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How do I know I have termites?
Most home owners only find out they have termite damage when the damage is severe and their foot goes through the floor or a door falls off its jamb. The short answer, particularly if you live in a termite susceptible area, is to have the home inspected by a termite technician every 12 months.
Why are termites a threat to my home?
Termite colonies work 24 hours a day, and signs of termite infestations can go undiscovered until serious damage is done. Because homeowners insurance typically does not cover termite damage, termite detection and continued termite treatment are the best ways to help protect your property. According to industry statistics, termites cause billions in documented damage each year. More to read about Termite control and treatment here
However, homeowner insurance routinely excludes termite damage so insurance will not pay for treatment or repairs. Most people list their homes as their single largest investment and termite infestation and damage can be devastating. Termites in a commercial building have the same effect; it is an uninsured event which must be addressed.
How do termites get in my house? The most destructive species live in large underground nests containing several million timber destroying insects. They cannot expose themselves to the air or they will dry out and die. These termites travel underground from one food source to another. When there is a nest near your home, termites will travel towards your home which provides natural shelter and a food source. They’ll travel up to 100 metres to enter your home. Termites can penetrate through cracks in concrete slabs and even build mud tubes to gain access.
What do termites look like?
The antennae of ants has an ‘elbow’ halfway along with a knob at the end. Termites have just a ‘string of beads’ all about the same size. The other, easily visible difference is that ants have a definite 3-sections: head, thorax where the legs come from then the separate and definite abdomen. Termites have a definite head, but the thorax and abdomen run together without any constriction between them.
If however you see small, ant-sized flying insects on a summer evening, they could be ants or they could be termites looking for a mate and a potential nesting site. The most noticeable difference is in the size and shape of the wings. Termite wings are the same size; forewing and hindwing are identical. All other insects have a different size/shape forewing to hindwing. Of course the 3-segment versus 2-segment body and the antennae differences still apply.
Is saw dust a sign of termites?
No, when termites take a bite out of wood they swallow it. Saw dust is usually a sign of carpenter ants. Termites always keep themselves concealed and eat timbers from the inside. Termite damaged timbers do not have holes or dust.
What are some of the signs of termites?
For subterranean termites, a swarm or winged termites emerging within a structure is a sign that an infestation is nearby.
Termites travel along tunnels made of regurgitated food and if they are eating a piece of wood with splits, they fill the gaps with this ‘mud’ mixture (‘mud’ packing). You may find other sorts of packing between joints in timber but the difference is the termite ‘mud’ is brittle and the cover used by ants has a silken web joining many particles together. The caterpillars of some wood moths do the same thing as they eat out the decayed wood where moisture has been constant in joints.
Can termites get through concrete slab?
Nearly all homes built since the mid 60s have a concrete slab floor. The termites will not get through the slab unless a crack is wider than about 3mm (most cracks are just hairline). Most termite entry is over the edge of the slab and in through small gaps in the mortar bonding the first course of bricks to the slab. The usual practice is to build the soil up to cover the unsightly edge of the slab and this hides the mud covered termite entry point. Just above the damp course, there are a series of weep holes and termites can build a tunnel up and through any of these, into the framing timbers which all join up.
What are other ways they can get in?
If your home is built with a suspended flooring (usually timber) you should have underfloor access and you should go under and look for termite tunnels going up the foundation walls or the piers (stumps). Filled in areas such as chimney bases, bathrooms and laundry could camouflage termite entry and these wet areas need special attention.
Then there are the other ‘bridges.’ Irrespective of the floor construction, termites get into buildings because of additions such as pergolas, pool pump screens, new stairs, even dog kennels, cubby houses or a side gate. Too many times, for houses built decades, even a century ago the termite attack occurred only after the addition of a veranda, a granny flat or another form of extension.
What do I do if I notice termite activity?
It is important that if you notice any form of termite activity that you DO NOT disturb the termites in any way. DO NOT use spray insecticides on the termites. If sufficiently disturbed, the termites may move elsewhere and not be rediscovered until severe damage has been done. If they are outside the home and you disturb them, this most likely will lead to them to abandon the foraging area and go foraging elsewhere, possibly in your home. Contact a termite controller immediately and they will discuss your options re how to eliminate the danger.
What termite attack prevention measures can I take?
Getting professional advice is the best way to reduce risk. In addition to some kind of protective treatment, ask for advice about what changes you can make at home to help reduce the risk.
Lower the finished ground level around the walls of your home
A high finished ground level (FGL) is by far the most common fault and greatly increases the termite risk. As a guide, your FGL should be about 150mm below your floor level. You should step UP into your home. For homes on slabs, this usually means that the slab edge is just covered but the weep holes are free of garden beds. For homes on timber floors, this usually means that the air vents become free and the sub-floor can breathe.
Don’t use railway sleepers for retaining walls
A sleeper retaining wall provide nesting harbourage ideal for termites. If you have one just a few metres from your home, you should consider removing it.
Inappropriate building extensions and conversions
A high proportion of the infestations we attend are caused by inappropriate add-ons to buildings. The main offenders are new concrete slabs poured against existing timber floors, and garages and underfloor basements converted to living areas.
Never combine timber floors with concrete slabs and always show your plans to a termite specialist before you build. Seek advice from termite professional when planing extensions/renovations.
Attachments to houses
Patios, pergolas, gate posts and steps can make a building more vulnerable to termites. Free standing patios and pergolas should be separated from the house by 50 to 100 mm or if attached, it is important to pay attention to where they contact the ground. Avoid using wooden posts in direct contact with the ground. Attach wooden posts to steel fittings concreted into the ground with 50 to 100 mm between the wood and the ground. Seal the ends of hollow steel fittings in all constructions with welded plate to prevent termites entering the wood through the tubing. Ensure a 50 to 100 mm clearance between gate posts fixed in the ground and the building. Alternatively, gate posts fixed to the building should clear the ground by 50 to 100 mm.
Similar principles apply to the construction of sheds. Avoid embedding timber posts directly into the ground. All timber should be clear of the ground by at least 50 mm.
Remember, termites require water to maintain the high humidity within the nest in addition to food, or wood. By removing these needs homeowners can do their part to prevent these pests from becoming a problem in their home.
You can do this by:
ensuring soil is not in contact with susceptible building timbers
ensuring subfloors are well ventilated and remain dry
using only resistant timbers below floor level
avoiding storage of wood in contact with the soil under, or around buildings
improving drainage and fixing leaky plumbing in order to reduce available soil moisture.
Consider using timber alternatives such as steel trusses in roofs and steel door frames.
Use resistant timbers where possible, especially in exposed positions or in contact with the ground. Resistant timbers are wandoo, blackbutt, jam, jarrah,western red cedar and kapur. Also resistant are the American native cypress pines and American cedar.
Ensure that storm water is shed away from buildings using paving sloped at an adequate angle away from the foundations. Direct gutter outflow to storm water drains or soak wells situated well away from the foundations. Avoid placing garden beds and associated reticulation adjacent to the house foundations. Never construct raised garden beds abutting the outside wall of the house. Internal gardens or conservatories can create special problems and owners should consult the architect or builder about protecting these from termites.
Dampness around bathrooms and laundries in houses with suspended floors causes special concern, since tile grout allows moisture to seep through. Pre-formed fibreglass shower floors, which don’t allow water seepage, can be used in some circumstances. Water and sewerage pipes under buildings should be free of leaks.
Correctly fitted air vents provide adequate ventilation of sub-floor spaces and keep timber dry. They also provide light, which termites find repellent.
If you have a problem call your local pest control Company