Questions about doing it yourself

  • 1. DIY
Advice for the unskilled termite manager
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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. 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

    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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  • 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. 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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  • 7. 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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  • 8. 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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  • 9. 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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  • 10. 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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  • 11. 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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  • 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 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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  • 14. 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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  • 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 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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  • 17. 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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  • 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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