
    6. A Relationship?: What about contracts? Are you just getting them to fix today's problem or are you signing up for a never-ending dependency? What if you sign and you don't want them back again? What if termites come back in one, two or three years? What will they do then? If they've done good work, should you pay a maintenance fee for the year on top of the other costs? It is always important to check value for money. Maybe that service contract is aimed more at maximising income rather than minimising termites? You have to work it all out. There's often comfort in a trusted name, but you should put at least as much weight on local people's experiences as you do on brand recognition. Don't get me wrong, sometimes service contracts are the way to go, especially with a baiting program where you want it all planned out and costed in advance.
    7. Deciding: Take some time to think over the information you have gathered.  One of the best ways is to get out of the house/office and go for a walk.  You'll think much more clearly.

    Vic Health has some good ideas and in Illinois, so does the Department of Public Health.  Hope this helps. Please feel free to email me with your experiences.

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  • 35. How are termites controlled?
     

    Actions to stop or control termites need not be scary.

    Termite control comes in four forms: cultural, physical, biological and chemical.

    Well, at least those are the headings used in most text books.

    Chemical control is the least desirable, but is sometimes the only option.

    Typical Queensland High Set House - termite avoiding architecture
    No easy paths

    Cultural control relates to what we do and the way that we do it. It pays to avoid the simple traps that make things inviting for termites. In tropical North Queensland, where life is excellent for pest termites, the old traditional wooden housing style sits up very high. The tall stumps and metal termite caps (inverted pie plates) provide excellent protection against sneaky termites.  They can still come in from the ground, but it is far from inviting and they have to build shelter tubes over the pie plates.  Not a great option for them and one which makes them very easy to spot. If you follow the "guide to avoiding termite problems" you are instituting a cultural control by reducing the termites' chances of getting a foothold. Nomadism is another cultural technique--it sort of parallels with disposable coffee cups, only this way it's your home that is short-lived. Some speculative builders seem to prefer this approach. Beware the short warranty. Keeping a horde of animals to eat swarming termites has to be helpful. Geckoes on the walls will eat many termites. Ants are perhaps the best and most persistent predators, cleaning up the bulk of each alate flight. Even chickens will make short work of termites as they try to extend their shelter tubes.

    Physical control separates the food from the termite. Strip shielding, pie plates, posts on stirrups, and physical barrier systems such as Granitgard and exposed slab edges are examples of physical controls. Termites can also be controlled by taking their environment beyond the normal limits that their bodies can take. To this end, both sustained heat (over about 45 degrees C for an hour or so) or sustained cold (subzero--it is the ice-crystals that kill) can been used. Some services also use microwave energy--waves cook things well inside a tightly shielded oven, but it is fairly difficult to control such energy in a structure, where reflection is hard to predict, so be careful out there! These methods are not always a DIY option. Other proposed physical controls include eletrocution (in timber and soil) and bizarre electronic and sound repellents. Be wary of techniques that appear dangerous or hard to believe. If scary sounds did repel termites, they probably wouldn't ever eat grade schools.

    Biological control is practised for many other insect pests, but has had little success with termites. Well, little success in the commercial sense. As with the ants and geckoes mentioned above, many societies have used termites' natural enemies to keep them in check. Birds and ants can clean up an amazing quantity of termites. Business has tried nematodes and fungi. The nematodes are tiny worms which parasitise termites and the fungi are disease organisms, perhaps best thought of as terminal tinea. While these work extremely well in controlled laboratory experiments, they have yet to make a significant splash in the market. Still, we're all eagerly waiting and at the moment it looks like nematodes are slightly ahead of the fungi. Flies, beetles and killer viruses also kill termites, so who knows what will happen

    Fumigation to kill drywood termites in a house in Waikiki
    Fumigation

    Chemical control was once the sum total of pest controllers' responses to termite problems. Now the consequences of poisoning soils and surfaces are becoming apparent as the old termiticides are withdrawn and the newer ones come under increasing scrutiny. As most commonly practised, chemical control for termites involves either soil treatment to provide a barrier of toxic residues or (for drywoods) tenting of the structure and flooding it with toxic gas (some such fumigants may damage the ozone layer). To be effective, a chemical applied to form a toxic barrier in the soil must penetrate evenly and then bind securely to the soil particles. It has to be persistent. It must not break down through the action of normal soil microbes. Another way to use chemicals is (in much smaller doses) to apply them directly to the termites such as in the bait box technique, either as topical dust, or as bait toxicants. There is a world of difference between surrounding a structure with several kilos of toxin applied in hundreds of litres of emulsion and the at most, few grams of a slow-acting toxin which may be used in a baiting system (the bulk of which may be removed after control is achieved). Other than poisoning the soil and timber, chemicals are also used against drywood termites, but as a whole-structure fumigation or a spot treatment. Spot treatments are only for where you can be 100% sure that you can find and reach each and every drywood colony.

    Integrated termite management is a fancy term for putting it all together. For integrated control, you must plan, act as required, monitor, adapt and review. Take the long-term view and you can save a lot of money. Particularly if you build well (with physical barriers) in the first place.

    What to do first is usually straightforward. If you have drywood termites, the infestation is usually limited (sometimes to a single piece of furniture, sometimes to the whole house). For subterranean termites, management should first aim to either exclude the termites (such as by repairing a physical barrier) or kill off the offending colony. Colonies can most often be killed by nest destruction, nest poisoning, by baiting or by judicial use of a non-repellent termiticide into the soil where they are active. Repellent soil poisons are best (not used, or) saved for new construction when you can be sure of a complete barrier. In the ideal world, your pest management technician will do a full timber pest inspection of the building and grounds and present you with a written report and (separately) a management plan (hopefully with a range of options). Again, ideally, remedial soil poison barriers would not be used (i) unless necessary and (ii) until the offending colony had been controlled. Repairs (unless for safety) should not be made until the colony is controlled as early disturbance can make management difficult by breaking up or concealing the termite activity. If baiting or using a non-repellent termiticide for colony control, you want to keep them feeding at full tilt until they have consumed enough poison to kill the whole colony.

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  • 36. Can you give me a quick summary of ways to control termites?
     

    Here's a quick list of the main ways to kill or control termites

    For Dampwood termites

    • Take the moisture away so that they can't live.
    • Replace old, rotted wood with fresh timbers.
    • Apply poisons or preservatives into the wood.
    • Open up the wood and let the ants eat them.

    For Drywood termites

    • Fumigation will kill all the termites.
    • Tenting and heatng will kill them if everything gets hot enough.
    • Extreme cold will also kill them.  For example, an infested yacht can be taken to very cold waters for the winter and furniture and artefacts (if dry) can spend a while in a freezer.
    • Spot-treatments with poisons can kill them, but you have to be sure to find, and adequately reach, each and every piece of infested timber.  The risk of error is high.

    For subterranean termites

    • Killing the colony with direct applications of poisons is the surest approach if you can find the main nest(s).
    • If you can't find nests, but have located leads (shelter tubes) and areas of high activity then applying a very slow-acting non-detectable poison (by dust, foam or liquid) cause it to be shared widely before any individuals die, thus having a good chance of killing the whole colony.
    • If you know they're there but can't find good numbers, then baits can be used to aggregate large numbers for poisoning.  Commercial bait systems often use very slow acting hormones and it may take weeks or months to see a result.
    • Soil poisons to isolate a structure are best left to mopping-up or remedial barrier work but sprays of a non-repellent toxin (like chlorantraniliprole,  fipronil or imidacloprid) can help reduce termite populations and may kill the colony (if you are lucky).
    • Very rarely, a nest that is big, obvious and isolated can be physically removed, taking enough of the termites to cause colony collapse.

    So, the bottom line is try to get rid of the whole colony as killing a few termites may not make much difference.  Once you have achieved control, it is important to prevent future infestations from the same causes.  For more details, check out the termite FAQs.

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  • 37. I've found termites, what should I do?
     

    OK, so you've found termites.  Here's a quick step guide of what to do.

    1. Don't spray anything.  Spraying just makes the rest of  them go to where they're hard to find.
    2. Don't disturb them.  Often it is cheaper to control them if they are undisturbed.
    3. Don't panic.  Termites tend to work slowly, so you usually have time to act before things get noticeably worse.
    4. Read through these FAQ files so you have a good background knowledge.
    5. Don't call the first company you find in the phone book.  Take your time, find a good inspector get a written report, then work out what to do.
    6. Do fix up the things that attracted the termites in the first place.
    7. Do remember to have another inspection scheduled to make sure that things are really fixed.
    8. Do consider regular inspections so you can catch any new attacks early.
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    • 1. How do we keep garden termites away from the house?
       

      In most places, pest termites are native animals, part of the wildlife and while they are allowed to be killed, chances are that there are that will just keep arriving. In parts of the Eastern USA, you can have upwards of 25 separate Reticulitermes colonies working a garden.

      Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone. Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder. Subterranean pest termites, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, should not be encouraged near structures. To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. Your specialist termite inspector can help you there.

      If your garden has dampwood termites, these are much less likely to enter a well-built, properly drained building than the tunnel-happy subterranean termites. If you live in an area of known drywood termite hazard, then you'll be slightly increasing your risks if you leave known drywood colonies alone.

      Keeping the subterranean termites from finding the house is best done by keeping things dry and inspectable. See my Avoid page.

      Things will be easier if your house has an effective termite management system in place, especially proper long-life physical barrier components (which don't rely on a chemical deterrent). If your house has soil poison ('termiticide'), then the non-repellent poisons (like chlorantraniliprole, fipronil and imidacloprid) may kill the subterranean termites in the garden while the repellent termiticides (such as bifenthrin and other pyrethroids) will usually just drive them away from the poisoned soil, leaving the colonies intact.

      In any case, you'll still need to have a proper inspection done (in most areas that means not less than once a year) to have a good chance of finding any incursion before serious damage can happen.

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    • 2. How long will termite baiting take?
       

      The process of baiting for termites is highly variable. Sometimes termites take a weeks or months to go into a bait. Sometimes they're in by day two.

      Some slow bait toxins may take months to noticeably affect the colony. This is especially true of the hormonal approaches which interfere with moulting. Some toxins will usually kill off a colony within two to three weeks of the first feeding. Three to eighteen months is about right for nearly all jobs and most are done by eight months..

      Some termite species are bait shy and may take weeks or months to return to a disturbed bait. Some termite species don't share very well, so with them the toxin takes much longer to reach all parts of the colony.

      If you are using a commercial bait system, the supplied information should be able to tell you roughly how long things should take. If you don't know, ask. The technician's job is to (i) manage the termites and (ii) communicate the process steps. You should always know how the technician is expected to declare when the termites are 'controlled'.

      In some risk situations, baiting may become a permanent process. While DIY baiting is possible and widely promoted by bait sellers, it is rarely advisable to take on the whole job yourself. At least have a competent person assess the situation and detail the species and risks before you decide what to do.

      Don't assume that because a lot of termites have been killed there won't be other (colonies) ready to move in an take up the attack. Even if you have baits in place, sometimes termites may not find them before beginning an attack. Baits are not anecessarily a reliable prophylactic measure.

      After any baiting program, an ongoing inspection program is necessary.

      The bottom line is that baiting may kill colonies but it is just part of your ongoing termite risk management and so doesn't really have an end date.

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    • 3. Termites are flying inside my house. What should I do?
       

      Don't Panic

      Termite swarmers inside your home or bedroom may be very scary, but with luck, the risk can be assessed fairly quickly.Firstly, put down that can of fly spray. It really won't help and may make things a deal worse later on. Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a jar in the freezer. You may want these later for identification. Gather up the rest (vacuum or broom). Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

      Now for the important bits.

