• 1. Avoid
Actions and changes that will make life harder for 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. 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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  • 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
    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. 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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  • 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. 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
      • 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


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