Follow my Reno: attack of the termites

termite damage  Termite damage - hallways, floorboards and wall frames    Termite damage to skirting boards   termite damage to wall frames, studs and top plates

Remember that heritage gem we snapped up in Frankston?

In case you missed it: my partner and I, plus another couple, managed to purchase an investment property in Melbourne’s southern suburb of Frankston. We bought it for $10,000 less than the asking price, and now it’s time for us to fix ‘er up!

There’s just one small problem. And when I say small, I say the perpetrator is physically small. The extent of the problem is actually pretty big.

We have termites.  Loads of them.

We did purchase the house on April Fool’s Day. Joke’s on us!

Of course, termites are to be expected with an old property like the one we purchased. And yes, we did complete a building and termite inspection before we bought the investment property.

So yes, we knew it had termites and a high chance of further currently undetected termite damage due to the presence of obstructions like furniture and floor and wall coverings present, during the inspection.

Often the full extent of the damage won’t ever be known until you start peeling back the layers for a renovation. That is, removing all of the furniture, fittings, floor coverings, and in our case, the wall linings.

How do you get termites?

There’s a few things that can cause termites. Keep in mind there’s more than one type of termite. We were graced with the subterranean termite, coptotermes, they can also generally be known as ‘white ants’.

Here’s what can lead to a termite infestation:

  • Piling mulch around the home
  • Removing trees without grinding the stump out
  • Wood to earth contact, including timber retaining walls, decks and garage frames that touch the ground
  • Piles of firewood or other wood stored up against or under the home
  • Excessive moisture. Termites love damp areas!

In our case, it was a problem with our site drainage. Our property slightly slopes towards the street front, which caused the area under the home to be perennially damp – a termite colony’s dream!

Our property also has timber stumps holding the floor up, they were sitting in the damp soil for ages rotting and providing an ideal foraging and nesting site for termites.

We knew there were multiple rooms affected, including the walls, doorframes, floorboards, skirtings, and critical subfloor structures called like the bearers and joists, in addition to the stumps themselves.

What do termites look like?termites

After the settlement, we arranged a day for our team of contractors to meet us at the site immediately. That way, we could finalise the scope of the renovation project and get started right away. And that we did. We pulled up the carpet, pulled off the wall linings…and found termite utopia.

termite activity in walls

 

While we were expected and prepared for the worst, not everyone knows the signs that your home might be being eaten away by tiny flying insects.

Sorry to scare you! But termites are a serious problem. To borrow a phrase from Sun Tzu, “One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.” In other words, know thy enemy.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Water damage: People often mistake buckling wood and swollen floors and ceilings to be water damage. Get an expert in if it looks like you’ve got water damage, but also consider a pest inspector as buckling or swollen timbers may actually be caused by termite activity.
  • Cracked wood: This one’s the most obvious. If you can see a maze of tunnels, it’s time to bring in the big guys.
  • Mud tunnels: Can you see tiny little tunnels made of mud around the your house? Check the brickwork, walls and concrete slabs around the property. Termites, being an industrious type, use these little passageways to travels through when it’s not so easy for them to burrow through your home in search of food and water. Look for little tunnels (called leads) made of mud on the outside of your house, particularly on top of brickwork, concrete or dense structural material.
  • Termite mess: Termites lives inside the areas they eat, so they’re almost never seen outside of their colony. This doesn’t mean they’re entirely discreet – in fact, they’re pretty gross with the housekeeping. Termites push fecal pellets, called frass, outside the mazes they create in the wood. These wood-coloured mounds tend to build up after a while, and can be spotted under infested sections. They can also leave their wings lying around, too.
  • Flying ants:  if you have an event of ants flying in and around your home, it may actually be termites in their alate life stage, cruising around in a gang, looking for a new home.  They may be trying to set up a colony in your home or worse, they may be coming from a colony already established inside your home.

What to do if you have termites

Firstly, chill out. Termites are a fairly common pest. But a termite infestation does need to be dealt with ASAP, and the cost for termite treatment can range from as little as $1200 to as much as $5000.

Don’t be tempted to spray them with some mortein and try not to disturb them – your termite controller will use the area of live activity to begin treatment.  Disturbing them may also just have the affect of distributing them, pushing them off into other previously unaffected areas of the building.

 

  1. Call in the pros.

They’ll inspect the building and surrounds for the full extent of the damage, and hand over a termite inspection report. Each pest controller prices this differently, but expect to pay over $300 for an average-sized home. It’s also a good idea to make sure your exterminator has a quality guarantee, such as a written agreement which confirms their services will keep you termite-free for two years.

Many inspectors like Termite Solutions will offer to refund the termite inspection cost if you proceed to a treatment or preventative barrier installation.

  1. Treat the termites

You first need to deal with the live activity present in the building.  This may involve a process called dusting and / or baiting the live termite activity.  The pest controller will apply dust or install bait boxes which get the termites feeding on a poison or becoming coated in it and taking it back to the nest site.

This will interrupt the breeding cycle and kill of the colony at its source.

3.  Treat the building

This will stop other termites joining the party, and prevent future termites showing up again. It’s also useful for insurance purposes should termites show up again: general home insurance won’t cover damage to structural timbers, unless you’ve had the soil treated previously by a professional with indemnity insurance.

Its important to go to this length as simply treating the existing activity doesn’t create a barrier to stop other termites coming back.

4. Prevention is better than cure

Keep your home safe from future invasions by maintaining a dry home environment, particularly underneath and against the perimeter of your home.

Termites love moisture! Clean those gutters, keep unnecessary wood off your property or stored off the ground, get inspected annually, and retreat your house on schedule.

 

Have I completely freaked you out? Would you have bought a property likely to be overrun with termites? Let me know in the comments below!

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About Suzanne Commerford

Suzanne has stepped out from behind the desk of Australia's largest home inspection business to build the skills, confidence and independence of women to tackle maintenance and home improvement projects around the home.

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