      Were the termites coming in from outside (this often happens if you leave a window open or have an outside light left on)? Termites outside are often just an unavoidable local hazard. Walk around to see if you can see them spilling out of any trees, garden wood etc.. winged termitesChances are it is just a few stragglers from a normal local flight. Order a specialist termite inspection if you haven't had one for a year (or if they were emerging from important timbers like pergolas, fences or out from your house).

      Were the termites coming from inside the house? Sometimes they'll emerge right out of a wall, through the plaster, often near the top of a window or from a door frame or other feature. Look for little holes, often lined with brown or red mud and with termites dropping out or termite heads sticking out. If you have any of these signs, then you do have serious problems. Termites flying from within a house mean that there is a significant termite presence already having fun at your expense. Take some photos. Clean up the mess. Save your sample termites from the kids (or spouse) so that you can get them identified. Get a competent termite inspection. The termites may fly several times over the space of a few weeks.

      Don't be rushed into any control measures. Consider your situation closely and act accordingly. Though it is true that the building may eventually fall down if you do nothing, this is usually years after the first flights and even then it tends to happen during storms.

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    • 4. Do ants kill termites?
       

      Ants kill a lot of termites. Right around the world, and for most termite species, ants are the main predators. When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are really there as effective adaptations against attacking ants. When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest. This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

      The battles between ants and termites have been raging for millions of years, with no clear winner. It's good to have ants around your home as these make things harder for termites, especially those just starting new colonies but because termites are good at surviving ant attacks, the mere presence of lots of ants is no guarantee that you won't get termites. Ants are useful, but not reliable, predators of termites.

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    • 5. What can I do to keep things dry around my house?
       

      OK, so the subterranean termites are after moisture. What can I do to make life hard for them?

      Here's some pointers to get you started.bbgdrain

      You can do things that reduce the amount of water getting in to the soil near your perimeter walls and under your floor, so that the termites have further to travel between a drink and a feed:

      1. Make sure that rain falling on the roof does not drain into the soil near the house.
      2. Grade the soil around the house so that water drains away from, not towards the walls
        donshouse
      3. Don't have gardens, ponds, sprinklers, or pools anywhere near near walls. (The further away the better)
      4. Make sure that overflow drains from hot water services and air conditioners don't soak into the soil near the wall.

      You can do things to help the water get away:

      1. Have your excess roof water (hopefully the overflow from your collection tank) piped so that it drains well away from the house. Thirty feet (about ten metres) is good.
      2. Consider having paths surround the walls to increase runoff and reduce soil wetting.
      3. If you must have gardens near walls make sure you have a good air gap so that the wind isn't blocked and the base of the wall dries quickly. (Moving air is your friend, still air is danger)
      4. Don't have services, sheds or other items right up against the exterior walls. A good air gap will allow the wind to dry the walls and also gives you space to see any shelter tubes.
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    • 6. Repairs first or termites first?
       

      Should we demolish part of the house that's got termites in it?

      First up, the answer depends on what type of termites are creating the problem. If they are drywood termites, then maybe knocking things down will kill them, but if these are subterranean termites then definitely not. Drywood termites live in small colonies, usually in individual pieces of timber, so a thoughtful demolition may effectively remove active colonies. Subterraneans don't; they like to spread out through the structure and will have several paths to ground (for water). At the first strong vibrations, they will just go to ground and come back up later to resume the attack, perhaps even somewhere a bit further away. Early repairs just makes them harder to control and may cost you a lot more money. Once you open up their workings, the fresh, drying, air will force the termites to retreat.hand rips damaged stud

      With all types of termite, the individual does not matter. You can kill about half the termites in a colony and have it recover. You have to destroy the colony itself. This is often best done with baits, dusts or non-repellent soil poisons. It takes time. At least a month, maybe several months to more than a year.

      To be certain of the right course of action, you need a specialist termite inspection report and that means a competent inspection of the whole site by someone who really knows what they're doing, has the right tools, and uses them. Once you know the which, where and the why, you are ready to make a good decision. But in general, it is almost always best to control the colonies before you undertake and repairs or major changes unless the damage is a safety or security hazard.

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    • 7. Will the DIY termite stakes from hardware stores kill my termites for good?
       

      I saw them at Home Depot but they look very small.

      I've seen these sorts of DIY baits too. Way back, there was a court case where various groups once claimed that one retail bait system was not working properly. Stores kept selling them, but with a little warning on the box about how they weren't quite the same as a professional treatment. The ones I bought said "not recommended as sole protection against termites, and for active infestations, get a professional inspection". Companies don't put things like that on their products unless they are forced to or need to so as to avoid liability. Even if the bait system was 95% foolproof, that warning might still be valid. Baits don't make barriers.

      Baiting has a long history, I began working on baiting in the mid 1980s and some work had been done a decade before that.

      How big does a piece of wood have to be before your termites will be likely to find and eat it? Mostly a lot bigger than the little bits that are sold. You can overcome this by using lots more baits, but even with the best systems on the market you often have only one in ten being eaten. That's why people tend to fork out for the professionals. Exterra and Sentricon have the bulk of the market but there are clones and newcomers.

      Let's say you've hand your house professionally inspected, so you're fairly sure termites aren't ripping into it yet. You could place your own baits around it as an early warning system. These can be just bits of tasty wood. If you put each one under a big paver, the squirrels won't touch them and the termites will be more likely to find them (thermal shadow effect). Cheaper than retail products. When termites attack, do not disturb them any more than necessary and call in the professionals. You might try the old bait box method before you call them to build up a big feeding group that can be more easily poisoned. But don't forget to check your baits often, or else they can become a stepping-stone for subterranean termite attacks on your house.

      If you already have termites attacking, then just like the Spectracide bait label suggests, most people will call a professional. Look to the best way to spend your bucks.

      If you are not afraid of soil poisons, then a trenched-and-backfilled perimeter spray of non-repellent poison may do what you want for less than a commercial baiting setup and you'll have the advantage of a residual action. That way the next colony that comes along and tries will find something in the way.

      Nowadays you can buy baits online, even sometimes the same ones the professionals use. Some companies are making a lot of money out of these baits. While I agree that there are some infestations that a homeowner can safely bait, there are many that require a great deal of skill and knowledge to achieve success. Telling the difference is why you should hire a professional inspector. When you feel sick, you might buy your own stethoscope and scalpel but do you really know enough to use them properly in every instance? That's why a professional termite inspector should be your first port of call. Who knows? It may be that you can fix your own. How lucky do you feel? Can you afford to bet the house on your ability? If you get it wrong (and don't know it) a bit later you may be looking at a lot of expensive damage as the termites keep on eating while you attempt their control.

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    • 8. Is product X better than product Y?
       

      Apart from the things that look too-good-to-be-true, like weird ultrasonic and electronic termite repellers, just about any termite product you're offered that has some sort of government approval or label is capable of doing the job.  Trouble is that each product has situations that suit its use and usually also some situations where it isn't the best choice.

      So how do you choose which product to use to keep termites at bay?  The easiest way is to ask your technician.  For termites, nothing beats local knowledge.  Your climate, your species and the way houses are locally built, even land-use history, all have a major impact on what's the best management option.  So, you can spend a lot of time online researching all the options or you can spend a bit of time getting a background and then ask your technician.

      Don't just look at which works best and is cheapest.  Look at safety and environmental toxicity as well. Some chemical products will have off-target impacts. Some termiticides don't last well and others last too long, becoming persistent environmental pollutants.

      It is so easy to make mistakes and think you have control when you really don't, As you explore the options, just remember "Don't do this at home".  DIY management of termite infestations can be very risky but in saying that' there's lots you can do to lower risks and also to monitor for termite activity. You might even put in your own baits and call the technician back when you have activity.

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    • 9. How can i get rid of termites in my house?
       

      I found some in the clothes in my wardrobe.

      First up, If you don't own the place, termites are a landlord's responsibility. If it is yours, you need to find out which  type of termite they are (dampwood, drywood, subterranean etc) as what to about them varies hugely between the different types.

      Termites found on clothes in the wardrobe are usually subterraneans.   Unfortunately, termites are almost never a do-it-yourself problem. First up is to get a professional to take a look at the whole house and give you a written report.  You pay for this inspection service.  Sometimes you can get a free quote but be wary as these will always be 'free' based on the company's expectation of adding the cost of the free inspections to the cost of the control job. Every company has to earn enough money to cover the cost of the work they do.

      Don't go spraying anything or disturbing the termites before the inspection as this  only makes things worse (= more expensive to control).

      If you are lucky, the problem may be solved cheaply (for now) with a few well-placed puffs of a toxic dust. It may mean a termite baiting program or perhaps termticide placed into the soil but in any case, the aim is likely to be to kill off the attacking colony.

       

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    • 10. I knocked down some termite shelter tubes. They were under my house. Where have the termites gone? Will they come back?
       

      Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. These tubes are produced by subterranean termites and provide cover for them to traverse over things they don't want to eat in order to reach the things they do want to eat. If upset by the disturbance, the termites can easily switch to another path into the house--often one that you can't find. Trouble is, you termite inspector may not be able to find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and the likely result is that it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long time and a few may not ever come back.

      One thing that's sure is that breaking their tubes is not a safe way to control the colony. On the other hand, if your house sits up on stilts or stumps, then having a few trained chickens underneath to regularly break the tubes may actually give good control (used in some Pacific islands) but only if the termites have no alternative concealed entry paths.

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    • 11. How can I stop termites eating the seedlings/ trees/ herbs I have planted?
       

      Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

      In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked. If you do decide to use a termiticide at planting, make sure the product label covers this application. Opinion as to whether to use a repellent or non-repellent termticide seems to vary with locations and species and some find value in a systemic (such as imidacloprid) that makes the whole of the plant toxic for a while (even the pollen, so don't use on plants that are close to flowering).

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    • 12. What is termite baiting?
       

      Baiting for termites has a long history.  I first used it in 1979 to survey a park, but others had used baiting way before then.  Basically, a bait is something that termites will happily eat.  Often it is placed in a fancy (=expensive) container.  When the termites are feeding on the bait you (i) know they are there, (ii) can identify them and (iii)  you can exploit them.  The original bait box method had the termites collected and dusted with toxin before being allowed to sulk home.  Other methods replace the actual bait with one containing a slow-acting toxin.  If done well, the toxins applied can spread through the colony before any individual termite is affected and so, with luck, the whole colony will die.

      Baiting is good for colony control and sometimes for monitoring but it typically does not provide any residual protection and baits don't equal a barrier. There's lots more information here.

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    • 13. I found termites in the garden. What should I do?
       

      Should I get the house sprayed?

      Depending on where you live, it may well be that the termites in your garden are no threat to anything.  There are lots of species that never, well mostly never, behave as pests.  In my garden a Nasutitermes and a Porotermes pose no threat to my home. I keep them as pets (and samples for teaching).  But you're not me.  Before doing any control measure, you really should have the termites identified AND inspect your house.  This will allow you to decide what to do from a position of power.  Only when you know the extent of the problem, will you be in a good position to choose between management options.

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  • 14. How can I avoid termite problems?
     

    Simple ways to avoid meeting termites

    In the wild, pest termites usually get by quite happily eating sickly trees or the leftover bits of trees, and the safest, moist and tasty bits are usually underground or right in the middle of big pieces of timber. If your home/building/structure has big bits of wood that are dark or damp or close to the soil then your chances of avoiding termite problems are reduced.

