So naturally, we want to protect that asset, right? What happens if the roof over our head starts thinning, quite literally, thanks to a tiny, crawling pest? Here’s a quick guide on some ways to identify when you have termites, what your options are to treat an infestation and what costs could be involved.
Signs you may have termites
The thought of termites may bring visuals of dilapidated homes falling apart as wood crumbles. But in reality, termites in walls are often invisible to the naked eye. According to hipages, some common signs to look out for to tell if you have termites include:
- Clicking sounds coming from the walls or ceiling – you can put your ear to the wood to listen for them.
- Timber making a hollow sound when you tap it.
- Doors and windows becoming hard to open or close, which can happen because termites create moisture, leading to the timber warping.
- Mud tunnels, such as on a broken piece of wood or leading up walls into your home, which termites build to travel through.
- Termite droppings, which typically appear as a small, black powdery substance.
What to do if you find termites on your property
According to Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association (AEPMA) National Vice President, Gary Stephenson, it is a good idea for homeowners who suspect they may have termites to engage a pest management specialist to conduct an inspection of their property. Mr Stephenson told Canstar there are around 350 termite species in Australia, but only about 10 of them are actually a threat to building structures.
Following the inspection, Mr Stephenson says that if a specialist finds evidence of termites on your property, they can provide a recommended treatment that is tailored to the property’s construction, the termite species present and the extent of the infestation.
Termite treatment options
The Building Code of Australia requires a number of features of new homes to be treated against termites as they are being built. Treatment methods may include using termite-resistant materials or physical barriers, however there are a number of additional treatment options available to homeowners.
Mr Stephenson said that once a house has been built, there are three main approaches to termite treatment:
- Eradication of any active termites
- Eradication of the active termites + preventative treatment
- Preventative treatment
The right treatment for your property will depend on your circumstances, and Mr Stephenson said that if you’ve already identified an infestation, the first step in many circumstances is to directly target it, either with a chemical or bait. He said that while some homeowners may opt simply to treat the direct threat of active termites, he recommends following this with a preventative treatment plan to reduce the risk of further infestation, such as soil treatment (which may include trenching around foundations, such as stumps, to insert chemicals into the soil) and in-ground baiting or monitoring stations. If the property is in an at-risk area but not infested yet, some home owners may instead opt for a preventative treatment in the first instance.
Once treatment has commenced, the infestation or baiting stations are typically then monitored by the pest management specialist in follow-up inspections to check on the effectiveness of the treatment.
Active termite eradication
Active termite eradication refers to treatment that is applied directly to the affected structure itself, such as a shed or wall where an infestation has occurred, as well as any trees on the property with termite activity. This treatment targets the termites where they are. The treatment a specialist recommends for you will be based on the property, infestation and the specialist’s product preferences and training.
Dust: According to AEPMA, the dust treatment involves using a fine dust that is made of or contains toxicants (components that are toxic to termites), which is blown into infested areas.
Foam: AEPMA says foaming treatments contain a slow-acting toxicant that can be injected directly into areas where there are active termites.
Termites that are exposed to one of these treatments, whether directly or by using toxicant-covered tunnels, ‘groom’ each other, spreading the toxicant through the colony.
Above-ground baiting: AEPMA says this involves placing termite food that has been treated or mixed with a slow-acting toxicant within a container, which is positioned directly over active termite feeding sites.
Mr Stephenson said following the initial inspection, active eradication treatment would usually follow these steps:
- The pest management specialist applies the treatment directly.
- The specialist would usually return after a number of weeks to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.
Once the termites have been eradicated, the second phase of ongoing management, if the homeowner opts for it, would begin. This varies depending on the property, but could involve installing in-ground baiting stations or, depending on whether there is access underneath the structure, chemical soil treatment.
The specialist will usually then inspect the property regularly to monitor termite activity.
Preventative treatment: soil treatment
If there is access underneath the home, the pest management specialist may recommend soil treatment, either as a preventative measure if there is no current infestation, or as an ongoing management tactic following an initial active termination. Soil treatment generally involves applying liquid over or into the soil around any structures that make contact with the ground, such as stumps. This liquid may be non-repellent (termites do not detect it and forage in the soil long enough to attain lethal doses of the toxicant) or repellent (termites sense its presence and avoid entering the soil).
The amount of time this treatment will be effective for will depend on the product used, and your pest management specialist should be able to provide more information.
Preventative treatment: in-ground baiting
In-ground baiting can be used as a preventative measure or to complement direct eradication treatment. Mr Stephenson says baiting on its own generally takes longer to take effect than direct treatment, but it is likely to be more extensive in eradicating the actual nest of termites. This style of treatment is generally suited to properties that are in full contact with the earth on a concrete slab, limiting the pest management specialist’s access to underneath the home.
According to the Queensland Government, a baiting station contains timber or a similar substance that is baited, so when the termite feeds, it comes in contact with the toxin, which it then takes back to the nest and spreads within the colony.
Mr Stephenson said the stages of this treatment, depending on a number of factors, generally are:
- If there is an active eradication strategy to eliminate an infestation, this will be completed first.
- The pest management specialist will install above-ground baiting stations.
- The specialist will then check on the baiting stations regularly, generally every four to six weeks if further termites are detected, with this frequency decreasing once termite activity has been dormant for six months.
- After 12 months, Mr Stephenson recommends the specialist continues to check the stations around every three months for the life of the system.
How much does termite treatment cost?
The total cost of your termite treatment will depend on a number of factors, such as the extent of the infestation, the construction type and design of the property (such as the size of the building and what type of access is available) and the species of termite.
As a guide, Mr Stephenson said the average costs for a standard, three-bedroom Australian house are:
Termite inspection (required): $250 for a general visual inspection. An inspection that uses more advanced technology, such as thermal imaging cameras and endoscopes, may cost between $450 to $550 or more.
Active eradication: around $1,500 to $2,500 for a localised infestation of one colony (such as in a garage), including impacted trees on the property and a follow-up inspection.
Active eradication followed by preventative treatment: around $4,000 to $5,500 for the initial active eradication and ongoing management, including follow-up inspections for around 12 months. In general, Mr Stephenson said soil treatment can be more expensive than installation of in-ground baiting stations, depending on the property, though baiting will require more regular inspections.
Preventative treatment: around $3,000 to $4,000, including follow-up inspections for 12 months. Again, Mr Stephenson said soil treatment can be more expensive than installation of in-ground baiting stations, depending on the property.
Who can provide termite treatment?
Mr Stephenson recommends contacting local pest management specialists and asking about their direct experience (including what licences they carry, such as in pest management or fumigation for particular types of properties) and whether they have undergone training specific to termites and for the products they are using.
He said one place consumers can start their search is on the AEPMA site directory, where members need to be qualified and to have made a commitment to follow industry codes of best practice in order to be listed.
Cover image source: ChaiyonS021 (Shutterstock)