Termite FAQ – Looking for termites

  • 1. Inspect
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 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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