    Hand crushing a paper-thin, termite-eaten wall stud
    Hollowed stud

    Subterranean & dampwood termites
    Subterranean termites usually get about by tunneling underground and entering their food from below. Tree roots are usually attached to trees and termites often travel from root to root great distances underground (there's almost always a small air gap under a big root, so they don't even have to dig as much). Timber waste buried around buildings usually leads to better food inside. Sometimes the termites just fly in and start up a fresh colony, but tunnelling is more common, because big bits of damp wood suitable for nesting are more often outside, not in. Dampwood termites don't tunnel nearly as much but can fly in just as easily.
    Since the termites are most likely to try to get in via the soil, there are some simple things you can do:

    Control moisture:

        • All types of termites need moisture. Keep your structure dry and well ventilated.
          Open roof drain leaks rainwater to soil, gives termites a free drink
          A free drink
        • Ventilate all possible subfloor areas and ensure the vents are kept free and clear. Make sure you wet areas inside (kitchen/bathroom/dungeon) are well vented. Wood can get wet, but must not stay wet.
        • Fix all plumbing leaks. Particularly showers and baths. These often have leaks supplying constant moisture that makes the wood just right to be eaten.
        • Check all gutters and down spouts, make sure that the water ends up well away from the house. Ideally down spouts should connect to stormwater drains. If you don't have these, at least redirect the water well away from the house. Down spouts which regularly splash near the structure may be supplying an irresistible source of moisture.
          Water pooling against brick wall. Never a good idea
          Biochemist's paving blunder
        • Avoid having gardens directly against walls--if you must do this, provide space for air movement between the vegetation and the wall and an inspection zone of at least 100 mm. Never have sprinklers wetting the soil near a building or deck. Termites have even been known to enter a building through branches touching walls.
        • Make sure that any paving is angled to drain surface water away from the structure. You'd be amazed how often this is done wrong. Some people even build outdoor paving higher than the interior floor level . . . like in this photo of the paving around my house.

    Be careful with timber in ground contact:

      • Remove any timber or cellulose material stored on the ground beneath a suspended floor. That includes cardboard boxes and old newspapers, even cotton materials. Clean up any off cuts left during construction. The aim is to maximize the distance between termites and their potential meal.
        termite tunnels in polystyrene
        Polystyrene
      • Don't store any firewood in ground contact. This attracts termites. It also prevents the wood drying properly and hence reduces the heat yield on burning (it takes energy to boil water). Set your firewood at least 100 mm above ground (a shelf ot trench-mesh sitting on cinder blocks is a cheap solution).
      • Structural wood in ground contact should be either termite resistant or treated with a preservative. Better yet, cut it off and mount it on a metal stirrup set in concrete. High and dry is always best.
      • Don't provide hidden entry points where temites can walk in unseen. Stucco can hide termite freeways and rigid foam slab-edge insulation can be a nightmare, providing termites with easy and secure tunnel space where you can't see them. Instead, provide an impervious inspection zone. Use long-life physical barriers in all new construction.
        decorative stone veneer in ground contact can conceal termites
        Hidden entry paths

        There's a trend in the USA now to have stone veneers in ground contact. All these concealing wall finishes create a major risk.

    Drywood termites
    Drywood termites can live in small pieces of wood so long as it is a little moist and not too hot or cold. They'll fly in and start their colonies right in that wood. Best way to keep them at bay is to disguise your timber.

    • Too Dry:Keeping timber very dry will make it impossible for termites to live, but this is impractical in many tropical and coastal areas where the natural humidity is sufficient to keep the wood moist enough for drywood termites. Do what you can to keep timber as dry as possible.
    • Disguised:If they don't know it is wood, they may not find it. Keep all exterior wood well coated with paint or varnish, especially the larger bits and at the joins and ends. Drywood termites begin their attack with just two termites. First the female selects a likely place to live and then pairs up with a male before they start tunnelling. So if you can make the wood unattractive, the termites won't even try. A bit of preservative can go a long way. If it doesn't taste good, the termites won't hang around.
    • Inaccessible:If they can't get to the wood they can't eat it. Seal up any cracks or fissures (these make it easy for them to get in). Cover vents with fine mesh screening (about 0.8 to 1.0 mm openings--but remember, you may need to increase the vent size to make up for this restriction of air flow). Pay particular attention to the roof and wall frames.

    Following these simple points will greatly reduce your termite hazard. Best of all is to design your structure to be termite resistant from the very beginning. Remember too, that regular inspections can locate termites before they do any major damage.

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  • 15. How do I choose the right pest manager?
     

    Trust and confidence need to be established. Will this pest manager do a good, competent job at a fair price? There are some slick and very shonky sales people out there ready to rip you off. There are honest pest managers who just want to give you a good job at a fair price. There are big companies and small companies, caring companies and careless companies. How can you decide who to employ?
    Here's a few simple pointers. I hope they help.

    1. The Need: Don't be rushed. Chances are you have plenty of time to consider your options.  Termites work slowly and so may you. Take your time and make the right choices.  Consider how you know what you know.  Keep notes of all conversations and keep your paper trail.
    2. The Business: The preferred way to find the right business is by talking with your friends and finding out who they have used successfully.  Word-of-mouth keeps many successful businesses thriving.

      How secure is the business?

      Does it have a bad name?

      Are they afraid to answer your questions?

      Does the mention of their name ring alarm bells at your local consumer advocacy/complaints group?

      Can they provide the names of satisfied customers as referees?

      Don't necessarily feel that big is better; an apparently large company may turn out to be just loosely controlled franchises, offering at best no better service than their smaller competition.

      The quality of the job will only be as good as the person who carries it out. Will the person actually doing the work be well trained and knowledgeable and able to talk with you or are you dealing with a salesperson who can only provide the quotation?

    3. Face to Face: Meet them on your own turf, not their's. Depending on the nature of the problem, many pest controllers will provide a quotation either at no cost or fairly inexpensively. They may be prepared to just turn up and talk with you while requiring a fee before they'll do any inspection. This is fair, as any information they provide on the basis of inspection whether free or at cost, implies at least some professional responsibility and hence potential liability on their part. Beware the "free" inspection. Everything has to be paid for eventually, by somebody, sometime.   Separate the inspection from the control proposal.  Make sure that you get a proper (on paper) timber pest inspection (WDO, or 'Wood Destroying Organism") report and make sure that it identifies the pests as far as possible.
    4. Safety in Numbers: Approach at least two or three businesses. Compare their advice and quotations. Decide whom you would best trust with your assets. Then compare prices. Beware the surprisingly cheap quotation. It is easy to do a cursory inspection and to excessively dilute any expensive chemicals, or just not apply them where they should go. Remember the value of a good warranty. Read Claire's experience. Know the different ways termites can be managed and why the one proposed is thought best for you.
    5. The Fine Print: What does the paperwork look like?Ask to see it up front.  After an inspection, you should be handed a written report, usually with a site diagram and the problem areas at least approximately mapped. The information should be clear. If it is presented on a preprinted form, the notations should be informative and quite clear. Look over the warranty. How small is the fine print? Do they mind you reading the contract? Is the scope of work made fully clear and is sufficient detail present to enable you to compare and contrast the quotes? Ideally, you will be asked to sign an agreement before any work occurs.  That's a good way to ensure you have matching expectations.
    6. A Relationship?: What about contracts? Are you just getting them to fix today's problem or are you signing up for a never-ending dependency? What if you sign and you don't want them back again? What if termites come back in one, two or three years? What will they do then? If they've done good work, should you pay a maintenance fee for the year on top of the other costs? It is always important to check value for money. Maybe that service contract is aimed more at maximising income rather than minimising termites? You have to work it all out. There's often comfort in a trusted name, but you should put at least as much weight on local people's experiences as you do on brand recognition. Don't get me wrong, sometimes service contracts are the way to go, especially with a baiting program where you want it all planned out and costed in advance.
    7. Deciding: Take some time to think over the information you have gathered.  One of the best ways is to get out of the house/office and go for a walk.  You'll think much more clearly.

    Vic Health has some good ideas and in Illinois, so does the Department of Public Health.  Hope this helps. Please feel free to email me with your experiences.

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  • 16. How are termites detected?
     

    Detecting termites is hard because they like to hide

    Termites are little white, soft-bodied weaklings. Termites avoid light and rarely come out into the open. Termite attack can escape anyone's notice for a very long time, which can be horribly expensive, not to mention dangerous.  A lot of houses that collapse during hurricanes or earthquakes really break due to weakening by termites.

    So, how are termites in houses detected?

    eaten wood
    Coptotermes damage

    1. Dumb Luck. Often termites are detected . . . .

    • when the vacuum cleaner leaves a dent in the skirting board
    • when someone makes a dent in the floor
    • when the door falls off
    • when termites fly (in huge numbers) inside the house
    • spotting on plaster ceiling
      Termite mud spots

      when you notice strange bits of mud in the plasterwork

    • when the light/fan in the toilet/laundry won't turn off
    • when the wood in the window frames looks mottled through the varnish
    • when you notice strange bubbles in the paint
    • when you lie awake at night and wonder what those quiet noises might be

     

    2. When Other Trades are . . . .

    • repairing a springy floor
    • fixing leaky plumbing
    • My cousin Ian McIntosh in his Darwin back garden
      Living lawn mower

      working in the garden

    • putting in new cupboards
    • installing your home theatre

     

    3. Regular Inspections . . . .

    • when you look under the floor and see tell tale shelter tubes
    • when you look near all the wet areas and notice bubbled or uneven surfaces
    • when you crawl around in the roof space and the wood seems hollow
    • when you look at all those wings you keep vacuuming away . .
    • when you hire a competent someone to do the looking for you

     

    Copyright © 1996-20016

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  • 17. How are termites controlled?
     

    Actions to stop or control termites need not be scary.

    Termite control comes in four forms: cultural, physical, biological and chemical.

    Well, at least those are the headings used in most text books.

    Chemical control is the least desirable, but is sometimes the only option.

    Typical Queensland High Set House - termite avoiding architecture
    No easy paths

    Cultural control relates to what we do and the way that we do it. It pays to avoid the simple traps that make things inviting for termites. In tropical North Queensland, where life is excellent for pest termites, the old traditional wooden housing style sits up very high. The tall stumps and metal termite caps (inverted pie plates) provide excellent protection against sneaky termites.  They can still come in from the ground, but it is far from inviting and they have to build shelter tubes over the pie plates.  Not a great option for them and one which makes them very easy to spot. If you follow the "guide to avoiding termite problems" you are instituting a cultural control by reducing the termites' chances of getting a foothold. Nomadism is another cultural technique--it sort of parallels with disposable coffee cups, only this way it's your home that is short-lived. Some speculative builders seem to prefer this approach. Beware the short warranty. Keeping a horde of animals to eat swarming termites has to be helpful. Geckoes on the walls will eat many termites. Ants are perhaps the best and most persistent predators, cleaning up the bulk of each alate flight. Even chickens will make short work of termites as they try to extend their shelter tubes.

    Physical control separates the food from the termite. Strip shielding, pie plates, posts on stirrups, and physical barrier systems such as Granitgard and exposed slab edges are examples of physical controls. Termites can also be controlled by taking their environment beyond the normal limits that their bodies can take. To this end, both sustained heat (over about 45 degrees C for an hour or so) or sustained cold (subzero--it is the ice-crystals that kill) can been used. Some services also use microwave energy--waves cook things well inside a tightly shielded oven, but it is fairly difficult to control such energy in a structure, where reflection is hard to predict, so be careful out there! These methods are not always a DIY option. Other proposed physical controls include eletrocution (in timber and soil) and bizarre electronic and sound repellents. Be wary of techniques that appear dangerous or hard to believe. If scary sounds did repel termites, they probably wouldn't ever eat grade schools.

    Biological control is practised for many other insect pests, but has had little success with termites. Well, little success in the commercial sense. As with the ants and geckoes mentioned above, many societies have used termites' natural enemies to keep them in check. Birds and ants can clean up an amazing quantity of termites. Business has tried nematodes and fungi. The nematodes are tiny worms which parasitise termites and the fungi are disease organisms, perhaps best thought of as terminal tinea. While these work extremely well in controlled laboratory experiments, they have yet to make a significant splash in the market. Still, we're all eagerly waiting and at the moment it looks like nematodes are slightly ahead of the fungi. Flies, beetles and killer viruses also kill termites, so who knows what will happen

    Fumigation to kill drywood termites in a house in Waikiki
    Fumigation

    Chemical control was once the sum total of pest controllers' responses to termite problems. Now the consequences of poisoning soils and surfaces are becoming apparent as the old termiticides are withdrawn and the newer ones come under increasing scrutiny. As most commonly practised, chemical control for termites involves either soil treatment to provide a barrier of toxic residues or (for drywoods) tenting of the structure and flooding it with toxic gas (some such fumigants may damage the ozone layer). To be effective, a chemical applied to form a toxic barrier in the soil must penetrate evenly and then bind securely to the soil particles. It has to be persistent. It must not break down through the action of normal soil microbes. Another way to use chemicals is (in much smaller doses) to apply them directly to the termites such as in the bait box technique, either as topical dust, or as bait toxicants. There is a world of difference between surrounding a structure with several kilos of toxin applied in hundreds of litres of emulsion and the at most, few grams of a slow-acting toxin which may be used in a baiting system (the bulk of which may be removed after control is achieved). Other than poisoning the soil and timber, chemicals are also used against drywood termites, but as a whole-structure fumigation or a spot treatment. Spot treatments are only for where you can be 100% sure that you can find and reach each and every drywood colony.

    Integrated termite management is a fancy term for putting it all together. For integrated control, you must plan, act as required, monitor, adapt and review. Take the long-term view and you can save a lot of money. Particularly if you build well (with physical barriers) in the first place.

    What to do first is usually straightforward. If you have drywood termites, the infestation is usually limited (sometimes to a single piece of furniture, sometimes to the whole house). For subterranean termites, management should first aim to either exclude the termites (such as by repairing a physical barrier) or kill off the offending colony. Colonies can most often be killed by nest destruction, nest poisoning, by baiting or by judicial use of a non-repellent termiticide into the soil where they are active. Repellent soil poisons are best (not used, or) saved for new construction when you can be sure of a complete barrier. In the ideal world, your pest management technician will do a full timber pest inspection of the building and grounds and present you with a written report and (separately) a management plan (hopefully with a range of options). Again, ideally, remedial soil poison barriers would not be used (i) unless necessary and (ii) until the offending colony had been controlled. Repairs (unless for safety) should not be made until the colony is controlled as early disturbance can make management difficult by breaking up or concealing the termite activity. If baiting or using a non-repellent termiticide for colony control, you want to keep them feeding at full tilt until they have consumed enough poison to kill the whole colony.

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  • 18. I've found termites, what should I do?
     

    OK, so you've found termites.  Here's a quick step guide of what to do.

    1. Don't spray anything.  Spraying just makes the rest of  them go to where they're hard to find.
    2. Don't disturb them.  Often it is cheaper to control them if they are undisturbed.
    3. Don't panic.  Termites tend to work slowly, so you usually have time to act before things get noticeably worse.
    4. Read through these FAQ files so you have a good background knowledge.
    5. Don't call the first company you find in the phone book.  Take your time, find a good inspector get a written report, then work out what to do.
    6. Do fix up the things that attracted the termites in the first place.
    7. Do remember to have another inspection scheduled to make sure that things are really fixed.
    8. Do consider regular inspections so you can catch any new attacks early.
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    • 1. Do termites bite?
       

      Can termites spread disease?

      Yes, termites do bite people but only if you get them angry. Most termites have to be biting on thin skin (like between your fingers or similar) before you'll even be able to notice their grim determination. They don't set out to bite people, but they will bite in defense and they do tend to hang on. The bites of bigger species like Mastotermes, Macrotermes and some dampwood termites are quite easily noticed. I've seen small blood marks from a Mastotermes bite near a technician's navel. Strangely, it is much more often the meek-looking workers that bite (me) than the big-jawed, heavy-set, scary-looking soldier termites. Alates (swarmers) may have bitten me. I've never noticed.

      As for disease, there's no available evidence to suggest that termite bites have ever transferred anything to humans. They don't remain sensitive and never seem to swell.

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    • 2. How long can a termite live?
       

      What's a termite lifespan?

      There's no simple answer to this one. It depends. The species, life-type, wear and tear, the colony's health--all these things affect the potential for a termite's long life. A worker or soldier termite can live to about three years in my lab, but most probably only live a year or so in the wild. They can also get killed soon after starting work and so, on average, many only last a few months. A reproductive female, the termite queen is something quite different. In some mound-building species queens are reported to last more than 40 years, perhaps several decades more! The reproducing males also last a long time (pdf). This would likely make them the longest-living insects.

      As usual, though, termite reality is stranger than we first thought. Imagine an amoeba, a superbly simple single-celled animal. If one splits (binary fission), producing two individuals, is the original one alive or dead? I think it is still alive. Do we think the same if the animal is multicellular and reproduces less simply? The issue arises with termites. Japanese and American researchers looking at the DNA of countless individual termites in a large number of colonies have shown that the some termites of the genus Reticulitermes, have queens that can reproduce themselves parthenogenetically (without using male input ~ see this pdf). Almost a self-clone. So the queen's genes go marching on. Oddly, their research shows the male genes in the colony to be fairly constant, meaning that they have also likely discovered that kings (male reproductives) individually last longer than females.

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    • 3. Where did the symbiotic thingies that live in termite's intestines come from?
       

      Like, where did they live before there were termites to live in?

      Termites are just cockroaches that have learned to cooperate very well. They are thought to have begun as something like the wood-feeding cockroach genus Cryptocercus. The microbes that live so successfully in their guts are derived from similar free-living forms in rotting logs that get eaten when cockroaches eat the rot.  So both the ancestoral microbes and the ancestoral cockroaches were living in logs and soil well before termites came about.  You can imagine a termite as a streamlined cockroach shaped by the needs and profit of the microbes as well as the benefits of living in social groups. Over time, the gut organisms became adapted to their unique habitat and co-evolved tightly with their hosts to the point that most are critical for the termites' success.

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    • 4. Why do all termite Genera have names ending in -termes?
       

      They don't, just the vast majority of them.

      Termite scientists are a fairly conservative lot, and like patterns. Termes is a Latin word meaning wood worm. It is a widely followed convention that the genera of termites be given names with -termes at the end, but it isn't required by the rules of naming animals. Just makes things easier I guess. Some genera don't. This is because the taxonomist who authored them broke with convention. The best know of these is Zootermopsis, the dampwood termites of North America.

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    • 5. Who runs the colony?
       
      Che Guevara
      Fearless leader

      Most people will tell you that a termite Queen rules her colony. I think that's a figment of their paradigm (way of looking at things). Sure the primary reproductive is central to the colony, and the laying of eggs is particularly important to colony survival, but to believe that she sits (locked) in her Royal Cell, exuding chemicals which neatly control the behaviour of each and every termite is a little far fetched. Rather, the termite colony is a form of exquisite chaos, much like the way we drive cars on roads. There are some basic traffic laws which are mostly followed, but rigid compliance only occurs in the presence of threat (police). Still, there are few accidents, and despite the individual will, things generally work out OK. Of course if one big traffic cop was trying to coordinate everything with explicit instructions to thousands of cars at once -- things could get ugly..

      Termites in the colony ebb and flow. Like us, they take on different roles as they mature. Unlike us (perhaps, unlike us after we reach adulthood), termites are strong followers. They follow the group, being strongly attracted to scents which are exuded from the underside of the belly. Thus the more termites walking a path, the more attractive that path becomes. So a simple positive feedback recruits more termites to a good food source. When a bee finds a good food source she (all the workers of the Hymenoptera {Ants, bees & wasps} are female, whereas a foraging termite can be of either sex), she returns to the hive and performs an elegant dance which recruits other workers to the same spot. What happens with termites? They are blind, so the dance is no use. Do they smell the breath {termites don't really breath through their mouths}, sniff the bottom like dogs? Perhaps.

      Things are more complicated than this simple positive feedback, because termites from a single colony forage in many areas at once, and can only work if there are negative feedback mechanisms to balance the positive ones. If not, as in Resnick's simple model (pdf), all the termites would feed at the one source. Besides feeding on optimal food sources, termites tend the young, construct and maintain the nest, defend it against predators, collect water, humidify and condition the nest atmosphere, control unwanted microbes and tend or farm others.

      The termite colony is indeed a site of complex behaviours, but these are emergent behaviours, arising as patterns as the individual termites go about, governed by simple rules. It's true that the primary reproductive plays a disproportionate role in the determinant of overall colony behaviour, but her influence on the moment by moment activity of any termite is probably no stronger than your head of state's influence upon what you are doing right now. And besides, termite families are rarely simple. Colonies can be more like communes with gangs of more closely related termites--still part of the same colony--tending to hang out and feed separately. It gets complex. Enough said.

      Copyright © 1996-2016 Don Ewart Created, Saturday, 17 February 1996
      Most recent code revision March 5 2016

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    • 6. What are termites? 2~~Nerdy version
       

      Coptotermes lacteus exposed in their moundTermites belong to the Order Blattodea (Pronounced Blat-oh-dee-a) , which they share with the cockroaches and sit in the infraorder Isoptera (Pronounced Eye-sop-terra).  The termites (before nucleic acids took over taxonomy)  had their own full order, but were later found to sit within the spread of the cockroaches.  That name came form the Greek, Iso meaning equal and pteron, meaning wing. The name referred to the wings of the reproductive caste, which isn't very helpful as most termites are plain workers that never get to grow wings. There are two pairs of wings, with the front pair the same size as the hind pair. The name termite comes from the Latin word termes meaning woodworm (which probably covered some beetle larvae as well). See also here.

      Description:
      Drawing of a Reticulitermes flavipes alateTermites are small, pale to whitish, soft-bodied social insects living in a nest or colony system. They all feed mostly on plant fibre (cellulose). The colony is divided into castes, which do different jobs and mostly also look different.  The most numerous worker caste is relatively undifferentiated and performs much of the colony work, there is a specialised soldier caste with head and jaw structures differentiated with stronger features and often mouthparts more suited to defence than feeding. The reproductive caste, known as alates (winged ones) are produced when nymphs mature to develop wings and a generally darker colouring. Metamorphosis is gradual (there is no pupal stage)
      The head is rounded and eyes generally absent except in the reproductive caste (and rarely in soldiers), antennae are beaded ('moniliform') with more than ten obvious beads, wings are also absent except in reproductive caste. They all have strong chewing mouthparts and can broadly be separated by looking at the patterns of their tiny teeth (not like ours, more like saw teeth). The wings are deciduous, shed shortly after Post-flight female of Coptotermes lacteus signalling for a mate.  Note wings already discarded.nuptial flight through breakage at a suture near point of attachment (hence de-alate), leaving small scales which persist. Termites are weak fliers, flights occur only under favourable conditions: nearly still air, high humidity and with falling barometric pressure indicating a likelihood of following rain. No constriction of the abdomen (as in ants, bees and wasps). Here's a similar description at the University of Delaware

      a worker termiteTermites also behave in ways that makes them easy to identify. For a start, nearly every type live completely in the dark (except when building or when the winged ones are flying), so you usually only see them when something is broken or open. Once exposed, they will try to follow their scent trails home. If these are broken they just wander around looking lost or squeeze into any gap they can find.

       

      Drawing of a Coptotermes soldier termiteMost species of termites have what is called a soldier caste. These grow strong heads, often much darker than those of the other termites. Very often, these strong heads also have big jaws. If you can find some of these among you termites, it makes the job of identifying the species much easier. Soldiers may be rare, only a few percent of the population, so look carefully.

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    • 1. Termites are flying inside my house. What should I do?
       

      Don't Panic

      Termite swarmers inside your home or bedroom may be very scary, but with luck, the risk can be assessed fairly quickly.Firstly, put down that can of fly spray. It really won't help and may make things a deal worse later on. Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a jar in the freezer. You may want these later for identification. Gather up the rest (vacuum or broom). Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

      Now for the important bits.

      Were the termites coming in from outside (this often happens if you leave a window open or have an outside light left on)? Termites outside are often just an unavoidable local hazard. Walk around to see if you can see them spilling out of any trees, garden wood etc.. winged termitesChances are it is just a few stragglers from a normal local flight. Order a specialist termite inspection if you haven't had one for a year (or if they were emerging from important timbers like pergolas, fences or out from your house).

      Were the termites coming from inside the house? Sometimes they'll emerge right out of a wall, through the plaster, often near the top of a window or from a door frame or other feature. Look for little holes, often lined with brown or red mud and with termites dropping out or termite heads sticking out. If you have any of these signs, then you do have serious problems. Termites flying from within a house mean that there is a significant termite presence already having fun at your expense. Take some photos. Clean up the mess. Save your sample termites from the kids (or spouse) so that you can get them identified. Get a competent termite inspection. The termites may fly several times over the space of a few weeks.

      Don't be rushed into any control measures. Consider your situation closely and act accordingly. Though it is true that the building may eventually fall down if you do nothing, this is usually years after the first flights and even then it tends to happen during storms.

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    • 2. How are drywood termites detected?
       

      What can a homeowner do?

      Drywood termites live in small colonies within the timbers of your house. They stay inside the timber except when taking out the trash or when the kids leave. The trash is made up of little pellets of poo (frass) which look a lot like pepper. When they have too much of it in the nest, they'll open up a little hole to the surface and dump it out. If you see little piles of peppery stuff that reappear after you remove them, then you probably have drywood termites. (Ant frass is unevenly sized with obvious dead bits in it)  Every so often, the colony kicks out a lot of young adults. These winged (alate) termites attempt to fly off, find a mate and start a new colony. If released inside, they are very hard to miss. That's the two main ways you're likely to find them: poo and flyers.

      A specialist termite inspector will do a slow and complete inspection, looking and using tools to try and find all these little colonies. It is a very tough job and the risk of missing the deeply hidden or just very small groups of drywood termites are quite high, almost certain in some situations. It is important that your inspector has good access to the whole of the house and has enough time to do the job properly. Have people available to move furniture and items as required.

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    • 3. Do termites bite?
       

      Can termites spread disease?

      Yes, termites do bite people but only if you get them angry. Most termites have to be biting on thin skin (like between your fingers or similar) before you'll even be able to notice their grim determination. They don't set out to bite people, but they will bite in defense and they do tend to hang on. The bites of bigger species like Mastotermes, Macrotermes and some dampwood termites are quite easily noticed. I've seen small blood marks from a Mastotermes bite near a technician's navel. Strangely, it is much more often the meek-looking workers that bite (me) than the big-jawed, heavy-set, scary-looking soldier termites. Alates (swarmers) may have bitten me. I've never noticed.

      As for disease, there's no available evidence to suggest that termite bites have ever transferred anything to humans. They don't remain sensitive and never seem to swell.

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    • 4. Why are some termites called 'drywood'?
       

      'Drywood' is a misnomer. Absolutely all types of termites do need some water to live and none can survive for long in totally dry wood. The drywood termites though, are very good at getting by with surprisingly little moisture and this enables them to live in small colonies in small pieces of just-damp wood. They can thrive, while the wood is good food that stays sufficiently moist and doesn't get too hot or too cold. Mostly drywood termites are found in the tropics, in forests and along coasts and rivers. In fact, anywhere that regularly has enough water in the air so that wood tends to always stay that bit moist.

      Most mature drywood termite colonies number less than 1,000 termites and it may take the colony the best part of a decade to get to that size. Countering this, their habit of living within a piece of wood means that a house, tree, boat or even a door can be home to many separate colonies.

      Drywood termites are cryptic. They don't tunnel in the soil, they don't build shelter tubes, they don't build mounds or other fancy structures which means that drywood termites can be quite hard to find (check the wording on your timber pest inspection--they may be excluded)-- see this pdf). Each colony tends to make one or more holes in the surface of their nest wood. They use these as waste chutes for faeces, blocking them up after use. Drywood termite poo is little hard pellets because they generally need to retain as much water as possible. Often a pile of pellets is a sure sign. I first noticed it as a gentle rain of pepper-like material falling from the roof frame of a rustic hotel restaurant in Carita, West Java. Even sitting 4 metres below the roof, I knew for sure they were there.Carita beach West Java

      Normal termite controls (aimed at subterranean termites) are no use against drywoods. Using baits seems just plain silly. In small timbers (like doors, furniture, wooden legs etc.) it is easy to control the colony. In buildings it is often better to fumigate or 'treat' the whole structure, since you can rarely be 100% sure of finding and killing each individual colony.

      The drywood termites are all placed in the Family Kalotermitidae. The main one around the world is the supertramp West Indian Drywood Termite, Cryptotermes brevis but there are tens of others that regularly worry people. Sometimes some of the dampwood termites (Termopsidae) act as if they were drywood termites, producing faecal pellets instead of wet poo, so they may be thought of as functionally or opportunistically drywood.

      PS. Where I had used orange oil and wiped the excess from surfaces, a year or so later there is staining. Might just be the ones I was using, but be sure to fully clean away any residues.

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    • 5. What is a termite swarm?
       

      The really odd thing about a termite swarm is that it is the one time when cooperation goes out the window.  It is every termite for his- or herself. Even family stop caring for their young.

      A swarm is a coordinated flight of winged (alate) termites.  It happens several times a year when the local colonies try to release fully grown (fit, healthy, strong, winged and sighted) termites capable of reproduction.  They fly off, typically only a 100 m (say 300 feet) or so unless there's a breeze.  The aim, if female, is to quickly find a home site and if male, to pair with a female who's already found  a good home site and signalled her intentions.

      They sometimes seem to fill the sky.  Almost all fail but just enough make it so that they keep on surviving.  Flights are short, termites only get into one flight.  It is all or nothing.  There's no going back into the nest. Swarms may happen a few times a year or quite often. They mostly happen late in the day but some species like to let go in the morning.

      More here

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    • 6. How long does it take for a termite colony to mature?
       

      To grow up, produce swarmers, make new colonies.

      Maturity is commonly said to be reached when the colony can reproduce. From the time that the founding pair first mate to the colony producing winged adults, and releasing them to become a new generation, sometimes takes as little as three years but can be much longer, depending on the species and conditions.  The winged termites (also known as swarmers but correctly as alates) don't appear until the colony has grown substantially.  Usually several generations of offspring develop as generic workers and special soldiers, building a nest system and grow their numbers before the first termites are allowed to develop the wings and other bits needed for reproduction.  For the main subterranean pests, these emerging colonies may go unnoticed (even with the best inspections). A colony of subterraneans is often closer to seven years old before there is any major surface evidence to see.  If food is poor or water is hard to get, the colony may grow slowly and weakly.  In the warm, wet tropics (think Honolulu, Miami or Manila) a colony can grow much more quickly than it can in cooler places (like Paris, Chicago or Canberra).  With insects, being cold-blooded, effective time varies with temperature, it races in the heat and crawls in the cold, so it is next to impossible to provide an accurate estimate for any given colony.

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    • 7. I found termites in the garden. What should I do?
       

      Should I get the house sprayed?

      Depending on where you live, it may well be that the termites in your garden are no threat to anything.  There are lots of species that never, well mostly never, behave as pests.  In my garden a Nasutitermes and a Porotermes pose no threat to my home. I keep them as pets (and samples for teaching).  But you're not me.  Before doing any control measure, you really should have the termites identified AND inspect your house.  This will allow you to decide what to do from a position of power.  Only when you know the extent of the problem, will you be in a good position to choose between management options.

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  • 8. Why do all termite Genera have names ending in -termes?
     

    They don't, just the vast majority of them.

    Termite scientists are a fairly conservative lot, and like patterns. Termes is a Latin word meaning wood worm. It is a widely followed convention that the genera of termites be given names with -termes at the end, but it isn't required by the rules of naming animals. Just makes things easier I guess. Some genera don't. This is because the taxonomist who authored them broke with convention. The best know of these is Zootermopsis, the dampwood termites of North America.

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  • 9. What are termites? 2~~Nerdy version
     

    Coptotermes lacteus exposed in their moundTermites belong to the Order Blattodea (Pronounced Blat-oh-dee-a) , which they share with the cockroaches and sit in the infraorder Isoptera (Pronounced Eye-sop-terra).  The termites (before nucleic acids took over taxonomy)  had their own full order, but were later found to sit within the spread of the cockroaches.  That name came form the Greek, Iso meaning equal and pteron, meaning wing. The name referred to the wings of the reproductive caste, which isn't very helpful as most termites are plain workers that never get to grow wings. There are two pairs of wings, with the front pair the same size as the hind pair. The name termite comes from the Latin word termes meaning woodworm (which probably covered some beetle larvae as well). See also here.

    Description:
    Drawing of a Reticulitermes flavipes alateTermites are small, pale to whitish, soft-bodied social insects living in a nest or colony system. They all feed mostly on plant fibre (cellulose). The colony is divided into castes, which do different jobs and mostly also look different.  The most numerous worker caste is relatively undifferentiated and performs much of the colony work, there is a specialised soldier caste with head and jaw structures differentiated with stronger features and often mouthparts more suited to defence than feeding. The reproductive caste, known as alates (winged ones) are produced when nymphs mature to develop wings and a generally darker colouring. Metamorphosis is gradual (there is no pupal stage)
    The head is rounded and eyes generally absent except in the reproductive caste (and rarely in soldiers), antennae are beaded ('moniliform') with more than ten obvious beads, wings are also absent except in reproductive caste. They all have strong chewing mouthparts and can broadly be separated by looking at the patterns of their tiny teeth (not like ours, more like saw teeth). The wings are deciduous, shed shortly after Post-flight female of Coptotermes lacteus signalling for a mate.  Note wings already discarded.nuptial flight through breakage at a suture near point of attachment (hence de-alate), leaving small scales which persist. Termites are weak fliers, flights occur only under favourable conditions: nearly still air, high humidity and with falling barometric pressure indicating a likelihood of following rain. No constriction of the abdomen (as in ants, bees and wasps). Here's a similar description at the University of Delaware

    a worker termiteTermites also behave in ways that makes them easy to identify. For a start, nearly every type live completely in the dark (except when building or when the winged ones are flying), so you usually only see them when something is broken or open. Once exposed, they will try to follow their scent trails home. If these are broken they just wander around looking lost or squeeze into any gap they can find.

     

    Drawing of a Coptotermes soldier termiteMost species of termites have what is called a soldier caste. These grow strong heads, often much darker than those of the other termites. Very often, these strong heads also have big jaws. If you can find some of these among you termites, it makes the job of identifying the species much easier. Soldiers may be rare, only a few percent of the population, so look carefully.

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  • 10. I've found termites, what should I do?
     

    OK, so you've found termites.  Here's a quick step guide of what to do.

    1. Don't spray anything.  Spraying just makes the rest of  them go to where they're hard to find.
    2. Don't disturb them.  Often it is cheaper to control them if they are undisturbed.
    3. Don't panic.  Termites tend to work slowly, so you usually have time to act before things get noticeably worse.
    4. Read through these FAQ files so you have a good background knowledge.
    5. Don't call the first company you find in the phone book.  Take your time, find a good inspector get a written report, then work out what to do.
    6. Do fix up the things that attracted the termites in the first place.
    7. Do remember to have another inspection scheduled to make sure that things are really fixed.
    8. Do consider regular inspections so you can catch any new attacks early.
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    • 1. Your new home
       

      Hopefully, your home comes with pre-installed termite management and hopefully this will be a least-toxic alternative. A life-of-structure, physical management system that doesn't rely on any poisons is best. If you don’t already know what's been done, please ask the builder or vendor how termite risks have been managed. Simple things can help prevent termite attacks. Without a management system you usually can’t see what termites are attacking. It is very important that you don’t do anything to make life easier for the termites. Make your future life easier instead. If your new home was somebody else's beforehand, you should have had a termite inspection before purchasing but either way, once you are ready to move in, it may be a good idea to get a more thorough inspection than can be done in a house that's dressed-up-for-sale.

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    • 2. How long should a termite inspection take?
       

      It is often hard for the consumer to judge whether an inspection is good value for money. Time varies with skill, knowledge and professionalism. Local knowledge is important. Anything under an hour may be suspicious. Time on the job depends on the size and complexity of the structure, the location and more importantly the type of inspection required. Followup inspections are the fastest. Say you are wanting a typical house checked out before you buy it. I would normally expect that pre-purchase inspection to take around two to three hours. Obviously, an old or heavily renovated house will take more effort to inspect for signs of termites than a brand new one. If you have a contracted service or have a management system installed (subterranean termites), then the regular inspection can be a lot faster, maybe even 45 minutes to one hour. If you have reported an infestation and the technician is exploring the extent of activity using a range of tools (including the fancy ones such as a Termatrac radar unit or a thermal camera), then it may take the best part of a day. Big houses take longer, apartments take less time. Don't worry if the technician takes longer than expected as this is usually OK. If you think the process was too quick, query about why and be sure to ask detailed questions about which areas weren't inspected (often because of blocking furniture or locked access). Remember that your mileage will often differ from that of your friends and neighbors.

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    • 3. Do termites tunnel through concrete/mortar/cement/cinder blocks etc.?
       

      Termites will put a lot of effort into breaking through something that stands between them and the food or water they desire. Just so long as the prize justifies the effort required, they will appear as if to move mountains. Plaster (drywall etc.) is no barrier to termites. Most mortars slow them down, but lime mortars are readily penetrable. Termites will not usually do any damage to quality mortars with a high cement content, but beware of gaps and shrinkage cracks. Good quality concrete cannot be excavated by termites BUT cracks in poor concrete may be opened with ease. Autoclaved aerated concrete (those lightweight bubbly blocks) were readily penetrated in my field tests. Concrete (cinder) blocks sometimes have gaps in them big enough to interest termites (also observed in my field trials). Masonry is often built with lots of continuous gaps that termites can simply walk through, especially with extruded, hollow-core bricks.

      Mud-brick (adobe) can be penetrated but there is most risk between the blocks and at cracks, penetrations and against timber framing.

      In general, termites won't damage concrete if they can't pull out the sand (and small aggregate) particles. If the cement has been properly proportioned and the mix allowed to cure, then the particles tend to be well bound and termites are adequately deterred.

      Termites can walk through cracks in concrete. The cracks need to be uniformly about 10% wider than the termites' head. Concrete that is properly placed, cured and is reinforced ('rebar') generally won't crack wide enough to be at risk. A properly designed and constructed concrete slab can be a building's main defence against subterranean termites.

      Sometimes concrete has big pockets of air (because it was not properly settled), has wooden levelling pegs left in (termite highways) or has been damaged by expanding bolts or following trades cutting to add services. Easy termite paths are commonly found where floor slabs have cut-outs for baths or showers or where there are pipes or conduits passing through from the ground.

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    • 4. Termites are flying inside my house. What should I do?
       

      Don't Panic

      Termite swarmers inside your home or bedroom may be very scary, but with luck, the risk can be assessed fairly quickly.Firstly, put down that can of fly spray. It really won't help and may make things a deal worse later on. Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a jar in the freezer. You may want these later for identification. Gather up the rest (vacuum or broom). Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

      Now for the important bits.

      Were the termites coming in from outside (this often happens if you leave a window open or have an outside light left on)? Termites outside are often just an unavoidable local hazard. Walk around to see if you can see them spilling out of any trees, garden wood etc.. winged termitesChances are it is just a few stragglers from a normal local flight. Order a specialist termite inspection if you haven't had one for a year (or if they were emerging from important timbers like pergolas, fences or out from your house).

      Were the termites coming from inside the house? Sometimes they'll emerge right out of a wall, through the plaster, often near the top of a window or from a door frame or other feature. Look for little holes, often lined with brown or red mud and with termites dropping out or termite heads sticking out. If you have any of these signs, then you do have serious problems. Termites flying from within a house mean that there is a significant termite presence already having fun at your expense. Take some photos. Clean up the mess. Save your sample termites from the kids (or spouse) so that you can get them identified. Get a competent termite inspection. The termites may fly several times over the space of a few weeks.

      Don't be rushed into any control measures. Consider your situation closely and act accordingly. Though it is true that the building may eventually fall down if you do nothing, this is usually years after the first flights and even then it tends to happen during storms.

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    • 5. Do ants kill termites?
       

      Ants kill a lot of termites. Right around the world, and for most termite species, ants are the main predators. When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are really there as effective adaptations against attacking ants. When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest. This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

      The battles between ants and termites have been raging for millions of years, with no clear winner. It's good to have ants around your home as these make things harder for termites, especially those just starting new colonies but because termites are good at surviving ant attacks, the mere presence of lots of ants is no guarantee that you won't get termites. Ants are useful, but not reliable, predators of termites.

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    • 6. How are drywood termites detected?
       

      What can a homeowner do?

      Drywood termites live in small colonies within the timbers of your house. They stay inside the timber except when taking out the trash or when the kids leave. The trash is made up of little pellets of poo (frass) which look a lot like pepper. When they have too much of it in the nest, they'll open up a little hole to the surface and dump it out. If you see little piles of peppery stuff that reappear after you remove them, then you probably have drywood termites. (Ant frass is unevenly sized with obvious dead bits in it)  Every so often, the colony kicks out a lot of young adults. These winged (alate) termites attempt to fly off, find a mate and start a new colony. If released inside, they are very hard to miss. That's the two main ways you're likely to find them: poo and flyers.

      A specialist termite inspector will do a slow and complete inspection, looking and using tools to try and find all these little colonies. It is a very tough job and the risk of missing the deeply hidden or just very small groups of drywood termites are quite high, almost certain in some situations. It is important that your inspector has good access to the whole of the house and has enough time to do the job properly. Have people available to move furniture and items as required.

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    • 7. Do I have to worry about termites in firewood?
       

      Generally not. You want your firewood dry (so that it burns well). If you cut it, split it and put it outside and up off the ground out of the rain, then it will dry quickly and any termites in it will slowly die. Ants and other predators will help. The only way this doesn't work is if you are in a humid area with a drywood termite risk.fire caused by ignorance of termites Drywoods may persist for a long time as the wood slowly dries. If you do find termites, don't do silly things like this guy who caused a major fire. Cut early, well before the cold weather, and let the sun and the air do the work for you. Unless the wood contains a nest, only a few of the major pest species can rebuild a colony from the workers and soldiers feeding in the wood.

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    • 8. My builder wants to trim my new house with MDF instead of solid timber. Is this a good idea?
       

      MDF (medium density fibreboard) is basically pulped wood that has been glued back together and pressed into shape. It is much cheaper than plain timber that's been spindle-molded into shape, such as for door trims. Termites don't really like MDF (or most reconstituted wood) because the high glue content makes it strange to eat. It is a counter intuitive thing, but you are actually better off buying the solid timber trim that termites are quick to eat. That way when they do attack your home, they'll quickly be eating where they are easily detected. With tasty timber trims, you have a good chance of finding the damage quickly (like when your vacuum cleaner leaves a dent). That way there isn't time for a lot of concealed damage to happen where you can detect the termites and have them dealt with.

      You want all the timber that's easy to see or bump to be just about as susceptible to termites as is possible. All the stuff that's deep in the walls can be resistant, but not the other way around. Termites often eat MDF only a tiny bit while completely wrecking the normal timber behind it and it just makes their activity much harder to find. MDF looks smooth and paints well, but a clear coat over timber is much prettier and it doesn't add a lot to the cost, well not compared to its early-warning value. Just think of it as another part of your termite management defences.

      Oddly, some lower grade MDF is readily eaten. I mostly see this as the backboard in flat-pack kitchen cupboards.

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    • 9. How can i get rid of termites in my house?
       

      I found some in the clothes in my wardrobe.

      First up, If you don't own the place, termites are a landlord's responsibility. If it is yours, you need to find out which  type of termite they are (dampwood, drywood, subterranean etc) as what to about them varies hugely between the different types.

      Termites found on clothes in the wardrobe are usually subterraneans.   Unfortunately, termites are almost never a do-it-yourself problem. First up is to get a professional to take a look at the whole house and give you a written report.  You pay for this inspection service.  Sometimes you can get a free quote but be wary as these will always be 'free' based on the company's expectation of adding the cost of the free inspections to the cost of the control job. Every company has to earn enough money to cover the cost of the work they do.

      Don't go spraying anything or disturbing the termites before the inspection as this  only makes things worse (= more expensive to control).

      If you are lucky, the problem may be solved cheaply (for now) with a few well-placed puffs of a toxic dust. It may mean a termite baiting program or perhaps termticide placed into the soil but in any case, the aim is likely to be to kill off the attacking colony.

       

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    • 10. Why are there "inaccessible areas" listed in my inspection report?
       

      Don't these make it worthless?

      Inaccessible areas are those places the inspector wanted/needed to inspect but couldn't get to.  Even in an unoccupied house, there may be listings for areas of sub-floor or roof or with locked doors that keep the termite inspector out.  If the place is occupied, furniture and stored stuff often gets in the way.  You can help by clearing up before the inspection and having people available to move stuff as required.  Read the report very carefully to see if the inaccessible areas are considered to be a risk that needs to be inspected.  Sometimes this means opening up the surfaces to get access.  Cutting access holes in timber floors or making holes to see behind the drywall plaster can make all the difference between finding the problem and living blissfully unaware until the damage is really extensive. Generally the basic/normal inspection is almost entirely visual, with a little bit of tapping and the use of a moisture meter. If you think you have termites, it may be better to go for an inspection with fancy tools (that partially overcome access issues) such as a termatrac radar unit or a thermal camera. If you have termites, then it is usual to have an invasive inspection and do everything you can to ensure adequate access.

      If the inspection is done as part of a purchase, be very careful with mentions of inaccessible areas as these may be where the vendor is hiding something.

      Bottom line is that if you are unhappy with any aspect of the inspection report, spend some time talking with the termite inspector to see what may be done. Often your fears can be overcome with a little more information than appears in the standard paperwork  . .

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    • 11. Should I buy a house that has termites?
       

      They say it will be quick and cheap to get rid of them.

      In real estate trading, if a deal seems unbelievably good, then it probably isn't to be believed. A house with an unknown level of termite damage poses and unknown financial risk.

      A house that has been attacked by termites has lost some value.  It the attack has been severe or ongoing, then the value of the house is way down. A big problem is that the inspector has no way to assess the extent of past damage without ripping open a few walls and other surfaces. Remember that buildings weakened by termites are more likely to fail during severe storms or earthquakes.

      Termites hide.  The damage they do is nearly all concealed and can only be seen by ripping things apart.  We can guess the extent of the damage, but we have to really mess things up to be certain and that means a lot of costly repairs even if nothing much is found Vendors don't like that and only allow an inspector to perform a visual inspection, usually without even being able to move furniture to look behind. Some vendors will try hard to conceal defects that might make the house look bad.

      To determine likely repair costs, you would need what is called an invasive inspection by both the termite inspector and a building professional. This gets tricky. If the vendor will agree (in writing) to let your inspectors conduct an invasive inspection without either them or you having to make good any surfaces they choose to open, then it may be worth considering the purchase. Normally you would make an offer subject to the inspection works providing a repair cost estimate below an agreed figure (which you don't tell the inspector!). That gives you room to get out if the place really isn't worth it. You would want a good lawyer to draw up the contracts. Mostly the vendor will say no.

      Chances are that a few more things needing fixing will be found during the partial demolition before repairs begin.  You could also be up for works to prevent immediate reinfestation.  All this adds up.

      Bottom line is that it would have to be an extremely desirable house and a very appealing sale price.  Is this particular house really worth the risk?

      Pest managers seem to be good at buying discounted termite-damaged houses and fixing them up to live in. If you can get a good estimate of the damage, are willing to take the chance, you can ask the vendor to drop the price by a sum that's larger than the expected control, repair and risk-reduction costs. Most people will keep looking.

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    • 12. I knocked down some termite shelter tubes. They were under my house. Where have the termites gone? Will they come back?
       

      Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. These tubes are produced by subterranean termites and provide cover for them to traverse over things they don't want to eat in order to reach the things they do want to eat. If upset by the disturbance, the termites can easily switch to another path into the house--often one that you can't find. Trouble is, you termite inspector may not be able to find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and the likely result is that it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long time and a few may not ever come back.

      One thing that's sure is that breaking their tubes is not a safe way to control the colony. On the other hand, if your house sits up on stilts or stumps, then having a few trained chickens underneath to regularly break the tubes may actually give good control (used in some Pacific islands) but only if the termites have no alternative concealed entry paths.

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    • 13. How do drywood termites get to my house?
       

      . . if they don't tunnel in like the subterraneans did.

      There are two ways that drywood termites can begin infesting a house.  By far the most common is by when they fly in and find a good place to live (in an exposed piece of timber) and start a new colony.  The second way is for a colony to hitch a ride.  Often this happens when they come in with furniture, even in new furniture, but just about any lump of wood can do it- such as a bread board, ornament or violin.  I've had reports of new hollow-core internal doors being installed with drywood termites already in them.

      Inspection is the only way to know that you have them.

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    • 14. My neighbor has termites. What should I do?
       

      They say I need a treatment too.

      This is a tricky one, and this answer is only for subterranean termites (not for drywoods and not for dampwoods).

      Let's say the termites are in your neighbor's house. A nearby infestation means that local conditions are suitable for the termites and so it tells you that your place is also at some risk. If baits or another colony-killing method is used, then that immediate risk to your house is gone as that colony will be controlled. But there may well be many nearby colonies. If they just repair the damage or poison the ground with a repellent chemical (like bifenthrin), then the termites may be 'pushed' towards feeding at your place. That isn't good.

      On the other hand, the termites may be living in your house and have spread to your neighbor's. Or they may be nesting in your yard.

      In any case, this is not the time to sign up for a treatment. You should get a proper timber pest inspection done so that you can assess your options. Then talk to your neighbor about the best way to do things.

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    • 15. Why are the termites attacking MY home?
       

      My house looks just like the ones that don't have termites.

      Termites have no capacity for malice, so it is definitely nothing personal. Their needs are simple. Food and shelter are almost always freely available for them in what we build. Water is the big issue and often we can build termites out by making it harder for them to get the water they need so that they can eat.

      The best thing you can do is to get a professional inspection report done and read the report carefully. Next best is to keep reading and try and work it out for yourself. What has changed? In what subtle ways is my house differently exposed? Did anything make it easy for them? How are they getting in? Why is water available? If you can answer these, you're most of the way to selecting a solution.

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    • 16. Will termites living nearby attack my house?
       

      They might. Subterranean termites, of most types, will travel at least 50 metres through the soil from their nest to exploit good food. Termites flying from colonies can sometimes spread a thousand metres. If your house is well maintained and has a termite management plan, the risk can be reduced to something quite acceptable (but the risk is never totally removed). Apart from known colonies of major pests very close to a building, there is usually little to be gained from trying to wipe out all the possible colonies in your area. This is especially true if the termites are local native species and you live in a wooded area. Relax, follow your management plan and be sure to have regular inspections so that if they do get through, nothing much has time to happen. Do keep in mind that not all types of termites are pests and the ones you find outside my not be at all interested in your house.

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    • 17. We've had flooding rain. How will that affect the termites?
       

      A flood or heavy rain can seriously upset your termite defenses.

      If you rely on soil chemical chemicals around or under your home, these can be buried by silt and debris making a bridge for the termites. The chemicals can also be washed out, so when the water goes away, check and organise a termite inspection a few weeks later.

      Water that gets into your house (but not out again) tends to soak into timbers. Termites love to eat timber that's damp. Fungi (rot) also has a better time and wood that's partly rotted by fungi is often tastier for termites.

      Subterranean termites have trouble getting around when their tunnels are full of water. If you scale it up, it is a bit like you or me trying to walk through honey. So they stay home or move to wherever is high and dry(ish). When the water drains away some of their tunnels will need repair and may be abandoned. They'll move quickly to patch up access to their best food resources. Scary thing is that all that moisture in the soil makes their tunneling so much easier as they no longer need to carry in water to work. So, once re-established, subterraneans will go exploring and your barriers will be tested. After a flood or after drought-breaking rains, you should schedule an inspection the next Spring or Fall (Autumn), certainly before six months are up.

      Floods can also move big bits of wood around. Sometimes these bits arrive with termite colonies inside. Sometimes floods cause timbers to be buried or mostly buried. Timbers that are in the soil are much nicer for termites as they don't dry out quickly and the soil buffers temperature changes. Floods change things.

      If flood waters sit around for extended periods, weeks or months, then termites populations may be reduced for a time.

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    • 18. How do we design structures to manage the risks of termite attack?
       

      Every building should be designed to reduce the chances of problems with all the local pests, not just pest termites. Here's a basic scheme:

      Much can be done to reduce the pest pressure and maintenance costs by including a few simple design features. While my main interest is the exclusion of subterranean termites, design should take account of all likely pests. The following guidelines are intended for architects, designers and managers of large facilities (schools, nursing homes, hospitals, offices etc.) but may be adapted to any construction.
      Most pests will take advantage of concealed entry paths. Accordingly, the perimeter of a building should be designed and constructed so that:
      1. Pests are discouraged from gaining easy entrance.
        1. Door should fit snugly with weather stripping and sweeps that close tightly.
        2. All opening windows shall have metal screens which are fixed taught and seal to the frame with a gasket.
        3. All metal window and door frames shall have joints sealed with a suitable elastomeric sealant.
        4. Cracks, crevices, holes and thermal gaps shall be suitable sealed with a caulk or compressible foam product.
        5. Large holes such as for added or removed pipe openings shall be sealed. Stainless steel wool (pot scrubbers) covered with a mortar or grout is usually sufficient.
        6. Exterior lighting for doors must be far enough away that flying pests attracted to the lights can gain casual entry. Entrance ways should use reflected rather than direct light and light sources should be at the orange end of the spectrum so as to reduce attraction to nigh-flying insects.
        7. Entrance ways, alcoves and attached plant should be designed so as to minimise wind-blown debris accumulation.
      All pests need somewhere to live and somewhere to rest.
      1. Pests should not find easy hiding places inside.
        1. Interior wall joints, gaps in panels, window frames, gaps around cupboards and electrical fixtures shall be filled or sealed.
        2. Skirting boards, and floor coverings shall provide no open cavities.
        3. Skirting boards and sheet floor coverings shall be designed and placed so as to be readily cleaned with electrical rotating brush devices. There should not be internal 90 degree corners, rather corners should be radiused to match cleaning capability.
        4. All supply pipes, cables and conduits to be sealed where they pass through walls and panels and, all conduits and ducts to be sealed or meshed to prevent pest entry.
        5. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, cabinets, sinks, toilets and counter tops which meet walls shall be sealed against water entry so as to prevent pest harbourage.
        6. Air vents/inlets shall be screened with metal mesh of 1 mm aperture size (small enough to block termites) which is fabricated and installed so as to be readily removable for cleaning.
        7. Floor drains require removable coarse mesh screens or similar devices to prevent cockroach passage.
        8. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, floor-mounted fixtures should, as far as practicable, be either on raised legs (100 mm high) set as to provide easy access for cleaning and inspection or shall be provided with sufficient space for easy access and cleaning ( e.g. toilet cubicles).
        9. In kitchen, bathrooms and other wet areas, drains shall not be concealed under equipment or fixtures.
        10. Storage areas should be designed to permit both inspection and drying air flows. Storage units should be mounted at least 100 mm off the floor. Racks, cupboards or compactus units for long-term storage shall mounted be at least 600 mm from walls. 
      2. Pests should not find easy resting places outside.
        1. Ledges and fixtures should not provide roosting places for birds as faecal accumulations pose a health hazard.
        2. Plant and equipment whether at the perimeter or roof-mounted, should be designed to exclude rodents and bids and to be readily inspected.
        3. Roof should be designed to shed booth water and litter.

      All pests need a suitable environment in which to live. A building's immediate surrounds should not be particularly amenable to the pests' needs.
      1. Exterior landscaping can create ideal pest environments.
        1. Gardens must not be adjacent to exterior walls such that, at any time, plants will be in direct contact. Plants provide bridges for pests.
        2. Paving at least 600 mm wide should surround the building. In low-traffic areas, paving can be replaced by compacted gravel. Paving is less hospitable than garden beds.
        3. Plants, including grasses, should not encroach on perimeter paving.
        4. No tree,shrub or plant that is known to have extensive or invasive roots (e.g. Bamboo) shall be planted within 3 metres of the exterior walls. Where such plantings are identified, foundations and perimeter paving shall be protected with a root barrier system.
        5. Trees, shrubs and other large ornamental plants shall be spaced to have a free-air gap of at least 600 mm between them at maturity (or to be trimmed to maintain such gaps). Air gaps are important to reduce humidity at the exterior of the building.
        6. Soil levels, paving, features and garden beds shall not interrupt the fall so that rain and other water drains well away (at least 2 m) from the base of perimeter walls.
        7. Garbage and recycling containers for litter shall be mounted on concrete pads which extend not less that 150 mm from the container. Containers shall be mounted not less that 400 mm from walls and shall be positioned on legs to provide at least 100 mm clearance from the pad. Containers shall have self-closing lids.Termites in particular can be encouraged by having concealed access points to the building fabric and by having water and potential food in close proximity.
      2. Buildings should be intrinsically termite resistant.
        1. Physical termite barriers that do not rely on any toxin should be used wherever possible as these generally provide the longest service life.
        2. Footings, retaining walls and any section of wall that might be concealed by soil of accumulations from garden beds etc. should be solid rather than hollow and should have all joints and expansion gaps fitted with a suitable termite barrier.
        3. Moisture and water must not be allowed to accumulate either under the building or against exterior walls. Service life is extended where the perimeter and footing earth stays close to uniform moisture content. Pests problems are reduced where this moisture content remains low.
        4. The roof should be pitched and drain to the exterior. Valleys should be steep to rapidly shed water and litter. Flat roof designs that permit either water ponding or wind-blown litter and bird wastes to accumulate are to be avoided. Subterranean termites will attack a building from the top where there is permanent moisture.
        5. Timbers in soil contact shall be kept to an absolute minimum and where required only known naturally resistant or suitably preserved timbers should be used. Landscaping timbers decay to become major harbourages for pests. Preserved timbers weather and degrade over time and may provide cover for pests. Where preservative penetration is insufficient, pests may be concealed within apparently preserved timbers.

       

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    • 19. How can I avoid termite problems?
       

      Simple ways to avoid meeting termites

      In the wild, pest termites usually get by quite happily eating sickly trees or the leftover bits of trees, and the safest, moist and tasty bits are usually underground or right in the middle of big pieces of timber. If your home/building/structure has big bits of wood that are dark or damp or close to the soil then your chances of avoiding termite problems are reduced.

      Hand crushing a paper-thin, termite-eaten wall stud
      Hollowed stud

      Subterranean & dampwood termites
      Subterranean termites usually get about by tunneling underground and entering their food from below. Tree roots are usually attached to trees and termites often travel from root to root great distances underground (there's almost always a small air gap under a big root, so they don't even have to dig as much). Timber waste buried around buildings usually leads to better food inside. Sometimes the termites just fly in and start up a fresh colony, but tunnelling is more common, because big bits of damp wood suitable for nesting are more often outside, not in. Dampwood termites don't tunnel nearly as much but can fly in just as easily.
      Since the termites are most likely to try to get in via the soil, there are some simple things you can do:

      Control moisture:

          • All types of termites need moisture. Keep your structure dry and well ventilated.
            Open roof drain leaks rainwater to soil, gives termites a free drink
            A free drink
          • Ventilate all possible subfloor areas and ensure the vents are kept free and clear. Make sure you wet areas inside (kitchen/bathroom/dungeon) are well vented. Wood can get wet, but must not stay wet.
          • Fix all plumbing leaks. Particularly showers and baths. These often have leaks supplying constant moisture that makes the wood just right to be eaten.
          • Check all gutters and down spouts, make sure that the water ends up well away from the house. Ideally down spouts should connect to stormwater drains. If you don't have these, at least redirect the water well away from the house. Down spouts which regularly splash near the structure may be supplying an irresistible source of moisture.
            Water pooling against brick wall. Never a good idea
            Biochemist's paving blunder
          • Avoid having gardens directly against walls--if you must do this, provide space for air movement between the vegetation and the wall and an inspection zone of at least 100 mm. Never have sprinklers wetting the soil near a building or deck. Termites have even been known to enter a building through branches touching walls.
          • Make sure that any paving is angled to drain surface water away from the structure. You'd be amazed how often this is done wrong. Some people even build outdoor paving higher than the interior floor level . . . like in this photo of the paving around my house.

      Be careful with timber in ground contact:

        • Remove any timber or cellulose material stored on the ground beneath a suspended floor. That includes cardboard boxes and old newspapers, even cotton materials. Clean up any off cuts left during construction. The aim is to maximize the distance between termites and their potential meal.
          termite tunnels in polystyrene
          Polystyrene
        • Don't store any firewood in ground contact. This attracts termites. It also prevents the wood drying properly and hence reduces the heat yield on burning (it takes energy to boil water). Set your firewood at least 100 mm above ground (a shelf ot trench-mesh sitting on cinder blocks is a cheap solution).
        • Structural wood in ground contact should be either termite resistant or treated with a preservative. Better yet, cut it off and mount it on a metal stirrup set in concrete. High and dry is always best.
        • Don't provide hidden entry points where temites can walk in unseen. Stucco can hide termite freeways and rigid foam slab-edge insulation can be a nightmare, providing termites with easy and secure tunnel space where you can't see them. Instead, provide an impervious inspection zone. Use long-life physical barriers in all new construction.
          decorative stone veneer in ground contact can conceal termites
          Hidden entry paths

          There's a trend in the USA now to have stone veneers in ground contact. All these concealing wall finishes create a major risk.

      Drywood termites
      Drywood termites can live in small pieces of wood so long as it is a little moist and not too hot or cold. They'll fly in and start their colonies right in that wood. Best way to keep them at bay is to disguise your timber.

      • Too Dry:Keeping timber very dry will make it impossible for termites to live, but this is impractical in many tropical and coastal areas where the natural humidity is sufficient to keep the wood moist enough for drywood termites. Do what you can to keep timber as dry as possible.
      • Disguised:If they don't know it is wood, they may not find it. Keep all exterior wood well coated with paint or varnish, especially the larger bits and at the joins and ends. Drywood termites begin their attack with just two termites. First the female selects a likely place to live and then pairs up with a male before they start tunnelling. So if you can make the wood unattractive, the termites won't even try. A bit of preservative can go a long way. If it doesn't taste good, the termites won't hang around.
      • Inaccessible:If they can't get to the wood they can't eat it. Seal up any cracks or fissures (these make it easy for them to get in). Cover vents with fine mesh screening (about 0.8 to 1.0 mm openings--but remember, you may need to increase the vent size to make up for this restriction of air flow). Pay particular attention to the roof and wall frames.

      Following these simple points will greatly reduce your termite hazard. Best of all is to design your structure to be termite resistant from the very beginning. Remember too, that regular inspections can locate termites before they do any major damage.

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    • 20. How do I choose the right pest manager?
       

      Trust and confidence need to be established. Will this pest manager do a good, competent job at a fair price? There are some slick and very shonky sales people out there ready to rip you off. There are honest pest managers who just want to give you a good job at a fair price. There are big companies and small companies, caring companies and careless companies. How can you decide who to employ?
      Here's a few simple pointers. I hope they help.

      1. The Need: Don't be rushed. Chances are you have plenty of time to consider your options.  Termites work slowly and so may you. Take your time and make the right choices.  Consider how you know what you know.  Keep notes of all conversations and keep your paper trail.
      2. The Business: The preferred way to find the right business is by talking with your friends and finding out who they have used successfully.  Word-of-mouth keeps many successful businesses thriving.

        How secure is the business?

        Does it have a bad name?

        Are they afraid to answer your questions?

        Does the mention of their name ring alarm bells at your local consumer advocacy/complaints group?

        Can they provide the names of satisfied customers as referees?

        Don't necessarily feel that big is better; an apparently large company may turn out to be just loosely controlled franchises, offering at best no better service than their smaller competition.

        The quality of the job will only be as good as the person who carries it out. Will the person actually doing the work be well trained and knowledgeable and able to talk with you or are you dealing with a salesperson who can only provide the quotation?

      3. Face to Face: Meet them on your own turf, not their's. Depending on the nature of the problem, many pest controllers will provide a quotation either at no cost or fairly inexpensively. They may be prepared to just turn up and talk with you while requiring a fee before they'll do any inspection. This is fair, as any information they provide on the basis of inspection whether free or at cost, implies at least some professional responsibility and hence potential liability on their part. Beware the "free" inspection. Everything has to be paid for eventually, by somebody, sometime.   Separate the inspection from the control proposal.  Make sure that you get a proper (on paper) timber pest inspection (WDO, or 'Wood Destroying Organism") report and make sure that it identifies the pests as far as possible.
      4. Safety in Numbers: Approach at least two or three businesses. Compare their advice and quotations. Decide whom you would best trust with your assets. Then compare prices. Beware the surprisingly cheap quotation. It is easy to do a cursory inspection and to excessively dilute any expensive chemicals, or just not apply them where they should go. Remember the value of a good warranty. Read Claire's experience. Know the different ways termites can be managed and why the one proposed is thought best for you.
      5. The Fine Print: What does the paperwork look like?Ask to see it up front.  After an inspection, you should be handed a written report, usually with a site diagram and the problem areas at least approximately mapped. The information should be clear. If it is presented on a preprinted form, the notations should be informative and quite clear. Look over the warranty. How small is the fine print? Do they mind you reading the contract? Is the scope of work made fully clear and is sufficient detail present to enable you to compare and contrast the quotes? Ideally, you will be asked to sign an agreement before any work occurs.  That's a good way to ensure you have matching expectations.
      6. A Relationship?: What about contracts? Are you just getting them to fix today's problem or are you signing up for a never-ending dependency? What if you sign and you don't want them back again? What if termites come back in one, two or three years? What will they do then? If they've done good work, should you pay a maintenance fee for the year on top of the other costs? It is always important to check value for money. Maybe that service contract is aimed more at maximising income rather than minimising termites? You have to work it all out. There's often comfort in a trusted name, but you should put at least as much weight on local people's experiences as you do on brand recognition. Don't get me wrong, sometimes service contracts are the way to go, especially with a baiting program where you want it all planned out and costed in advance.
      7. Deciding: Take some time to think over the information you have gathered.  One of the best ways is to get out of the house/office and go for a walk.  You'll think much more clearly.

      Vic Health has some good ideas and in Illinois, so does the Department of Public Health.  Hope this helps. Please feel free to email me with your experiences.

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    • 21. How are termites detected?
       

      Detecting termites is hard because they like to hide

      Termites are little white, soft-bodied weaklings. Termites avoid light and rarely come out into the open. Termite attack can escape anyone's notice for a very long time, which can be horribly expensive, not to mention dangerous.  A lot of houses that collapse during hurricanes or earthquakes really break due to weakening by termites.

      So, how are termites in houses detected?

      eaten wood
      Coptotermes damage

      1. Dumb Luck. Often termites are detected . . . .

      • when the vacuum cleaner leaves a dent in the skirting board
      • when someone makes a dent in the floor
      • when the door falls off
      • when termites fly (in huge numbers) inside the house
      • spotting on plaster ceiling
        Termite mud spots

        when you notice strange bits of mud in the plasterwork

      • when the light/fan in the toilet/laundry won't turn off
      • when the wood in the window frames looks mottled through the varnish
      • when you notice strange bubbles in the paint
      • when you lie awake at night and wonder what those quiet noises might be

       

      2. When Other Trades are . . . .

      • repairing a springy floor
      • fixing leaky plumbing
      • My cousin Ian McIntosh in his Darwin back garden
        Living lawn mower

        working in the garden

      • putting in new cupboards
      • installing your home theatre

       

      3. Regular Inspections . . . .

      • when you look under the floor and see tell tale shelter tubes
      • when you look near all the wet areas and notice bubbled or uneven surfaces
      • when you crawl around in the roof space and the wood seems hollow
      • when you look at all those wings you keep vacuuming away . .
      • when you hire a competent someone to do the looking for you

       

      Copyright © 1996-20016

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    • 22. I've found termites, what should I do?
       

      OK, so you've found termites.  Here's a quick step guide of what to do.

      1. Don't spray anything.  Spraying just makes the rest of  them go to where they're hard to find.
      2. Don't disturb them.  Often it is cheaper to control them if they are undisturbed.
      3. Don't panic.  Termites tend to work slowly, so you usually have time to act before things get noticeably worse.
      4. Read through these FAQ files so you have a good background knowledge.
      5. Don't call the first company you find in the phone book.  Take your time, find a good inspector get a written report, then work out what to do.
      6. Do fix up the things that attracted the termites in the first place.
      7. Do remember to have another inspection scheduled to make sure that things are really fixed.
      8. Do consider regular inspections so you can catch any new attacks early.
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